Review: Darksiders II (Xbox 360)

Developer: Vigil Games
Publisher: THQ
Released: 15/8/2012
Platform/s: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC, Wii U

It’s rare for me to find a game I genuinely and wholly enjoy. I play a lot of games across all platforms and if it’s a good game I will review it accordingly, but it is rare for me to find a game I personally enjoy; one that appeals to me on a number of different levels.

Darksiders was a 2010 cult hit, a product born out of an intense period of development thanks to Vigil Games. People compared it to The Legend of Zelda, a series famed and forever etched into the annals of videogame history, and it was almost a crime against humanity that Darksiders didn’t do as well financially as it did critically.

Without spoiling too much from the first game (which you should play!), players take the reigns of Death, a Horseman of the Apocalypse, on his somewhat ironic quest to bring the dead back to the realm of the living. In the first Darksiders title, Death’s brother War was tricked into beginning the apocalypse early and (at the time) irreversibly wiped out all life on Earth. War felt like a bit of an idiot for it, and now Death believes that he can clean his brothers moral slate if he can restore life to all that lost it.

The core gameplay fare hasn’t changed that much, although where it has change it’s done so for the better. Darksiders felt like the lovechild of an orgy – a mishmash of various games and their afforded mechanics – whereas Darksiders II feels like a fleshed out title; a game that can stand on its own and ride on its own unique merits. Sure, the influence of Zelda still feels evident – items open up new level segments, dungeons have dungeon keys and maps, and loot be plenty – but this time I can’t help but feel it’s a lot less upfront. Vigil Games has obviously put a great deal of time and effort into focusing on the individual levels and their challenges, and less on “samey” gameplay.

Right off the bat, the combat is perfect. If Darksiders did one thing exceptionally well, and everything else one percent less exceptionally; it excelled in its combat system. The high action button-mashing death fest is back, and Death is far more agile than his slow brother. Death totes a pair of lethal scythes that allow him to rend his foes with vicious results, and he can also add maces, hammers, and vicious claws to his arsenal.

Some of the mid-to-late game combat sections can be a bit testing, partially due to the nature of War’s “counter” based combat tactics. A number of times I was swarmed by enemies and all of them would break my combos, and because of this I’d find myself trapped and have nowhere to move. Sure, it’s rewarding to defeat the sections, but it’s genuinely frustrating when you can’t switch targets between the ten on screen foes fast enough to survive. The most jaw dropping moments come from the on-on-one battles against gigantic monsters; that’s where the combat excels.

As you rise through the experience section, Death can select a plethora of upgradeable abilities to tailor his combat experience even more. In a World of Warcraft mastery style, each power initially starts off weak, but once you invest a number of level’s experience points, they turn into devastating tools of destruction. A stroke of genius by Vigil also allows you to “respec” if you ever want to try something new (and it’s an Xbox 360 achievement, too!).

Navigation throughout the incredibly varied and even more beautiful levels – both in and out of combat – feels fluid, intelligent, and elegant. A handful of new puzzle mechanics have been thrown into the mix, including little nods to Portal, basic pressure plate sections, and more difficult puzzles that see you diverting gates and panels. Some of the wall running areas felt a bit cumbersome, but once you gain experience in bouncing around with Death’s animations you quickly learn when to jump etc, and even when the system did falter, it was more than made up for by the countless times when it worked flawlessly… and looked damn amazing doing so.

A number of the puzzles left me genuinely perplexed, but I took a step back and assessed it from another angle and suddenly it all clicked. Even the difficult combat sections feel like an accomplishment once you complete them, and Darksiders II never stops feeling like a giant achievement, to its credit.

Another new facet of this multifaced gem is the all-new loot system. Akin to other modern RPGs, enemies now drop hordes of gold, items, and consumables. It felt like Kingdoms of Amalur in its delivery, but I didn’t care because I felt spurred on to kill more enemies and acquire more loot. Darksiders II also features a much more intricate statistical experience, which rewards you for building your equipment loadout in all areas. High critical hits reward you with health, more health allows you to build your Wrath meter, and a high Wrath meter equates to more damage; it’s all about finding complimentary gear.

The main story is incredibly long and the open-world map totes four uniquely separate realms, each with their own theme, enemies, and environmental puzzles. Thankfully you can fast travel through a lot of the mundane “point a to point b” quests, however if you prefer the scenic route you’ll find plenty of mini-dungeons and random chests scattering the roadside.

The amount of unique content in Darksiders II is literally amazing. Often times I was not even doing the main quest, instead choosing to collect random loot for vendors, or explore dungeons. The writing in the game is tremendous, and I followed the story, my mind pouring over every minute detail. At times it’s somewhat predictable, but it’s fulfilling and enjoyable too. All told, the main story is about 15-20 hours long, and even then there’s a plethora of side content including a horde mode called the Crucible, and a harder difficulty level to unlock.

Darksiders II takes the finest and purest elements from Darksiders, refines them, and then crafts them again. The result? A package of infinitely satisfying perfection. The combat is great, the replay factor is great, there’s little left to actually want; because Vigil Games gave it all to us already. Darksiders II climbs to the pinnacle of what the action-adventure genre aspires to be; this is Game of the Year calibre, and it should be illegal for any RPG fan to not own it. Viva la Darksiders.

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Launch events
To celebrate the launch of Darksiders II in Australia, there is a series of events being held around the country. For all the dates and details (starting tonight) click here.

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