Darksiders II was originally one of the games that was really well publicised leading up to the Wii U’s launch. It was one of the first confirmed third party titles, one of the games which the publisher paid attention to (despite being a multi-platform game) and one that the developer really wanted to do good on – to help the game rise above being a bog standard port. Now, with the Wii U finally launching, Darksiders II has been released for the Wii U. While Vigil Studios’ comments about the Wii U version don’t really apply here (it’s definitely still a port), Darksiders II does it’s best to utilise the Wii U’s unique functionality. And, of course, it’s a great game too. Wii U or not.
Darksiders II is, as you’d expect, a sequel to Darksiders. Players who weren’t privy to playing the original game are thankfully caught up on the events of the original game, before stepping into the shoes of Death. Death is one of the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse, brother to War who features as the protagonist in the original game. Taking place parallel with the original game, Death hears that his brother has been betrayed by his superiors and sets out on an epic adventure to prove his brother’s innocence. The story itself is, quite blatantly, rather run of the mill. There’s little to no character development and the payoff is ultimately quite disappointing (especially for those who have already finished the original game). It is thankful that the game is quite enjoyable to play otherwise it would have nothing going for it – nothing really feels like it “happens” in the greater overarching storyline of the series and instead it just feels like a way to support the action as it plods along.
The original Darksiders received notable attention because it was a very well put together Zelda clone, with a bit of a deeper combat system thrown in for good measure. With Darksiders II, while the combat system has definitely benefitted from some added depth – the resemblance to Zelda has diminished. Darksiders II, instead, attempts to carve out its own unique identity and I can’t really blame them for trying. An action RPG at heart, players will delve deep into dungeons, explore vast overworlds (although fast travel is available) and help out the locals with side quests – yes, it sounds like Zelda, but one key factor makes it a little bit different – Loot. There are hundreds of weapons in Darksiders II, and this works to the games benefit and detriment. First, there’s more of a statistical element in choosing your weapons this time around (with the ability to merge certain weapons as well to improve their stats) however, this means that many of the weapons don’t feel varied enough or crafted specifically for certain moments like in the first game. In fact, this is the biggest problem with Darksiders II – it tries to stray so far from the Zelda formula that made it so fantastic that it comes off feeling overly generic.
The combat has thankfully been overhauled – Death’s scythe is as violent and beautiful as ever. Be warned, however, there is no block button, the emphasis is on the player to dodge and evade attacks (even parrying or countering) instead. For a Western developed game, the depth in Darksiders II’s combat system is somewhat admirable, rivalling many efforts put out on other consoles this generation. Players can also dabble in skills trees to increase their voracity in combat – either through a tree of magic or a tree of physical strength. It’s a nice system that is understandable for most players and doesn’t bombard you with statistics or the need to grind. It’s there, it works, and it’s competent. When the player is overwhelmed or panicking, Death can also activate his “true” Reaper form, laying down powerful and devastating effects while reducing the damage he takes. This is a visually spectacular gameplay element that is bound to help a lot of players, but those who are a bit more experienced in these kinds of games will probably be able to get through the whole game without even touching it.
When in the dungeons, the combat really shines but what’s even more prevalent is the puzzles. Let me get one thing clear, however, the puzzles in Darksiders II really shouldn’t be referred to as puzzles. They are incredibly simplistic and don’t really do a lot with the tools that the game provides the player. Most of them involve rolling a boulder onto a switch while pressing another or returning to an area once a new item has been discovered. The game throws a few power ups to Death to allow him to carry out this puzzles (ie. Splitting a soul and allowing the player to control both to hit switches simultaneously or a portal device – yes, a portal device) but generally speaking it’s nothing too taxing or challenging. Boss battles, while we’re on the topic of “challenging” are largely a cake walk and most strategies involve a little bit of trial and error before ultimately prevailing. It’s a little bit of a let-down when the original did its boss battles so well.
Darksiders uses the Wii U functionalities as well as it can, at least without making it a full blown remake. Supporting both the Wii U Pro Controller and the GamePad, players can choose to use motion based controls during combat as well as essentially play the game without pausing. Motion controls work well, but I’m not sure if they are well thought out enough to use them throughout the whole game. Basically, shaking the GamePad while holding the analogue stick in a particular direction will make Death jump/evade to that point. It worked well, and was responsive, but it was a lot more effort than just pressing a button to do the same thing – needless to say I turned this option off.
Additionally, the sound mixing for the GamePad is employed so that all of Death’s sides of the conversation, all his battle grunts and war cries and all his choices will come through the GamePad while everything else will come from the TV. This is a nice touch that adds a little bit of immersion to the game. If it’s not your thing, the game does allow you to choose which devices (ie. TV or GamePad) to play the sound through – you can have it all through the TV, all through the GamePad or a bit of both. Similarly, Darksiders II supports off-screen TV play, and players can still interact with the game while on the GamePad only – touching dialogue options will allow the player to pick a response without scrolling. Similarly, players can also look through their entire inventory, switch between items and upgrade Death using the GamePad, essentially meaning the game can be played without pausing. It’s a nice touch and something incredibly handy to have on hand at all times. Of course, if you’re not a fan of this, you can switch it off.
Darksiders II is an incredibly long game and thankfully is quite a substantial package, clocking in at roughly sixteen to nineteen hours to complete, though easily stepping into twenty five hour territory depending on how many collectibles you want to scrounge up. The Wii U edition boasts a lot of downloadable content being included on the disc, and this easily adds another three hours on top (though the box claims about five – your mileage may vary). And while Darksiders II is a lengthy adventure, it still feels a little bit reduced – the opening world is incredibly dense with quests and content, while as time goes on other worlds become notably shorter and or light on content. I can only assume the game had to be shipped eventually and all the work put into the first world could not be replicated into the later worlds. Still, as I said before, it’s a lengthy game and very good value for money.
Darksiders II is a fantastic launch title for the Wii U – it uses all of the features of the GamePad appropriately (at least, within the scope of the game itself) and is a substantial adventure with roots in one of our favourite Nintendo franchises, Zelda. Despite the improvements made to the combat, musical offerings and the utilisation of the Wii U’s unique features – Darksiders II attempts to carve itself its own identity, but unfortunately loses a bit of the charm that made the original game so compelling. Some who might’ve played the original game might also see the ending as an abrupt slap to the face, though if you’ve never played a game like this then there’s really nothing to worry about. A great and fun adventure game with fantastic combat.