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Darksiders II (Xbox 360) artwork

Darksiders II (Xbox 360) review

"And hell followed with him. Or at least a hell of a lot of carnage!"

While I found the first Darksiders game to be a solid action-adventure, it was marred enough by flaws to fall into the category of games I enjoyed, but didn't find remarkable enough to be worthy of high praise and eloquently-written recommendations. Darksiders II is a bit different. It might not be a perfect game, but I must give Vigil Games credit for their work in making this a bigger and better game than its predecessor.

After controlling Horseman of the Apocalypse War in the first game, control now shifts to his brother, Death. Interestingly, this game more or less takes place at the same time as the first one. Therefore, while War is working through his game to clear his name of the minor little crime of calling forth the end of times, Death is attempting to do the same thing here. Instead of being in post-apocalyptic Earth, he'll spend the bulk of his time in multiple other worlds. While these places may have enemies or hidden treasures, in essence they're little more than hubs containing a few dungeons.

Those places are the cornerstone of this game, often proving to be large, complex and loaded with puzzles to solve and enemies to topple. There are many more dungeons in this game than there were in Darksiders and that's a positive thing. It's pretty obvious that this series was, in part, derived from the Legend of Zelda games and if there's one thing I love those games for, it's the dungeons. Having this game centered around those places and containing somewhere in the vicinity of 20 to explore was, if anything, an excess of riches.

While Death's goal in this game is to help clear War's name, he also has his own mission. In the past, he and the other Horsemen had slain their brethren; beings known as Nephilim. However, some element of their leader, Absalom, was able to endure beyond the grave and gave birth to a force known as Corruption. And, of course, said Corruption is spreading and posing a threat to all sorts of beings. Now, Death — the Horseman who most regretted killing the Nephilim — will have to come to terms with those actions in order to survive his eventual reunion with the corrupted Absalom.

Darksiders II (Xbox 360) image

After the obligatory tutorial, he'll find himself in the Forge Lands, home to the giant-like Makers. Do some quests for them and clear a number of dungeons and he'll gain access to the Kingdom of the Dead. Get through that place's dungeons and he'll have to help angels in an outpost known as Lostlight fight the Corruption in order to finally reach the game's final confrontations.

If you've played the first game, a lot of what you'll do here will be familiar, even if Death is a more nimble protagonist than the bulky War. You'll get some of the same items, such as bombs, a grappling hook of sorts and the portal-making Voidwalker. While Death has his weapon of choice (scythes, as opposed to War's giant sword), he can obtain a few sub-weapons to give him alternate forms of attack. This game follows the same general sort of progression where you'll gradually gain new abilities and items that allow you to access new places and collect additional treasure chests from previously-visited locations.

There are some notable differences, though. Darksiders II added a few more light role-playing elements to its action-oriented style of play. Enemies now grant experience towards gaining levels and some NPCs will hand out side quests, which often take you through the game's many optional dungeons. You'll constantly be upgrading your weaponry and armor throughout the game, with most of the game's many treasure chests housing at least one piece of equipment, while monsters regularly drop goods. A handful of weapons can be upgraded by "feeding" unneeded equipment to them. By raising their level, you can gain all sorts of special effects, such as boosting your attack or defense or restoring a bit of life every time you land a critical hit.

In a positive development, it seems that Vigil did a fine job of learning from the first Darksiders, as a lot of the game's challenges seemed more enjoyable. In that game, I was not a fan of the Voidwalker, as you got it fairly early into a massive dungeon loaded with repetitive puzzles forcing you to use it to manipulate beams of light. Since you don't get that item until you're near the end of this one, as well, I was worried history would repeat itself, but that didn't happen. Instead, I found myself in a pretty fun dungeon with puzzles that were similar on the surface, but just seemed more enjoyable to work through. It's hard for me to describe just why things were different in Darksiders II — all I can say is that I was enjoying a mechanic that annoyed me in the previous game.

I also enjoyed controlling Death a bit more than War, as his agility gave the designers a few additional options for progressing through dungeons. Your protagonist is definitely big into Parkour, as he's able to scale heights, glide along walls and perform other feats allowing him to progress through crumbling ruins with ease. I did have issues with the controls every once in a while — particularly when I'd have to quickly scale an obstacle course while being pursued by lava or a bed of spikes in one of those "be quick and precise…or die!" challenges — but for the most part, things worked pretty smoothly.

Darksiders II (Xbox 360) image

I'd also say that for me, this game's difficulty was right in that sweet spot where some parts were pretty challenging, but I never found myself stuck in a place for that long. It occasionally took me a little while to mentally work through a puzzle and a handful of bosses proved to be tough foes simply due to their damage output giving me less of a margin for error than most confrontations did. While most of the rank-and-file enemies are pretty easy to slice through, the game is fond of occasionally tossing really tough ones into the mix. When you're going to the Forge Land's second dungeon, you'll regularly encounter Stalkers, which are durable and powerful enough for one to have been a mini-boss in the preceding dungeon. That sort of thing can be a real wake-up call!

For the most part, I found this to be a great game. However, it did have a couple flaws that prevented it from reaching elite status. The lesser of those resides in an optional dungeon known as the Soul Arbiter's Maze. This place is lacking in puzzles, containing nothing but one big fight after another in rooms that all blend together. Just a boring place compared to every other location in the game, but since it's an optional place tied to a side quest, I was able to ignore it after deciding it wasn't to my liking.

More annoying was Death's brief sojourn to the ruins of Earth in order to acquire a key item. At first, I was thinking it was cool to revisit the world of the first game, but then I started actually playing that section. Basically, Death will pick up a big gun and you'll be stuck in a dull third-person shooter where you'll slowly walk through a large collection of corridors and chambers while constantly blasting away at a seemingly-infinite amount of enemies that subscribe to the "strategy" of running straight at you. It probably only took me an hour or two to get through that area, but it sure felt like a much longer time.

Fortunately, the rest of the game was far more enjoyable than that little late-game setback. For me, the dungeons are the most enjoyable part of games like this and Darksiders II delivered on that front by giving me a large game utterly loaded with them. None of the puzzles struck me as aggravating and I generally enjoyed controlling Death as I fought my way through the opposition. When I'm playing through multiple games in a series, I love it when I can see improvements from one to the next and that's what I got from moving from the first Darksiders to the second.

overdrive's avatar
Community review by overdrive (April 30, 2021)

Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.

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