Earlier this week we had the pleasure of sitting down with Darksiders II in California. As dedicated fans of the first game we at GamingExcellence wanted to make sure it was given the most thorough coverage possible. So one of the authors of the previous reviews, notably myself, got shipped off to go get a hands on with the sequel. This was an interesting conundrum since I had been in a media blackout in regards to Darksiders II, not wanting to spoil any of the changes between the two games. Thus that made this event quite an eye opening experience.
The demo opens with Death standing around in an ancient temple, a good six hours into the experience. Death has met up with an ally by the name of Karn, a member of the same race as Ulthane from the first game. As a Maker he's quite the powerhouse, able to hurl Death to distant platforms and hold open heavy doors for him. This is incredibly important to navigating this rather lengthy dungeon as it is really designed for a Maker to be moving through it although Death can find paths through the crumbling decay that has overtaken the ruins.
One of the first new elements introduced to players is that of the random loot system. As opposed to using just one sword, one scythe, etc. for the entire game there is a loot system present here that is very similar to a full on hack and slash. Rather than exploration simply leading you to a chest with some experience inside of it the chest will now drop random equipment possibly even rare or epic loot. Most often it will be one of Deaths secondary weapons, varying between a pair of tonfas, pair of claws, giant axes, huge hammers or even elemental gauntlets, or a brand new piece of armor for you to equip.
Probably the most noticeable change is just how fast the game actually feels. Where War was a slow, plodding warrior who brought raw power to bear, Death goes almost entirely in the other direction. His default weapon is a pair of sickles that he dual wields to cut through his foes although it can be combined into a polearm for certain attacks. Since he can't block at all you'll need to constantly switch your target, juggling enemies carefully while not leaving yourself too open to attack. Death really does feel like he's a bit squishier than War so this isn't really an option here health potions will blunt the issue a bit in combat while slow health regen will help outside of battle but honestly it's not enough. Dodge you fool!
Making this whole thing a lot more complicated is that the enemies are quite dangerous. In this dungeon the enemies mostly consist of stone constructs of various sizes that are slow in movement but attack in rapid bursts and lizard creatures that attack almost non-stop in a near overwhelming barrage of murder. Apparently each zone features unique enemies so you're going to have a learning curve that never really evens out which should make the combat much more varied than it was in the previous game.
Another feature that is noticeably been touched up is the adventuring itself. Due to Death's agility his platforming skills are far beyond his brother's allowing him to not sprint along walls, climb over little platforms as he does so to gain a bit more height and then continue wall running. Leaping from wall to wall in a ninja-esque manner, Death can rapidly climb great obstructions only to wall run across (or up) a wall, leap to a pillar and then hop from there to another ledge entirely in a fluid motion.
It's easy to draw comparisons with Prince of Persia or Ninja Gaiden but it does have a different feel. Not only are Deaths movements smooth to the point that they even feel more natural than movement in the recent entries for those games but the Death's Grip you acquire in this game really changes all of that. Acting like the Abyssal Chain from the previous game this tool is being used far more often than that was. See a wooden beam just above you, outside of jumping range? Leap up and use Death's Grip. Your wall run or jump going to end just before you reach a platform? Death's Grip solves that too. There are even secret areas you can reach by leaping off ledges so as to grapple to ledges beneath you. Between the wall running, wall bounces, climbing over platforms to extend wall runs and using Deaths Grip you can make your way over some pretty huge distances rapidly.
Thanks to a tool that Death has picked up in an earlier dungeon he can also activate large stone constructs found throughout the dungeon called Guardians. These can be used to devastate your enemies but they serve a greater purpose for puzzle solving. Its primary function is to smash yellow corruption crystals that are infesting the entirety of the Maker's lands, choking this dungeon and blocking off paths. Smashing paths through the crystals Death will find platforms he can put the Guardian on and then fire its arm, sending out a chain to connect to a grapple point some distance away. His nimble self can then leap on the chain, using it to cross large gaps or pass over lava to reach otherwise inaccessible areas.
In the demo we played all of this platforming and combat was being done in the hopes of awakening a humongous stone construct known as the Heart of the Mountain. Death barely comes up to the monsters ankle so when the beast attacks him things are going to get difficult. Hopping onto his horse, Despair, Death is off to figure out a way to bring down this behemoth but it sure as heck isn't going to be easy. This editor has no problem admitting that he was one of the many people there who had no clue how to bring down the monster, having to get a few tips from one of the THQ representatives but it still felt really good to bring it down by using speed, Death's pistol and good old fashioned brutality.
Honestly before I even got my hands on this my collector's edition was already preordered so this didn't have much impact on me. But without a doubt this will be changing the minds of numerous others who don't have a squealing fanboy in them. But that's not a bad thing Darksiders II has taken everything we liked about the first one, tweaked the formula and then amped it up a level. This is what a sequel should be and we can't wait to get our hands on it come June 29th.