The genre Darksiders 2 resides in is a competitive one. Although it seems a cruel yardstick, 3D adventure games will always be measured against the Zelda series. Even though recent installments of their flagship franchise have been decidedly bland, Nintendo established the standards for what makes games of this genre immersive, responsive, and enjoyable.
Although Darksiders 2 meets these standards, it fails to surpass any of them. The result is a competent but unremarkable adventure.
I have to apply special criticism to Darksiders 2 for starting the game in media res. Having never played the original Darksiders, I was completely at a loss. The character of Death was introduced without applause, and the short cut scene that opened the game offered only a skeletal explanation of his background and motivation. Death, being an alien and fiendish character, necessitates elaborate characterization in order to make him a relatable protagonist. Instead, a lack of understanding left me completely indifferent to his story.
It’s a shame, because the presentation of the story is solid. The graphics blend the gothic sensibilities of Todd McFarlane with the vibrant colours and chunky forearms of Samwise Didier. The combination matches the dire but intentionally over-the-top tone of the game, and the cartoonish approach allows it to run smoothly on lower-end machines. The voice acting is much better than anticipated as well; kudos to Vigil Games for giving Death a tempered English accent rather than defaulting to an angsty Christian-Bale-Batman growl.
However, to many the allure of the Darksider‘s franchise is not the story or aesthetics, but the combat. Right off the bat, the player is provided a slew of different slashes, swings, and physics-defying flips that can be chained together in a seemingly infinite number of combos. The controls are tight and it’s all quite spectacular to watch, but the combat soon falls into monotony. After a few hours, it’s apparent that not all the combos were created equal. You’ll likely end up relying on two or three particularly versatile moves as a crutch and allow the rest of your repertoire to fall to the wayside. This repetition is exacerbated by the lack of monster diversity, rarely requiring the player to adapt their tactics on the fly.
A lack of diversity also plagues the puzzle portions of the game. When Darksiders 2 introduces a puzzle mechanic, it milks it for everything it’s worth. The first three dungeons repeat the same put-the-giant-ball-in-the-hole puzzle more than half a dozen times with little reinvention. Shadow bombs pop up with similar frequency and rarely require the player to do more than pick up the bomb and throw it at a wall on the opposite end of the room. These challenges require more leg work than brain work, and more than any other element in Darksiders 2, the puzzles make me pine for the polish of a Zelda game.
Although flawed, the combat and puzzling in Darksiders 2 are both competent enough to offer some appeal. The equipment system is the only gameplay element I consider genuinely obtuse. Borrowing from the Diablo franchise, Darksiders 2 garnishes each slain monster with a mountain of gold and randomly generated weapon and armour pieces. Most of these items are junk, and the designed-for-console inventory system makes managing this constant influx of trinkets a woeful task. Equipment could have been dropped entirely – the levelling system more than adequately scales avatar strength throughout the game – and I suspect it was only implemented to curry options for DLC.
Despite this design flaw, Darksiders 2 is still a competent game, but that’s about the highest praise I can manage. No feature weighs down the game to the point of unplayability, but no feature elevates it to the point of remarkability either. It’s a painfully average experience. It’s a shame to say this because of the dire straits THQ has fallen into, but Darksiders 2 is definitely not worth the full $49.99 price tag. Even if you were a fan of the original Darksiders, wait for at least a 50% discount to pop up.