Death has arrived in the sequel to the brilliant Darksiders, the latter of which saw War trying to prove his own innocence while also finding himself in the middle of an apocalyptic battle between heaven and hell. In the sequel, which runs parallell to the events of the first game, we take the role of the Horseman Death, a less compromising sibling, who literally takes no prisoners. Death has a long journey ahead of him as not only is he out to prove that his brother didn't start the Apocalypse, but he's also going to have to contend with all manner of beasts along the way. It's certainly not an easy ride, but what is a Grim Reaper to do?
The similarities and changes between the sequel and the original are there for all to see. Darksiders II is still a huge, sprawling adventure which looks like it's fallen off the pages of a comic book straight onto your screen, while it also continues to throw massive enemies into the mix and leave it to you to figure out how to defeat them. As with Darksiders, influences from other popular titles from years gone-by can still be seen quite clearly; Zelda, Gears of War and even Portal all get nods here. Darksiders II has evolved though; what this means is that you'll now find yourself customising Death to suit your own preferences. Armour, weapons and other equipment can all be swapped around, giving you different levels of protection and abilities depending on your play style. There are literally thousands of weapons to swap in and out; you can even find possessed weapons which level up when you sacrifice other pieces of equipment to them.
Death also has access to magical skills which are split into two different categories. These come in the form of both a Harbringer and Necromancer tree, both of which include a branching level of skills which you can unlock when Death levels up. The Harbinger skill tree focuses on dealing direct damage to Death's enemies and strengthening the might of his standard attacks, while the Necromancer skill tree focuses on bolstering Death's defenses and summoning lesser minions to aid him during battle. One of my favorite tactics was to summon my minions to distract the enemy, leaving me to hit the enemy from behind. In fact this tactic work particularly well during fights with more than one enemy on screen, given that it stops you from being surrounded. The beauty of Darksiders II is that you can choose the way you play; this is no button basher, as you really do need to think about the best way to take down the enemy; fail to do this and you'll find yourself back at the last save point more than you care to imagine.
I mention combat at the beginning of the review because it really is one of the main focal points of the game and what a huge game it is. Clocking the single player campaign alone took me over the 20 hour mark and that doesn't even include time spent playing in the battle Arena known as The Crucible or on the games various side missions, which it has to be said are a very large part of the game. Add in the hundreds of collectables, unlockables and hidden chests and you'll find yourself easily hitting the 40 hour mark before you know it.
Darksiders II isn't just about the combat, because, as well as including a very interesting story, it's also packed with brain twisting puzzles, which will have you stumped on more than one occasion. When it comes to the puzzles there is always an answer and usually it's staring you right in the face. I'm not really one of these reviewers who like to spoil the game, so I won't go into great detail here, but let's just say that most of the time you'll be looking to Death's numerous abilities in order to unlock the path to secure War's innocence.
Speaking of Death's abilities, this is yet another area in which Darksiders II excels. As you progress through the game, Death grows stronger and gains special skills which only he can utilise. Examples of these abilities include his Reaper form, which sees him turn Reaper and become a invulnerable force to be reckoned with for a short period of time. Other abilities include the wonderful Soul Splitter, which sees him split into two controllable forms in order to solve puzzles. Death also learns other abilities which will no doubt surprise you, some of which we've hinted at earlier in this very review.
As mentioned, Darksiders II is a massive game. Most of your time adventuring is spent trying to figure out a way to save War, and most of this time consists of running errands from a variety of the games NPC's in order to gain the items you need to progress further. There are times when you feel that certain quests will never end, which may bug some, however sticking with the game brings unbelievable twists and turns that will make you glad you continued on the path to completion.
Given that World of Darksiders II is such a huge open land, it's quite handy that you have both the ability to fast travel and the company of your two companions, Dust and Despair. Fast traveling is particularly handy, since it allows you to get around the map quickly, while also giving you the bonus of being able to find merchants in order to stock up on healing potions (which are essential most of the time). If you prefer the slow and steady technic, then calling on Death's Horse, Despair, will allow you to travel across the lands the traditional way and if you get lost, a simple tap of the button will have Death's Crow, Dust, show you the way.
There are certainly plenty of ways to play through Darksiders II, be it concentrating on the main quest or by being a completionist and taking on the side quests at the same time. If you prefer to focus on one thing at a time, then there is no need to worry as you can always go back to the quests off the beaten path at any time. Side quests are generally woven into the main story in any case, for instance, during the main campaign you'll no doubt come across many sheets from the Book of the Dead pages that have been scattered about the realms. Every ten of these returned to demonic merchant Vulgrim then allows you to gain a special key which unlock areas known as Death Tombs, which is handy if you love to find lots of treasure. The Dead pages aren't the only items spread around though, since you'll find ancient coins, scrolls and all other manner of items which can be sold, traded or utilised in some other useful way. To add to the adventure even more, Death will also be asked to go on missions by other characters, giving him otherwise missing rewards, which most definitely help on the path ahead. Whether he chooses to accepts these missions or not though is entirely up to you.
One final area woven lightly into the main storyline is The Crucible. During your adventure you'll receive a message inviting you to take part in this large battle arena. The point of The Crucible is to fight against waves of enemies and earn a reward. After fighting against five waves you are then given a choice of taking the loot and running or continuing against bigger and better enemies in order to gain the ultimate reward. Are you hard enough? The Crucible is a great idea, allowing you to hone your fighting skills, and also providing a nice little distraction from the main quest at the same time.
One of the strongest areas of Darksiders has always been its art style and if anything it's even better looking in the sequel. There are a wide variety of environments, enemies and NPC's, all of which looks varied and wonderfully unique. If there is one things which will help the game stand out then it's presentation will surely be it. Complimenting the art is the sound, as developer Vigil has provided us with some wonderful voice acting and a very atmospheric soundtrack which fits the game perfectly.
Generally when Death is involved only bad things happen, but in the case of Darksiders II, the opposite is true. Here we have a game which takes what we love about action/adventure games and slashes them up to a new level and once the dust and despair settles, up walks Death to claim his crown. Hopefully this is not the end of the series, because it'd be a crying shame if what started with War, ends with Death.
Review Policy (version tested: Xbox 360)