The first 5-6 hours of Darksiders 2 are extremely entertaining, but they aren’t really indicative of the experience as a whole. During the opening tier, the game manages to be exactly what fans have been hoping for: more of the same, only faster and more polished. However, towards the halfway point it blossoms into something else, and it’s difficult not to question whether that shift has anything to do with publisher THQ’s recent financial troubles. From the 6-hour mark onwards there’s something joyously hell-for-leather about Darksiders 2, as if its creators were suddenly encouraged to work without any creative shackles at all. In summary, it goes above and beyond.

It’s much bigger. Its puzzles are far more inventive. The environments are immeasurably more varied. Optional side missions aren’t included merely to assist with bumping up the running time; they’re as neat and engaging as anything in the main game. Level design is flat-out brilliant; hidden pathways and treasures are never too far away from the adventure’s main path, and yet you always feel as if you used your own ingenuity to discover them. The already slick combat is kept fresh by countless new attacks (unlocked via a skill-tree) along with a sizeable array of secondary weapons. Looting is a smart new addition that is never forced upon you, and there are some mildly audacious narrative flights in the second half; not all of them work, but they’re terrific seasoning nonetheless.

For all of its busy skirmishes, gigantic temples and mammoth bosses, there is also a distinct lack of overkill. That tightrope that the first game walked so enviously – splitting combat and platforming right down the middle – has been traversed again here. Eye-catching bosses don’t return merely for the sake of it, and the experience is comparable with something like Uncharted 2 because, despite its bewildering size, assets and landscapes never re-appear as a cost-cutting device; and you’re never forced to traipse around a particular area for any longer than is necessary. Darksiders 2 is epic, compelling and vastly substantial.

Inevitably though, it isn’t perfect. Your companion Dust – a bird who is supposed to guide you to your next objective when you get lost – is laughably inconsistent at best, and downright broken at worst. Moving through menus can be skittish, and the frame-rate suffers occasionally during the bigger set-pieces… but most of the problems here feel like issues with the long-in-the-tooth hardware rather than the actual game itself. Darksiders 2 isn’t an original game by anyone’s standard, but it’s a mongrel infused with real energy and panache; you get the sense that everyone involved in its creation was head-over-heels in love with it. Here’s hoping that it does well enough to ensure the existence of a third instalment; Vigil Games’ adulation wasn’t misguided.

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 “Know Death” trailer for Darksiders 2 below: 

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