Darksiders II (Xbox360)

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Reaper of Souls. Ender of Worlds. Kinslayer. Horsemen. Pale Rider. Brother.

He is known by many names and feared in many realms. His exploits are legendary and his actions have affected nothing less than the very fabric of time. His influence is far-reaching and inescapable. Now, however, he’s on a new quest. While he claims he has no soul of his own – incapable of feeling or emotion – he is hell-bent on redeeming his brother, War, a fellow Horsemen of the Apocalypse who has been wrongfully accused of bringing ultimate destruction to Earth and Mankind.

He will defy the eternal Charred Council and travel to strange, otherworldly and demonic lands while meeting helpful characters and terrible creatures, slaying any monstrous denizen that lies between him and his goal. When his quest has ended, though, you will have ridden with one of the coolest, most interesting new characters to be introduced to the world of videogames in recent years and experienced a breathless, epic adventure.

Once his journey is complete and you have finished Darksiders II, you will know Death.

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“See what you can find.”

Death’s world is immense, ancient and dangerous, steeped in mythology and the fantastic. There is nothing dainty or straightforward about the gloomy caves, icy plains and mystical woods I explored in Darksiders II, and I certainly wasn’t mindlessly skipping through the treacherous dungeons and volcanic wastelands I found myself in.

I did, on occasion, stop to stare at the vast expanses of the far-off places I was in as I was presented with beautifully carved statues and stonework towering over me, as well as magnificent structures and colossal arching entrances. The sense of place and history imbued in the world of Darksiders II matches the very best videogames have to offer – yes, I include Skyrim in that round-up – and Vigil Games has created a wonderful, deep new universe here.

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Mysteries and secrets lurk in every corner and crevice of this world, too, revealing glimpses of events to come that drove me forward towards discovery. Of course, this also drove me towards encounters with the residents of this world, be they friend, foe or neutral observer. The characters that Death allows to speak are all excellently brought to life with outstanding voice acting and impressive attention to detail, each possessing noticeably different personalities and motivations. Death, in particular, is amazing and his gravely tones will bark out threats, commands, requests and questions. He isn’t too self-serious to give up the chance for a few snarky, humorous comments, either.

And what about the creatures that Death kills on sight? Their growls, gurgles, groans and guttural gasps are outstanding, too. As expected, I faced off against almost every type of enemy imaginable, from small flying creatures, galloping monsters and sword-wielding skeletons, to armoured, acid-spitting behemoths, lunging monstrosities and skyscraper-sized colossi. While the creatures of Darksiders II are very rarely outright grotesque (in the same vein as something like Resident Evil), I could tell that the designers and character artists had a lot of fun coming up with dozens of very different, creative enemies for the game and breathing life into them with wily manoeuvres and brute strength.

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Every character and creature, either formed of flesh or ethereal mists, has a distinct and chunky frame – a look and feel that extends to the environment of Darksiders II. It’s a visual style that side-steps realism, cel shading and comic book aesthetics, giving it a unique and recognisable appearance all its own.

“I have to go alone…”

Darksiders II is a distinctly singleplayer experience, with a pretty even split between exploration and combat, but you’ll have at least two companions during your journey in the form of Dust, a wise crow, and Despair, your trusty, ghostly steed. It’s always an inspiring sight to see Despair rise from the ground once summoned, engulfed in green flames and blazing a fiery trail in its wake, but the undead horse can only come to your aid in the more open areas of the game.

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In closed spaces and dungeons, Dust will be your closest cohort and comes in handy as your guide, showing you the way forward when you’re mystified as to the way forward. There were a few times that the silly bird led me astray, but overall its aid was invaluable because of the nature of the progression of Darksiders II. Once you’ve explored the overworld and spoken to a character to find your next adventure, you’ll inevitably be sent on a puzzle-solving quest in a dungeon where a navigator can come in handy. It’s a cycle that’s very reminiscent of a Zelda game, or ninety percent of the RPGs out there, except with the charitable affordance to fast-travel from within any dungeon to a known point on your map, and back. Very handy.

The puzzles of Darksiders II are quite light and won’t tax your brain too much, but as the game progressed I found that they became more and more interesting as new elements and abilities were introduced, ramping up from the use of Death’s wall running and agile manoeuvrability, to combining his Deathgrip grapple hook skill and explosive objects, all the way to using Death’s ability to… well, you’ll see when you get there. Darksiders II is always adding these new tools to your set of skills making for what feels like a constantly fresh experience.

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“His fate concerns me. Yours does not.”

If you played the original Darksiders, you’ll immediately notice a big difference between that game’s protagonist, War, and Death in Darksiders II. Death is much faster and much more nimble, able to scuttle up walls and pillars to make quick work of tricky platform areas. That dexterity is a key component in the combat of Darksiders II as well. While War was able to block attacks, Death effortlessly leaps and dodges out of the way of thrashing blades, stomping flurries and exploding projectiles before launching a counter-attack of his own with an assortment of scythes, gauntlets, hammers and pole arms.

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Slashing at monsters with lightning quick scythe attacks, propelling yourself at a behemoth with Deathgrip and following up by pummelling demons with a sequence of heavy hammer slams or a combination of gauntlet punches is incredibly satisfying as visual and sonic feedback combine for great, intrinsic gameplay rewards. While not quite up to the extraordinarily high watermark set by Bayonetta, the combat of Darksiders II is never dull and later scraps truly put my skills to the test, forcing me to pull out every trick I had learned and ability I had access to.

”I have a few to spare.”

Death’s ‘Harbinger’ and ‘Necromancer’ skill trees add an entirely extra dimension to combat in Darksiders II, allowing you to use earned experience points and unlock tokens to learn new abilities. I went much further down the Necromancer tree, earning myself the ability to summon explosive ghouls who would attack enemies for me, as well as flocks of ethereal crows to bother my foes.

The Harbinger skill tree deals mostly with abilities related to Death and his Reaper form, but I found it much more satisfying seeing an arena explode (literally) with activity as my minions struck and cleaved their way through creatures, leaving me free to wade into the mess and clean up the stragglers.

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Depending on which equipment and weapons you choose for yourself, you can further customise your approach to combat in Darksiders II as each item has its own properties, as a traditional RPG might. For me, experience gain and overall power trumped every other attribute, so that was how I filtered through the streams of loot I found in treasure chests and in the melted remains of monsters. Death’s physical appearance, too, is affected by which equipment you choose, which is an oft-overlooked feature in RPGs.

And let’s be honest, Darksiders II is an RPG, through-and-through. Action and exploration intensive, sure, but all of the RPG tropes are here, from gaining experience, finding and comparing loot, passive and active abilities and the afore-mentioned skill trees. If you need another example: There are talismans. Darksiders II even introduces something to the RPG called the ‘possessed weapon,’ to which you’re able to ‘feed’ items and other weapons to help it grow stronger and take on different properties. Choose the right ‘food,’ and you can net yourself an awesome scythe and more!

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“I regret nothing!”

Despite being a singleplayer only game, Darksiders II is a thoroughly complete experience and provided me with an epic 30+ hour action RPG adventure through one of the most fully realised worlds I’ve had the pleasure of exploring. While light puzzle elements kept my brain ticking over, the constant introduction of fresh gameplay elements and the challenging, satisfying combat sequences and boss battles were all paced to near perfection.

For ardent fans, the replayability of Darksiders II (with its New Game+ feature and the extra ‘Crucible’ arena mode) will extend the life of the game by dozens of hours while the generous side-quests and hidden areas will keep completionists very happy indeed. For the rest of us, the raw story, universe, characters and gameplay of Darksiders II will keep us coming back for more as we continue to discover one of the coolest new videogame characters around and come to more personally know this ‘Reaper of Souls.’ This ‘Ender of Worlds.’ This Death.