Darksiders II Review (PC)

Vigil caused quite a stir when they released Darksiders; an action-adventure romp that was an entirely new intellectual property, inspired by a comic book perspective on the squabbles between Angels and Demons. It caused a stir because it was good – really good, and dared to invoke that ‘Zelda’ era of action-adventuring.

With Darksiders 2 the Vigil team take the dangerous gamble of switching our main hero while simultaneously offering to beef up the core mechanics that made the original such a surprising hit. I now take the reins of another Horseman; Death, who is arguably the most well-known of the apocalypse bringers. He’s out to clear his brother War’s name for all the ruckus that kicked off on Earth that doomed mankind; The Third Kingdom.

Death; more nimble, more steely gazed, more fashion conscious

What’s enthralling about Darksiders is that Vigil is completely free and clear to develop their own lore for this intriguing Angelic-Demonic dance of power and politics. They aren’t tied to source material other than what they scribble down leading to some ambitious ‘explanations’ for how the Darksiders universe works. It helps that their main characters all carry that comic book-styled exaggeration to their egos as they square off against one another with menacing glares, veiled threats or outright promises of demise before trading blows.

The core of the Darksiders experience remains in this sequel as the time between major plot points and boss mash-ups are littered with exploration and puzzle solving, which range from straight forward to more taxing noodle scratchers, but thankfully the Vigil team have done a lot to help clear up any misunderstanding with where you’re meant to be going. The layouts of the game’s dungeons I found to be much better in design this time with far less back tracking. You also have Dust the friendly raven who will help point the way if you're still unsure.

The actual combat itself has been vastly improved since War’s time on the screen. With Death you are a lot more nimble on the field and better – a lot better – at handling incoming blows. You no longer parry as War would attempt to do but instead dodge. This can be performed up to three times in quick succession before you're left vulnerable, but if timed right you’ll be clear of threats. There’s also a chance to cause an aspect of Death’s true form to suddenly appear from a good counter-strike.

There are also the special moves that can be unlocked via a skills tree which is split into two categories with the first focused on combat moves performed by Death, and the second dealing with summonable abilities like ghouls, ravens and even a protective shield to reduce damage. These can be key mapped to the keyboard or to the controller for quick access. Other abilities are unlocked at key moments throughout the story, much like in the original. Then there are the combo moves which Vigil have opted to ‘hide’ and let us come across them more by accident. These are purchased from two trainers in the first two main lands.

In terms of PC features for Darksiders 2 it leaves a lot to be desired. Graphical settings are shamefully absent with only a recent patch from Vigil actually enabling the V-sync option to work at all. There aren’t any tweaks in-game to be had to adjust the visual fidelity such as shading, anti-aliasing or textures. The game is simply either on or off which can be a burden for those with older PCs. Still the team has promised they’ll be doing what they can with future updates but there’s only so much they can do by their own admission. It smacks of consolitus and will forever be at its best using a controller over keyboard and mouse.

Still these miscarriages of design for the PC port can’t bury Death nor his quest to get to the bottom of War’s alleged crimes. The worlds of Darksiders 2 are much richer than the original’s which largely starred just Earth and its decaying ruins. The entire game world is linked to what’s called the Tree of Life and it’s here you'll be able to portal Death to other realms. Believe me there’ll be lots of backtracking as you undertake side quests that usually involve a boss fight near their end.

PC settings are tearfully a token presence in the options menu

Speaking of boss fights, the Vigil team have certainly embraced more unique encounters. One side attraction involved getting to a giant bat engulfed in molten flame, but in order to even get within range of taking it on you’d have to come back later to the depths of the dungeon once you’d unlocked a new power ability. Once armed (no pun intended) you can zip across but find yourself on a very narrow platform. Soon enough you realise this isn’t your standard brawl fest as Death must hurl himself off ledges and hold on while the giant bat rampages and spews fire, before popping back up and letting him have it.

There are a good number of boss fisticuffs to be had throughout the game although one gripe would certainly be the sometimes wild disparagement of difficulty between the dungeon itself and the boss encounter. I’m looking at you Deposed King, with your easy breezy undead bachelor pad beneath the ground. Getting to him is of little trouble but the actual fight itself is extremely one sided unless you’re high enough level. Get caught in his path and you’re dead in seconds. This is the exact opposite of taking on Ghorn, a fire golem who went on a rampage. His dungeon is damn tricky with waves of corrupted minions pouring out to get Death, but who himself is quite the push over.

Fortunately for such moments Vigil gave us the chance to fast-travel out and leave behind a beacon to return – provided you don’t visit another dungeon within the same realm and fast-travel as only one beacon is saved. There are plenty of collectibles to go through as well beside looking to crack open every chest there is. You also get to hunt down power stones which are spread throughout the entire game and are collected by shooting them. We then get to take them back to a construct where they’ll combine any three to give us permanent stat boosts. The downside is we’re not given any hint as to what the combinations grant until it’s too late.

There’s also the Crucible which tests our mettle as Death against wave after wave of enemies from all corners of the game world, which include the dungeon bosses either on their own or packed together. At certain intervals you can choose to fight on and tally up more waves or call it quits and get rewarded some loot. The maximum level to achieve is one hundred which then leads to a final confrontation against a special opponent. I certainly wish they wouldn’t put the ‘fight on’ and ‘give me loot’ options so close together as just one slip...

Loot is a major drive throughout this sequel as Death will constantly come across new drops from minions that range from junk to mouth-watering stat bombs. We’re even given the chance to forge our own weapon through ‘possessed’ weapons which level up as we sacrifice other items to them. This requires some planning as when it levels up the last item you sacrificed is then used to add a new attribute, or boost existing ones. I personally followed the same formula of ensuring my Possessed Double Scythes were packing health on critical, critical chance and ice; a pretty helpful combination as health doesn’t regenerate on its own.

As a game Darksiders 2 is bloated with riches that helped set the scene for the original and even though it can feel a little out of place in the beginning with no War leading the charge, I couldn’t help but warm up to Death himself and to his plight. Vigil give us a genuinely curious cosmic conspiracy to try and unravel with War and Death’s journeys hopelessly powerless to give us the full picture, which is why it can only be a good thing to see more Darksiders.

Loot and its pursuit (hey that rhymes!) will distract and beguile

The world itself is brought to life thanks to more NPCs despite being generally static but are backed by terrific voice acting chops all-round. Coming back into the game we’re treated also to a quick ‘Journey so far’ monologue to quickly refresh us on what we were doing. To many great joys the soundtrack has been given a huge boast with some impressive composed pieces perfectly complimenting the backdrop.

The only actual dark side to Darksiders 2 is the less than standard delivery for its PC outing. It works exceedingly well when it works, but as I said the game is either in a state of ‘on’ or ‘off’ as there isn’t any room to fine tune graphical settings. While the latest patch addressed issues like key bindings and making the target reticule more accurate, it’s a woeful release for PC, which is a shame. With a heavy heart I can’t justify a higher score as I’d like because of these disregards for PC.

Top Game Moment: I’d say upgrading myself with a new pair of Possessed Double Scythes for some serious reaping, and generally getting to figure out some decent puzzles before sticking it to a boss.

Platform Played: PC