Review: Darksiders II (PC)

Darksiders II
Publisher: THQ
Developer: Vigil Games
Genre: Action RPG
Release Date: 08/14/2012

Let me get this right out of the way now by saying I’ve never played the first Darksiders, so I’m going into Darksiders II cold. However, from Sean’s review of the 360 version, I didn’t need to have played the first, as this one is really running parallel to what’s going on in the first game. In other words, while I know vaguely what’s happening in the first game, I shouldn’t have needed it here, and I didn’t. Darksiders has, as a series, been described as a mishmash of genre, combining various elements from other games to make itself into something of a hybrid, and doing everything from those other games just as well, and for the most part, I’d have to agree. Darksiders II is definitely a great Action RPG experience, as it plays well, looks great for the most part, and is making me want to pick up the first game. So why do I have a slightly off taste in my mouth from this game? The PC version is pretty much a straight up port from the 360 version, without any of the bells and whistles that would let PC players fine tune it to run smoothly on their machine, even though from what I’ve seen, it was supposed to be included. Besides that, I still think it’s a great game on the PC.

As I mentioned, the story in this game kind of runs parallel to what’s going on in the first game. War, one of the Four Horsemen, has been set up for the genocide of the entire human race. Death cannot believe that his brother caused this to happen and sets out to right the wrong and restore humanity to get his brother off the hook, innocent or not. He goes to the Crowfather for answers, but finds none, as he’s forced to fight him and gets shunted forcefully into another realm, a dying realm, though it was where he needed to go. Death figures that helping the people who live in this dying realm will get him access to the Tree of Life so he can restore humanity, thereby eliminating his brother’s alleged crime, and he sets out trying to help the Makers free the Corruption from their realm.

The story itself has a very epic, mythic quality to it that I love. It feels familiar, especially in the recap moments when you’re loading into the game and they’re bringing you up to speed on where you left off. While it feels familiar, this is a fairly new take on the concept, at least for me, and Death’s flippant responses to people’s requests and his attitude really make the dialogue exchanges a lot of fun. While this could have ended up fairly generic, and it is a little bit if you’ve played a lot of RPGs, the take on it and dialogue help this along a lot from being just another save the world affair.

Visually the game looks amazing. The art and look and feel is not only consistent, but it is consistently leaving me with my jaw hanging much the way Skyrim and the Mass Effect series have. The effects look great, the transformation into many of Death’s other forms have a great weight and feel to them and are smooth on screen, and the same goes for the animations. Everything feels well polished visually, as you look around and see the world as a dying one, and one that has been lived in for a very long time. But there are a few problems with the PC version. It’s a big issue apparently with AMD graphics cards, and with a few select nvidia cards, the latter of which I have, but the game has huge issues with visual tearing even with vsync turned on, which has led some people to believe that the vsync option isn’t working. Vsync is also the only way to try and cure this issue, by the way other, than changing your resolution. Changing your resolution down to what would effectively be 720p will cure most of the tearing, but it still happens, and the game doesn’t look nearly as good at this resolution. This right here is one of my bigger problems with this game on PC, as this is a clear cut sign of a port, and an almost lazy one at that. I say almost, because other than the tearing, which is a big issue, and the controls, which I’ll get to in a minute, the game itself loads and runs beautifully on my gaming rig without any problems.

I will give Vigil credit, they cast the voice actors for this game just about perfectly. Michael Wincott is voicing Death in the game. You may recognize his gravelly tones from Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves as Guy of Gisborne, or Top Dollar from The Crow. He does an amazing job bringing Death to life behind the mask, giving him the right amount of snark for the lines that need it. Some other voice actors of note are Robin Atkin Downes, James Cosmo, Phil Lamarr, and Keith Szarabajka. This game definitely has some great voice talent here, and they deliver. The game’s music is suitably epic, flowing when it needs to be and bombastic during the combat, totally fitting what’s going on at the time. It didn’t feel repetitive and definitely did its job.

Control, control, you must have control, if you’re using a 360 controller that is. While you can use the keyboard and mouse, the default layout is awkward and annoying, and the worst part is, changing it to something less annoying is buried in the menus, so much that at first I didn’t think the option existed at all. I ended up giving up trying to get it all sorted out on my keyboard and mouse, plugged in a 360 controller early on in my play time and called it good. Now, either way you play it, the game does do what you tell it to do without hesitation. I do like that you can bind keys to your special moves so you can hit the left button and then one of the letter buttons on the controller to fire off different attacks or abilities you’ve unlocked.

The gameplay is a mishmash of several genres, the biggest here being the action RPG. There are puzzles scattered about the various dungeons and even in the explorable areas, and you may not be able to get to every chest at the start simply because you haven’t unlocked the tool to get around the obstacle yet. The side quests aren’t too side long off the beaten path of the main quest, most running parallel to what you’re doing already anyway, as long as you’ve kept up with both. Being able to summon your horse is a nice bonus, but he is limited in where you can use him, and the crow, while somewhat helpful in figuring out where you need to go, doesn’t do much, as the dungeons and areas have a very natural flow to their design, so you pretty much know exactly where you need to go without help.

Combat follows the action RPG and action game standard, with chained melee attacks, being able to dodge incoming attacks, locking onto your target, and using one of your brother’s firearms at range, although the gun itself can be a little under-whelming when you see how little damage it really does. Boss Fights require different strategies to get around, usually forcing you to lock on and dodge incoming attacks, but also, there’s usually something you have to do to either stun them or hurt them before you can go all out with your unlocked abilities or weapons. The environment can be a little detrimental to all that jumping around. I had a few instances where the boss or one of his minions would back me into a corner and I’d try to dodge or jump out of the way and couldn’t, hopping up and down in the air uselessly as I was stuck against a wall. If I let go of the lock and mashed the jump button furiously, getting pummeled while I did it, I could get out, but usually by then I’d be down way too far on my health to continue the fight effectively. This didn’t happen very often, but it was frustrating as hell when it did. The only other time I found myself cursing the game out was during the fights where the boss’ would let out an area effect attack like a shockwave. Even if I was out of range, and given the size of some of the areas you fight bosses in it was actually fairly easy to be out of range, the wave would stop well before me, but I’d get hit a few seconds later like it had kept going. I can’t tell if that was a visual glitch or a collision detection one, but when you’re low on health, either way, it just pisses you off. Like I mentioned, this is not the norm and usually the dodge mechanic works like it should… well, as it should as long as I’m not pointing Death in the wrong direction when I do it anyway.

As you gain experience you gain a point you can put into different abilities to either gain or increase their effectiveness. There are also loot drops this time around, and you can buy armor and weapons from vendors. One of the neat things I liked were the possessed weapons that you feed your other gear to level up. It was a neat way to upgrade, and each tier not only increases the main stat, but usually lets you pick one of four other stats you can attach to that gear.

There’s a decent set of achievements on Steam for the game, as well as a New Game Plus, which lets you carry over your gear, levels and skills. If you’re really motivated, there’s also a survival mode called The Crucible that gives you rewards based on how you do, or you can keep going through one hundred waves. Overall, it’s a good set of options to get you to play again, and there are some neat areas off the beaten path to screw around in to get bonus chests if you happen to like the loot, which I do. If you’re just in it to beat it, there’s no real reason to play again once you’re done. There is planned DLC coming, but you either have to get a pass, which is extra, or buy it when it comes out.

The PC version is $10 cheaper than the console versions, but it lacks the usual PC options to customize it out, which isn’t so good. But for all that, you get everything that the console versions have, and on the same day and cheaper, so there is that. The game is supposed to be twice as big as the original Darksiders, and by tossing in open exploration with a quick travel option, it really looks like it. Overall, I think it’s a good deal of content for what they’re asking for. As far as going through the game, the bosses and enemies you’re facing progress at a decent level as far as difficulty goes, and there are multiple levels of difficulty if you’re looking to play it on a harder or easier level.

While the story might have some original elements, this is all very basic fantasy and mythos related stuff going on here. On top of that, aside from being fine tuned, most of the mechanics in this game are heavily borrowed. While that makes this a very solid mash-up, it doesn’t make it very original. It does make it addictive as hell. I love this game. Even when I’m frustrated with it, I’m keeping at it trying to figure out where I need to change my tactics, what gear I can feed to my new weapon to make it stronger, how I can get across that chasm, and so on. While there are some glitches visually and with getting attached to walls during fights, the game has played amazingly well and I’m loving it.

The previous game has a good reputation of mixing genres and playing well, and this one builds on that despite its flaws. RPG elements being added from the previous title actually peaked my interest a bit, as that’s more my thing anyway, plus you get to play as Death in this game, which is just fantastic. Still in the top ten on Steam as I write this, the PC version does have its popularity, so there is definite appeal. While I’m a little hard on it for some of the visual issues and awkward controls, this is a great game to play. I’m having a blast with it, and if they can patch the visual issues, I can live with the collision and sticking issues I’ve been having. My only other issue is game saves. You get four saves, but you overwrite the same save every time, without the option to create new ones. We can’t have more than one save per run in this day and age in the gaming cycle? It’s the same in the 360 version as well, but I like to have multiple saves to go back and watch key moments or play certain boss battles again if I want. The auto-save kind of kills that a little bit, but having the ability to have more than one save per run would have been nice.

The Scores
Story: Good
Graphics: Above Average
Sound: Great
Control and Gameplay: Enjoyable
Replayability: Great
Balance: Great
Originality: Poor
Addictiveness: Incredible
Appeal Factor: Very Good
Miscellaneous: Incredible

Short Attention Span Summary
While there are some hitches with certain video cards, a few small gameplay issues that could be tweaked and a complicated method of remapping keys that may or may not work, Darksiders II manages to provide a solid experience combining the action, RPG, platforming, and puzzle solving elements of some of the better games out there to create a new and fun experience. While not a true sequel to the first and more of a parallel game with a new character, Darksiders II delivers some excellent combat and story-telling to keep just about anyone entertained. This is definitely on my must have list, even with the current bugs, but I will say a patch would be nice.



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