Darksiders II Review (PS3)

Vigil Games has extreme confidence in Darksiders II. If the marketing push hasn't hinted enough, the studio is rather proud of this sequel. Death's adventure has been gestating for over three years, and after a lengthy delay, Mr G Reaper arrives in impressive form.

If you're new to the series, the opening hours of Darksiders II will overwhelm. Even if you did complete War's story in the original game, there's plenty of new things here to deal with. It's fair to say the first title placed an emphasis on cracking demon skulls and ripping wings from the sockets of angels, alongside a puzzle formula that continued to ramp up in complexity. This is still intact, but the developer has decided the simple pattern of battering enemies and working out a brainteaser isn't enough to keep players satisfied for a second round.

Find enough items, and you might end up looking like this...

With this in mind, the massive alterations in this sequel become immediately clear. Riding through a treacherous mountain, Death is encountered by a handful of rocky foes. A few slices here, a couple of punches there, no problem. To spice things up, various treasure boxes litter each location, which contain useful loot. Unlike his brother, Death has plenty of options in the combat department. Giant scythes, claws, hammers, and plenty of other useful weapons become available quickly, all of which are ranked by effectiveness and strength.

Armour is treated to the same upgrade, providing the character with a distinguished look of your choice. Various gauntlets, boots and shrouds are waiting to be found, perfect for those who like to despatch pests in style. With so many different combinations of weapons and armour to choose, most of which are similar, the looting system begins to devalue itself. I found myself climbing every nook and cranny to uncover a gem of an item, and for the first couple of hours, I wondered why.

Luckily, all loot can automatically be picked up and sacrificed to Possessed Weapons, the most powerful means of offence in the game. Plenty of loot will make you feel as if you've wasted your time in the sense that you don't receive a shiny upgrade every ten seconds, but the Possessed Weapon mechanic is a smart way of making every smidgen of treasure feel worthwhile. If you've made the extra effort to hunt out a distant item, you'll be rewarded with a slight increase to the stats of your Possessed Weapon. An excellent way of keeping players interested, for sure.

This new RPG element sets the tone for the entire game. Attacks can be upgraded, numbers splash across the screen when you hack through monsters, and you actually have a say over how Death progresses. For all War's strengths, the lack of customisation often curbed the connection with players. Death is immediately more well-rounded, inviting other genres into the series comfortably.

Even as one of the game's earlier bosses, this weird looking creature will need your full attention

Both combat and climbing has seen a slight tweaking, both of which pinpoint how Death is a superior character to his brother. Dashes are agile and quick, perfect for hopping out of an incoming attack. Death often flips through tight spaces in order to catch enemies unaware, a manoeuvre that makes players feel powerful and ultra-slick. You won't be executing difficult combos, but in the middle of battle, the game's simplistic system shines. By putting space between you and your opponent, an array of devastating slashes can be called upon to send them packing. Many creatures are fierce and attack in packs, making Death's agility a key component for the entire game.

Similarly, traversing across walls through obstacle-filled rooms is now a joy. War often laboured in this process, using one hand to drag himself towards ledges like a retired sloth. Death's movements mimic that of an ape, as he springs across platforms and difficult terrain like a sprightly young gibbon. This is a prime example of Vigil identifying something that was wrong in the first game and acting upon it.

Death's speed comes in handy, especially when you consider the game is around three times bigger than the original. Alongside the main story, a wealth of side-missions and extra content will keep you playing for around 30 hours. Many of these have you investigating dungeons, collecting extra items, or eliminating esteemed monsters. In the modern day, to have this much content right off the disc feels like you're being spoilt. When you consider there's DLC also on the way, Death looks to be sticking around for quite some time.

Not all of Darksiders II lives up to the franchise's potential. Players will notice slowdown when battles get hectic, and there's numerous textures in the game that could do with sprucing up. Considered alongside the first game, Vigil has worked hard to produce original art and backgrounds, so these mishaps might be overlooked for some. Such annoyance didn't hamper the critical reception of games such as Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, and it doesn't make too much of a difference here. If the series is to return, it would be preferable to see less creases in an otherwise beautifully crafted world.

Death's horse, Despair, is by his side when the going gets tough

Each new location is reinforced with a stunning orchestral soundtrack. Often overlooked in games, Vigil has done an excellent job on the sound design. Whether dramatic strings bellow amidst a battle against a behemoth boss, or the noise of a creaking door breaks the silence of an abandoned room, I urge you to utilise your best speakers. If puzzles become challenging, it's often nice to be rewarded with a tinge of music once all the hard work is completed.

Death undoubtedly represents the best of Darksiders so far. Vigil has worked hard on a game that, in all honestly, I don't want to spoil. In the epic journey across many lands, plenty of interesting characters are met, and titbits revealed. It's the type of game that is best experienced, which is arguably a huge compliment in itself. What I will say is, Vigil is on to a winner here. By bringing together a host of old-school mechanics, something oddly fresh is created. It would be a crime if this is the last we see of the series, as Death's story indicates the Darksiders universe is only going to get stronger with time.

Top Gaming Moment: The entire adventure is epically backed up by a glorious soundtrack and ambitious scale.

Platform Played: Xbox 360