In part one of my hands on preview of THQ’s latest release, Darksiders 2, I covered the size and scope of the first zone’s dungeons and changes to leveling and character building introduced by the developers at Vigil Games.
This time I’m going to talk (well, frankly, gush) about my favorite part of my Darksiders 2 experience. The combat.
I enjoyed the combat in the first game. Not only can you produce attack combos with one weapon, you can switch weapons in mid-sequence and produce even more combos. There was a point, as I leveled and learned new abilities, when the amount of abilities I had to choose from started to get a little crazy and I’d often forget what I was supposed to be pressing for the desired effect. But, although there were many choices, the button sequences were fairly simple. It wasn’t anywhere near Street Fighter level of button mashing. (I’m referring to the XBOX 360. I don’t know how hot keying combos on the PC works.)
This theme continues in Darksiders 2. When I first started battling my way through the Cauldron, the first fiery dungeon, I picked up right where I left off in Darksiders. Combat was controlled the same way as the first game, but I could tell immediately there was something different. The combat felt faster, more frenetic.
“I love combat and I wanted a theme that stood out from all the other great combat games out there,” said Ben Cureton, Vigil Games’ lead combat designer. “Death is a different character than War. War would – BLAM – hit you hard then stop. Death is feral, agile and fast.”
And he needs to be, because the other difference between War and Death is Death can’t block. Or maybe he can, but thinks blocking is for pussies. Either way, it doesn’t happen. Not counting operator error, the only time Death slows down is if you dodge more than twice. When you come to Darksiders 2, come prepared to fight.
“When you face off with fake War, you can really visualize and see the combat style differences between these two characters,” said Jay Fitzloff, Darksiders 2 associate producer at Vigil Games, referring to an early battle when Crowfather refuses to help Death save his brother.
I spent most of my time as Death duel wielding fast-moving scythes and one slow secondary weapon. With this set up I was able to move in close and attack with vicious fast hitting combos, then, before the enemy could react, switch quickly to my larger weapon to produce a combo that knocked the enemy back, preventing or interrupting an attack against me. This I could follow up with another combo, which threw my scythes from range (accompanied by a very cool spinning effect that returned my scythes to me.) Then I would use one of my talents to charge forward rapidly back into the fray (later you can use death grip to pull smaller enemies back to you.) I can also make the scythes spin around me in a close range area effect attack or merge them into one giant scythe for brutal, face-hacking goodness. I also did a lot of zombie summoning. Those guys know how to party.
Special abilities are activated by using wrath and you gain wrath by hitting enemies, so I briefly tried using a fast weapon as my secondary to produce more wrath. But that set up wasn’t really for me and as I got deeper into the Necromancer tree I was able to give my minions the ability to regenerate my wrath so I switched back to the fast/slow weapon combo. Some of my comrades I played with preferred having all fast weapons. Either way works quite well. Choose whichever fits your style.
“We changed his (Death) attacks from five to four (which hits eight times),” said Cureton. “Four attacks might knock an enemy back, but if you want to keep an enemy close, you need to use a different sequence of attacks.” Cureton says it’s this simple change that resulted in Death attacks feeling so quick and visceral.
However the end result was accomplished, I am a huge fan of combat in Darksiders 2.
What I am not a huge fan of (full disclosure on my prejudices going forward from here) is puzzles. And that’s not specific to either Darksiders. That’s across all genres. Except for puzzle games. Which I don’t play. I particularly don’t like puzzles in my action games. They tend to slow down the action part.
It could be my imagination, but it felt like the second dungeon, the Drenchfort, had much less fighting and many more puzzles than the Cauldron. Much of it was finding the right place to climb and run along walls which Darksiders veterans should be familiar with. Some of it was finding the right switch to hit in one room or discovering a creative way of blowing something up.
None of it was overly difficult. In one room I had to reach a ledge above me and to do so I had to run in a full circle along the walls of the room. I fell off the first few tries, but wall running isn’t too hard to get the hang of. In fact the less I thought about it the easier it was. (Do or do not. There is no try.) The only real problem I encountered was when I was wandering around trying to discover how to access a wing of the Drenchfort. Being a man, I wandered for 40 minutes before I sheepishly raised my hand and asked for directions. Turns out I missed a small tunnel at the end of a hall I was supposed to climb up. After this oversight was pointed out, it didn’t take me long to figure out what I had to do.
I assume puzzles in Darksiders 2 will be similar to the first in that they become a little more complicated and frequent the deeper into the game you get. But I never felt like I was trying to solve some Myst-like enigma. Like any skill, puzzle solving in games is a learned one. Anyone experienced with these will probably cruise right through them. If you’re inexperienced, just pay attention – unlike a certain writer – to your surroundings and you’ll probably do fine. (Or you can just Google it!)
One change I appreciate in this area is a small tweak to mechanics which makes climbing and wall-running more intuitive. In Darksiders, you have to press ‘A’ every time you want to move from platform to platform or wall to wall which caused problems with many players.
“People were constantly overshooting their marks and falling off walls from pressing the ‘A’ button one too many times,” said Fitzloff. Their solution was for Death to climb to every point with a single push of ‘A’ stopping automatically when he reaches the end of the navigable path. A simpler solution may have been to stop spamming ‘A’ so much, dumbass, but since I’m one of these dumbasses, I fully support this initiative.
The first boss fight is as epic in scope and size as the zone, and can rival any other game’s final boss. Like any boss fight, he’s part combat, part puzzle. Once you figure out his moves and weaknesses, it’s only a matter of time and execution before you can bring him down. I had a little trouble with execution part of my plan and was completely curb-stomped my first few tries. But it was a lot of fun.
I’m always wary of developers who try to put so many different elements into one game. Darksiders 2 is part Prince of Persia, Street Fighter, Dungeons & Dragons and Zelda (so I’m told by Zelda fans) filled with intense combat, puzzles and role playing. Trying to add something for everyone usually ends up pleasing no one. But judging from the content I’ve played so far, Vigil Games has done a very nice job tying all these elements together and making them work. If they pull this off consistently throughout the remainder of the zones, then Darksiders 2 should be a hell of a game.
They definitely whet my appetite for more and I’m looking forward to exploring this world more thoroughly.
Until next time,