Darksiders II: The Kotaku Review

I am become Death, destroyer of crates.

Also vases. And skeletons. And bees. And, oh yes, enormous slavering eldritch horrors from Hell. I destroyed a bunch of those, too.

Darksiders II begins more or less where the first Darksiders left off. In that game, War — as in, the apocalyptic horseman — accidentally triggers the Armageddon before the correct moment and everything, more or less literally, goes to hell. But it was a set-up; other powers used War for their own ends and he is, if not blameless, at least not as guilty as other parties think. Darksiders II stars War's brother and fellow horseman, Death, as he attempts to set the record straight and redeem War's good name. Doing so mainly involves going places and killing everything that lives there.

Plot-wise, the game never does make any more sense than that. But that's OK. It's the video game version of the summer popcorn flick, and that's not a bad thing.

Darksiders II needs you not to question its internal logic. Much of it is, at best, strained. While playing, I had several conversations, like:

"I have to go to the land of the dead."

"Aren't you Death?"

"Yes."

"So isn't that your..."

"No."

"But..."

"This is one of those questions you shouldn't ask."

"So you're invincible in this game, right?"

"Nope. That's my health meter, and I have potions."

"But if you die, who kills you? And when you do, does everyone else become immortal?"

"Remember what I said about questions?"

Much in common with certain blockbuster films, it can be a delight to watch as long as you don't look through the logic holes. The game makes a covenant with you: if you promise not to think about any of it, it will provide you with the tools you need to travel, and the reasons to keep pressing onward.

Like the double-bladed combat and inventory full of magical garb, that need not to think too hard about the construction and purpose of the world is something Darksiders II borrows handily from games that came before it.

Darksiders was a pastiche of other games, brought together into a new package. Darksiders II is, in many ways, more of the same. Death's default weapon, the double scythes, feel so much like Kratos's arm-blades that it took me several hours to stop trying to use combos and motions still stored in my muscle memory from the God of War games.

So. For players who were wondering what would happen if God of War cross-bred with Zelda, then added a touch of the Kingdoms of Amalur aesthetic, and added dungeons that were essentially Fallout 3 and Portal, the answer is: you get Darksiders II.

The amazing part is, after a sort of rough beginning, the odd medley actually works. It does take three or four hours for all the disparate pieces to feel smoothly integrated. Like cooking or — better yet — like baking. When baking, it takes time and patience to get all of the ingredients in the bowl to stop being just ingredients, and to start being a cohesive dough. So, too, with Darksiders II.

Certain elements never do quite work. One late-game dungeon, set on a post-apocalyptic Earth, very suddenly invalidates everything Darksiders II has taught the player over 16+ previous hours of play. The modern, real-world setting, full of destructible cars, isn't actually the problem. (In fact, it's a pretty great change of pace.) The mechanics, on the other hand, are completely upended. It's a large area with no climbing, and rather than being able to use the abilities and weapons he has leveled up over two previous large acts, Death is more or less constrained to an awkward, two-handed angelic machine gun that makes taking any other action more difficult than it has to be. Put down the gun, open the chest, pick up the items, pick up the gun, move to the left, kill two things, put down the gun, melee kill the other 20 things, pick up the gun... The weapon was a frustrating exercise in "ideas that looked better on paper than in practice." Still, the game did try to provide new guns frequently, as if it knew that, at some point, I would have given up and left mine lying behind me in the dust.

Aside from some exceptions like Salvation (the machine gun), the tools that Darksiders II provides with each new area generally work well. And again, aside from the same exceptions, each added mechanic — a grapple, an ability to be in two places at once, and so on — generally carries forward well from dungeon to dungeon and act to act, staying useful as Death continues his journey.

A colleague and I discussed Darksiders II while I was playing. I said to him that I had been ready to hate the game, realising how utterly derivative it is, but that somewhere around the four-hour mark, Death had grown on me. The stolen and borrowed parts, I remarked, had grown into an entertaining whole. He agreed: "You're just like, 'this is just Zelda with a growly grouchy man in bad World of Warcraft armour.' Then four hours in, you're like, 'This is great! It's like Zelda! But with a guy in grouchy WoW armor!"

But his final verdict summed up everything I was thinking about Darksiders II: "If you're going to steal, steal well."

A Word About Glitches on the PS3

I hit a great many bugs during Darksiders II. Some were cosmetic, some could be worked around, and some halted my gameplay entirely. I got stuck inside of objects and walls more than once, I encountered a couple of system-freezing hard crashes, and I repeatedly faced issues where my quicksave and fast travel abilities disabled themselves during normal play, and I had to quit and restart to bring them back. I also encountered several larger issues. Among them:

  • A collision problem during the fight with the Guardian. The script requires players to grapple onto the boss's shoulder and to strike a gem there. Multiple times, with both shoulders, the grapple would take Death inside the shoulders, gripping an invisible point from which his scythes could not connect with the gem. Eventually he would drop to the ground and I could try again. Even though I knew the script and understood the tactics, I had to repeat each part of the fight 2-3 more times than should have been required.
  • Late in Act II, there is a vertical platforming section requiring Death to scale the inside of a tower while a very lethal floor (on fire, covered in spikes) inexorably rises beneath him. Touch the floor, and it's all over.

    When I finally succeeded at climbing the tower, I hit X (the jump button) in order to ascend from the final landing position to safe ground, and got stuck. Death hovered in mid-air, apparently the victim of invisible geometry. Then an amazing thing happened: the game tried to trigger both the "you have been stabbed by the spiky floor and are dead" animation and also the "you have successfully navigated this obstacle and here is a pan of the room showing your next door" animation. The screen glitched, jittered, and tore for a brief, horrying "Schrodinger's Death" moment before resolving into a loading screen. The end result? The game had decided that yes, I died, and would need to respawn — but it also had decided that I completed the platforming section, and so I respawned at the top, instead of at the lower checkpoint.

  • Samael, the next-to-lass boss, is probably the most difficult of the game. I learned his fight and eventually won, but no cut-scene triggered. Instead, he simply vanished. Loot lay where he had stood, and it looked as though I should be able to retrieve it, but I was stuck. Nothing on my controller worked except for Start, which allowed me to pause, change the options, or quit, and the right stick. I could move the camera around to get a good luck at how stuck I really was, but that was it. I turned off the controller and swapped it for a freshly charged one, just in case the issue was with the controller, but the end result was the same: no left stick, no d-pad, no control buttons or triggers. I restarted the game and fought the boss again.
  • When asked about a patch, THQ PR responded that Vigil was "looking into the issue as we speak," and added, "The team is currently polishing "Argul's Tomb" [DLC] and prepping bug fixes for an imminent submission to first party."

Bugs aside, the game doesn't always work. Some puzzles are more obtuse than they should be, and sometimes, even when they work in theory, something gets stuck in practice. There's a lot of irritating backtracking deliberately built in. Swapping tools and skills can be clumsy, and certain sections near the end overstay their welcome, slow down the action, and are just tedious. There is too much pixel-hunting when it comes to performing any action; finding the exact right spot to stand in order to have the option to act can be a pain.

But when it does work, it's a gloriously stupid romp that's far more entertaining than it has any business being. By the time the player has trained a few scythe combos and special skills, combat is satisfyingly solid, and the ability to customise weapons, gear, and skill choices lets the player craft a combat experience well-suited to his or her own preferred play style. I grew to find myself actually liking Death, by the time the heavily-foreshadowed end finally came.

Ultimately, the bugs in the PS3 edition of Darksiders II are a disappointing stain on an otherwise entertaining game. It would be nice to give the game a YES, but we don't yet know if the Xbox 360 and PC versions are clear of the bugs I encountered on the PS3. Hopefully, the game will see a patch sooner rather than later.


Comments

    The PC version suffers from its own flaws. Crossfire hinders performance greatly, death's character model in the inventory screen is at an incredibly low resolution and the obvious lack of graphical options and all round console port mania drag it down a little. Aside from those things, loving the game so far!

    I was hoping for a spoiler free review as well.

      Yeah, a bit pissed off at that...
      Also, I'm guessing that the author hasn't played the first one... sigh!

        Agree. Would have been nice NOT to see spoilers in the review - or at least a warning of upcoming spoilers.

    I've encountered a bug on the map screen (PC) where the option to swap back to the world map just doesn't work, making fast travel back to locations impossible.
    Also, I'd argue that the 'immortal yet not immortal plot hole' doesn't actually exist; when Death gets defeated in his physical form, the animation makes it clear that he returns to his true Reaper form to have another crack at it. Considering that they're dealing with an immortal concept turned main character, I'm willing to concede them that.

      to access the world map I don't push "A".
      Instead try pushing "Left Stick button" so push the left stick in. then BAM. world map available. (it worked for me and my brother at least)

    Why would you play a multiplat game like this on PS3/360? You're not going to be able to give an accurate review if you review an inferior version of the game. Might as well review the alpha.

      Well thats a stereotypically elitist view from a PC Gamer......

        Don't you think that maybe it would be better for everyone in the long run? Us PC players would find out if it was a terrible port or not, and you console people would find out if it is a good game or not.

          And what if it has system specific issues that effect the console versions or they review it with a KB + M when the game works better with a joypad?

      Because every console-designed game has been perfect on PC.

      I would argue the opposite.

      For a multiplatform game, many of which are simple ports to the PC, you are likely to get the best experience playing it on a platform.

      Oh wait, you were being a troll. Oops.

        How is that trolling? The PC version is factually better.

          You're basing this off what? Did you play all 3?

            I don't need to to know the console versions aren't capable of hitting 60FPS or 2560x1600 or 16xMSAA or even mouse and keyboard controls.

              None of which make the game factually bet

              None of which make the game factually better

              Coupled with the fact the game has no AA options whatsoever means you talking out of your ass when it comes to AA

              The game likely looks better that's it.

              Ever played the port of saints row 2 on PC even with all your precious things that thing is a fucking mess and is certainly not the better experience when compared tithe console versions

                l2nvidia control panel. You can force a lot of graphics options there.

                  I'm sorry when a game like darksiders 2 comes out claiming to be providing a great pc experience yet has less options than the original it's irrelevant if I can force the game to have shiny unicorns popping out of the corners the fact is that it should be provided natively. He was complaining that an inferior version of darksiders was being played. An improved version wouldn't require me to force settings to make it look nicer it would just give me the option(not to mention that forcing shit on some games can break them or not yield an improvement without custom code to go with it

                  Fact is the game is a dodgy console port so it ain't gonna matter much where you play especially since apparently the same bugs are in the pc version

              Everyone will appreciate that in most cases the PC versions graphics will be better. That doesn't mean the game itself is better though. Many console ports have been rubbish on the PC or had issues that were less of a problem on the consoles or weren't there at all.

              Mouse and keyboard? For an adventure game? You're joking, right?

      As a PC gamer, please GTFO. Considering most of the time we get shoddy ports anyways(which based on the options menu Darksiders 2 falls into that category) there really is no freaking superior platform each has there pros and cons.

      Graphics aren't everything and they certainly don't make a crap game good.

    What ever happened to the Yes/No/Wait reviewing score (or whatever it was)?

    Yeah the pc version is a straight port. Would have loved more graphic options other than just resolution and v-sync but ok the game still looks decent. With triple monitor/eyefinity you run into UI issues. Oh and also some issues with keyboard/mouse on pc. Especially as you cannot map your own keys.
    But if you are playing on pc with a single screen and a controller I think you will enjoy it very much.

      Seems like a step backwards from Darksiders. The first one allowed you to remap every action in the game, its probably the only action/rpg i've played on pc that hit that sweet spot between floaty and clumsy controls.

      Oh well, i'll still porbably end up getting this, if only because of the baller art style.

    There's really hardly any Legend of Zelda left in it, they've systematically gone through and removed or neutered a lot of that. :(

      The legend of zelda in it has been replaced by prince of persia wall running.

    terrible review. contacts spoilers doesn't give it a rating . JUNK meh still picking it up tomorrow regardless of your inferior review

      Kotaku US never "rates" games. They feel that applying a score to document the overall quality of the game detracts from the essence of the review, and is a largely objective and arbitrary consideration anyway.

      So... get used to it?

        The entire review is objective and arbitrary. You might love it when they hate it. So.... why review games at all?

          Good point. I tend to ignore reviews and buy whatever game looks interesting, or people with established similar tastes tend to enjoy.

            Also I wrote objective earlier when I meant subjective.

        They were giving a Yes/No/wait verdict.

        Which allows people to get the opinion quickly without being exposed to spoilers.

        Which is how it should be in my mind. Sure you could still divvy up a 100point range over the 3 scores but it isn't some specific this game got 84 for no distinctive reason over this game that got 83.

        A 60 metacritic score game can often be more fun than some of the 80+ games

    Day 180 Bargain bin pick-up.

    Jesus christ, I am not one to usually point this out, but this 'review' is chock full of spoilers.

      Yeah I stopped reading a couple of paragraphs in and just skimmed quickly through the rest once I realised Kate was making no effort to leave out the spoilers.

    Not gonna read the review due to everyones comments. But I have been having a blast with it! A step up from the original which I loved!

    I've read some conflicting reports - some reviews state the PS3 is buggy, others state the 360 is buggy. Which is it? Or is it both?

      This review is only based on the PS3 version, which is apparently buggy. We can probably assume most of these bugs exist in the 360 version, and apparently there's some PC issues too.

    PC has some issues aswell. While im loving the game atm i find the port kind of half assed. His abilities are linked to numbers but during combat a little icon appears in top right with your spells on it that you can use but they are linked wierdly to things like space bar (which jumps and doesn't do the special move it says) tab which opens your abilities potions sections, esc and one other but all the buttons make no sense why they are shown, the buttons don't work when its up and all the buttons it shows are already linked to other things.

    Occasional wall glitches where i get stuck inside objects or walls but i have been able to get out of all through the teleport ability.

    Don't complain about logic holes if you don't even have your facts straight.

    1. I don't think they ever say that he is literally death, as in, he is the force of death itself. His name is death, but hes not anymore death itself than the first horseman "war" was war itself.
    2. It doesn't pick up where the other game left off, this game takes place during the SAME time period as the first one. This is what death was during during what war was doing in the first game.

    Also, I would think a reviewer should be above the moronic comments about copying other games. News flash, all games, just like all art and music and literature are a "pastiche" of what came before them. Don't you have any appreciation for the effort that goes into writing the story, designing the characters and the environments etc? It's like all the people who complained that avatar had the same plot line as lots of other stories, OF COURSEEE it does, that doesn't mean its easy to make a good film off of that basic plot line or that there wasn't any creativity in the film, there's still a lot of creativity and skill that went into thinking up and putting together everything else.

    I put about 12 hours into the first game, then a 'known bug' corrupted my save file. I bought it a good 8 months after release. Never returned to it - I'm not going to bother if this is just as dodgy with bugs.

      I was just about 12-13 hours into Darksiders 2 and encountered a crash to desktop bug that prevented me from continuing the main quest line. What a waste of $50. I was having fun up til then but man, I thought they delayed it to iron out bugs, yet here we have game-breakers left right and center. Keep away

    No fucking effort to hide spoilers here.

    I don't normally complain about this kind of thing but, the spoilers seemed completely unnecessary. For example, why name the penultimate boss? Why tell us what the ending is?

    is it me or does Death look like Kain from Soul Reaver?

      People seem to think that Death is a pretty poor rip-off of Raziel from Soul Reaver. They are probably right.

    You know it's going to be a great review when the FIRST LINE HAS A GRAMMATICAL ERROR.

    THE FIRST F*CKING LINE FOR F*CKS SAKE.

    "I am become death" ? I HAVE become death? I am BECOMING death? Did you learn English YESTERDAY?

      It's a famous Oppenheimer quote.

    I just played this last night on my Xbox 360. How me, it is extremely disorienting that I can't use the d-pad during the menus. I first thought that the game locked up (because I couldn't move to different items in the menu), then thought that may be my controller was broken. Neither was the case. I wonder what the devs were thinking when they purposely removed d-pad controls from the menus. Using the analogue sticks in menus is too slow and cumbersome.

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