It’s easy to tell looking around THQ’s headquarters in Agoura Hills, Calif., what their next big title is. Darksiders 2 posters adorn every wall. Coffins line the hall. A giant replica facemask of the Darsksiders 2 hero (or anti-hero), Death, hangs from the ceiling by chains next to the front desk. (I don’t know how heavy it really is. But as a native Californian, I immediately dismissed it as a duck-and-cover option in the event of an earthquake.) And so I arrived Thursday to try out the first level of developer Vigil Games sequel to Darksiders.
If you’re unfamiliar with the original Darksiders, you assume the role of War, accused of wrongfully participating in the apocalypse when the seven seals are broken prematurely. As War you fight through a completely destroyed Earth bereft of humanity trying to clear your name and avenge the loss of mankind. While knowing the particulars of the first game enhances some of the elements of the second, it’s not necessary at all to the enjoyment and story of the second.
This is Death’s story.
In Darksiders 2 that’s who you control – Death. Death’s objective is to redeem his brother War’s name. And to do this he must return humanity to the living. So he thinks. (You know you’ve been screwed when you have to count on Death to save your life.)
I started out in a chilling, sleet-swept realm seeking the Crowfather, a prisoner on an icy mountain who I believe knows how to find the secret to restoring humanity to Earth. Immediately I discover two things that make me incredibly happy. First, I get a mount right away. Despair, my faithful steed, takes me most places I need to go. Where most fear to tread.
“The scale of the zones in this game is enormous,” said Jay Fitzloff, Darksiders 2 associate producer at Vigil Games, the developers of Darksiders. “So we wanted to give people a mount right away.”
Second, my kill move on a reluctant Crowfather is pretty damn righteous. I don’t know whose sick mind at Vigil suggested it, but I salute him (or her.) It might be my favorite moment of my play time. From Crowfather I get my second companion, Dust.
Instead of just marking your map with an arrow like most games, the developer provides you with Dust, a crow who flies ahead, scouting the path. The objective is not always as the crow flies. Sometimes I needed to fight my way to it. Sometimes I needed to think my way to it. More on that later.
The tutorial is seamlessly integrated into the game, too. The action never stopped, forcing me to read instructions. They just popped up at the appropriate moment informing me how to perform the action without interruption. Since the controls were similar to the first game, they served as reminders on how to navigate. Many of Death’s abilities are similar to his brother, but they’ve been tweaked a little for smoother game play.
There are four zones in Darksiders 2, and the first is The Forge Lands (or the Maker’s realm.) It’s fairly epic in size. It’s host to several dungeons and has 13 distinct areas of its own. In about 10 hours of play, I covered maybe half of it. And I spent most of my time on task. I barely touched the side missions.
Here in The Forge Lands, I discover after talking to the natives (Makers) that I might be able to use the Tree of Life to restore the human race. But of course, there are technical difficulties that must be overcome. Corruption is everywhere, killing the land and blocking my path to the Tree, so in traditional role playing (RP) game fashion I set off (reluctantly, because I don’t give a damn about their problems) to fix everything so I can get to the Tree.
This is a completely different vibe than I got from the first game. The Forge Lands had a much more fantasy feel to it than the apocalyptic, demon-infested cities of Earth in the first game. But it’s only the first level. When pressed about content deeper in the game, Mathew Everett’s (Darksiders’ community manager) favorite response was raised brows accompanied by the words “I don’t know.” I suspect he was not being completely honest with me.
This RP feeling is enhanced by the addition of conversation choices added to character interactions, if you want to find out more information about the history or current events of the area. Death himself is an interesting character. He doesn’t give a crap about anything. Yet, I still get the opportunity to express interest in the characters of the worlds I visited. Sometimes I would see a question and wonder, “Why would I – Death incarnate – care about that?” When I directed Death to ask the questions, Death seemed to agree. In fact, Death’s inquiries appear to serve the sole purpose of being asked simply so he can have the pleasure of telling the character asked he doesn’t give a damn. In short, Death is a prick.
(Obviously, these moments are to inform us, the player, and enhance our experience in the game world. They also added greatly to my amusement. Death is my kind of asshole.)
Death is much more customizable than War as well. In Darksiders, weapons leveled, getting more powerful and allowing you to train new combos and new add new abilities to War’s deadly arsenal. Darksiders 2 takes the more traditional route. Gone is weapon leveling, and in is finding weapons on defeated foes and treasure chests. Death also has a Warcraftian dual-branched skill tree to customize your abilities.
One path is more physical and the other leans more toward pets, protection and some ranged magical attacks. There is also specialized equipment designed to enhance your powers from the chosen specialty. What I like about them is that you’re not locked into either. There are some abilities that have prerequisites, but if you are the appropriate level, you can hop from one branch to another and pick any ability you like. There are no minimum points you have to spend in that tree. As long as you meet the prerequisite, you can have it. Shwing! These changes are part of the natural progression of creating new content for games in the same world.
“Sometimes when you make a game you can’t fit everything you want in it or have it fit exactly the way you want it to,” said Fitzloff. “We also wanted to give players a different tool set so they could take Death in any direction they want.”
I don’t want to give away all the juiciest details of my travels through the game. This is just a brief look to give you an idea how large the zones and dungeons are (and how much time you can spend exploring each), changes to the skill development of the character, and how the depth and flavor of the world have been enhanced since the release of the first Darksiders. In part two, I’ll reveal how I put Death’s new, updated combat skills (my favorite part) to practical use navigating the dungeons, touch on the puzzle-solving aspects (my least favorite part) of the game, and share more insights from the developers on these changes.
Until next time,