Shorn of the sucker-punch element of surprise, how exactly are Vigil Games planning to follow up one of the most beloved sleeper hits of recent years? If the opening three hours are anything to go by, the answer is textbook: more of the same, only better. Visually, Darksiders 2 is immeasurably more appealing than its predecessor; the dilapidated buildings and bleak skyline have been replaced by environments that are brighter, richer and far more varied, and the world actually appears to be inviting comparisons with Nintendo’s Legend of Zelda series, which is unquestionably Darksiders’ primary source of inspiration.
You play as Death rather than War this time – with the plot unfolding concurrently with the one in the original – and the game opens with you ascending a glacial, snow-covered mountain. Combat is accessible from the off, and for the best part of the first hour you are forced to get by with merely a single attack button, a dodge move and a jump. Death is faster and far more agile in battle than his brother was, and this extends to the platforming sections too; you can chain several dodge moves together, and are able to traverse walls and cliffs with a new wall-run move, which has led many people to (rightly) compare the gameplay to Prince of Persia, post-Sands of Time.
Say what you like about the first Darksiders, but few can deny that it did get one thing truly right; managing to strike the perfect balance between combat and platforming. That inviting 50/50 split is in practice here too, and in addition there’s a newfound brevity to the storytelling. Cutscenes are far punchier than the ones seen in the first game but if you do want some narrative embellishment, almost every NPC that we encountered was offering up additional character info and plot detail via an interactive dialogue wheel. You’ll miss nothing if you decline to listen to these audio clips, and it’s a very smart design choice: disinterested parties can dodge them, and smitten fans can enjoy every last morsel.
Instead of collecting multi-coloured souls as you did in the original, in Darksiders 2 your primary resource is cash. A new level-up system gives you the choice of two tiers, allowing you to focus solely on combat or boost your arsenal with magical tricks and attacks; not a new idea by any stretch, but intuitively done. Fallen enemies now drop loot when they perish – a randomly generated lucky dip which rewards you with either a weapon or some armour – and even the collectibles can earn you money. Collectibles are so often used as an empty excuse to prolong the life of a game but here, assembling ten stray pages of the Book of the Dead will gift you with something that you can actually sell.
Cult comic book artist Joe Madureira – best known for his work with Marvel during the mid-1990s – is back on board as a creative director, and his patented blend of Western and Eastern Anime influences remains in full effect. Even more so than the original, Darksiders 2 just feels inherently epic, and moving through its open plains on horseback is one of its more unexpected pleasures. It may still remind some people a little too much of Nintendo’s more recent Legend of Zelda games – and Twilight Princess in particular – but if you’re going to pinch, why not pinch from the best?
Darksiders was never about originality and neither is its sequel; it’s a commendably smart potpourri of different ideas, and only a small few of those ideas are in any way original. But in the end, as with the first game, it’s very difficult to care. Darksiders already had a robust and vastly entertaining formula going for it, and that has only been refined and expanded upon here. These are the right notes in the right order, and if you are already a fan, you’re almost certain to go absolutely gaga for it.
Darksiders 2 is currently due for release on Xbox 360, Playstation 3 and PC on Tuesday, August 21st 2012. A Nintendo Wii U version is expected to follow later in the year.
Watch the latest trailer for Darksiders 2 below: