Darksiders is still a tale of when fantasy meets theology and it still has gaming tropes that feel like they're stripped straight from other games, but this time around the different gameplay ideas come together with great harmony to create a gaming experience that is not only superior to its predecessor but also creates one of the best action adventure role-playing games period.
This chapter of the horsemen's apocalypse takes place simultaneously with War's tale from the first game, but this time around War is left behind and his brother Death is in his place. Death believes War was tricked into initiating the apocalypse early and he will stop at nothing to absolve his brother from his eternal punishment. So Death sets out for the Tree of Life which could potentially restore the lives of all those who died during War's apocalypse on Earth.
The narrative is nothing to write home about but the dialogue is scripted very well and the voice acting is top-notch, so much so that it's enjoyable enough to create a desire to dig deeper. Some of the characters you meet along the way are very interesting and Death himself is quite likable, especially considering he's one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse. He's witty with his words and his dialogue really pushes home to convey his unwavering convictions to save his brother from damnation. Death is truly his brother's keeper.
The story simply works as a mechanism to introduce you to the characters, who will then most likely become a merchant or a quest-giver to send Death on his way. These quest-givers will always need Death's help to do what he's asking of them or they'll simply demand something from him before they'll aid Death in his pursuit for the Tree of Life. Whether it's soul stones to reanimate a giant stone guardian or assembling an angelic staff of immense power, Death's quests will take him to the four corners of the map during these missions.
Death's journey to obtain the power to restore humanity with the Tree of Life will take him all over the universe - no matter the environments be foreign, physical, metaphysical, or something else entirely - the new look of Darksiders is beautiful and stunning at times. The design of Darksiders II is a vast and huge open-world that begs to be explored and gazed upon. The vistas are truly fantasy-inspired and take notes from things like World of Warcraft or Warhammer, but from one aspect to the next Darksiders II has brilliant use of complimentary purples and greens throughout the game's entirety, which really unifies the color pallet of the aesthetics. The game simply looks fantastic.
The superb visuals make exploration a treat, and luckily, it's worth your while. Every trek off the beaten path feels like it rewards you for your efforts, from collectables for stat boosts or item gambling to completely optional bosses that have dungeons beforehand, every path leads to something that feels relevant in creating the immersive worlds that compose Death's arduous journey to save his brother. On top of that, there are also treasure chest littering the environments which are filled with gold and loot.
Yes, Darksiders II has loot. Although Darksiders is justifiably compared to games like Zelda, which blur the line between adventure and a role-playing game, Darksiders II instead takes that step needed to really be considered a full-fledged RPG. There is a XP and leveling system in place as well as two skill trees with branching benefits and a color-coated loot system that supports gear with different stats and effects for the differing skill trees. There is even item crafting in sense. Special possessed weapons can be obtained which are blank slates, other items in your inventory can then be sacrificed into the possessed item to help level it up. Whatever attribute effects were on the absorbed item will then be a stat choice that can be applied to the possessed item when it levels.
All of these RPG elements, from skill trees to loot, really let you craft Death into a character of your own, but, no matter how you choose to structure Death, the combat doesn't change too much from one spec or gear-set to the next. Death will always have his scythe for one button attack and a secondary weapon for the other. Secondary items range from huge hammers, maces, or lances to something else entirely which can alter attack animations substantially. Spells, scythes, and secondary weapons will all come into play but timed dodges and rolls are necessary to survive and add a nice level of complexity to the combat situations. Overall combat has most of the same principles from the first game but one big change is found in the quick kills. The quick kill is still part of the game but it's more like a critical chance on-hit than something that just happens all the time, this was sorely needed and with a proc chance it makes finishers feel more empowering than before because they're not so ordinary.
The combat is well-paced though and it didn't feel like I was fighting just to fight, more often than not dungeons are filled with intelligent platforming and puzzles. Death can run across walls, flip up wooden beams, and grab hooks with his ghostly grip, he's a bit like an other worldly Prince of Persia. And puzzles start off fairly easy but as you get more abilities, like splitting in two or creating portals, they become more challenging, but not so much so that it becomes frustrating. The abilities needed to finish certain puzzles will also find their way into platforming from time to time which lead to a satisfying sense of progression that's separate from the one you get from leveling and equipping Death.
I did run into some problems though with Darksiders II, some serious and some minor, like being led astray by the bird who is supposed to help guide Death or the aiming reticle being off, and at some points the sound for voices and the subtitles may turn off for no reason. The PC version was by far the weakest, so much so that it made it feel like an afterthought. Some of the most rudimentary features that should be expected for a PC version were not present, like hitting `M' to skip to the map or options to tweak the game's performance, but the worst of all were game-breaking puzzles that made progression impossible to finish the PC version.
Regardless of the issues it has, Darksiders 2 is a great game. It's a game that has this from that game and that from another game but it takes all of those things from many different genres and heads in all of the right directions to create a unique identity of its own. Darksiders 2 is a superb single-player adventure game that's as spectacular in gameplay and style as it is in the same sense a game covering something as profound as an apocalypse should be. It's truly a story that can only be spun as an epic and Death really brought this franchise back to life for me. Don't overlook what may be the best adventure of the year.