Darksiders II 2-Years Later Review
Reviewed by: Guest_Jim_*
Reviewed on: March 19, 2014
A brother is someone you can rely on to help you when you need it. When your brother is accused of starting the End War and bringing about the destruction of humanity, you can be sure he needs your help. Released two years ago, Darksiders II follows Death, the leader of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, as he tries to prove War innocent of the crimes he has been accused of. This quest will bring Death to many worlds, meet many people, and uncover many secrets others want kept hidden.
Darksiders II has an interesting place in the Darksiders franchise as it is not a chronological sequel to Darksiders. Instead it appears to take place prior to the majority of the previous game. This can be an interesting point to keep in mind as multiple events in the two games are related.
Like its predecessor, Darksiders II is still an action-adventure title, though with some RPG elements added in, largely in the form of skill trees and loot. It also has the same Mature rating for violence, blood and gore, and suggestive themes. The first two are not too surprising for this game and the last is due to the somewhat revealing attire of some female enemies.
Shall we ride with Death to save his brother once more, or leave them both to whatever fate awaits them? Read on to find out.
The graphics are a little mixed in Darksiders II and in that way, fail to stand out. Not an altogether bad thing of course, but not necessarily good either.
The world and characters that fill it are not particularly detailed in any way. Plenty appear to be exploiting textures as a way to add detail instead of more complex models, but sadly the textures are themselves not very detailed or are simply of lower quality. For example, a scar on Death's shoulder looks blotchy and lacking depth. An NPC named Ostegoth is possibly the best example of this, though, with a beard and horns both using textures to add detail, when the textures themselves are not that great. Now that is not to say the textures alone look bad or that the models alone look bad. For me and my eyes it is more that the combination fails to satisfy me for what it is trying to do.
The world is better than the characters in this regard, due to its scale making it easier to conceal any issues. It is not perfect though, as large, open, and empty expanses are not particularly uncommon. Admittedly the Dead Plains does sound like a place that would not have much filling it, but Stonefather's Vale in the Forgelands (an area you reach very early in the game, so no spoilers here) seems emptier than it would be. There is eventually a mechanical use to its emptiness, but at best that excuses the emptiness; it does not fill it.
Another thing about the world is the curious draw distances. Seeing plant life and shadows appear or sharpen as you draw close is not particularly surprising or jarring. In fact as just that, the game looks absolutely fine. What is weird is that there were some points that I noticed the textures having a detail distance at times, and just how near that distance was. It almost looked like you could have outrun and get ahead of it on Despair, Death's horse.
With all of that said, let us get to what could possibly be the best looking elements in the game: the gear. Darksiders II brings in the multitude of loot and gear you would find in many action RPGs, and whatever it is you equip, it's applied and rendered on Death's model. Gauntlets, boots, chest-pieces, shoulder plates, and weapons are all rendered and actually do look pretty good. It is true that you do not get a very good look at them very often, as the camera tends to remain in its third-person view, but at that distance, it all looks fine.
Fluids are much the same as they were in the previous game. Water behaves appropriately to you, even if it is not particularly lively. Stepping and swimming in it causes the ripples and disturbances you would expect, but it is fairly easy to see that these are just simple animations, previously rendered, that are being placed where they need to be. Fire, though less common, is treated similarly.
The burning status that can be applied to an enemy (or you) is drawn as more of a status effect, with an animation being applied over the character's skin than the character actually being on fire. This is fair, as you do not want to obscure a target, but I want to mention it so you cannot say I failed to mention this use of fire.
Time to talk about performance, so here are my specs:
- Processor: AMD A10-5800K @ 4.40 GHz (44.0x100)
- Cooling: Corsair H110
- Motherboard: ASUS F2A85-M PRO
- GPU: EVGA GTX 770 2 GB
- PhysX: EVGA GTX 570 1280 MB
- Memory: G.Skill Ripjaws 4x8 GB (32 GB total) at 1866 MHz 10-10-10-27
- PSU: OCZ Fata1ty 750 W
- OS: Windows 7- Professional 64-bit
This time around, the graphics options are a little more robust, with ambient occlusion, shadow quality, and anti-aliasing all being controllable, along with resolution, v-sync, and gamma levels. At max settings, the game ran almost flawlessly on my machine, and at a strong 60 FPS. The only issues were an occasional stutter and some random crashes. The stutter seemed to be what I would expect of fragmented files or a background process diverting resources. Defragmenting the files did not help. After completing the playthrough though, I did have reason to run a disk check, which reported that it fixed some issues. I do not know what the issues were, but I jumped back into Darksiders II to see if the performance were better. As I have no solid repro of the stutter beyond playing the game, I cannot state for certain if it the issues have been fixed. What I can say is that I did not experience any more of the stuttering, beyond the brief stutter that can happen when a new area is loaded.
Because of the nature and unknown cause of these issues though, I am willing to dismiss them as something peculiar to my particular computer in the state it was when I played the game. That is not to say you may not experience these issues, but that I do not believe you will, and even if you do, they are not especially frustrating. (Except for when it crashes during a boss fight you were doing so well at or when it crashes just after completing something, and before it saves.)
Over all the graphics of Darksiders II are not particularly impressive, but also do not fail the game. There are some things that could look better, but nothing looks bad. The worst thing I could think to say is that it does not live up to the standards I would want of it, but then there are many, many games and other media that I can say that of.
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.
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.
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Should we take up with Death to save his brother, or abandon the quest? That is really hard to say. I know I am not comfortable recommending Darksiders II to someone unfamiliar with the action-adventure RPG genre. There are better games for that. For more experienced gamers though, I am not sure what this offers them to pull their attention. If you are such a gamer and looking for a new experience, go ahead and give Darksiders II a try; it is a fun game. It just does not have that great of a story, or impressive graphics, and there are some instances of issues with gameplay that you can overcome.
Darksiders II is not a strong game, but it is one that can be enjoyed by many. It is a pity it is not better, but that is not enough to stop someone from playing it. Really this is a game now for those gamers who want a new game to experience, and do not need it to be the newest or the greatest. For those of you that fit this description, I can recommend it, but do not expect something great; just another fun experience.