Darksiders II: Putting the Action Into Action RPG

We pick up our scythe and get harvesting with a look at the role-playing elements in Darksiders II.

It would have been easy to dismiss the original Darksiders as the equivalent of a gaming pickpocket, liberally pilfering ideas from third-person action adventure titles such as God of War and The Legend of Zelda. But for a game that borrowed so heavily, Darksiders carved out its own clear and fascinating identity. At the centre of the experience was War, one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, who had been summoned to Earth believing the last of seven seals keeping the forces of heaven and hell at bay had been broken, in the process signalling the endwar.

Darksiders II takes what the development team at Vigil confesses was originally a game of experimentation and refines the formula by stripping back the ideas that failed to meet the grade and expanding further on its strongest traits. We recently got an updated hands-off look at the sequel and found that while much of the basic structure that made it such a solid first outing has remained intact, this isn't the safe, cookie-cutter follow-up many may have expected.

The game takes place during the same time period as Darksiders and runs concurrently to explore what older brother Death was doing while War sliced and diced his way through the armies of angels and demons. With the stage for battle set, the development team is using the sequel to branch out with more exotic locations than in the previous game, and to move away from the human planet setting to investigate events occurring above and below the surface.

Though of the same stock, Death and War are very different in their approach to movement and combat. War's hard-hitting, lumbering way made taking care of business deliberate and brutal. Death is no less violent than his brother, but forgoes blocking and slower, more powerful strikes for zippier hit-and-run pokes and scrapes with scythes and fist weapons. That's not to say that slower, higher-damage-dealing weapons like hammers aren't available in his arsenal, but they act as secondary tools of the trade. New ethereal powers let you trade energy earned in combat to summon tombstones filled with zombies that act as crowd control in multitarget fights. Alternatively, you can take a page out of the skunk playbook, dousing yourself in shadow and dealing hurt to anyone who invades your personal space.

Straight brawling has been tossed aside to usher in combat that rests on two new skill trees. Spending points on Harbinger abilities increases Death's agility, speed, and proficiency with melee strikes, while earning and unlocking those on the Necromancer side boosts his magical prowess. The addition of these trees gives the game a more role-playing feel, while another change is that enemies receive designated levels of difficulty, complete with visibly depleting health bars as you whittle them down with your attacks. Damage figures scroll across the screen as you land hits, and though Vigil is playing its cards close to its chest for the moment, we saw sporadically increased amounts of damage that suggests the new gear items that drop from bad guys may help raise your chance to perform critical strikes.

Before you go throwing your hands up to condemn this new attempt at a more cerebral experience, it's worth noting that platforming, puzzle-solving, and skull-splitting with big metal weapons, which made the original so great, are back in spades. In fact, in response to user feedback, Darksiders II will be more difficult than its predecessor and will have less-generous windows of timing when you're performing specific objectives. Quickly rising lava in one room showed an example where precise pillar jumps and Death's wall-running and Ghost Hand skills were needed to avoid being burnt to a crisp. The new construct robot unit lets you smash corruption crystals blocking access to new areas, like the gauntlet did previously. Firing chain-tethered arms from the machine as makeshift walkways helps you retrieve items, while its raised control position from on top of its humanoid body keeps you safe as you coast across dangerous environmental hazards.

If you're going to be traipsing across the newer, more-open world, you're going to want rewards for your troubles. Darksiders II hopes to provide both tailored gameplay and incentives to replay the campaign by offering multiple sets of armour to collect and wear. We were told about the slayer, necromancer, and wanderer ensembles, but so far we don't know where they all come from, or what we'll need to do to obtain them. Loot dropped frequently during our demo, and while we were impressed with having the simplicity of quickly equipping it on the spot, or tossing it in a bag for later with a single button press, new items seemed difficult to spot on the ground. Optional side quests and dungeons will now also be available, some of which may take several hours to complete outside of the main campaign. It's worth pointing out that though this is a single-player game, Vigil has hinted at the possibility of letting players trade bind-on-equip items online with friends rather than vendor-trash them.

Our demo ended with looks at two of the nastier foes you will encounter in your travels. The first, Ghorn, was a miniboss who exploded and rebuilt himself at will. Carrying a huge cleaver, he spurted waves of lava through open grates on the floor of the arena. The second enemy was a mixture of organic and robotic, with giant black tendrils pulling together parts to build a kit-form monster who loved to pound the ground. Doing so sent out a huge shock wave, but in both cases, Death's nimble movements allowed us to deftly jump to safety before returning fire.

Certainly not as pointy-headed as some of the other action role-playing games already available, or soon to be released, Darksiders II appears to be cutting its own path. The addition of a more open-world map, optional side content, and a more fluid and thoughtful combat system has us interested to see more of the game running. Look for more on it during 2012 ahead of its launch on the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Wii U, and PC.

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Discussion

98 comments
Hujazoda
Hujazoda

The first one was just amazing!!! I would give 9.0 JUST CAN'T WAIT FOR THE SECOND!!!

matty_parkhurst
matty_parkhurst

more harder than the first eh in the words of marcus fenix BRING IT!!! day one purchase.

Barighm
Barighm

To be fair, it was probably better to depict War as a stylish action warrior.

mihael88
mihael88

i agree with HonorOfGod.. action action. rpg rpg. end of story.

Rev_Shadow_508
Rev_Shadow_508

it is looking good love the first and I think I'm going to be addicted to this one for some time once it hits the shelves

HonorOfGod
HonorOfGod

Please stop making everything into a RPG! Action is action.. RPG is RPG end of story. If I wasnt to play an action game I go pick one up.. If I want an RPG I go play that. Just because it ends up in the same place does not mean you should mix it up and eat donuts and Hotdogs for lunch.

nedsig7
nedsig7

more puzzle-solving, nice!

Pooya1881
Pooya1881

first darksiders sucked in storytelling,it also had some parts where it was impossible to figure out what to do. borrowing more rpg elements is a risk that may fail 'cuz hardcore action gamers may not appreciate the changes that are being made(cuz y'know they like to hack'n slash their way through everything and dont like strategic gameplay!!)

rhymesmatter
rhymesmatter

Ok i admit that the first one although with a kick ass story some nice initial hack and slash action...it felt a bit ...shallow!Yet the story was idd so amazing that i want to see what happens!So i pray that this one makes the necessary impact so that the producers get the green light from THQ to go for DarkSiders 3 and hopefully 4 (unless they decide to squeeze all horsemen together on the next one and wrap it up)

phantom_blade66
phantom_blade66

Loved the first one. Can't wait for this (Even though Skyrim has sucked up my gaming completely)

Andrew1073
Andrew1073

I actually thought the original was only a tiny easy, they don't need to make it too much harder to get a good balance...

YummyMango
YummyMango

The way these guys talk in this interview and others simply shows their passion about their game. And with this passion I think it is hard to make a bad game. Game looks and feels sick and seems to be a nice step-up from DS 1. Ofcourse Death looks sick!

gamimgGT
gamimgGT

Oh i will buy it, only question is: will you bring it?.

AC-FAN-I-AM
AC-FAN-I-AM

More than I could have imagined, looking forward to it

grim0187
grim0187

I need to pick up the first game. Been meaning to.

samus_my_life
samus_my_life

yeah this is what we want ........ DarkSider 2 yeaaaaaaaaah am very happy about this game i can't wait guys

ProMethUse
ProMethUse

can't wait for this to to be released... Vigil Games went the extra mile on this one :D

sepiroth117
sepiroth117

this is a more interesting than the first one i think im gonna buy it

trugs26
trugs26

I might get this for Wii U. Looks pretty cool.

gamesrok345
gamesrok345

This is going to be much better than the first

Elann2008
Elann2008

Seems like it will be better than Darksiders 1.

Sorrow_42
Sorrow_42

Now I'm more hyped than before it sounds awesome,gotta have this day one

BimboShaggins
BimboShaggins

this game is NOTHING. compared to Dark Souls

keyb0red
keyb0red

definitely getting this on day 1

lyncer777
lyncer777

@kevdillon i knew someone will reply on my comment, you got your opinion and i got mine, I just cant stand it anymore, this game for me is suffering identity crisis and thats for me only (maybe). Rip off. Check this out: One of War's Abilities: "Immolation" - an ability that allows War to be set on fire. When enemies come within melee range they will be set on fire, causing damage and adding combo hits. Illidan Stormrage (Warcraft 3) "Aura of Immolation" - Illidan shrouds himself in magical flames, dealing Fire damage to nearby enemies But WAIT There's More... it is not that hard to find in terms of art design, gameplaywise, and storywise there's ripping off this ripping off that... On the contrary it is not a bad game.

Vlaimir_Lem86
Vlaimir_Lem86

Cant wait... Darksiders 2 Max Payne 3 Guild Wars 2 That rounds out 2012 for me :)

BloomerNYC
BloomerNYC

Darksiders+RPG = need to change my shorts

Shengali
Shengali

@lyncer => It's no wonder about World of Warcraft. True fact: They were inspired by his previous work/art design :) I am and have been looking forward to this ever since I first beat the original - which is about 3 days after it was initially released :P

Thyasianman
Thyasianman

@megakick I played the demo of Asura's Wrath for the ps3, and it was one of the worst demos I ever played. It was pretty much quick time events and on rails shooting combined. This game looks great, but I was very disappointed with Asura's Wrath and felt like it was a Ps2 or Xbox game. To anyone saying that because game borrow stuff from eachother is bad. It depends how they combine it. I totally agree with @kevdillon on that one. Its on how the game combines everything together with their own ideas.

kevdillon
kevdillon

@lyncer777 So what? Any idea in a game is derived from an existing idea in another. It's the COMBINATION of everything that makes the game. Sick of people who continually complain about originality - and then the same people continually play iterations of similar games year after year. EG. Any RPG, FPS, RTS. Who cares if Zelda or Doom 'did it first'? Get over it. If the world had it your way, we would have stopped making games 20 years ago.

Crypto145
Crypto145

I actually cannot wait for this game and it's one of my most anticipated of this year(if that's when it's coming out)

g1rldraco7
g1rldraco7

I love the art design and excited about traveling to new areas.

lyncer777
lyncer777

First of all "sorry to the fans" But i really dont like the First game. It has no Originality. Legend of Zelda Devil May Cry Legacy of Kain Panzer Dragoon God of War and many many more... even War Looks like Arthas with Frostmourne and this Death looks like Raziel from LoK: Soul Reaver... meh like a goat.

FreedomPrime
FreedomPrime

@Emewy WARNING TROLL ALERT WARNING TROLL ALERT WARNING TROLL ALERT

FreedomPrime
FreedomPrime

THIS GAME LOOKS SOOOO AWESOME IT BROKE MY CAPS LOCK!!!!!!!

SIDEFX1
SIDEFX1

Just when i thought i might retire from gaming shortly, I realised i cant. Game on!

Darrt_Feld
Darrt_Feld

@ megakick you cant be serious can you? Asura's Wrath looks like absolute trash. Environments shouldnt be as bland as they are in that game with the tech available in this day and age. I suppose if all you like is different shades of gray then have at it. but lettuce be reality, darksiders is leagues ahead of anything AW could even hope to achieve.

Eraldus
Eraldus

 @HonorOfGod Comparing game categories with food = fail argument. Action Rpg rocks.