Darksiders 2 Preview

By Lee Bradley on July 25, 2011, 3:58PM EDT

Thanks to Creative Director Joe Mad's gleefully over-the-top art style, there's an infectious silliness to the Darksiders. The man revered for his run on the Uncanny X-Men in the 90's is clearly having a ball. It's like he's unleashed the fantastical dreams he bottled up as a twelve year old and rendered them in digitised, video game form.

Darksiders 2 is no exception. What that means is giant floating skull islands dragged through the air by gargantuan flying serpents on chains. It means mini-bosses that rip their own heads off to use their spine as a whip. And it means a central protagonist who has two giant skull-encrusted scythes and boxer shorts made out of rib cages.

Yup, this time out the focus shifts from War to Death, another of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. In a narrative that runs roughly parallel to that of the original game, Death is on a mission to clear War's name, after his brother is banished to Earth and blamed for bringing about the apocalypse early.

Unlike War, Death is not a particularly honourable chap. He's willing to do whatever it takes to achieve his goals. This means plotting and scheming and making deals with all the wrong people. Plus a liberal smattering of bashing the crap out of fantastical monsters, of course.

Yet it's not just in personality that Death varies from his brother. He's also lighter and more agile, a quality displayed to us in a platforming section at the start of our demo. Death can now scamper further up walls, climb vertical surfaces and reach more distant ledges.

Supporting this is the Elika-esque "Ghosted" ability picked up early in the game. At set points in Darksiders 2's dungeons, you'll notice purple glowing skulls on the wall. By throwing a spectral leash at them, you can effectively double-jump, propelling Death across a larger gap in a smooth, flowing motion. Indeed, it's all rather reminiscent of 2008's Prince of Persia. No bad thing.

Handy too, because you're going to need all of the additional platforming skills you can get. Darksiders 2 is set to feature dungeons that dwarf those of its predecessor. Vigil are promising that one dungeon network in particular is as large as all of those in the first game. Add that to a world four times the size of the original and it's clear that scale is at the forefront of the developer's mind.

To go along with this enhanced breadth is some substantial depth, as evidenced by the RPG elements. Darksiders 2 now brings a loot mechanic, XP and levelling, along with a skill tree that is almost as labyrinthine as the game's dark dungeons.

There's a whole lot going on, not all of which has been revealed as yet, but the main thrust of it comes down to customisation. By the climax of the first game, you could pretty much max out all of War's abilities. With Death, you will have to make more informed choices.

Enjoy focusing on magic attacks? Then you'll want to choose skills that reflect this, as well as equipping loot that supports it. There's no point in trying to wield that huge hammer (and trust me, Darksiders 2 has HUGE hammers) because you just won't be able to swing the damn thing. You have to find the synergy between the skill tree branch you follow and the items you use.

Get it right and there will be digits flying around all over the place. Every time you inflict damage on an enemy a shower of numbers erupts from them, indicating the points you've earned. It's a little jarring at first, the most obvious indication that Darksiders 2 intends to offer much, much more than its predecessor.

That's not to say that the game strays too far from the blueprint set out in the first game. Broadly-speaking, it still follows the same Zelda-like structure. You'll have to navigate dungeons, pick up side-quests in the towns and take part in boss battles using abilities you've collected along the way. Despite the new additions, Vigil haven't forgotten what made the original Darksiders so compelling.

But they are adding to it. Vigil are making the game they hoped the original could be, before they ran out of time. This is the director's cut. And it's looking rather good indeed.

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