“Nintendo’s put a full gag on everything until E3,” sighs Jeremy Greiner, Creative Manager at Vigil Games. An inauspicious start to an Nintendo-focused interview, sure; but not entirely unexpected. Despite championing Darksiders II as a huge third-party scoop for their upcoming console, the Big N is keeping a tight grip on all information regarding the WiiU system until next month’s big conference. So what can Jeremy talk about?
“Well, it’s always a challenge to get your team working on multiple platforms,” Jeremy begins, cautiously. “It’s a challenge to get parity across them, and to have your game looking as great as it can be in all the first-party environments.
“I think from a design standpoint, you go in with an objective, and you create the game that you want. Technical barriers with the various platforms… they’re pretty easy to mitigate. But it all takes time.”
Let’s back up a little. Darksiders II is a side-story of sorts to the original sleeper hit Darksiders, THQ’s 2010 third-person action-adventure about a Horseman of the Apocolypse – War – who stood accused of a cosmic crime he didn’t commit. In Darksiders II, however, his brother Death takes centre stage in his own parallel adventure with some substantial differences to the original.
Death’s far more agile than War, for starters; much of the hands-on time we were given was spent clambering up walls, leaping from pillars to pillars, and generally pretending to be a skull-faced Prince of Persia. Traversal comes far more into play than in its predecessor, then, and it all has a highly enjoyable ‘flow’ to it that brings to mind the very best platformers.
Similarly, Death prefers to dodge attacks rather than block blows, creating an increased emphasis on spacing and timing in combat – almost Bayonetta-esque in its way. Unique abilities, a variety of secondary weapons and other mechanics also come into play, although we didn’t get too far into them during our demo. Slashing apart a group of skeletons, though, we find upon their shattered remains some incredibly shiny items. In other words: loot.
Yes, a huge, sprawling, Diablo-style loot system is in game and promises to hopelessly enthral those of us who can’t help but endlessly quest after bits of stat-building gear. Alongside a newly-introduced pair of skill trees, in which character progression is aided with dollops of experience points, it seems that Darksiders II is moving further and further into the action-RPG space.
“All these new additions that you see in Darksiders II are there because that’s what the team wanted to do initially,” says Jeremy. “Darksiders was a sleeper hit, but there’s only so much you can get into a product. So Darksiders II is realising the reality of what the team wanted to make the first go around.
“The team looks at Darksiders II as a game made by gamers, for gamers. They see different elements like loot, skill trees, NPC interaction, conversation trees, sidequesting, the vast overworld; it’s what Vigil wants to bring to the gamer, because it’s what Vigil wants to play. So it’s not a tactic to get into an RPG-space, or to get into an action-adventure space: basically, they made a game that they wanted to play.”
Of all the features revealed so far, the game’s larger overworld is something that nobody’s actually had a good look at just yet. Vigil are promising a massive environment split across four primary hubs, with a good handful of side quests and optional dungeons for players to explore as well. Alongside talk of NPCs and minibosses, Darksiders II appears to stand separate from its more linear predecessor.
“It’s almost like Darksiders II is bringing the adventure back into the action-adventure genre,” proclaims Jeremy. “The genre gets more setpiece every year. There are fantastic games out there, but they’re becoming more linear – almost like the shooter space, you know? So Darksiders II is more of a throwback to the action-adventures out there.
“There’ll be vast overworlds where you can get lost in the content for days. There’s much more adventuring, and the more you explore, the more you’ll find to do – getting 100% completion on this game is going to take some serious effort.”
Vigil’s parent company THQ has been in for some dire financial straits over the past year or so, but Jeremy is adamant that any effect it’s had on Darksiders II has been minor at best. “The Darksiders team is intact, and while there was some impact a little while ago, the team is trucking along,” Jeremy says, referring to an extensive number of layoffs at Vigil (and at Relic Entertainment, another THQ studio) that occurred in March of this year.
“Actually, THQ gave us more time,” he continues. “The studio asked for more time for polish – an extra two months – and that’s why we’ve moved out of June into August. It’s a great release window, as we’ve seen in years past, and it’s going to allow us to hit that quality bar that THQ has set moving forwards.”
The hands-on demo was great – a gloriously chunky artstyle and a solid sense of heft to the combat and movement, mixed with glimmerings of a captivatingly addictive loot system and a strange, artistically imaginative world. Unfortunately, it was running on 360 hardware at the time (not that we were expecting an early look at Wii U capabilities at a third-party publisher event in Sydney). While Vigil have confirmed elsewhere that Darksiders II will be a Wii U launch title and that the controller will be used ‘in a unique way’ (the example given was instantly equipping items using the touchscreen), further information is not forthcoming just yet.
“If I didn’t have a strict gag order on me, I’d love to talk about all the great features that we have,” Jeremy tells us, “but what I can tell you is that it’s a next generation platform, and you should keep your eyes open.
“We’ll obviously be using the unique controller that it has to its utmost potential, but speaking to specific features or tech effects… well, that’s in Nintendo’s playground right now. And I know that they have plans for E3.”
* Screenshots are from the PS3 version.