Saturday, October 6, 2012

Review: Darksiders 2

I fucking loved the first Darksiders game, so when I caught wind of there being a sequel, my dick was so hard, it could cut diamonds. I mean holy shit, how are we going to follow up the first game's fantastic ending?? Ooh, I know – by setting it after the tutorial level of the first game and having you play as Death, and embark you on clearing your brother's (War) name for supposedly prematurely starting the apocalypse... umm, excuse me Vigil Games, but what kind of blotter acid binge did you partake in that made you guys think this is how you follow up such a great fucken game? This sounds like a fucking direct to video sequel! But I can't get too mad over this, because this is still a good game. Not fantastic like the first one, but a good one nonetheless.

The first Darksiders had excellent dialogue back up the intiguing set up – you know, the whole premature apocalypse thing. Sadly, this doesn't have quite the same luxuries. Its set up, as I've pointed out, is something that seems like a scene pulled out of a hat, but as you progress through the game, you'll learn that there's more to it than meets the eye. From what you learn, Corruption has spread through the realm of Veil and Death has to do something about it, but when the Nephilim get brought up, it's not just a means of describing what kind of beings the Horsemen of the Apocalypse – as it turns out, Death had slain all but said Horsemen and has bound their souls into an amulet he wears. By the endgame, you can put two and two together and...

...find yourself witnessing one of the shittiest endings since Mass Effect 3. To sum it up, something happens, we skip to a later time period, turns out something else happened but we don't know diddly dick. That actually sums up a lot of this game's story, too. For what it's worth, the concept is a working one, but the storytelling is complete ass. Oftentimes, it feels like you're bumbling along, collecting things for people. Not a whole lot is ever explained and, good dialogue and great voice acting be damned, not a whole heap ever happens. We never even wonder if we really saved War or if the Charred Council just went “fuck it” and let him figure out who started the apocalypse. That's how ripped off I felt at the end, but then again, the story progresses at such a crawl that it's like watching snails moving in a chronic state of bullet time. What a waste! This could've actually worked out and equalled or even surpassed the original, but nope, let's just fetch stuff and be done with it already!

The first Darksiders was like that dark, gritty Zelda game that Twilight Princess wanted to be (as opposed to fillerific self-plagiarism). The second Darksiders feels like an open world RPG (all the rage these days!!!) with the platforming ripped right out of Prince Of Persia 08 (as in you scale across walls, vault off of indents and hang on lined holes on the walls). But if there's one thing their gameplay shares in common, it's the pacing of its quality. Darksiders 1 didn't have the best beginning in the world but the further along you got, the better it got, the more open your options in combat got, the tougher enemies got and the more creative dungeons started to become. Darksiders 2 has this sort of thing going on but it's a LOT worse. As in, the first six hours are more than capable of boring the fuck out of you. While the Forge Lands is the most open world, it also has the most boring dungeons. A lot of its puzzles revolve around putting balls into holes and using bombs to activate switches. That's cool for a while but to have whole dungeons revolve around those, particularly ones that are actually pretty damn long (ie. The last one in the Forge Lands before setting off for the next world), it's sleep inducing and potentially off putting. Add easy enemies and it just feels like you're slogging through a mediocre game, gearing up to trade it in as soon as you begrudgingly finish it.

But then something happens. You wind up in the Land Of The Dead, and suddenly, the dungeons have more puzzles to offer as you collect more items, the enemies are becoming more challenging (and sometimes cheap, but shit happens) and all of a sudden, it actually becomes very easy to get immersed into it! What happened? Oh, a little something called inspiration, more variety to the puzzles than pushing some fucking balls along and knowing that death could be looming around the corner if you didn't adapt to enemy movements and patterns (or at least bring potions with you). Mind you, people will tell you that it's still easy unless you play it on the unlockable nightmare difficulty mode (in which death = you start from the beginning of the ENTIRE GAME ALL OVER AGAIN!!!), and as much as I feel like making an analogy about Dark Souls and having learned boss patterns and shit, enemies do have simple patterns and tells (or wind up for attack in other words) so obvious it makes the boxers from Mike Tyson's Punch Out subtle in their tells. But while learning and while in group encounters, it takes one mistake to totally fuck yourself up, especially on the apocalyptic difficulty setting where you take more damage and they take less.

Combat has taken a significant overhaul. Death is more agile in combat than his brother War (though that's because Death's body isn't 700 times the size of his head and he's not lugging around a sword seven times the size of his dick), able to land quicker combos and use his spectral form to land a finishing blow of sorts. As you learn more combos from trainers – at a nominal fee, of course – you can time the presses of the square button to perform different combos, which can mean the difference between hitting things around you and finishing off what's in front of you, risking death by the Christian side hug and anal raping. But not to worry – subweapons to the rescue!! Whether they be slow hard hitters or fast scratchers, the most important thing is that you can mix them up with your scythes when given certain situations. You can only equip one subweapon so you'll have to choose speed vs damage here kids.

Then there are special attacks... basically, you level up through getting enough XP via killing enemies and completing quests, and at certain levels, you can learn new attacks and add enhancements to them. You can learn six attacks, three on each sort of class (basically, one dealing with physical attacks and another dealing with minion spawning attacks), with enhancements taking up the rest of the skill tree. Said enhancements include absorption (whether it be health or wrath), fire or ice damage (fire burning bits of their health away for a bit, ice slowing them down a bit) and some sort of after effects. Overall, there are more options in the heat of battle – whether you prefer to distract enemies with a couple of firey explosive ghouls or enforce crowd control with a wide attack – and with the bump in speed, combat really feels good, especially once you're given those options. It does seem fairly “me too”-ish in the sense that it has the whole RPG thing going on as levelling is fairly easy (plenty of forced fights and quests that give you XP upon completion) and it just feels like you're paying trainers money to learn new attacks, but eh, it could've been worse...

If there's a minor problem I could point out (that actually tended to bug the crap out of me as I played), it's the loot system. Besides the fact that it just seems silly (this isn't Diablo, it's fucking Zelda with bloody combat), you tend to get a whole bunch of useless shit, like people are motivated to keep going by little rewards or something as opposed to the greater goal. Reason being is that while the game claims that there are five types of weapons (regular, enchanted, rare, elite and possessed), I say that there are three types – shit, sacrificial lambs and possessed. See, possessed weapons are able to level up by feeding on your other equipment and taking their properties (like regeneration, absorption, elemental damage and what have you), and if you play your cards right (not all that hard actually), you, too, can have overpowered weapons. That, and it's just not that interesting... oh joy, a scythe that's a tad stronger than the generic scythe I've already got equipped. It's rare to find something worth caring about, and even then... eh, the possessed weapon is so much more appetizing. Would make more sense if you have an option to blacksmith your equipment...

Darksiders 2 actually looks worse than Darksiders 1. While it'd be easy to chalk it up to “well the style is going for a more cartoony look”, I just think it doesn't look that good. A lot of the colors are washed out and a lot of the textures look like somebody opened up a blurry image on Photoshop and applied the sharpen filter, like putting makeup on a pig. Not a whole lot of things here look exciting, either. Death looks like Casey Jones from the TMNT franchise... and that's about as interesting as it gets. Everything just looks... generic, like they pulled some typical monster designs out of a hat or something. The animations are quite smooth, managing to capture the agility of Death's movements, particularly during a cinematic takedown scene after beating a boss. Sadly, that does get ruined sometimes when the framerate takes a few dips into molasses, especially during a bigger dungeon or anywhere with plenty of rendered objects.

Thankfully, this game has a fucken good soundtrack. A lot of the songs are larger than life in scale, with sweeping epic orchestrations to make moments feel big. This is definitely at its best during fights because there is a certain rush that makes fights feel big, though that's not to sell the more beautiful and subtle pieces short. The voice acting is also really good, managing to do its best to pull you into the story. The Forge World inhabitants have a Scottish accent, the monsters are a bit over the top in their acts and Death just has that cool, calm, collected sort of voice that I'd almost go gay for. But most importantly, it works for the sorts of characters that they are – no, I'm not saying it's bland, I'm speaking in terms of what the designs wanted to be. But yeah, great voice acting complimented by an excellent soundtrack. Just wish it was helping a great story instead of a shit one.

Darksiders 2 starts off as a mediocre open world RPG, but then you move on a bit and realize that it's actually a pretty good game. If you can get past the first act, you'll find yourself a game that can kick ass and take names. There are a lot of instances where it seems like it just takes elements from other games rather than integrating them into its own thing, but there are also lots of instances where it feels just right. The combat, the puzzles and how they're integrated into the dungeons – it just winds up really fucking working in its favor, and in the end, what you get is a satisfying experience... marred by a shitty ending, but hey, it's the journey that matters.

7.5/10 (Good)

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