A walk through the valley of Death

Darksiders II: Death Lives will add features to the original, but also run more quickly and smoothly.
Darksiders II: Death Lives will add features to the original, but also run more quickly and smoothly.

Jeremy Greiner was in no doubt as to what is the biggest new element in Darksiders II. He looked over my shoulder at a poster featuring the game’s new protagonist, and said, “Death. War and Death really different.”

2010’s Darksiders was somehow familiar and different, a game made of many borrowed elements which became something special, especially when coupled with the game’s chunky, comic book style art and design.

Its complex plot involves a scandal in celestial politics, with War, one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, falling to an earth where demons and angels are at war. When War is accused of bringing about this war himself, and wiping out humanity in the process, he demands a chance to investigate the events and find out who really triggered the apocalypse.

In the sequel, War’s fellow Horseman Death takes centre stage, and the game feels different as a result. Death is a much more nimble fighter, fast and subtle compared to War’s lumbering power. Greiner agreed with my assessment, saying, “Death is quick and agile, and has crazy traversal abilities.”

Greiner joked that taking on a new central character created a lot of work for the development team at Vigil Games. “When you have the core team still intact and you are using your own engine to make a sequel, you can be a lot more efficient the second time around,” he explained. “But we want to tell the story of all four horsemen, so we went with Death this time around. That required all new voice acting, all new game mechanics, new animation sets, new everything.”

That isn’t all that’s been revised. Darksiders II will feature a host of new additions, including substantial roleplaying elements. Death will earn experience, gain levels, and acquire new skills based on two contrasting skill trees. “The necromancer side is more of a spellcaster, and the harbinger side is a warrior track,” Greiner explained. “The harbinger side lets you call in spells that will make you personally more powerful in combat, whereas on the necromancer side you can call in allies to fight for you.”

There is also a new random loot system, with armour, magic items, and secondary weapons being randomly dropped by enemies. Greiner joked that killing an enemy is “kind of like pulling a slot machine each time”. Plus, dropped loot can enhance the two skill trees, with two armour sets that can either enhance your spellcasting or your combat agility.

Darksiders II is also a lot larger, with total floor space around four times that of the original Darksiders . Getting around this gigantic world is aided by Death’s “pale horse”, a magical steed called Despair. Greiner explained that players in the first game complained about War’s lack of a horse. “You’re a horseman, and you don’t get your horse until halfway through the game,” he said. Despair is useful for more than getting around, however - Death can deliver a whole range of attacks while mounted.

The other big complaint about the original game was backtracking, wandering back and forth through the game’s large areas. According to Greiner, this is fixed in the sequel. “The level design is much cleaner, so you pretty much finish where you start,” he said. “In the world map in the pause menu you can always jump from area to area, just zip right across.” However, players who like to indulge in a bit of backtracking will also be rewarded. “There’s much more in the world to see and do, in terms of sidequests, and the experience and levelling up system means that every enemy you kill means something.”

I have had two opportunities to get hands-on with Darksiders II, and it certainly feels like a refinement of the original. Combat is faster and more fluid, with Death not getting locked into long, slow moves like War used to. The roleplaying elements are lightweight and don’t get in the way of the action, but allow players to tweak Death’s abilities to match their playing style.

The sequel also looks gorgeous, with its bold colours, chunky design, and enormous new levels. Players will be able to check it out for themselves in a week, with Darksiders II: Death Lives going on sale on 16 August.

- James "DexX" Dominguez

twitter DexX is on Twitter: @jamesjdominguez

This story A walk through the valley of Death first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.