The DigestVideo

Games Of August 2012: Darksiders II

It’s Zelda done to Death.

By John Teti • September 11, 2012

In case you missed it: Yesterday’s installment of The Digest covered Sleeping Dogs.

Drew and I just couldn’t get as excited about Darksiders II as Steve Heisler did in his review. I’ve heard the Darksiders series described as “Zelda for grown-ups,” and that description is accurate in its own way, depending on how you shade the term “grown-ups.” The trouble is that both Drew and I have Zelda fatigue to begin with, so our patience for Zelda knockoffs is even thinner.

The bubble tea flavor in this episode is taro. Here’s a behind-the-scenes glimpse: In a deleted scene from this episode, I observed that the tea “tastes like taro ice cream.” Not every sparkling insight makes its way into the final cut!

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  • Spacemonkey Mafia

    Who is this hypothetical fellow describing Darksiders as Zelda for Grown-ups?  
       This is only an accurate sentiment if one is using the relative metric provided toddlers when they achieve some small level of developmental autonomy:   “I no longer scoot across the floor in a diaper bursting with my own effluvia!  I’m a grown-up!”   I enjoyed Darksiders for what it was, but what it was most certainly not a layered and mature deconstruction of man’s destructive instinct and yearning for self-actualization.  The game was giant spike, with another spike spiking out from it.  That spike carried a gun.  That shot spikes.  There was a soft-focus side-boob in the background for good measure.   If one truly felt inclined, an argument can be made that Zelda’s storybook themes and unambiguous morality gives it a more timeless edge, making it suitable for a much wider age range of players than Darksider’s razor-thin Axe Body Spray demographic, but it doesn’t ultimately matter.   I’m still giving Zelda the edge simply because Skyward Sword lets you roll bombs like a kid clumsily hefting a bowling ball to the bumper lanes.  That’s timeless.

    • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

       Remember, this is video games, where a “Mature” rating typically means “At about the maturity level of a 12-year-old boy.”

      • Spacemonkey Mafia

        I recall my Middle School having a grade-wide awards ceremony in the lunchroom.
           One of the more embarrassing awards to receive in a room of all your peers was the “Most Improved” award, which essentially said, while the recipient is no longer functionally illiterate, they’re still reading with the ‘bronze’ group in the Leg Up program.
           Video game narrative has grown at an astonishing rate given the short lifespan of the medium, but it is most certainly still in the Leg Up program. 

    • Bad Horse

      Except, at least in Darksiders 1, the puzzles were considerably easier than any Zelda I’ve ever played. For any meaningful value of grownups, Zelda is Zelda for grownups.

    • dreadguacamole

        Darksiders doesn’t have motion controls, which means it wins by default.

    • bradwestness

      Yeah this looks and sounds like it’s basically a shitty “XTreme” Zelda knockoff. It’s like asking whether you’d rather have a Coca-Cola Classic or a Mountain Dew ExTreme Gamer Edition soda.

      The Zelda games are formulaic, for sure, but they’re executed incredibly well. The knock-offs copy the formula, but inevitably screw up the details that make the original thing enjoyable.

      • GaryX

        If you can get past the aesthetic, the first one’s a pretty solid game. It tries to make the combat at least a little more complex by adding God of War like combos and what not. While it won’t happen, I’d really like Zelda to incorporate something like that.

  • Staggering Stew Bum

    While watching todays edition of the Borderlands 2 presents the Digest I was munching on a big bowl of all bran to try and clear the carnage caused by the cupcake I ate while watching yesterdays edition of the Borderlands 2 presents the Digest. John and Drew aren’t the only ones suffering for this thing.

    In other Borderlands 2 news, last night I had a series of dreams where I chased a copy of Borderlands 2 through a sparse forest. When I finally caught up with it I saw that another me was already there with it and as I watched on the copy of Borderlands 2 smirked slightly as it and other me went up in flames. Then I woke up.

    • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

       I hope Disqus never has a catastrophic database failure, as these comments are providing an invaluable document of a human mind unraveling, that I’m sure will be of tremendous use to scientists.

    • Bad Horse

      Borderlands 2 symbolizes your sorrow for the cupcake and your fear of all-bran. Your dreams are full of really obvious metaphors and really slow the pace of your sleep down.

    • Fluka

      Wait, does this mean that Borderlands 2 will actually end up being a godlike rogue AI caught in a logic loop?  That half the internet will declare to be the worst thing since Hitler?

      • Fluka

        No.  WAIT.  Does this mean that Staggering Stew Bum is INDOCTRINATED?!?

        (Actually.  Yes.  It probably does.)

      • ShrikeTheAvatar

        I think we’re watching the recreated-persona of @Staggering_Stew_Bum:disqus disintegrate – soon he will revert back to his Armitage persona…

    • Aurora Boreanaz

      I’m sorry, I don’t understand.  It seems that your comment has a slight tone of dislike directed at Borderlands 2 but, since this is not permitted, I must be mistaken.  All material pertaining to Borderlands 2 is good and makes us happy.

      ALL HAIL THE HYPNO-2K!

    • Effigy_Power

       Or maybe Borderlands 2 symbolizes an over-advertised $60 game that promises to be not that different from its predecessor’s grindy, formulaic approach. Take your pick.

    • Free hat

       Least I know someone is eagerly anticipating Borderlands 2 as much as I am.

      • http://profile.yahoo.com/7434UGH3EEMU2AUKTGMU3NLDZA JoshJ

         You mean I can spend more time running back and forth than shooting serial-spawing, 1 xp targets with 3 friends AGAIN!?!? Because seriously, fuck that. MMOs are structured better than that these days.

      • Asinus

        Probably me; if you’re not thinking of me, then count me, too. Though I do worry because while I liked the first one a lot, the DLC seemed to get increasingly childish and the humor became the “trying too hard” variety. I hope they don’t fuck it up. 

  • ToddG

    Ok, Drew, you’re on a desert island: do you take the desert island game or Darksiders II?

    • Drew Toal

      I choose death by exposure.

      • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

        So you’re going to go Singapore, expose yourself, attempt to evade the cops, get arrested, get thrown in jail, and then rot away the rest of your life in a Singaporean prison?

        Oh, you meant the other kind of “death by exposure”…

        • ToddG

          How’s he going to do all that from a desert island?  Although, I guess we ARE assuming this island has at least a functional power grid if a choice between two video games is to be in any way relevant.

      • Drew Toal

        A fellow can expose himself in any number of ways.

        • SisterMaryFrancis

          Are…. are you hitting on us?

        • Drew Toal

          I was raised a good Catholic boy, sister. Wouldn’t dream of it.

        • Effigy_Power

          That mustache is all the Toal I need to see.

  • Raging Bear

    Identity crisis is right. This series somehow takes contemporary apocalypse, Christian mythology, some vaguely Celtic mythology and whatever else was lying around, combines them all, and still comes out with the absolute blandest possible fantasy setting and story, and still uses angels as an excuse to kit you out with a minigun. Not that they hew too closely to any of those sources, obviously. Apparently, apart from Death and War, the other two horseman are Fury, who is a horsewoman, and Strife, who must constantly get into jurisdictional disputes with his brother, War. Clearly, Famine and Pestilence weren’t extreem enough for their own sequels.

    I could deal with all that if the mechanics weren’t the same way, cribbing ideas, but not quality implementation, from any popular game around. It has the traversal/parkour of your Uncharteds and your Princes of Persia, but with such unresponsive controls that you often fall rather than wall-run, or fail to drop down when you mash the drop down button (boy, the auto-scrolling insta-death traversal sections are sure fun to redo a dozen times each). It has the combat of God of War, but with such terrible camera control and dodging (4 directions only, any 3rd dodge leaves you vulnerable) that it’s way the hell more difficult than it should be.

    I’m actually stuck in the dungeon that introduces the crap Portal knockoff mechanic, which, oddly enough, is the exact description of the point where I got terminally fed up with the first game. I do like this one better overall (although if action RPGs weren’t one of my Pavlovian trigger genres I would never have touched it), but Gawd, it really needed more improvement than it got.

    Well, maybe they’ll figure it out by the time Darksiders VII tells us all the story of how the horseman Belligerence saves Atlantis by wiping out of the whole Egyptian pantheon with the railgun he stole from Loki.

    • Effigy_Power

      I think I mentioned this before, but the fact that they didn’t even have the guts to make Death look scary rather than a testosterone-injected MMA-fighter cosplaying as “Darkness” shows you how little they believed in creating something even remotely new.
      When “Dante’s Inferno” blatantly copied GoW it at least injected its own design and layout onto it, which I think elevated it somewhat thematically (even if it actually simplified the combat even more). Apart from that, this game looks like a mildly upscaled World of Warcraft, with its washed out textures, giant arms, massive pauldrons and idiotically designed weapons.
      The fact that Grim Fandango still counts as a better representation of how Death likely operates than a game that features Death doing deathly stuff in Deathworld is a poor testament to this mixed bag of dogfood.

    • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

       Well, to be fair, the conventional Four Horsemen favored on heavy metal album covers and awesome van art have about as much to do with the source Biblical imagery as the ones they’re choosing to invent for these games. Pestilence, for instance, is a very young fabrication/addition, and displaces the white rider who has no cut-and-dry taxonomic label, and which could represent anything from military conquest to Jesus. It’s not more authentic to the “mythology” than Fury or Strife are.

      Incidentally, how great would a game series based on Terry Pratchett’s four (or five) horsemen be? It would be smarter, funnier, and its deviations from its sources more inventive and justified.

      • Raging Bear

        That is fair; I don’t really know a great deal about the origin of these things. Still, if people wanted to put their own spin on a conventional tale, I really wish they would be people who can think of a fourth horseman whose domain doesn’t overlap with one of the other three. And, hell, gameplay based around inflicting famine or pestilence could actually be pretty interesting. The problem here is that that might involve something other than smashing things with oversize weaponry, and that’s as far as the Darksiders team’s creativity stretches.

        Really, though, besides the fact that he’s smacking everyone around with scythes, the matter of Death’s soul reaping duties has not even surfaced in this game beyond the barest mention in a throwaway line of dialogue or two, and I’m pretty sure it was a similar situation with War in the first, so who the horsemen are is pretty incidental to proceedings anyway.

        And, damn, a Terry Pratchett horsemen-themed game would be glorious. But then, a game based on anything Pratchetty would be a hell of a change of pace in a lot of ways.

        • Spacemonkey Mafia

          Madureira’s first attempt to draw a totally ripped famine induced seizure, so they just renamed the character Wrath. 

        • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

           @Spacemonkey_Mafia:disqus The LucasArts not-quite-classic Afterlife had a pretty badass version of the four horsemen – The Four Surfers of a Apocalypso.

      • Asinus

        I’ve never quite understood the 4 riders, especially when given those names. Death is, I think, the only one named, and he’s being followed by Hell, and they’re given the power to kill with war, famine, disease, and wild animals. So it’s sort of stupid that the first 3 riders would do their thing and then come back and do it some more for Death and Hell. But 4 horses, I guess, makes a better album cover, as you say. 

        • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

           Yeah, the white horse is just this king with a bow and arrow, and doesn’t fit into the pop conception of the characters at all. The red horseman has a big sword and “power to take peace from the earth,” so ‘War’ isn’t much of a stretch. The black horseman has scales and is charging unreasonable amounts of money for grain while preserving luxury goods like oil and wine – seems more representative of iniquity than famine, really. And then Death on the pale horse, with Hades/Sheol/The Grave/Hell following behind him.

          It seems like with these first two games they knocked out the two most clearly identified ones, and now are stuck trying to do something with the other two. I could see “Fury” being the white horseman, since it’s sometimes parsed as a violent conqueror, and “Strife” as the black horse since it seems to be representing either hard times or times when the poor are taken advantage of by the wealthy.

          They probably haven’t thought very hard about this, though.

        • Drew Toal

          The part where I speculate about whether we’re taking the idea of “horsemen” too literally was edited out, apparently. Probably for the best.

  • jarviscockblocker

    I have to admit I like the first Darksiders, it was just like that restaurant in Seinfeld where the owner sold Chinese, Italian and Spanish food in the same place, I mean you had a grappling hook, parkour, a portal gun, a boomerang blade, a ghosthorse, a shitty revolver, a massive sword, huge demons to fight, the barnacles from Half-Life, bombs to throw around and you’re character is called War. 

    The first 30 minutes I thought this was a huge joke on gamers just like Bayonetta, because I’m sure noone would take dialogue like that seriously. Maybe kids who draw pentagrams in school books.

    • Spacemonkey Mafia

      I like both your observations and your screen name.  Salud!

      • jarviscockblocker

        Thanks! Considering English isn’t my first language I’m surprised I was able to make two coherent and comprehensible observations.

  • PaganPoet

    Alundra was ACTUALLY Zelda for grown-ups. Anyone remember that game? Man, it has some BRUTAL puzzles.

    • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

       That was a very cool game, and one I’ve started at least 4 times but never beaten for some reason.

      I’ve heard the sequel was a bit of a miss, though.

      • PaganPoet

        I actually just bought it from the PSN once the PSOne Classics opened up for the Vita. I remember renting it from Blockbuster when it came out, and getting quite far, but never actually beating it.

        I’m enjoying it, though. The story is actually pretty somber. The combat isn’t great, but passable. But it’s the puzzles–they’re really very difficult (especially any of the puzzles that involve pushing those ice pillars), but you feel like a genius when you solve them.

        Never played the sequel, but like you, I heard it was pretty bad.

      • doyourealize

        Damn, should have refreshed the page before I said the same thing as you.

    • doyourealize

      Played it originally for the PS, then downloaded it for my PS3. Both times I think I got pretty far before just moving on to something else. I really like the game, but I think it’s just too long.

      Best Zelda game in my opinion is Okami.

      • PaganPoet

        Seconded for Okami. What a beautiful game.
        Really looking forward to Okami HD coming this fall, seeing as how my PS2 is now defunct.

        • Spacemonkey Mafia

          I want it to come to Vita so badly.  I know nothing about programming, but that hasn’t stopped me from deciding it would be very easy to do.
             I was also thinking about getting Alundra now that it’s available for Vita, but my puzzle-solving ability hasn’t really grown beyond a baby’s ring-stacker.

      • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

         Because I’m a contrarian bastard, I’d always thought that MegaMan Legends and Brave Fencer Musashi were both better 90s 3-D Zelda games than Zelda 64.

        Despite owning both a PS2 and a Wii, I still have never played Okami. I’ve heard they kind of messed up the graphics on the Wii version, and that the motion controls don’t really make up for that…. In any case, I should play it sometime.

    • Drew Toal

      OH damn. I totally forgot about that game but now need to play the hell out of it. Alundra!

  • Mookalakai

    I really like the soundtrack for this game, especially the track that plays when you’re in an arena room, and enemies just keep spawning for about a minute or so. It is really stupid that literally every enemy in this game materializes from the ground.

  • PhilWal0

    When you order taro bubble tea, excellent flavour is always… on the cards.

    • hastapura

      Taro tea is delicious though

  • gizmochimp

    Zelda is Zelda done to death. It’s been the same thing for two decades. 

  • caspiancomic

    Serious question: what makes Darksiders’ gallops through the interminable emptiness such a slog while Shadow of the Colossus’ gallops through interminable emptiness were celebrated as the culmination of masterful pacing? Is it how the long, often silent treks are punctuated? With either bland Diet Zelda hack-n-slash dungeons on the one hand, or atmospheric puzzle bosses on the other? Is there something visual about the worlds that makes SotC less unbearable? I know SotC has some rivers, marshes, forests, deserts, and ruins, but without having actually played DSII I can’t really compare the two. Do Death’s journeys just literally take two or three times as long?

    Less serious question: if every character from this game looks like somebody’s airbrushed pussymobile mural come to life, why does the environment look like a place with some trees? These guys should live in a Meat Loaf album cover!

    • Luc Tremblay

      The first area is the one with the trees and such. The other parts are closer to the “Bat Out of Hell” style. I liked both games a lot!

    • hastapura

      I would submit that it is a matter of tone. Shadow of the Colossus was a game about tension, release, and ambiguity. Much of its nature is withheld until the ending, so the lion’s share of the gameplay is much as you say: long treks punctuated by atmospheric and unique puzzle bosses. Through the cycle of travel, discovery, conquest, and travel again it builds a meditative rhythm, allowing for the player to care less about leveling up and accruing loot than exploring the world and finding/defeating colossi. This approach doesn’t have universal appeal, obviously, but it will entrance a player who finds herself on its wavelength.

      Darksiders II is not a game of ambiguity. It is not a game of tension. It is a game of shoulder pads, of big Leifieldian creatures, of mangled mythologies and a bone-deep dearth of creativity. It is the Brundlefly of action-RPGs: a rotting, dripping recombinant with barely the strength to beg for death. I should mention here that I didn’t play more than a few hours of said monstrosity before returning it disappointed. Regardless, a few hours were enough to assume the circumference of the thing: controls imprecise enough to be a constant annoyance, way too much po-faced story, awful art direction, and probably a few stupid minigames in there somewhere. The point is this: the game does not parcel its mechanics in the same way as Colossus. Riding the horse is not a crucial part of the game’s mood but a ferry to the next pile of goodies – I think there’s even a fast travel mechanic. The lengthy, monorail traversal sequences are forced down your throat to no real end except that climbing and jumping on structures is a flourish we expect of a character action game.

      So! Colossus leverages its leisurely horse riding sequences to tonal and thematic (avoiding spoilers) effect, while Darksiders II has a horse because it looks raw and there weren’t enough water bits to steal the boat from Wind Waker.

      • eggbuerto

        That was beautiful.

  • Effigy_Power

    By the way, new Digest Comic from yours truly tomorrow.

  • Enkidum

    The fuck is wrong with all the commenters here? I don’t come on all day and no one has said anything about the less perfumey balls yet? Seriously, guys and gals, you’re slacking here. Teti even was giggling about it himself. What are you all, older than 12?

    LESS. PERFUMEY. BALLS.

    I’m going to spend all evening laughing about that. But no one else will read this. Sigh…

    • Drew Toal

      I can’t believe no one commented on that either. We had a serious discussion about whether it should stay in the video or not. I pretty much threatened to quit if he buried it.