Darksiders II

Deathly Quiet

Darksiders II is chattier than its predecessor at first, but it quickly gives in to the silence.

By Steve Heisler • August 23, 2012

War, one of the Four Horsemen Of The Apocalypse, was the pithy hero of 2010’s Darksiders, where he battled against Heaven and Hell for the fate of humanity, saying only what might fit on a gravelly fortune cookie. “I…have…no…regrets,” he might snarl before cleaving an angel through her angel face. The other characters in the game were equally soft-spoken (which says a lot considering most of them were demons the size of Luxembourg), issuing directives in as few words as possible. And the game was straightforward and easy to explain: God Of War button-mashing combat and Legend Of Zelda dungeon crawling. There were, like, four weapons and a few accessories. Say no more.

The world of Darksiders II requires more explanation. It’s gorgeous and sprawling, spanning topographies like the autumnal Forge Lands and the menacing Land Of The Dead. There’s so much to see, in fact, that the game won’t shut up about it. Guidance isn’t just doled out; characters have added dialogue options to expound on the history of wherever you’re going, with a zeal and thoroughness usually reserved for the highest of fantasy. Equipment comes in a wide range of scythes, hammers, armblades, and so on, each pumping some of a dozen different stats. There are side quests and skill trees, shortcuts for fast travel, and mailboxes full of presents. It’s a lot of noise.

Chalk it up to Darksiders II simply falling over itself with excitement, like a friend dying to tell you about his recent jaunt to Singapore. You may or may not care, but he’s still your friend, after all. So you let him get it out of his system. Though the game’s engine might be loud when you start it up, Darksiders II quickly starts purring along, more quietly confident than ever.

Darksiders II

Death, another Horseman, is the focus of this game, a prospect that likely had 700 THQ employees simultaneously shout, “Check out this tagline: ‘Death Is Coming!’” During the 100 years of War’s wrongful imprisonment, Death takes it upon himself to prove his brother’s innocence. He heads to the Nether Realms, an area between Heaven and Hell, where apparently they keep the box labeled “evidence.”

Death is more talkative and subservient than War. He’s at the mercy of new friends, sent to accomplish seemingly inconsequential tasks, like powering up a giant cauldron. This is how Darksiders II sneaks up on you. One second you’re riding on your horse, appropriately named Despair, through a dusty field; the next you’re seven rooms into a dungeon you didn’t even realize had started, fending off enemies and using gravity-defying acrobatics to scale crumbling walls. The towns (as much as you can call an assemblage of ghouls and mystics a “town”) are chatty, but the outside is pure desolation—post-apocalyptic nothingness that quietly transitions from one dark cavern to the next.

The main storyline can feel bloated, especially when you learn once again that you have to collect three of something to proceed, like how you can’t speak to the King Of The Dead unless you find his three henchmen. It’s always three (I mean, they do say deaths come in threes), multiplying on top of each other. After a while, a reward of, say, an extra-special scythe can hardly make up for the repetition.

Darksiders II

There are also moments where the sheer number of equipment options is overwhelming. In your travels, you may find 70 varieties of boots, each with unique properties. One boosts your defense, another boosts defense and attacks. Another foregoes defense altogether and gives bonuses to your “arcane” abilities—special moves, like unleashing a murder of life-stealing, ice-pecking crows. Each ability can be upgraded three times, by the way.

For the most part, though, Darksiders II cuts through the clutter. It’s grander in scope than its predecessor, so the main quest is only about half of the game. There are numerous side quests that send you to far reaches of the world, and though most involve completing a chunk of the main story, they neatly stack and offer surprises in and of themselves. One takes the form of a hit list, with each enemy on the list nestled inside a dungeon you may have already visited. Only this time, you may notice a glowing purple orb to grapple onto, flinging you to a narrow bridge where a fire-breathing dragon awaits.

It’s in these hidden realms that Darksiders surprises with its silence. With no warning, you might stumble into the Soul Arbiter’s Maze—an optional labyrinth with brutal enemies and portals that lead nowhere. The only clues to the maze’s end are scattered throughout the world in dark, inconspicuous corners. No amount of obsessive planning can prepare you for the horrors within. All you can do is shut up and let the game quietly take over.

Darksiders II
Developer: Vigil Games
Publisher: THQ
Platforms: PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
Reviewed on: PlayStation 3
Price: $60
Rating: M

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442 Responses to “Deathly Quiet”

  1. brian_jorgensen says:

    I’m really enjoying this (just defeated the Construct Hulk) but I do think it front loads the dungeons a little bit too much as I think I’m in my fifth one so far with only 7 hours on the game clock.

    Death is a great shit talker for having no mouth.

    • asdfmnbv says:

      Very Minor Spoilers

      The like 700 dungeons in the first two areas and the one dungeon in each of the last three, more “important,” areas (heaven, earth, hell) seemed like an odd design choice. Apart from the one miserable earth dungeon, the dungeons are interesting enough that it isn’t game breaking, but I definitely would have preferred less of the game to be fighting skeletons in grey world.

  2. Spacemonkey Mafia says:

      Despite finding Madureira’s art style intrinsically goofy, I can’t help but be charmed by his series of “Airbrushed Conversion Van: The Game”.  I enjoyed the first one well enough in it’s earnest ridiculousness, I’ll happily check this one out when it inevitably shows up on Steam for a steep discount.

    • Aurora Boreanaz says:

      I was really enjoying the first Darksiders, and then stopped playing due to some distraction or another and never finished it.  It’s not on my list of games I intend to get to someday, hopefully when I find some brilliant million-dollar idea that lets me stop working full-time.

      • Spacemonkey Mafia says:

        I played the first one up until almost the end and then wandered off as well, but I’m terrible at finishing games.

        • brian_jorgensen says:

          I did the same thing and picked it up shortly before buying this and then remembered that the final area (“The Black Throne”) just felt like endless blandly designed padding. I decided I probably didn’t need to experience this.

    • I was wondering how long the conversation would go before somebody brought up Madureira. I want to reread the Shi’ar vs Phalanx story from 1997 X-Men now.

      • Spacemonkey Mafia says:

        Not very, considering his “even your knee-pads have shoulder pads” aesthetic is the defining characteristic of the game.

        • Raging Bear says:

          Goddammit, I hate shoulder pads.

          I have never gone within a mile of a Warhammer 40,000 game and never will, because every single piece of art I’ve ever seen from that universe makes me extraordinarily angry.

        • Destroy Him My Robots says:

          @Raging_Bear:disqus I’m so with you. My sister-in-law recently resurrected my WoW account for a week and seeing my main again was downright shocking. Giant shoulder pads and horns and spikes everywhere. I wonder if the people who insist the game’s art design is good have ever played it beyond level 40.

    • Girard says:

       I run hot and cold on Penny Arcade, but this take on the game got a genuine chuckle out of me.

        • doyourealize says:

          And that was just it for me. When I played Darksiders, all it did was remind me of how much I couldn’t wait to play God of War 3. I didn’t get very far.

        • Aurora Boreanaz says:

          @doyourealize:disqus  – Ugh, since God of War instigated my worst ragequit since Sega Genesis days, I had no desire to play any other games in the series.

      • Spacemonkey Mafia says:

        Whenever Penny Arcade begins to feel to complacent and self satisfied to me, they do a strip like this one that is sincerely funny and it resets my tolerance.
           It’s also easily the best-illustrated video game comic strip, and capable of making observations outside the “This is a video game.  Isn’t this a weird thing that happens in this video game?” style of humor that encompasses 98% of other game comics. 

        • blue vodka lemonade says:

           In quasi-related news, I tried to read Homestuck to figure out what the hell it is. Pretty soon, I realized I’d read fifty pages and still had no clue.

          Maybe people who like video games in a way that makes them want to write comics about them have a predilection for horribleness.

        • Maudib says:

           Homestuck does have the annoying habit of dropping a storyline for months for something completely different, then expect you to remember where he left off.  It’s definitely aimed at the obsessive nitpickers and speculative types.

        • Necrogem says:

           @green_gin_rickey:disqus Homestuck takes an extremely long time to get rolling.  Fifty pages is really nowhere near enough to grasp what’s going on… if you still have any interest in it, I’d recommend reading at least until the trolls come in (about act 3-ish, IIRC) because they rapidly become the most interesting part of the series. 

          When I started reading it, I was mostly hooked by the sense of humor, and if that sort of absurdist thing isn’t your bag, I can see it getting confusing and even frustrating very quickly.  But since I’m biased, I’d hope you give it another shot. You even get to play some point-and-click-adventure-style minigames once you get far enough!

    • Bad Horse says:

      I got the first one as a gift, liked it well enough, finished it, and will never, ever play it again.

    • Maudib says:

      He has the unsettling habit now of making everyone with the body composition of a dwarf.  I swear he didn’t do that back in the 90’s, but I could be wrong.

  3. Chris Holly says:

    I started D1 multiple times and never got very far – maybe it was a case of being bored with the protagonist or something, but it just never clicked with me.

    I am absolutely loving D2, though. The levels seem better put together, and they’ve done so many little things (sacrifice junk loot to level up the good stuff, fast travel, an incredibly awesome checkpointing system) to make the whole experience welcoming and fun that I’m having a blast.

    • Spacemonkey Mafia says:

      How many games implement a sacrifice junk loot system?  ‘Cuz it really is the most graceful answer to the massive garbage accumulation games like this result in.

    • dreadguacamole says:

       I feel exactly the same way – didn’t care much for the first one, but I’m having a blast with the sequel. It’s still a blatant mish-mash of games the devs liked, but come on… this one puts Prince of Persia and Diablo front and center in the gameplay mix. How could I not love that?
       It’s also extremely generous with its content, and genuinely enthusiastic about showing it to you. A lot of love was poured into making the game.

  4. Mookalakai says:

    It’s getting harder and harder for me to patent my game about a demonic bar owner who has to sell illegal apple juice on the sly called Dark Ciders.

    I’m sorry about that. I bought this game for some reason, I liked the first one. I expect to enjoy this one too.

  5. Mookalakai says:

     Also, I’ve been reading a lot of bad things about the PC version of the game, can anyone alleviate or worsen my fears that the game is crap on PCs?

    • asdfmnbv says:

       Its not the greatest port ever. The graphics aren’t customizable at all from in-game menus (the graphics options are resolution and gamma). The keyboard/mouse controls aren’t the greatest. The reaper mode hotkey just hasn’t worked for me so I had to go through the radial menu to use that ability. There isn’t really a great way to use any of the special abilities unless you have a mouse with >3 buttons.

      The game runs pretty smooth, and controls about as well with the keyboard and mouse as the pc ports of similar games (its clunky, but not anywhere near unplayable). It wasn’t the best port, but I thought the game was still very playable and a lot of fun.

      • Mookalakai says:

         That all sounds tolerable. I’ll get by, this is still definitely a console oriented game, so we shouldn’t be too surprised.

  6. I found the original Darksiders to have tedious combat, the levels to be very poorly designed, the story to be unoriginal, and was overall just bored to tears with everything that wasn’t voiced by Mark Hamill. Will I like this one? Does it improve on any of that to the point where I would enjoy playing it?