Darksiders gets a heaping helping of Death

It’s not easy for new franchises to break through in today’s videogame market, but the first Darksiders was able to find an audience by incorporating mature themes with familiar gameplay that hearkened back to classics like Metroid or The Legend of Zelda. So, with such a promising start, you wouldn’t expect a sequel to completely overhaul many major features. Darksiders II does just that, though.

In fact, if you were to put Darksiders and Darksiders II side by side in front of a player, they’d be hard pressed to say they come from the same universe. Yet not only does Darksiders II take place in the same universe, but it expands upon it in numerous ways, along with adding in features and gameplay mechanics from dungeon-crawling RPGs.

Darksiders II takes place at the same time as the original game; while War attempts to figure out who’s set him up for the crime that triggered the Earth’s early demise, Death figures the only way to absolve his brother of his punishment is to rectify the crime and try to restore humanity back to what it once was. To do this, Death travels to strange and foreign lands and meets creatures so fantastic and monstrosities so twisted that his own ghastly visage may have a run for its money.

From the second the story starts, in fact, the art design demands your attention, whether it’s Gothic architecture contorted into mountainous landscapes or massive rivers of lava weaving their way through hollowed-out gorges. And when you combine this with the epic scale—the open world’s four times larger than in the first Darksiders—you can easily get lost in the beauty of this distinct universe.

But Darksiders II isn’t just pretty on the surface. The hack-n-slash combat flows smoothly as you string combos together, the tight free-running controls make it feel like nothing’s unobtainable if you really pay attention to your surroundings, and the new RPG elements mean that your weapons and armor are constantly changing and upgrading due to the thousands of pieces of loot (which also directly affect how Death looks). No two players should have the same Death by the time they finish the game, as you can buff him up to the point where he resembles a traditional tank, make him more of a field general as he taps into his Necromancy abilities and calls forth his own undead army, or find a balance between the two.

My favorite part of being able to collect all the items is that you can actually dispose of trinkets you no longer need in an interesting fashion—massive piles of loot usually lead to inventory problems for many of us natural hoarders, after all! By finding possessed weapons, you can actually feed your junk items to these special treasures to power them up and cause untold levels of havoc. It’s definitely a lot more efficient out in the field than waiting to find a store, that’s for sure.

While many problems from the first game have been fixed—like imparting a more clear-cut feeling of character progression this time around due to the leveling system and a less-linear world outside of the dungeons—several new flaws have replaced the old ones.

The most glaring issue is the low level cap, which was instituted in order to prevent the idea that you might need to grind out levels to advance through certain dungeons—or that, by grinding early on, you’d have an easier time working through the game as a whole. Instead, if you naturally progress through the game, you’ll always be right about the same level as the enemies. But in Darksiders II, many sidequests require constant backtracking, so the low level cap means that the game doesn’t reward you any XP for vanquishing enemies several levels below you.

Despite minor annoyances with the level system and the occasional free-running glitch, Darksiders II is superior to its predecessor in every way. It’s got a larger, deeper world with a wide breadth of characters, a thrilling story that sucks you in and doesn’t let go, and some insane over-the-top combat. All those elements make this a must-have for fans of action-RPGs.

SUMMARY: Darksiders II trumps the first entry in almost every important way, even if a few new minor annoyances crop up in the process.

  • THE GOOD: Massive, beautifully designed open world.
  • THE BAD: RPG system creates a couple of new problems.
  • THE UGLY: Well, the dude’s called “Death” for a reason.

SCORE: 9.0

Darksiders II is available on PS3, Xbox 360, and PC, and will be available for Wii U. Primary version reviewed was for Xbox 360.