It’s impossible to avoid the fatigue one feels upon initially starting Darksiders 2 and realizing that here is another Amalur/Fable/Skyrim seemingly open world, fantasy-esque adventure involving combat, magic, collecting loot, and riding a steed, although this game comes couched in a fairly unique world involving a semi-Christian theology combined with the dramatic overtones of Greek and Roman mythology. Death has arrived, following the accidental Rapture initiated by War in the previous game (and one dimly wonders if THQ intends this to be a four-part series), and immediately engages in an epic battle between angels, demons, and now, the Nephilim.
Almost immediately the game sets about making clear that, flashier graphics aside, this game is more or less a direct remake/distillation of all the things that make the 3D Zelda series great, combined with the combat of God of War, the fantastic platforming of Prince of Persia, and a protagonist seemingly inspired by Raziel of Soul Reaver. This is no open-world, but more as a twisted Hyrule style hub-world through which Death is free to ride his horse, Despair. Although there are optional sub-dungeons and many artifacts to collect, all of it is optional, and collecting different items unlocks rare weapons or other perks.
The story in Darksiders 2 is surprisingly compelling given how cliché some of the elements could seem. Death wrestles with some truly epic choices along his journey to free his brother War by resurrecting humanity, encountering the Nephilim (former brothers the Horsemen), and a host of other colorful characters. Darksiders 2 is perhaps even more formulaic than Zelda, and yet it’s such a compelling formula. As in Zelda there is a light world and a dark world, and even other surprises as the plot pushes forward. Death will receive a new objective by talking to the various NPC characters, go to the destination, and engage in a dungeon, which are almost identical to what Link typically encounters: complete with many monster types to kill, Dungeon Maps, keys, unique dungeon-specific tools that aid in puzzle-solving, and they always culminate in a boss fight.
Many different abilities are available to Death, and these unlock at a steady pace. By far the best of these abilities involve the Portal-like ability to walk between two points, the ability to clone Death to solve multiple puzzles, or the hookshot analogue that allows him to traverse the world in style. Death can also summon other creatures to fight for him as well as his deadly Reaper form. Also scattered throughout the dungeons are other tools including very Zelda-esque Stone robots, bomb flowers, and various pressure plates and buttons.
Exploring a dungeon is often exhilarating, as Death makes fine use of his scythe to wall run between various anchor points. It functions identically to how the Prince traveled in the Sands of Time series, minus the ability to reverse time. Environments are large and detailed, but largely self-contained. Dungeons are logically designed to provide a good flow.
Combat is great, and that’s a very good thing considering how much killing the game requires. Kills and combo multipliers enhance the amount of experience Death receives, allowing him to select different perks from a two sided tree offering offensive and defensive choices. Death is always equipped with a scythe and one secondary weapon (choose from axes, claws, etc.), as well as a gun. He can also set abilities and items to different button combinations as could Link.
Graphics work well for the game and are bright and cartoony, at the usual level of detail expected of this generation and establishing a clear visual style. Music is surprisingly catchy, utilizing heavy woodwinds and booming in during boss fights. One particularly memorable moment involves Death riding down a colossus in an open field set to an amazing music track.
Normally the extremely high level of “homages” this game features would be seen as a negative. Fortunately, Darksiders 2 improves on every aspect of the first game, and every element of dungeon exploration, combat and platforming works so well in concert that you forgive it for not being the most original game, and instead rejoice that it’s instead a highly entertaining one. The game is challenging, highly entertaining, and a great investment given that there are 3 acts that all take about 6-7 hours to clear.