PS3 Preview – Darksiders 2

Vigil Games’ second foray into the post-apocalyptic lives of the Four Horsemen features several exciting improvements upon the original, but the depth to the systems now present in DS2 almost makes the experience feel like a completely different series. So is that a bad thing for players out there that just want more of what the first game had to offer?

This time around, players take on the role of Death. But Death isn’t about honor and justice like his brother, War, opting more for cunning and guile. As a result, Death doesn’t block, and as such there are no block counters. Instead, the emphasis is on evasion and dodge counters, which are made easier this time with the addition of a triple dodge. The triple dodge is especially useful for getting behind an opponent winding up for a big attack in order to assault them with long, powerful combos. By default, Death’s primary weapons are his twin scythes, but DS2 offers many more choices in terms of secondary weapons than DS1 did. The potential list of secondary weapons include claws, tonfas, polearms, maces, hammers, and even bucklers for those out there that want an additional defensive solution. Additional weapons, armor, and potions are obtained from loot drops from defeated enemies. In my time with the demo, I primarily had a pair of Elite Scythes and an enormous axe which dealt heavy damage, but was very slow to swing. There are also special dropped weapons called Possessed Weapons. These rare loot drops can consume items that are sacrificed to them, and level up as a result of the consumption in a manner similar to Death himself. While I didn’t see one for myself within the demo, leveling up these weapons can allow Death to deal enormous amounts of damage and can gain special powers based on the items fed to them. This particular addition I found most intriguing as it provides a new use for the so-called ‘vendor trash’ of other adventure games like World of Warcraft or Guild Wars. It also calls on the player to make the choice between advancing a weapon’s level or selling the items to a merchant NPC for gold.

The build shown by THQ had us in control of Death as he makes his way through the Maker’s Realm, the first of four major zones within the game and home to Ulthane’s people. Death’s objective is to reach the Tree of Life by powering up a Guardian. These constructs are a major means of combating Corruption, which has spread throughout the Maker’s Realm and has conveniently blocked Death’s progress with indestructible yellow crystals. As Death makes his way through the dungeon he is accompanied by a Maker by the name of Karn who plays a part in solving a few of the puzzles within the dungeon by throwing Death from one location to the other in order to open up the way so that both of them can pass. Once on the other side of an area, Death will have to make use of his heightened agility in order to traverse the dungeon which brings in another major and new aspect to Darksiders 2: parkour.

While platforming in the original game was not exciting and was sometimes frustrating (owing to some button press detection issues around edges), Death is capable of feats that would make Ezio jealous. With a simple press of the joystick Death can run up walls and mantle beams sticking out as a means of gaining further height. Later, the player is further tested with this mechanic with the addition of the Death Grip item. When used, Death Grip shoots a phantasmal hand out from Death than can latch on to beams, pulling Death toward them so they can be mantled for further height or climbed on to. I won’t say that the parkour was easy as it is very timing based in terms of when Death Grip is used and when the player pushes the jump button to gain the extra height needed to scale the wall. However, after some trial and error, the parkour elements fit nicely with the level construction, and it was fun to see Death get from one side of an enormous cavern to the other, by wall running around in a single fluid movement. Indeed, if Vigil can refine some of the controls regarding parkouring in the maps in terms of detection and aiming of the Death Grip it could shape up to be a cool way of navigating the world. This time around the game also features wall bouncing, beam running, and pillar climbing. In fact, another interesting aspect is how the game handles jumping from one pillar to another. By pressing and holding the L2 button, Death will lean from whatever surface he’s currently clinging to, and can then jump from that surface to another in the direction he’s facing. It’s an interesting way of allowing the player to jump from any height while on a surface, and not pigeonholing them into reaching the top or bottom of a structure in order to jump off.

The same multistage, Zelda-style puzzles also are present in great supply this time around. However – and this could be chalked up the pre-release nature of the build I was playing – the highlighting of objects of importance within different areas, and the God of War camera fly-in, weren’t helping enough in certain segments. In particular, I can think of two segments involving Maker Constructs, giant mechs that can be piloted to smash the aforementioned yellow crystals and anything else that gets in Death’s way, where objects of importance within the environment were not highlighted enough to make them standout against the scenery. Don’t get me wrong though, as I think that the game, even in this early stage, looks great graphically and the screen even has a visual treatment where scratches and scuffs can be seen in certain kinds of light. But as far as solving a puzzle is concerned, there were moments where recesses in the floor or ledges were tough to spot. Still, the visual style of everything from Death to the unique enemies present within each of the zones was great to behold and definitely preserves the look of the original game.

After traversing through the dungeon and finding three lifestones to power up the Guardian, the enormous Construct awakes. Unfortunately, one of the stones is infused with the Corruption and so starts a boss battle worthy of some of the epic battles within Darksiders 1 with some interesting Shadow of the Colossus mechanics thrown in. The first noticeable thing about this boss fight was how much more involved it was than the battles in the first game. The first stage involved riding on Death’s steed Despair in order to shoot glowing bombs on the arm of the construct. With the arm gone, the mighty titan would fall to its knees and give you a minute or so to Death Grip onto the first lifestone. The second part of the battle called for throwing a spiked ball back at the giant so that it would knock him over allowing you to destroy the second gem. This time, though, the second gem was much higher up and required the use of some of the parkour mechanics to scamper up to it. After destroying the second gem, the Guardian falls apart. The Maker Elder, badly injured in the lead-up to Death’s battle with the Guardian, sacrifices himself to rebuild the Guardian anew and free of the Corruption. It’s here that the demo ends with a shot of the Guardian roaring as it reaches its hand down to Death.

According to Vigil Games, each zone is as big as the entirety of Darksiders. Considering there are four such areas it stands to reason that Darksiders 2 is enormous in scale and that Death’s journey will probably be a lengthy one as he quests to find roots of the conspiracy that have entangled War. Along the way, players will also get the chance to learn more about the Horsemen themselves and their race known as the Nephilim. Again, I’m curious to see whether the ambitions of Vigil Games and THQ can pay off in the next installment of the franchise. But if the sequel is as fun as the first game with the added depth from the new powers, loot drops, and leveling systems in play, fans both old and new will have reason to hope for a revelation.

Darksiders 2 releases June 26th for the Xbox 360, PS3, and PC. It is also slated as a Wii U launch title.

This hands-on preview was played on an Xbox 360 debug unit. Button names are substituted where appropriate as representatives have informed me that there will be platform parity.