Available on Xbox 360 (tested), PS3, PC
The worst thing you can say about Darksiders II is that it’s not exactly innovative. It was a charge laid at the original, which somehow found an unsuspected middle ground between God of War and Legend of Zelda, and it’s a charge that will be repeated against the sequel, which repeats the same trick then throws in great chunks of Diablo, Prince of Persia and Shadow of the Colossus for good measure. Does it matter? No. If a game is going to copy then we’d rather it copy the best from the best, and it takes real talent and passion to make it work as well as it does here. Unlike so many of last year’s over-hyped, underwhelming games, Darksiders II consistently delivers beyond your expectations and actually gets better the longer it goes on. Call it a Zelda clone if you must, but it’s one of the best Zelda clones we've ever played.
Darksiders II works as a kind of side-story to Darksiders, which saw everyone’s favourite horseman of the apocalypse, War, accused of jumping the gun and wiping out mankind. Following mucho adventuring and ass-kicking, it was all revealed to be part of a grand cosmic conspiracy. The sequel features War’s close compadre, Death, on a mission to make repairs for poor War’s supposed crime by returning humanity to the living world. It’s a story that will take Death to the Forge World where the elements of the universe were created, and to other worlds beyond, tackling a series of Zelda-like dungeons connected by a larger, semi-open world map.
The basic elements of Darksiders remain: exploring the dungeons and solving a range of puzzles, as Link might in Zelda, and battering hordes of monsters into submission as Kratos might in God of War. The dungeons start off fairly simple, with a whole lot of rolling blocks onto circular switches, but scale up nicely with the addition of stone automatons, a Hookshot-style grapple and a selection of other goodies. The combat, meanwhile, sticks close to the fast-paced, brutal, combo-heavy style of God of War, with the emphasis on timing, evades and the tactical use of special abilities. While it’s not as technically complex as a Ninja Gaiden or Devil May Cry, we’d recommend that those without a penchant for challenging action games dial the difficulty down: combat in Darksiders II can get seriously tough.
For the sequel, these twin pillars are joined by two more. Firstly, there’s a new focus on platforming. While Death lacks War’s bulk and armour, he’s a faster and more lithe protagonist, specialising in the sort of wall-running, pillar-grabbing, beam-hopping action you’ll be familiar with if you played the Prince of Persia: Sands of Time trilogy. The controls are slick and the environments designed around Death’s moves, and it’s surprising how well the platforming and the more Zelda-like exploration mix.
The Power of Loot
Even more importantly, Darksiders II has gone bonkers for Diablo-style loot. Most games of this ilk stop at a choice of weapons, or maybe a shield or suit of armour, but Darksiders II allows you to customise Death’s armaments and every part of his apparel, picking and choosing from a constant flow of new arms, bracers, greaves, wrappings, trinkets and the like. You can’t even smack a bunch of creepy lizard-beasts without them spewing out a warhammer or some vambraces as they die. There are dozens of variations, and picking between them is practically a game in itself. Death’s main weapon – twin scythes – come in a range of fruity flavours, and can be backed up with a selection of hammers, axes, claws, glaives and maces. Best of all, grab a possessed weapon and you can sacrifice other weapons to it, levelling it up and adding capabilities. In Darksiders II even the armoury has a skill tree.
Death, needless to say, has his own, starting with two branching sets of abilities that you can unlock as the grim reaper levels up, adding new attacks, new defensive moves and perks or more terrifying and powerful supernatural allies to call in on your behalf. Levels and skill points arrive fast enough to make you feel your powers are building, but not so fast that you can pick every skill and max them all out in the course of the game. In short, it’s up to you to choose what kind of Death you want to be.