Just finished Darksiders II - Deathinitive
Edition on PS4. Got mixed feelings about this one.
The original Darksiders is one of my favourite games of all time and my favourite "metroidvania". Everything there felt just right to me. The world, the setting, the combat system, the exploration, the riddles, the character progression, the game structure. And each
one of these aspects was changed a ton in Darksiders II, generally in a bad direction in my opinion. So much that on release I didn't bother finishing the game. But with the release of Darksiders III around the corner I felt like it's time to give this one another shot.
So they tried to turn it into an ARPG. They added experience points and a skill tree, there's randomised loot, there's NPCs to talk to who sometimes provide quests. And yes, there's quests. But just a handful and sadly a whooping four of the optional ones involve collectables scattered around the whole game which are a total bitch to collect because this time they decided not to mark them on your map even once you've finished the game. The other quests weren't really any more interesting either, they were really just a pretext to make you do the stuff you'd be doing anyway, namely slaughtering enemies and exploring dungeons. And one of the longer quests literally involves nothing more than talking to several NPCs in different worlds which means a crapload of fast travelling back and forth - most of that time you spend on loading screens. The weirdest thing is that you have a dialogue UI inspired by Mass Effect and you get to choose what you say but there are literally no decisions to be made here, in every single case you go over each option anyway. It's almost like they just needed an excuse for delivering more dialogue without having to produce tons of expensive cutscenes.
Anyway, in my opinion adding the RPG mechanics was a total waste. They don't contribute almost anything to the game experience in my opinion but hurt the balancing a lot with the game being a tad too easy most of the time. I only died ten times from combat, I think all of these deaths occurred when I accidentally stumbled into a dungeon and two boss fights far above my level. Continuing those with the correct level made them a walk in the park. My other 100 deaths were caused by falling into pits and whatnot (I'll take a guess that falling into a pit and losing just a tiny bit of health also counts as a death, heh). The skilltree is too limited to be meaningful, you unlock a shitload of it in a single regular playthrough anyway. You can only assign four skills at a time, the first one I unlocked turned out to be the most useful one until the very end, dealing a shitload of damage, even to groups, and healing Death in the process. And the loot was mostly an annoyance, introducing the need to manage my inventory and shit. The one thing I actually enjoyed a lot about the loot system are the "possessed" weapons which can be fed other items and inherit their features but I'm pretty sure that they could have achieved this kind pf thing without forcing me to waste so much time on the inventory screen. Oh yeah, and I think you can see that they struggled because on one hand it's this game with tightly designed characters like in a comic book, on the other hand you have to switch armour all the time. As a result there's no real visual progression to Death as he gets better items, it's all kept in a very similar style.
My single biggest complaint is the design and structure of the new world. In the first game pretty much every location felt meaningful and unique, dungeons themselves were connected by interesting sections. And some of the places were stunningly beautiful, it was an interesting contrast to the fact that the game takes place on Earth after mankind has been exterminated in the apocalypse. Darksiders II sends you through four worlds which largely look like maps in an MMORPG or something. There's a lot of empty space outdoors that you will use your horse on just so you don't die of boredom - and thank God there's fast travel (it's one of very few games where I used it without feeling bad about it or
being worried that I miss anything this way). Two of the maps are quite massive and riddled with dungeons. The problem: all dungeons in each of the worlds look the friggin' same. I'm not kidding: show me a screenshot or map of either dungeon and I will only be able to tell you which world it belongs to. So even though the game is bigger than before, has more dungeons than before, it has far
less variety than the first game.
Then there's also the creative design of the worlds: you get some fantasy realm with giant dwarves (seriously, look at [url=https://images.duckduckgo.com/iu/?u=http%3A%2F%2Fblogs-images.forbes.com%2Ferikkain%2Ffiles%2F2012%2F08%2FDarksiders_II_ForgeLands_MakerElder.jpg&f=1]fuckers
), you get some land of the dead, then you get a piece of heaven and a piece of hell. Not one of these places was truly interesting, everything felt very much like stuff I've seen in many other games already. And to make it worse, almost the whole game has this cold and sad atmosphere - which I guess was intended and supposed to reflect Death's theme. But again, it's all kinda samey and generic. It's also reflected by Jesper Kyd's soundtrack which feels a lot more generic and monotonous than most of his soundtracks (and I presume the game is to blame, not he). Anyway, I very much preferred the first game in this regard. It had epic scale, huge visual variety and each location was unique and fleshed out. Ironically there's a section during which you get a glimpse of Earth but also that one was adjusted to this one's visual design: everything is greenishly dark, it's nothing but ruins and it's raining at all times. Good grief.
Then there's the combat which, as I mentioned, suffers from being watered down by the RPG stuff. But it's also kinda weird on its own. Death is more agile than War. There's no blocking in this game, you're literally forced to roll around all the time. And I'm not sure if the moveset is more limited than in the previous game but it absolutely feels like it. And a big problem is that the secondary weapons, which have fewer attacks, are in general far more powerful than Death's signature weapon: his scythes. In a game about an agile version of the Reaper I killed almost everyone with a giant hammer. The only interesting aspect of the combat are the skills from the skill tree but as mentioned, few of the skills felt practical to me. So almost all of the combat was using standard attacks, occasionally the handgun, dodge rolls and far too often that too powerful "teleport slash". The seemingly most powerful powers somehow dealt little damage by comparison and were less practical to use. Also the enemies feel more samey and less original than in the first game.
Then there's the story that kinda lacks direction and scale and has almost no big revelations. There are
revelations but pretty much all of them are backstory or foreshadowing. There's pretty much no interesting events happening during the game itself. Death doesn't develop as a character. You do
meet some fairly interesting characters but things don't really go anywhere with them. And once the credits rolled I felt like nothing had really happened during the roughly thirty hours I spent with the game. It feels like the game was only meant to serve as a bridge to the sequels that almost didn't happen. It compares really badly to the first game which had far less dialogue but where each encounter with other characters was meaningful and relevant to the plot. And I'm not a big fan of Death himself. Even though it turns out that he does have a tragic backstory he's a lot more normal than War. Pretty cocky, cracking jokes once in a while but rather smart, I guess. He was a decent protagonist but I'm not sure how Death out of all the riders ended up being such a fun and friendly character compared to War - in spite of being plagued by his conscience at that.
But do I actually hate the game? Absolutely not! Almost all my complaints are entirely based on comparisons to the first game. Fact is that I had a very good time with the game regardless. The combat was still very satisfying. Some of the visual designs were still very impressive and the game's lore is still fantastic to me. And exploring dungeons was as fun as ever, with a surprisingly large portion of the gameplay being platforming and environmental puzzles which I enjoyed the heck out of, some of them being pretty tough but also extremely satisfying. Oh yeah, and the platforming was very much extended and is very similar to the Prince of Persia games, which is a good thing in my book. It this had been the first Darksiders game I would have had comparably few complaints. Alas, Darksiders 1 did happen.
At this point I'm not sure I'm gonna play through all the content that still awaits me. There's still one, supposedly very tough, endgame dungeon and some "mini campaigns". I might check those out but I'll probably not have the patience for getting all the collectables which are neither marked nor sensibly tracked in any way. Hint: if you ever consider maxing this game, get pen and paper and keep a note of each collectable the moment you find it. That's gonna save you a lot
Anyway, I can't wait for Darksiders III, which will (hopefully) finally be released later this year, and I hope that it will be more similar to the first game than this somewhat misguided sequel.