The original Darksiders was a mostly successful blend of Devil May Cry action, Ocarina of Time puzzles, and Joe Madureira comic art. It told the story of War, one of the Four Horsemen, who had been wrongly accused of starting the Apocalypse. At the end of the game, the other horsemen were seen rocketing through the sky coming to aid their brother, leaving many to rightfully assume the sequel would continue that story and include some sort of multiplayer aspect.

Unfortunately, Darksiders II takes a step back, telling a parallel story where Death has discovered War’s fate, and goes on a rampage in the Nether Realm to garner enough power and allies to save his brother and bring justice to those that framed him. The game is said to be twice the size of the original, and will feature a loot system similar to RPGs like Diablo or Skyrim, where slain enemies drop different types of equipment and armor.

Where War was a powerful but somewhat slow fighter, Death is much more agile. This becomes readily apparent in not only the turbo-charged combat, but also the platforming as well, which was pretty dull in the original. So even though the game may be bigger, players will be able to explore it in a more energetic, exciting way. As the screenshots and video show, it’s also looking phenomenal, easily sporting one of the most inspired and well-realized visual styles of any current generation game.

GamesBeat sat down with Ryan Stefanelli, producer at Vigil Games, to discuss in what ways Darksiders II plans to be superior to its predecessor.

GamesBeat: How much has THQ showed off Darksiders II at this point?

Ryan Stefanelli: Not a whole lot. A couple of levels, the fact that it’s Death, that he’s got a lot of different abilities compared to War. It takes place in the underworld. The storyline’s concurrent with Darksiders one. There’s a lot more depth to Darksiders II in the form of new abilities, skill trees, there’s loot. Let me know if I’m being too vague, but that’s the kind of stuff we’ve gone into thus far.

GamesBeat: You definitely notice that there’s loot and damage counters when you attack or take damage. Why did you add the very blatant RPG elements into the sequel?

Stefanelli: Well, loot is just something that we love. We’re gamers and we love collecting loot, I’m a loot whore, any game that has collecting loot, I’m almost immediately addicted to. It’s all about that slot machine mechanic, right? Every time you kill a creature, something cool is gonna come out. Even if you have the option to, you don’t want to run by something in that case, you want to see what you’re going to get. From that, the damage numbers are important, because if you’re doing statistical management on loot like that, you get something that has, say, 15 strength instead of 10, the delta if you’re smacking a creature and trying to count the number of hits, it’s negligible. But if you can see those damage numbers go up on your hits, you go from 50 damage to 55, then you know you’re making progress. That’s important feedback. If. players want a more pure action experience, all that stuff can be turned off any time. It can just be them and the creature going at it.

GamesBeat: How exhaustive is the loot system? Is it like Torchlight ridiculous?

Stefanelli: We’re going to do a full reveal on the loot at a later date. It’s pretty deep. We’re not skimping on that.

GamesBeat: How many different weapons? He has the scythes and then the claws, but…

Stefanelli: Some of it we showed in there, we have three different types of weapons. There’s the scythe, which is his main weapon. Actually four I guess if you count the gun. The scythe, then two types of secondary weapons, the heavy weapons — which was the hammer that we saw — and then the claw, the fast secondary weapon that we saw. And then the pistol. I will say that within the secondary weapons, there are a couple of different sub-types that add variety to how they’re used. Within the light weapons there’s a couple, within the heavy weapons too. There’s quite a bit of variety.

GamesBeat: With third-person action games, the melee/gun hybrid gameplay has become pretty standard. It’s seen across many, many games now. So how do you go about differentiating that from everyone else?

Stefanelli: I think one of the things that makes it different for us is that, there’s so much more that you can do besides just use your melee weapon and then the gun. The number of combo varieties is pretty vast. You can be attacking with the melee weapon, knock them in the air, shoot them, kind of a trope of the action genre, right? Or you can hit them into the air, slam them into the ground with the ghost hook, or jump in the air, pull them up in the air with the ghost hook, smack them a few times, shoot them. Then you start mixing in the secondary weapon. Hit them with the primary weapon, then the secondary, knock ’em in the air, juggle them a few times, and on the way back down take a big hit with the secondary weapon. And then cast a spell and have a spell go after them. So I think what differentiates us is the depth of that. We go beyond just a melee weapon and a pistol. You can incorporate secondary weapons, spells, items like the ghost arm. There’s a lot you can do with this. The breadth is pretty cool.

GamesBeat: Is combat generally one-on-one? Obviously Death will be surrounded by multiple enemies, but do his attacks usually just focus on one target at a time while the rest of the AI “waits their turn”?

Stefanelli: Most of his attacks, actually, are AOE. But one of the cool things about the fist weapons, as a secondary weapon, is that they are focused damage. They’re quick strikes on a single target, you can do massive damage to a single target. Whereas the other weapons are a bit more sweeping, because we like to surround people with creatures in Darksiders. That’s core to the experience, feeling like you’re outnumbered but kicking ass anyway. You get surrounded a lot, so the scythe and the heavy weapons are good for that, but when you are one on one with one of the bigger guys, like we saw in the demo — because every now and then it’s just you and a mini-boss or even a towering full-size boss — the fist weapons are pretty lethal in that case.

GamesBeat: You showed three spells, I believe, are there more?

Stefanelli: Oh, yeah, a lot more. We saw a couple of spells from one side of the tree, the Necromancer tree. We didn’t even get into the spells on the other side, the Harbinger tree.┬áBasically, one is melee and one is caster. Caster is tricky because it’s not like you’re ever going to be shooting fireballs, but the summoner stuff, the necromancy, that fits the character of Death. The melee one is more about physical, short-range, in-your-face quick hits. But big, big bangs. We’ll get to show them soon.

GamesBeat: That screen used for the demo was pretty massive and the environments still looked amazing. What have you guys done to amp up the visuals?

Stefanelli: One thing we’re really excited to do with [Darksiders] II is go push the stylistic edge of the game a little bit further than we did in Darksiders one. To go a little bit truer to Joe Mad’s art style. I think we captured it pretty well in Darksiders one, but… It’s tricky, because the game took place on earth. We had this really cool fusion of fantasy meets reality. Darksiders 2 is more about the fantasy, which is something we really wanted to explore more of in Darksiders one, but we didn’t get a chance. Because we’re down in the underworld, it’s just imagination run wild for the most part, and the art team really embraced the opportunity to do that. They’ve really pushed it to the limits in terms of scale and stylistic quality. Color is something that’s very important, adding artistic value to the visuals, so lots of color, lots of richness. We want the screen to be like eye candy.

GamesBeat: Speaking of the first game, what were some of the things you wanted to do, or some of the feedback that you got that you’ve incorporated into this one?

Interview continues on the next page.

GamesBeat: Speaking of the first game, what were some of the things you wanted to do, or some of the feedback that you got that you’ve incorporated into this one?

Stefanelli: Well, it’s funny. A lot of the feedback we got from players involved things that we wanted to do anyway, but we didn’t have time because there’s only so much you can do with a first project and a new team, a brand-new technology because we did it all in-house… We got as much as we could in Darksiders one. But a lot of what you’re seeing in Darksiders II are the things we would have put into one if we had the time. The loot, getting experience and leveling up. The less linear world. Skill trees. We always wanted to put that stuff in, so Darksiders II is just the chance to realize that part of the dream for us. In terms of player feedback, we built this game for players. The reason the game is what it is, it wears a lot of its inspiration on its sleeve, is because it’s built by gamers. These are the games we love, we want to build something we want to play, and we think gamers respond to that. There are a lot of things. If you get down to specifics… The difficulty curve is kinda spiky in Darksiders one, so we’re trying to teach the players better, make them better prepared for the challenges in Darksiders II. There’s more content, people wanted to talk to more characters. Joe Mad does awesome NPCs, so there’s a lot more quest content, you get to talk to a lot more characters in the Darksiders world. We took the criticism to heart, and we’re doing what we can to make sure people love Darksiders II.

GamesBeat: Playing through Darksiders, one of the things was you had War, this bad-ass Joe Mad design; he’s super cool, he does all this spectacular combat, and then he spends a good portion of the game solving kind of annoying puzzles. It slows down and feels very menial, especially for this guy who should be kicking the universe’s ass. Have you addressed that, and how?

Stefanelli: Well, the puzzle aspect of it is core to the Darksiders experience. It’s something that we love, and we make the game for people who are going to enjoy that part of the game. I think what’s cool about Darksiders is we’ve always tried to make the puzzles feel a little bit epic in scale, in terms of the action content, and the fusion of this type of puzzle-solving with this type of combat is something that really hasn’t been done very often. I can’t think of games that have given the player opportunities to do something cerebral, but then throwing in that type of ass-kicking combat. So Darksiders II sticks very much to the formula of Darksiders one, because that’s at the core of it. Dungeon-crawling and adventuring is really the essence of Darksiders to us.

GamesBeat: Red Faction: Armageddon kind of underperformed and THQ shelved the entire franchise. When you’re working on your own game, and you hear that, how does that impact the team?

Stefanelli: The team just stays focused on their task, which is to make an awesome game. They did it with Darksiders one, they saw how people reacted to it, we are completely and wholly focused on making sure that Darksiders II is awesome. That’s all we really can do. The rest of the stuff, that’s up to THQ to handle. We just make a great game.

GamesBeat: [We were told] that the level we were being shown is actually optional, that it’s an optional dungeon. How different is the scope now from the original Darksiders? What do you for completing these optional areas?

Stefanelli: The world formula in Darksiders II is similar to Darksiders one, it’ll feel familiar to players, but the main difference is that it’s a lot less linear, and the world space is just bigger. That’s one of the reasons we give out the horse right from the start. Darksiders one, you earned or found Ruin. Darksiders II, Death starts with his horse, Despair, and so we were able to make the world much larger as a result of that. Getting to that scale that we really wanted to capture with Darksiders II, it’s visual, right? Guys are bigger than Death. But it’s also the breadth of the content. When you get out into the world, we want people to feel like they’re exploring, feel like they’re adventuring. To do that, we want to put them on quests that are optional. That’s part of meeting the characters, too. Even the scale of the characters you meet is larger. Getting side quests, exploring the world, sometimes you even encounter sidequests as you’re exploring that you didn’t think you were going to find, just as a reward for going to the extents of the world. That’s intrinsic to the Darksiders II experience, going out adventuring.

GamesBeat: And loot will play into that too…

Stefanelli: Sure.

GamesBeat: Video games usually have shitty endings. You spend 20-30 hours and it just fizzles out or majorly disappoints. Darksiders had a really strong ending, but there was the heavy implication that the four horsemen were going to play a pretty integral role in the sequel, and then when the announcement came, that it was Death, and Death alone. So…

Stefanelli: Why did we do that?

GamesBeat: Yes.

Stefanelli: Well, the essence… It’s kinda twofold. One, if we had just rolled straight into the story of the four horsemen and what they were doing together, there would have been a lot of missing elements. The story is fairly complex, there’s a lot of stuff that you see happen in Darksiders II that sets the stage for what may be Darksiders III if we were to go do the four horsemen all together. If we just jumped straight into that, it might have been a bit confusing. There’s a lot of the story that we really wanted to tell. And a lot of people were just curious, what were the other horsemen doing? Because it seemed sorta strange that this big false apocalypse would happen and only War was involved. Were the other horsemen just hanging out on a couch drinking beer? No, they were doing other things. This, you get to see what Death was doing during that same event. It really gets to his character, too, because he handles that situation a lot differently than War did. War’s very stoic, stand-up guy, does things because he’s honor-bound, does them for duty. Death is going to do whatever it takes, solve it his own way, circumvent the authorities, so to speak. Just goes Jack Bauer on everybody’s ass.

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