Darksiders II 2-Years Later ReviewGuest_Jim_* - March 19, 2014
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One of the interesting aspects of doing these years-later reviews is being able to think back and remember what I thought of a game when I first played it, assuming I played it prior to the review playthrough. I can remember my first impression of the story of Darksiders II, and while my impression of it has not changed much since having replayed it, my opinion has mellowed some. In part this is because now I better see where things are in the story, as can happen when you re-experience any story.
My first impression, which still stands to a degree, is that the story of Darksiders II does not fill the world it is set in. The world you can explore is so large that the story should be an epic, but instead it seems like the story of a more typical action-adventure title.
Death's goal is to somehow prove War innocent or redeem him by some means. As the offense is the destruction of humanity, Death is seeking a way to resurrect it. This quest takes him to the Forgelands, where the Makers survive; the Dead Plains where the dead pass through; and outposts for both Heaven and Hell.
In every land, Death encounters various characters and there is something about them all that I found odd. No one seemed particularly respectful of him. This is Death, leader of the Horsemen of the Apocalypse, servant of the Charred Council, one of the last of the Nephilim, a race that threatened all of existence! Despite all of that, no one seems above sending him on a fetch quest of one kind or another. The Makers, who actually built many of the worlds in the cosmos, have a fair reason for not thinking much of Death, but then even they are not presented in an impressive light. I would just expect a little more reverence for powerful beings, even from other powerful beings.
While the primary plot is originally to resurrect humanity, it is soon joined by another, which tries to pull in a subplot, but that subplot is so weak it is hard to say if the merger was successful. I am getting ahead of myself, though. This second main plot is to stop Corruption. Corruption is some force that is bringing destruction and chaos to multiple worlds, and in one way or another, threatens Death and his mission.
The subplot I mentioned I will get in to some, as it starts very early in the game, so this will not be much of a spoiler. The origin of the Horsemen is that the four were granted great power, if they serve the Balance. As the Nephilim, their brethren, threaten that balance, the Horsemen's first duty was to destroy them. After vanquishing them, Death took their souls and bound them within an amulet, which was then given to the character Crowfather. Crowfather would be allowed to listen to its secrets, but must keep it for eternity. He does not want it anymore, because the voices are constantly crying out and he cannot stand it. During a fight with Death, Crowfather is killed and the amulet is shattered, with some pieces embedding themselves in Death's chest.
Following me so far? This all happens in the first twenty minutes of the game or so, by the way, though perhaps not all of the explanation. Anyway, that is how the subplot of Death having to deal with the bound souls begins. For the rest of the game there are some mentions of this, but nothing particularly compelling, which I find disappointing. I mean the souls of an entire civilization, Death's brethren, are trapped within his chest, and almost nothing happens with it besides occasional mentions. Those cries Crowfather spoke of are never heard by Death, and Death does little more than touching the wound every now and then. There is so much that could have been done with this, and yet it seems to be little more than a plot device for Death to have to choose between resurrecting humanity and recovering the Nephilim.
A similarly underutilized and under-appreciated plot is the source of the Corruption. I cannot say much as that would be spoiling the story. What I can say is that Death learns somewhat early on what it is, and then almost never speaks of it. Considering what the source is, this behavior is quite odd to me. It almost feels like this and the bound souls were thought of after much of the story was developed, and then it was backfilled in, without the necessary attention to smooth out all of the wrinkles and fill all of the plot holes.
One final issue with the overall story I would like to bring up is that twice Death learns something and responds by questioning why he and the other Horsemen were not told. While the reasons may be understandable, this feels like a deus ex machina to me and are unbelievable as you would think in the millennia the Horsemen spent serving the balance they would have come across these truths. After all, it is only the Horsemen these truths are kept from, and not the remainder of existence. Along with that, as the reasons for keeping the secrets are associated with specific events, why was the knowledge kept from them prior to the events?
I know there is the suspension of disbelief and that would be able to hide some of these issues I have brought up, especially this last one. The problem is that the suspension of disbelief can only cover so much and that it can topple like dominoes. Once one story issue can be found, if its discovery leads to another, and another, the suspension will fail. That seems to be the case here.
Remember when I said that my opinion has mellowed some? Believe it or not, but that is still true because in this playthrough I have spent more time doing some of the side missions. While the main story may not fill the world, the side quests actually do a decent job of filling in the nooks and crannies. Some could maybe use a bit of improvement, but still Darksiders II does fill out more as you go to and talk with more of its characters. It does not heal the issues with the more central story, but it has given me a greater respect for the game and its story.
Returning to what I said before, the story of Darksiders II is that of an action-adventure game, but the game you actually play has a feeling more like that of an epic. This mismatch can become evident at times, especially to a person like me who has a great interest in stories. For what it is worth, the bones of an appropriately epic story are already there. What I would consider an appropriate amount of flesh just has not grown on them. It is not a bad story, and is above mediocre, but not quite something I would call good.
Everything above relates to the main campaign of Darksiders II, but it also had three DLC campaigns released for it. The relationship of their stories to that of the main game is like that of a short story to a novel. They are short, but appropriately detailed for their length, which is not much, but is not too little either.