Darksiders 2 is looking better than expected [Preview]
I’ve now played Darksiders 2 on a number of occasions, the most recent being last week. However, previous hands-on sessions had been limited to a specific portion of the game; a boss fight, a section of a dungeon, a whole dungeon. While those portions clearly hinted at a certain quality, it was difficult to get a proper feel for how the game would play when you actually sat down to play properly in a longer section. Simply put, it’s difficult to get a sense of the ‘feel’ of the game from playing edited sequences.
This most recent hands-on was different. An uninterrupted two hour meander through Darksiders 2’s fantasy world starting from the game’s opening cut-scene. While I didn’t experience any of the high-level content – tough bosses, maxed out skill trees etc – the two hours were enough to give me a greater understanding of how the game plays and what it’s really all about.
What I know now is that it plays very well. What I know now is that I like it a lot. Or, or least, I like those two hours a lot.
Developer Vigil has clearly set out to create something much grander and more diverse than the original Darksiders. It would have been easy for the designers to have played it safe with the sequel, playing off the sleeper hit status of the original and hoping that the intensive pre-release hype is enough to get new players joining existing fans in the rush to empty their wallets.
But they’ve not done that, it seems. The loot system addition is something Vigil seem proud of, but also uneasy. During an interview with Darksiders 2 lead designer Haydn Dalton the tables were turned and it was me answering the questions: Does the loot system work? Does it feel worthwhile? Do you like it? Evidently, there’s some unease about adding these new elements.
Admittedly, in a mere two hours it’s difficult to get a true sense of something as potentially exhaustive as a loot system but the idea does appear to work, it does appear worthwhile and I do like it.
Much of the reason for that, as far as I’m concerned, is that items are visually represented on Death himself. Pick up new gloves, boots, weapons and whatever else you may come across and Death’s appearance changes. That may seem like a small element to even mention, but it does add that touch of personalisation that is often missing from this genre. Whether or not that visual change is enough to make Death feel like your Death is a question that’ll have to wait until review time to be answered, but it’s a nice touch no matter what.
For most players, though, the loot system will be judged on how it affects the gameplay and how much freedom it offers in developing a character that plays to your personal wants and needs. The first couple of hours are mostly about familiarising you with the different kinds of loot and weapons available, so there’s not much room for experimentation as there was never a chance to properly compare the benefits of one loot type against another.
My time with the game was enough to come to the conclusion that combat is superior to the first game, though, and that’s helped by the broader range of weapons and the ability to combine them whenever you see fit. Death is much faster than original Darksiders’ War and, as such, fighting is a more diverse and visually exciting experience.
Death can jump between enemies at high speed, dicing them with his twin scythes before landing the finishing blow with his heavy weapon – including a giant hammer, my personal favourite so far. It’s less of a slow brawl and more of a rapid series of combos. Less Mike Tyson, more Manny Pacquiao.
Your combat can be specialised, through the skill tree, in two primary ways. The Harbinger side aids your core melee skills, while the Necromancer tree deals with the magical abilities. Because I’m a sucker for things that look pretty, I plumped for the few Necromancer skills I could unlock in two hours. This included the ability to summon a troop of ghouls that were useful in distracting the enemy.
The ghouls didn’t deal much damage and died fairly quickly, but they were great at distracting some of the smaller enemies while I got on with the job of tackling the bigger guy/s. Things (hopefully) would be very different if I’d gone down the melee route, a stronger Death having to take on everyone by himself.
Balance is key to any and everything in which a skill tree is a part, but by keeping skills firmly rooted in one or two broad areas Vigil should be able to manage that without too much difficulty. Like the loot system, the goal with a game like this is to provide such options without going too deep and making things too complicated for their own good. The depth should come from the combination of the different elements and how each player decides to employ them.
Whatever the case, Darksiders 2’s opening hours are very impressive. Your opening quests are simple but not trivial, the early exposure to the loot and skill tree systems hint at something that will provide the right level of variety and intrigue and the protagonist is much less the stereotypical badass that War was.
I came away wanting to play more, which is always a good sign – especially when you play snippets of various upcoming games week on week. Given THQ’s financial issues, many have speculated that a high-profile flop could spell the end of the publisher in its current, triple-A focused, form. As far as quality goes, the opening two hours of Darksiders 2 point to anything but a flop.
This is how sequels should be approach. With the courage to expand on what has come before, the defiance to ignore those telling you to play it safe and a sense of responsibility in terms of offering the player something new.