Darksiders 2 [Preview] – Death follows War

22 Mar 2012  by   John Robertson

If one thing’s clear from our hands-on time with Darksiders 2 so far, it’s that if you liked the first game you’re going to like this one. In the words of the game’s director, Marvin Donald, “we liked the game overall, we just really set out to make everything that bit better.”
By better, it seems as though they mean faster and finding ways to reward players more immediately than before. New protagonist Death is more agile, more nimble and better equipped to deal with both platforming and combat sequences.
Death can run along and jump between walls, he can climb pillars and shimmy around them, he can run across narrow beams and he can use his Death Grip (read: zip line) to cross particularly large gaps. All of these are essential at some point or another when tackling platforming sections; of which there were many in our two hour-ish demo.
These new abilities instil a sense of command and ownership over your environment that wasn’t all that apparent in the first Darksiders. We faced areas that were constructed out of little more than a few pillars, a wall and a couple of hooks hanging from the ceiling – the entire ground level made up of lava pools. Because much of the platforming forces you to time jumps perfectly and work out exactly which ability you should be using at which point, most of these rooms were accompanied by at least a couple of untimely trips to the molten rock sauna. But that one perfect run does feel and look special once attained.

Combat has been taken up a gear, too. Death’s primary weapons, his Dual Scythes, allow for fast spins and counter attacks as you jump around to evade getting hit yourself. In addition a pair of pistols and a secondary weapon (we used a giant hammer) provide a means of attacking from range and/or some variety when it comes to prolonging your combos. The increased pace means things often feel closer to the likes of God of War, Devil May Cry and Castlevania: Lord of Shadows, which is no bad thing.
Some enemies will drop loot when dispatched, which aims to add a degree of diversification to each player’s version of Death. Loot is randomly generated, with the most precious items having a far smaller chance of appearing than weaker examples. The idea is that no two players will end the game with the same character setup, as no two players will have found the exact same loot.
Armour, weapons, amulets and the like effect Death’s appearance; so your choice of what to equip him with may come down to more than just pure stats.
A dual skill tree system is also in place that aims to further diversify your vision of Death and meld him into the kind of character you want him to be. The Harbinger tree focuses on powers that improve your melee, while the Necromancer tree is all about spellcasting.

You can choose to either focus entirely on a single tree or to mix and match abilities from both. We’re assured that there’s no way of you being able to max out both trees in a single playthrough, so it is likely that you’ll end up with a different character from other players. Skills are unlocked by levelling up through experience points earned with each kill, putting the emphasis very much on aggression over avoidance.
See full Darksiders 2 skill tree breakdown here.
We’re not yet sure how enemies will scale depending on your level and abilities. Presumably some form of on-the-fly balancing will need to take place under the hood to prevent things becoming too easy/difficult as a result of your skill tree choices.
As with the first game’s War, Death has a mount of his own in the form of Despair – a glowing turquoise horse that can be magically summoned from thin air. Available soon after the game begins, Despair is designed to help you travel the world faster and to be an ally in combat.
The finale of our demo involved tackling the Guardian, a giant, hammer-wielding stone monster that looks as though it’s just returned from a Shadow of the Colossus casting. Despair comes in rather handy during the fight as his gallop is the only way to avoid being smashed by the hammer each time the Guardian swings it into the ground. In a classic case of dodge-then-counterattack, the Guardian would pause each time his hammer got stuck in the ground which gives you enough time to shoot his weak spot and eventually turn him from rock to rubble.

Darksiders 2 takes place during the same years as War’s adventures, which should hopefully shed light on those same events from a different perspective. Whether or not that provides as engaging a narrative as it would otherwise do remains to be seen, but it should provide a few ‘a-ha’ moments for the first game’s hardened followers.
We’re promised the world is three to four times larger than that of the original and that it’s structured in the same way with a central hub-world with dungeons that branch off from it – yes, it’s still like Zelda in that sense.
Only time will tell if that formula works for a game that seems intent on evolving, rather than revolutionising, the systems that gave the original its shape and reputation as an overlooked classic. What we’ve played of Darksiders 2 left us impressed enough to go back and play that original, which is always a good sign in an industry so obsessed with the next big thing.
No matter what, Death follows War. Let’s hope it really is an afterlife worth living.

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