Darksiders II 2-Years Later ReviewGuest_Jim_* - March 19, 2014
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Like other action-adventure titles, Darksiders II has you travelling a world to get from one dungeon to another, passing secrets you either do not spot or cannot access yet. Once at the dungeon, you proceed from room to room, completing whatever challenge or puzzle is associated with it. It is not uncommon for this challenge to be killing every enemy you can, or to put a recently acquired tool to work. Some of the puzzles are harder than others, just as some enemies are harder than others, and sadly for both, there are certain examples of them being difficult to the point of frustration.
One example of a frustrating puzzle is late in the game where you must throw a bomb through a portal, so it may be caught on the other side. What makes this difficult is aiming the throw as there are neither guides nor something to ensure the bomb goes where it needs to be. What should only be a moment-long puzzle becomes a challenge with multiple attempts not because you do not know what you are doing, but because the requirement for what you have to do is too specific.
As far as frustrating enemies, they arise in part from what I would consider poorly-balanced enemies, but also from what I would again consider poorly-balanced combat mechanics for Death. Let us focus on the enemies first.
Outside of the bosses, the three most annoying enemies I found are the Stalkers, Liches, and Undead Generals. The Stalkers are large enemies that can deal a decent amount of damage, but what makes them a threat is their speed and tenacity. When they start attacking, there is almost nothing you can do as they can turn to follow your dodge, and attacking them will not stun them out of their own attack.
The Liches and their variants are irritating because they are flying units that can summon other enemies, and have some decently powerful attacks of their own. The issue with them is that for all they can do, including flying around you and striking with an AOE attack, they have too much staying power.
The Undead Generals at least are balanced in terms of statistics, but less so with mechanics. These enemies have a large weapon and shield. When they put their shield up, your attacks will be blocked. This forces you to have to come at them from behind, or take advantage of any pauses they make to attack. The problem is that they, like the Stalkers, are pretty fast so you never get much time to attack them from behind, drawing fights out longer than is fun.
Some bosses are also frustrating and largely because of something I mentioned with the Stalker, but is common to many enemies. Your attacks do not always stun the enemy. If they want to attack you, they are going to attack you. There is nothing you can do about it but try to run. That may not seem too bad, except that every enemy, when they attack you, can and will disrupt you. With enough enemies surrounding you, there is a risk of being stun-locked just by the constant attacks. This really does hurt the fun of the game as it becomes very difficult to feel like you are controlling the battle. Instead you are just struggling to stay alive and away from every threat. It does not help either that typically the first time you meet an enemy, after defeating it two more immediately spawn, so if it was hard for you the first time, just wait.
Something that goes along with the threat of being stun-locked, and is felt most strongly in some boss fights, is how Death dodges. The dodge consists of a leap in some direction, and he can only leap three times. After the third leap he will pause, being unable to move, attack, or dodge again. I found it particularly frustrating that acting to avoid a threat can so greatly open you up to the threat.
Compounding this is the lock-on camera and controls, which on multiple occasions caused that third leap to actually land me directly in front of an enemy, just in time for an attack, which stunned me, leaving me open for another attack. There are times that the lock-on camera is useful, but often it is much easier and safer to just run around and manually control the camera.
It may be that a controller would have helped with this, but I never took the time to try because the controls are just convoluted enough that I do not know how they could be better on a gamepad. At least with a keyboard I just have to reach for the key to trigger some ability, but on a controller I can only imagine a menu would have to come up to achieve the same thing. Also the times that the lock-on camera's behavior was truly bad were not common enough to force such a move, in my opinion.
Of course there are also many times that it felt like the game was simply not responsive. I not-infrequently was spamming one button or another, waiting for something to happen. This happened for regular attacks, abilities, and even the execute command, and was never welcome.
The execute command does also just seem to be bugged in some cases. You see there are small enemies in the game that you are supposed to be able to execute whenever you wish. They are so small, so why would Death not be able to squash them like a bug? Well, because apparently you have to be the correct distance away from them, at the proper angle, and looking the right way to actually do anything. I seriously was walking up to and into some of these enemies, spamming execute to no avail.
I think that is enough of the combat for now, so let us move on to the RPG elements, which largely consist of a loot and gear system, as well as skill trees to deposit points in. The skill trees operate exactly as you would expect, with one ability unlocking another and it being possible to place multiple points into one ability to improve it.
One thing that is curious about the leveling system is that Reaper Form is tied to it. Reaper Form is the ability of Death's to take on his true form, which is a giant creature with an equally massive scythe, ready to reap the souls of any threat. This is unlocked at level five, and the reason I find that curious is that if this is Death's true form, why is unlocking it treated as nothing special? What is more, when you do unlock it you are also not given information on how to charge it up. There is a side quest that can grant you a talisman to help you earn reaper energy, but other than that it seems Reaper Form is very limited early in the game. Eventually you will develop the weapons and skills to build up the energy without the talisman, but not early on.
One last thing about Reaper Form is that you can take damage while in it. It does appear that the damage is reduced, but it is still there so you may not want to use it as a last resort.
Loot and gear in the early game are a little hard for me to discuss because among the many DLC for the game (which I have all of) are some that give you gear that can be used at level five. Even with this gear you may find yourself replacing the weapons pretty soon, as they quickly lose impact. The armor, however, can last for a long, long time. Literally I used the same armor for I would say about three-fourths of the game, simply because nothing dropped that seemed to be much better. Eventually I did change it, but I am not sure if the new armor I am using is really having that great of an impact; even on the challenge I changed armor for. At the end of the game though, I forged weapons with defensive stats that actually are having an impact.
As powerful as some of the gear may seem at times, at around level 15, I found myself stuck in what appeared to be a balancing flaw. Basically even the arenas of enemies I was defeating before easily, now leveled higher, were requiring I pop multiple health potions to survive. During this time I moved on to dealing with the side missions, which appeared to get me the experience and levels I needed to again match my enemies.
The loot comes in multiple rarities, from common to legendary, as well as a special class called possessed. The common through legendary items are similar to what you would find in many games, with power increasing with rarity and special abilities limited to legendary items. Possessed weapons, however (there are no possessed armors or talismans), are in a different league as you can sacrifice items to them to upgrade them. Each upgrade will (theoretically) increase the weapon's stats and given you the choice of applying a new stat to it, based on what you sacrificed. Using this I was able to create scythes with large health steal and health regeneration, as well as arm blades with health steal, and over one hundred defense and resistance. (As it is not altogether clear in the game, defense protects from physical attacks while resistance protects from magic attacks.) Even the final boss was easy to take down with these.
Darksiders II has three campaign DLC for it, and all three can be accessed and played at any time, which can be pretty useful. Death is persistent between the different campaigns, so you can visit a DLC campaign for experience and loot whenever you wish. However, these campaigns cannot be repeated and can be quite challenging, as the enemies within them will scale to your level occasionally better than enemies within the main campaign.
All told it took me 24 hours and 24 minutes to complete the main campaign and the three DLC. Those three DLC campaigns each take about an hour each to complete, so the main game, with a decent amount of exploration and side quests, is easily 20 hours. Darksiders II also offers a New Game+ mode for added replayability and increased reward (some things are limited to the NG+ playhtrough), but I have not gone into it yet. This will replace your save and if I am going to do that, I want to finish every mission and get every collectible first.
Over all, despite the issues I have described, the gameplay experience of Darksiders II is actually good. Perhaps on the lower end of good, but there is nothing truly broken about the experience. On paper it is a solid experience with solid mechanics. In-game flaws come out that can lessen and/or impair enjoyment, but nothing so serious as to prevent enjoyment. Just enough to really frustrate you until you succeed and move on.