Saturday, November 22, 2014

Game Review - Darksiders II (Xbox 360, 2012)

My favorite games have always been those that force you to solve puzzles to progress.  I really enjoy defeating challenging enemies and managing limited resources in addition to more traditional puzzles.  If a game can successfully integrate many of those kinds of elements, it's almost a sure thing that I'll like it.

Darksiders II does an excellent job of combining exploration and that sort of problem solving, making for a wonderful gaming experience.  Here's what you can expect:

Being a direct sequel, Darksiders II follows closely behind its predecessor both in terms of gameplay and story.

On the story side, we get to see Death, one of the horsemen of the apocalypse, set out to redeem his brother (War), who is blamed (fairly or not) for the destruction of humanity.  In this quest, he confronts angels, demons, and everything in between as he searches for the relics necessary to resurrect the human race.

The storyline is actually pretty thin.  The vague connection to Christian mythology isn't fleshed out, and the plot is nothing more than a vehicle for "go here, do this thing, and come back."  The good news is that it doesn't force you through long sequences of boring cutscenes or tedious dialogue, so while the story doesn't enhance the experience, it doesn't really detract from it, either.

The gameplay, on the other hand, is solid.  It's a third-person action-adventure game in all the important ways.  You'll guide Death through a rather expansive world and numerous dungeons, all while slaying any monsters that get in your way.  Darksiders II feels like a particularly good take on the genre because each of its components are exceptionally done.

Let's start with the exploration: After passing through an introductory area and becoming acquainted with the story, you'll be sent to the first dungeon.  Along the way to completing your first major mission, you'll pass an optional side area to explore.  It sets the tone right away - there are primary objective you could pursue, but you could also get lost following side paths.

Sadly, the later stages of the game lose some of that sense of exploration, as side paths disappear completely from the last few areas.  It's a disappointment to be sure, but the main story dungeons become increasingly large and complex as the game wears on, making up for some of that lost exploration.

And those dungeons are surprisingly well done.  Each one presents a new goodie to help you progress, but unlike a lot of games of this genre, most of those items are used in later dungeons as well.  Off hand I can only think of one that doesn't make a repeat appearance, making the items feel much less gimmicky than they might otherwise seem.

This scenario often means that the puzzles themselves can get rather challenging.  It was nice to have to stop and think about the right way to progress on several occasions, making successful completion of a puzzle particularly satisfying.

Combat is similarly well done.  It plays a bit like a hack and slash game, with fast, flowing battles against several enemies simultaneously, and the basic controls are fluid enough to allow that style to shine.

Darksiders II has a leg up, though, because it incorporates light RPG elements as well.  There's a leveling and skill system that allows you to enhance Death's fighting capabilities, which allows some customization based on your preferred combat style, even if it's not incredibly deep.

There's also a heavy emphasis on loot in the form of equipment.  Following the tradition of dungeon crawlers, items will drop from chests and defeated foes, so there's always a drive to find better gear.  You can also purchase items from a few merchants throughout the world, giving you guaranteed access to some baseline item quality.

The only real flaw with this system is one that is fairly common with this sort of game: there are few enough things to purchase and they are cheap enough that you'll basically always have enough money starting about halfway through the game.

Despite all that, the battles in Darksiders II are never too easy (at least on higher difficulty settings).  I found myself struggling with some of the random encounters throughout the game.  Many of the game's epic bosses require some strategy and precise timing to overcome.  And, yet again, it can be quite satisfying when you finally do, as none of them really feel cheap.

Honestly, I was a little disappointed with some of the fight sequences near the end of the game, as they seemed to be pushovers compared to what happened during the mid-game, but I still had a lot of fun with it.

Nothing in the game feels groundbreaking or exceedingly clever, so there are limits to how good it gets, but it's a great incarnation of a classic genre.

On the more superficial side, the game gets the job done.  Nothing really stands out graphically, in either a positive or negative way, though there are some cool cutscenes and many of the game's environments are fantastic.

I was impressed by the game's soundtrack, though.  Many of the tunes did a great job of highlighting the tension of certain scenarios and brought a feeling of solemn isolation during others.  In the end, the soundtrack resonated with me a lot more than I would have expected it to.

And all that combined makes Darksiders II an enjoyable game.  It took me somewhere around 25 hours to complete my first playthrough (though I did most of the side quests and side dungeons).  While the last quarter of the game kind of drags a little bit, it smoothly integrates a number of different elements and genres (there's even a portion that plays like a third-person shooter, and it works!).

I had a very good time with it, and I highly recommend it.

My Rating: 8/10 - great.