Darksiders 2

Game: Darksiders 2

Genre: Action-RPG, Beat ‘em Up

Developer: Vigil Games

Publisher: THQ

Platform: PC, PS3, Xbox 360, Wii U

Score: 4 out of 5 Devil May Crys (Not because it’s 4/5 Good, because DMC 4 Sucked the most)

Darksiders 2 was the highest selling title of August 2012.  It outsold a dozen bad movie tie-in games and some re-releases.  Okay so maybe that’s not a feat but it does bring to mind some questions:  It sold well a year ago, so why are you reviewing this game now?  What the fuck happened to THQ anyway?

Why Darksiders 2?  Because I can’t afford The Last of Us or Deadpool right now.

As for what happened to THQ?  Bankruptcy; it’s just another casualty of the gaming industry.  Nordic Games purchased the Darksiders IP (along with Red Faction) on April 22, 2013.  Hopes of seeing a third installment in the series are still alive.  I just hope Nordic can make a good sequel because Vigil sure as hell didn’t.

Let’s start over.

I loved the first Darksiders.  It knew exactly what it was; a video game with an excuse to kill demons and angels as one of the Four Horsemen.  War was framed for starting the Apocalypse prematurely and set out to clear his good name the only way a Horseman can; by killing everything forever.  The story was well delivered, if not a little silly, and had amazing voice acting – with Luke Skywalker voicing a handful of characters of course it was.  The combat was fun.  The enemies were interesting.  The art from characters to map design was impeccable; detailed; fun.  Early on the game was criticized as a God of War ripoff (because that’s what every Beat ‘em Up is accused of now).  It’s more accurate to say that Darksiders is Zelda for adults.

Darksiders 2 takes that same Zelda formula and injects it with pointless RPG frivolity.

I was disappointment when I found out Darksiders 2 took place at the same time as the original.  The first ended at such a perfect place, I was ready for a sequel (which is rather unique when you think about it).  I was pissed off when I began playing Darksiders 2 and there was an in game mail system.  I don’t need to point out how stupid that is but I will; it’s really stupid.

Such a silly design flaw early on brought the major handicap of Darksiders 2 into focus.  It’s trying too hard to be not just an RPG, but an MMORPG – something no single player game should ever do.  Equipment, spec trees, an empty world map are all heinous cancers that have grown on Darksiders to make its sad successor.  Equipment undermines the artful character design of Death by making him look like a loot piñata.  Spec trees make combat difficult to tune and trivialize most encounters (since there is one good spec tree and all combat is balanced so that the bad spec tree can win).

And a world map?  The thing the best Beat ‘em Ups do is disguise linear world progression with the illusion of freedom.  Darksiders is a great example of how best to do this.  The bad version of it is clear-cut stages that end and rate you with a score.  Call it the Devil May Cry method.  Whether it’s with stages or a good illusion, players need to be guided through your world.  Action should be broken up with puzzles, platforming, or exploration; not by mindlessly wandering through an empty world on a poorly controlled horse.

Which brings me to the highest on my list of bullshit not to do:  When I heard about a Darksiders sequel I didn’t think to myself, “gee, more horseback riding through generic fantasy scenery would be good.”  If we inspect every video game since the dawn of time horse controls are universally shit.  Darksiders (the original) paid a nod to the fact that War was a Horsemen.  The inconvenience of having to ride a horse was tempered by tossing it in with a pair of bossfights.  Shitty horse controls was part of the difficulty of those encounters.

Darksiders used the horse as another dungeon solution, like the Hookshot in Zelda, you got it to get through a couple sections of map and needed it for the boss fight.  It was a nod to your moniker, not a gameplay liability.  It felt good to be reminded that you were a Doomsday Rider but it felt better to know you’d still be killing demonic Skyscrapers with your bare hands.  Darksiders 2 missed the memo.  You start out riding your horse; you continue to ride your horse through vacant scenery; it never feels important like it did in the first game.

The greatest blow to Darksiders 2 comes from the setting.  A twisted apocalypse America with fantasy smashing through the gates is replaced by generic fantasy setting crawling with AIDS.  The enemies are less varied and less inspired than the Voltron Angels and Warhammer Demons of its predecessor.  Darksiders 2 even lacks a clear cut antagonist for the majority of the game.

I can’t take away too many points for that, though.  Most games have forgotten the importance of a good Kefka or Sephiroth presence from the beginning. Darksiders didn’t.  Abaddon may have been predictable but he was there driving a plot and giving a face to the strife War felt.  It became a goal for players to defeat him.  When we finally got to fight him we had an emotional stake in the triumph.

I should go easier on Darksiders 2.  Just because its predecessor got so much right doesn’t mean it should be held to such a high standard.  Darksiders 2 isn’t a bad game.  It’s alright; somewhere between DMC4 and the Reboot.  Not an enviable perch.  It could’ve been a better game had they dropped the fetch quests, open world map, and equipment swapping gimmicks.  The real problem with Darksiders 2 is that it wastes so much time on that other stuff that it struggles to find any real heart.

Darksiders 2 did achieve something The Original didn’t.  It gave me another game to point to when asked for a list of games made worse by RPG elements. Alpha Protocol, you’re not alone anymore.  Darksiders 2 proved definitively that the Darksiders formula isn’t improved by the RPG rigmarole.