Darksiders II Preview (Xbox360)

The first Darksiders was one of those games that was a slow-burner – slightly under appreciated and under promoted when it came out, but if you talked to anyone who’d actually played it, you’d hear mostly good things. It wasn’t perfect, and it drew a lot of comparisons with games like Zelda, but it was a good start to a good idea. It’s good to see then that the developers – Vigil Games – got given the go ahead to do a sequel. Is it the sequel a fan would want? We’re not sure, but the message in Darksiders II is clear – this is where it really begins.

I know this gets said a lot now but... I'm the bawss
The mentality behind the second game is one of improvement and expansion – Darksiders II is everything the first game was, just better, but it’s also been given an entirely new story, new context and new gameplay to fit their new protagonist, Death. He actually looks and feels more like an actual Horseman of the Apocalypse than War did too, and despite having some slightly wooden voice acting from what we’ve seen, is a more engaging character overall. It’s just a shame really that they decided to do a parallel story rather than carry on from the rather iconic ending of the previous game – only time will tell whether this move really works or not, as parallel stories can suffer either because they ultimately have no point to them (because events have already ‘happened’), or because they end up playing a game of tenuous links. There’s a real danger of the latter, actually, as Vigil have already said to us that it’s unlikely they’ll get away with the second parallel tale and so all the Horseman are going to have to be deal with in some capacity in this game, if the rumours are true.

In terms of gameplay, the core Zelda-esque Dungeon crawling is there. Death is meant to be a far more agile figure than War ever was, so new movement mechanics such as wall climbing, mantling, bouncing etc… are now possible, giving each area a more truly 3D nature and forcing you down avenues that lead you in many directions to solve whatever needs solving. Admittedly, we had trouble getting to grips with a couple of these features, but only because our test segment was roughly 6 hours into the game, where you’d be expected to know all this already, so we had to deal with being thrown into the deep end a little bit. Of course it also showed off what the game could really offer as well in terms of dungeon construction, and whilst everything is still fairly linear, those lines can lead you along the wall and across the ceiling.
We wonder if this is the same gun or not...
Combat in general is also different for Death – for example Death can’t block, only dodge. Weapon wise, Death uses two scythes as his basic weapon, and can also equip a secondary weapon that will either be another light category, like claws or bucklers, or a heavy weapon like spears or a hammer. You also acquire one of Strife’s pistols – another horseman whose guns find their way into War’s hands too, and these all combine to help you rack up the mêlée combos and defeat your enemies. In addition to this, there are Death’s Reaper abilities, which are split into Harbinger and Necromancer categories, from buffs, to summoning to offensive techniques, there’s a whole range of things you can invest into, although again both sides of the tree are pretty linear when it comes to choice. Death also has a ‘Reaper Form’ ability that always him to transform to either manipulate objects in the world or to deal massive damage to enemies, although you can only be in this form for a limited amount of time.

Brand new to the game is a loot system, which works like any loot system you’ve ever seen, and we’re told it’s something they’ve always wanted to do as well. Death and equip armour and weapons with various stats and abilities, and each item also has a 3D render you can see Death’s appearance change as you switch items out. It’s an odd change from the first games more structured experience, but then it does also allow for more rewards through exploration I guess, a key component of any dungeon based game.

The only really issue that stuck out at us whilst playing the game was the relative lack in combat – we felt we did more exploration and puzzle solving than we did actually fighting, and what fights we did have were either inconsequential or made easy due to the fact that we could just hop onto a guardian statue (constructs that are primarily used to help solve the environmental puzzles, but can also be used in combat too) and smash everything to pieces. That’s not to mention the fact that during that portion of the game, you have a companion with you as well that can also fight. We’re hoping that was just an isolated incident, but the relative easiness of the combat doesn’t really serve you well when you get to the mini-bossed and boss segments, where you really are on your own and you have to really pull together to defeat your opponent – something that can be jarring if you weren’t used to being challenged in this manner like we were.
Yeah... he was not fun to take out...

So far though, we don’t mind saying this is a game to look forward to. With roughly three months left the team are probably going to be working on the bugs and other glitches that still remain, so with any luck it will be a very polished game by the time it comes out. Sadly, with the narrative being just a key to this series as the gameplay, we won’t really know it’s true worth until we’re given a more complete version of the game to play though. So far, our concerns over gameplay are limited to an hour, hour and a half stretch six hours in, so it remains to be seen whether or not that’s repeated through-out the rest of the experience. Still, if you want to start getting pumped, go ahead, we see little that would really disappoint right now. Darksiders II is coming to Xbox 360, Playstation 3 and PC on June 26th 2012.

Most Anticipated Feature: Finding out the specifics of the story and where they’ve gone with it.

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