Zelda for Those Who Might Not Like Zelda Anymore
Can Darksiders' interpretation of Nintendo's franchise continue carrying the load?
Much of the inspiration from the Legend of Zelda series found in the original Darksiders remains firmly intact in its sequel, at least if a mid-game (about six hours in, we're told) dungeon called The Foundry is any indication. This sprawling zone is home to rivers of lava, all manner of mechanical contraptions, and an assortment of stone golems, one of which is about the size of a six-story building. Despite the window dressing, Darksiders II still retains the same general structure of Nintendo's adventure series: find keys to get through locked doors and then solve some puzzles, which inevitably leads to the special item that also happens to unlock the way forward to the dungeon boss.
It should all be very familiar to fans of Link's adventures, and Darksiders II seemingly does them justice with the complexity of the puzzles found in The Foundry. In fact, there's a really nice mixture of puzzles that rely heavily on Death's own acrobatic abilities as well as his interaction with the stone golems (he can ride them) and sticky bombs found later in the same area. But there are also a fair share of brain busters where taking a step or two back from the situation goes a long way in presenting a solution. One of the more notable puzzles in The Foundry actually requires a fair bit of exploration, which played well into the sheer size of that particular environment.
There's no shortage of things to do in Darksiders II. When Death isn't solving slower-paced puzzles, he's usually battling foes with a combat system that bears more similarities to Capcom's Devil May Cry series than to The Legend of Zelda, and that serves as one of the first examples of how Darksiders II, much like its predecessor, separates itself from Nintendo's franchise. It's still a slick system complete with fairly complex combinations of moves that use the various tools at Death's disposal, including an assortment of equipable scythes and secondary weapons that are much slower but more punishing.
But perhaps even more telling of Darksiders' attempt to distance itself from Zelda is the addition of a new loot system that adds much more equipment to the ecosystem than in the previous game. It's one of the few times where the action in Darksiders seemingly comes to a halt, but the trade-off is more weapons and pieces of armor that have various effects on Death's base stats. Death is far more nimble than his horseman predecessor, so it's a little jarring to slow down and spend some time on the specifics of which item is better than another and whether or not Death can even equip a piece of gear. Truth be told, this might just be a side effect of being thrown into a later dungeon and not having a chance to experience what happens in between dungeons, presumably in the hub world that exists. Still, switching loot to auto-pickup as opposed to manual pickup or equip on pickup seems to make things a little smoother in that regard.
Things swung back around to the Zelda formula with the Foundry boss--a massive golem activated by collecting special heart stones from various parts of the dungeon. It's not so much the boss battle that's a reminder of what Zelda has done before it, but rather Vigil's focus on making boss battles that not only are memorable, but also serve as a satisfying conclusion to a slog through a large dungeon. It's at that point that it seems Vigil wants to take the core characteristics of the Zelda series and improve the parts of it that some people may not find as appealing or change them to reflect a more contemporary aesthetic. It remains to be seen if the team has succeeded.