The universe is descending into chaos as the war between Heaven and Hell gets complicated. The Charred Council created The Four Horsemen, giving them the task of enforcing law and maintaining balance across multiple dimensions. Humanity emerges in a third dimension named Earth between Heaven and Hell, and this is where the real trouble begins. The very fabric of existence is threatened by screen tearing, as a videogame company named THQ threatens to publish the universe.
This is Death. His brother War made all kinds of mess in Darksiders 1, but he’s a good guy really. He couldn’t possibly be to blame for something so trivial as the extinction of mankind, but the Charred Council thinks he started the apocalypse a bit too early and locked him away for 100 years just in case. Death knows that his brother War is a good bloke, and is here to continue the story and prove his innocence. Death is on a personal mission to resurrect humanity and find the truth about War.
Darksiders II is an action-adventure game with a very basic hack-and-slash combat system. You just hack and slash, and press the dodge button over and over again with your gaze constantly fixated on every enemy that might be attacking. It’s fucking awful and every single fight feels the same. I had mixed feelings about the first Darksiders because there was so much combat, but to my delight Darksiders II has a much heavier emphasis on movement and exploration so it’s not too big a deal. Even though it’s repetitive it becomes mindless fun, with satisfying sound effects and good movement controls.
The game’s dungeons are brilliant and contain some very impressive 3D design, with a level of interaction rarely seen outside Zelda and Metroid. They have an enormous scale to them and almost everything around you has a gameplay purpose. The cracks in the walls feel a bit like morph ball tunnels from Metroid Prime, with grappling hooks, vines, water, and block puzzles all comfortably finding a purpose in the progression of each dungeon. It’s a very smart game with a lot of thought put into the structure of rooms. It’s also one of the few 3D games with amazing swimming controls, using the Wii U’s gyro to tilt up and down in addition to the two analog sticks making movement very instant at any angle. I dived into every puddle of water I saw just because swimming was so fun.
This game takes a very hands-on approach with objects and puzzle solving much like Zelda. In Darksiders II you can grab objects and pull them towards you in the air with your Deathgrip (actual item name). This means you can grab an explosive, throw it onto a ball, pull out your gun, shoot the explosive on the ball, and watch the ball shoot forward. It makes me wonder if Nintendo played this game, because charging energy into objects in Breath of the Wild’s E3 demo was a bit similar to throwing sticky explosives in this game. The freedom you have with your abilities combines with good level design to make the game a lot of fun to figure out. When you get stuck in this game it’s a pretty interesting feeling, like “what awesome thing should I be doing?“. I just loved how all the puzzles involved fun movement instead of generic point A to point B key collecting. The overworld also has a lot of cool secrets and sidequests, and figuring out where to jump to get to high place is a fun process.
As you gain more abilities the puzzles start to get pretty tricky. Eventually you can create a clone of yourself, leading to some complex movement puzzles where two Deaths have to pull switches without wandering too far away from each other. One particular puzzle in this game stumped me for almost an hour, and the solution ended up being questionable. I think a LOT of people will get stuck there. It’s something you’d never see in a Zelda game because of how obtuse and potentially alienating it was, but it just made me appreciate the uniqueness of this game. I wish more Western developers would tackle the Zelda-Metroid formula for this reason. Even if they don’t do it perfectly it’s very refreshing to see different ideas on how a game should progress.
The music is nothing special but I was happy with it, because it was complete shit in Darksiders 1. There aren’t too many melodies in Darksiders II either, but the ambience at least has a bit of composition to it now. There are some relaxing tunes and a few haunting ones that really make you feel like you’re lost in a dungeon or trapped at the bottom of a tomb. Without many strong melodies it’s basically background noise, but very good for what it is.
Another big part of the experience is glitches, unfortunately. THQ closed down as this game launched, and there’s an unpolished feeling to the entire performance of the game. Controls are responsive and the GamePad is used very well to manage items, but graphically the game is a bit inconsistent with some PS3 style screen tearing that makes things in the distance look weird sometimes. It makes panning the camera quite undesirable, which is a shame for such a beautiful game. A patch was made by Vigil Games but THQ went bankrupt before they could submit it, leaving the game itself stuck between dimensions. We are lucky to get this game on Wii U at all to be honest. It’s such an early Wii U game that it doesn’t even have Miiverse screenshot support, so I took a bunch of random ones from multiple different console versions for this write-up. That’s what all the paid journalists are doing anyway.
Crashing is another unfortunately issue with this game. I was lucky to have no crashes for the first 17 hours, but then they started assaulting my Wii U in the second half of the game. Crashing was accompanied by a very annoying high-pitched buzzing sound, and my Wii U must have frozen a dozen times by the end. Luckily the developers seem to have anticipated this with a very aggressive auto-save feature. I never really lost progress, it was just a bit upsetting to have to hold the power button on my Wii U so many times. I’m really sorry, you’ll get Zelda soon I promise.
In addition to the crashes I also suffered some progression glitches, with markers not showing up and some moments where my character got stuck in objects. One particular soft-lock occurred when I killed a boss and was left hanging on a platform that disappeared in the following cutscene. Impressive attention to detail, but unfortunately the cause of another reset. Another time I thought I was stuck in a dungeon because bars had appeared over a door. For some reason Fast Travel was disabled as well, so I thought this was an actual puzzle for quite some time. Nope, it turns out if you just reset the game, you suddenly have the ability to Fast Travel out of there. Could be a glitch, but what if the game is just trying to make you think outside the box? As if the only way to escape a tomb is to change your way of thinking. Very interesting. If they put Hideo Kojima’s name on the box, all these glitches would be absolute genius. Alas, he was a victim of the great war.
Even though the performance has some problems, the environmental detail and world design is incredibly good. This is another aspect I would compare to Metroid Prime because they put so much care on small details. You can just look at stuff and be in awe, as the environments have a very thick atmosphere to them. Small story events and random dialogue add to this feeling. There’s something unsettling about a demon saying “you can not win” as you’re killing them. It’s like their lives mean nothing, and the act of disposing of enemies means nothing but you still have to do it. The combat grind never stops, but still feels like a small part of some of these dungeons. Spikes at the bottom of the tomb await you, smiling. Every character shrugs you off and sends you away on side quests, like you can’t win. They are literally laughing at Death. It creates this unsettling feeling that your character is a mild amusement. It might seem condescending, but it creates a new motivation to have fun and explore, with the savior of worlds somehow fading into the distance. Oh how cute, it’s Death. Have fun climbing dear.
I ended up completing everything in Darksiders II and enjoyed the experience a lot. It’s a significant improvement on the first game, with better world design, smarter puzzles, better writing and some surprisingly fun boss battles. That said, it’s still hard to recommend because of all the glitches. I suppose that will depend on your tolerance level and how lucky you get. It’s a real shame we’ll never see a Darksiders 3 because I would have loved to see the story of the other two Horsemen. A lot of things are left unanswered, and with how substantially they improved on the first game I think the gameplay would have been exciting. In general, I wish more Western developers would create environments that can actually be played, instead of the whole game acting as a background. So many big budget AAA games don’t even let you touch anything, but Darksiders II is a fun videogame first and foremost and contains a lot of fun for any player looking for it.