During its development, few gamers paid much attention to Darksiders, the first title created under THQ’s Vigil Studios. The closest pedigree behind the game was the creative influence of comic book artist Joe Madureira, who once had a lucrative career drawing the X-Men, but ultimately faded from notoriety from his long-delayed, ultimately cancelled series Battle Chasers. With Darksiders’ main character looking like a relic from a late ’90s comic, and its gameplay resembling a cookie cutter hack’n’slash, there was little confidence and even less hype leading up to its release.
The end result was one of the biggest surprises of the current console generation. The premise was rooted in comic book creativity, but told its story with sincerity; the main character, despite his role as the personification of War, possessed a level of stoicism rarely seen in previous “kill ‘em all” anti-heroes. Most surprising of all was the gameplay, which almost shamefully copied elements wholesale from some of gaming’s most beloved franchises, both past and present, from The Legend of Zelda to God of War, and even a bit of Portal thrown in for good measure. Ultimately, Darksiders did not reinvent gameplay conventions, but instead took some of the best elements and mixed them together.
Now, the sequel is finally approaching store shelves, this time with an audience of converted fans prepared for its arrival. But was the first game’s success just a fluke, or will Vigil be able to deliver an even better experience that could propel its franchise beyond its current label as “the mature Zelda”?
Despite its title, Darksiders II actually takes place during the events of the original game. While his brother War must spend the next century imprisoned by his masters, The Council, the Horseman known as Death seeks to clear his brother’s name by travelling across different realms, gaining favours from demons while slaughtering a whole bunch more. The game will reportedly be two to three times bigger than the original Darksiders, featuring larger, multiple worlds, as well as housing many more dungeons. The usual balance of solving dungeon puzzles and killing enemies both big and small will also return, but Vigil Studios is incorporating several new elements that will hopefully result in an even better (and more diverse) experience.
The biggest gameplay change revolves around the new playable character. Aside from resembling a Todd McFarlane character more than a Joe Mad creation, Death’s smaller frame isn’t just for show; lacking War’s heavy build, the masked marauder is faster and more nimble than his bulky brother, which results in faster-paced combat as well as traversing across platforms with greater agility. In this regard, Darksiders II draws closer inspiration from Prince of Persia than Zelda (ironically enough, Jesper Kyd is handling composing duties for the sequel, where his previous work was another series that drew inspiration from PoP: Assassin’s Creed).
Speed isn’t the only addition to the combat. While favoring scythes over swords, Death’s arsenal dwarfs War’s almost a hundred times over… thanks to the inclusion of loot. Taking a page from Diablo (because what game hasn’t Darksiders taken a page from yet? Pokémon?), Darksiders II now features collectible items from fallen enemies, ranging from extra weapons, accessories, and countless other trinkets. Naturally, some items possess higher stats than others, and since Death has a carrying limit, it would be wise to pick up only the most beneficial items… as well as anything with a “possessed” moniker, as any possessed items are considered the rarest in the game.
While unwanted items can be sold off for souls (the favoured currency of Demons and Horsemen everywhere), a better use would be feeding them to your favourite items, thus raising their stats exponentially as well as prolonging their usefulness in battle. Further adding an RPG spin to the sequel are enemy hit points (the best indicator on whether a new weapon is dealing the damage you want), as well as a skill tree that splits between Death’s melee abilities and his magical ones; whether you choose to fight in close combat or dispatch enemies from a distance, or even a mix of both, Darksiders II has different play styles for different players.
There are still some features yet to be unveiled, such as the recently announced Survival mode (100 waves of enemies, with a reward for every 5 waves completed) and New Game + (start the game over with all of you levels and equipment intact), but the message is clear: Darksiders II is bigger, faster, and bursting with more content than its critically acclaimed predecessor. The first apocalypse took everyone by surprise, but now fans everywhere are prepared to take the second coming of the Horsemen with fevered anticipation.