Darksiders 2 preview

By Xav de Matos, Jan 25, 2012 1:00pm PST

Death is an impatient soldier. Unlike his brother--the strategist War--Death takes no pause. He quickly dispatches all foes, and never utters a word of satisfaction. He is stoic, lead designer Haydn Dalton told me. "He just wants to get sh-t done," Dalton said.

An early look at Darksiders 2 featured Death navigating through a colorful, living, underground cavern. It is a far cry from the first game's muted and bleak surroundings. Bubbling lava squirts into the air, fountains of fire stream throughout the world.

Death cannot look more different than his brother. His pale skin and emaciated body contrast that of his brother's. He is a faster, more nimble character than War. He doesn't waste time; constantly closing the gap between himself and enemies in battle with a metaphysical arm. Death can even operate mounts (dubbed 'Constructs') allowing him to move throughout the world and solve puzzles.

Unlike his brother, Death can utilize multiple armor sets connected to different progression paths. Death's 'Slayer' armor set focuses on his combat orientation; the 'Wanderer' set is geared toward his rogue-like abilities; and 'Necromancer' focuses on his command of spell craft. Each set is said to sport a unique appearance. Death also has two distinctive skill trees: Harbinger, focusing on combat combinations and Necromancer, focusing on spells.

Twin scythes at his side, Death can juggle enemies with a variety of combat options. Spells like 'Exhume,' which raise coffins from the ground and send a swarm of zombies toward an enemy, help thin the ranks of the opposition. Lethality increases when Death performs finishing moves; his body transforming into the classic interpretation of a ghostly Death and his trusty scythe, the 'Harvester.'

Death has all these abilities at his disposal, but what I found interesting about the character is his seeming boredom. The idea that Death is never satisfied--something art history and literature have covered--seems apparent here. One of the more telling and subtle animations involves opening doors. Death waves his hand in dismissal prompting two mystical arms rip the doors open. It's a subtle animation that I thought worked well.

"Everything is like an enhancement from the first one," Darksiders 2 lead designer Haydn Dalton claimed. "War had traversal, but Death's traversal is extensively higher." Death takes a page from Prince of Persia, as he runs along walls and quickly leaps between pillars.

But from my perspective, combat looks relatively untouched. Although speedier, the game still overly relies on single-button prompts for finishing moves. Defense is especially disappointing, as it doesn't offer more than the typical "roll away from enemy attacks" design. Action games should give players more control over their defense--Rocksteady's Batman: Arkham City being a strong example of doing that correctly.

As an action game, Darksiders 2 doesn't appear much improved. However, Darksiders 2 offers more RPG traits than ever before. The game will have non-playable characters (NPCs) and city hubs, features the development team wish they included in the first game. "One thing we really wished we had done in the first one was add more NPCs, to give more character and life to the game," Dalton said. One comment Dalton remembers about the original game was that some felt Darksiders was missing a "soul." The world was intentionally desolate; the new setting for Darksiders 2 affords the opportunity to do something new. "We want more NPCs. We want sidequests. We want them to give background information on the things that you're doing or even hints about what's going on with War in the world."

"The world is so vast now. There's a backbone set of quests, which are the main quests, but we really wanted to get the most out of the very large worlds that we've given the player," Dalton said, when asked what the gameplay design benefits are for adding sidequests and NPCs to Darksiders 2. "Maybe you got stuck. Maybe you just want your character to be a bit more beefy before you try to do a particularly hard bit, you could do some of the sidequests. Players like variety--especially when they can control that kind of variety." Sidequests will give players access to new items, help build Death's skill tree, and meet characters that do not make an appearance during the main storyline. These elements were "all on the table" for the first game, but were dropped out of the design during development.

Admitting the PC version of Darksiders was "pretty much a straight port," Dalton said that Vigil will "definitely put more effort into [Darksiders 2 on PC] this time around." Though he promised PC players will be happy with the results, he couldn't go into any of the technical differences between the console and PC versions of the game. "We have a dedicated team that will work on the PC," Dalton said. Like the first, Vigil will work on the PC version in-house.

Darksiders 2 is a far more ambitious title versus its predecessor, and it looks great. However, its antiquated combat has me longing for more. Death may not be patient, but I'd be willing to wait if it meant a more modern approach to his method of dispensing fire and brimstone.

Darksiders 2 is coming to the PC, Xbox 360, and PlayStation 3 this summer.


Disclosure: THQ provided airfare to Shacknews for the purposes of previewing Darksiders 2 in San Francisco. No other accommodations were provided.

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