WHAT YOU WON’T LIKE
As the crow flies. Sort of
Death has a crow, Dust, to help him get from one place to another. You can ask the crow to show you the way to the next part of a map. Sometimes, Dust shows a severe lack of intelligence, choosing paths that force Death to backtrack even if he’s just a room or two away from where he wants to go. It’s as if each room or smaller area in each dungeon has a predestined path that Dust can fly, without any context to where Death just came from. I spent a lot of time using this potentially helpful pathfinding tool only to find myself wandering in big, crow-shaped circles.
Unintuitive platforms and puzzles
While many of the earlier dungeons are fairly easy to figure out, the difficulty ramps up fairly quickly once Death enters the Land of the Dead, and the game remains difficult from this point forward. When you reach this area, Death has two different dead lords following him who you can order off through gates to activate switches and pressure plates. These are placed in some seemingly arbitrary places, as are other essential items, like bomb-plants. Hiding sidequest items behind statues and underneath ledges is all very well and good, but key puzzle solutions should be placed more intuitively, or at least consistently within the environments.
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No joy in repetition
By about 20 hours in, a familiar fatigue set in. If I were not reviewing the game, I would have stopped playing. Part of it was the difficulty spike in solving the dungeon puzzles, but mostly it was just plain exhaustion. Plus, what’s with the number three? Need to awaken the Guardian? Find three heart stones. Need the cooperation of the King of Bones? Go find three dead lords. Want to convince one of these dead lords to come along with you? Find three lost souls. Finally make it to the realm of the Angels? Oh, yeah, go find the Rod of Arafel. And guess what you need to do that? Yeah. Three pieces. It’s so tiresome.
And do we really need Boss fights? Sure, figuring out the specifics of each boss monster’s attack pattern along with its weakness points is a challenge, but is this a gaming trope we need to keep forcing? All they really do is force players to die over and over until they figure out the right strategy and apply it successfully. That sounds a lot like school to me.
I’m good with suspending disbelief, of course. As a fan of comic books, video games, and science fiction, I’m usually able to just let go of my preconceived notions about the nature of reality and enjoy a good story. My son, however, really nailed it on the head for Darksiders II: Why do all these dead creatures — skeletons, wraiths, and mummies — all have it out for Death? If Death was truly the Master of his job description, wouldn’t the dead things sort of leave him alone?
Also, how is it that Death levels up? When he dies in a fight, you receive a “you’re dead” screen and the option to retry the battle. How does that fit with him actually being Death? It doesn’t. When Death falls from a platform into a pit of sharp sticks, his bodily form swirls and shimmers, and then the game places it back on or near the platform from whence he came. That makes sense. Dying in a fight with some skeletons armed with rusty swords? Not much sense, no. I’m not saying it’d be easy to figure out how to make a superpowerful demigod-like character like Death (or War, for that matter) fit into the common video gaming power-fantasy motifs, but I think it would be a better game if the developers had attempted to do so.
Darksiders II is in all respects a fantastic title. The issues I had with it are similar to issues I have with many big-budget games on the market, and they are a problem here. It is, though, mark of how much I enjoyed the game that I only rail against the problems within that I believe most high-end game franchises continue to struggle with, rather than poor camera or bad voice acting. This is a polished, well constructed gaming experience with few glaring errors.
At a good 20 hours to 40 hours for the main storyline, Darksiders II offers quite a lot of gaming for those concerned with spending a premium $60. Add another 20 hours-plus up of sidequests and gamers have plenty of bombastic, illustrated, aural meat to sink their teeth into. The middle section does tend to groan on a bit too long, though that may be more a factor of the tricky puzzle design than any actual storyline length. Overall, this is a title well worth your time, energy, and gaming dollar.
Darksiders II was released for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC on August 14, 2012. The publisher provided GamesBeat with a copy of the PS3 version for the purpose of this review.
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