Who doesn’t like it when a fledgling game studio delivers something that even the seasoned big boys can learn from? That’s exactly what happened when Vigil Games released their first big project, Darksiders, in 2010. If you haven’t played it, then you need to do yourself a favour and a track down a copy. It’s a kick-ass game combining adventure and action elements with a gripping story and amazing art.

It was very well received, as it should have been, and now the long-awaited sequel is here. Does it match the incredibly high standard set by its predecessor? Let’s find out.

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This time, players take control of another Horseman of the Apocalypse, Death. Although it’s a sequel, the story takes place parallel to the story in the first game. Death hears that his brother and fellow Horseman of the Apocalypse, War, has been accused of disrupting the balance of good and evil in the universe and aided the Destroyer in destroying the Earth. Convinced of his innocence, Death sets out to prove it – and to resurrect humanity while he’s at it. Kind of ironic, isn’t it: the lord of Death on a mission to bring back life, huh? It’s not the only unusual thing about it. Death wields two scythes as his primary weapons, even though he’s not actually the Grim Reaper, but a Horseman of the Apocalypse, which is not even part of the same mythology… you know what? Screw it. It’s awesome.

Anyway, Death starts his quest by going to see the Keeper of Secrets, the Crowfather, who is in no mood to cooperate, forcing Death to kill him. He uses the Crowfather’s amulet to go to the world of the Makers, a race of giants who construct everything in creation, to ask them about the mythical Tree of Life, which he plans to use to resurrect all life on Earth. Predictably, when he gets there, he finds that the place is half destroyed and in the grip of an evil force, and the few survivors are just sitting around with their thumbs up their butts waiting for someone else to come and solve their problems. And so begins an epic adventure.

The art direction makes exploring the massive world and talking to the characters an absolute joy. If only every game had visuals this amazing and awe-inspiring. From massive, windswept valleys and icy peaks right down to dank dungeons, crystal-lined caverns and huge, angular forges bathed in the glow of molten metal, there’s always an eye-widening vista ready to take your breath away. The characters are interestingly designed, colourful and well-animated. Suffice to say, this is as much a work of art as it is a game. To put the cherry on top, Death himself is voiced by actor Michael Wincott, who suits the character perfectly with his gravelly tone and his cooing, snide comments which twist the knife in every conversation.

The basic structure and flow of the game is pretty much the same as last time. As you progress through the game and meet new characters, you’ll be given new missions that send you far and wide across the huge play area. The thing is, most areas are locked off somehow until you have the necessary tool to bypass the blockade – stopping you from going to certain places until you’re actually supposed to go there. It could be anything; a tool that lets you destroy a barrier with an explosion or a new hazard traversal move or even raising the water level in a particular place. But it’s not all rigid and controlled – there is some leeway for exploration too, and often you’ll find entire sub-areas or even mini-dungeons created for the sole purpose of gifting you with a cool item.

Along the way, Death will be attacked by thousands of enemies, ranging from tiny, bug-sized pests right up to building-sized monstrosities. Some of the enemies do require a bit of strategy to beat, but for the most part, you’ll be fine if you just watch out for their attacks, dodge properly and continue laying into them with everything you’ve got. Things can get a bit chaotic when Death becomes surrounded – to the point where it’s hard to see what’s going on sometimes. In these situations, I actually find it better to let go of the lock-on button. When you do, the camera zooms out a bit, making a bit easier to make sense of the mess – or at least which direction to go to get out of the clusterf***. Just a small tip there.

As Death defeats enemies and completes quests, he’ll gain experience and eventually level up. Each time he levels up, he gains one skill point to spend in one of two skill trees. The one skill tree is focused very much on melee combat, granting Death impressive new attacks and bolstering his innate abilities, like his critical hit chance and so on. The other skill tree, which is the one I went for, focuses more on magic attacks, like summoning monsters to fight with you and creating temporary shields that absorb damage. Each of these special attacks uses a bit of Death’s wrath meter – similar to the wrath stocks that War had in the previous game, but more analogue. At certain milestone levels, Death will gain new abilities automatically, like the ability to go into rage mode once he’s charged up his rage meter.

By far, one of the coolest things in the game is the items and the loot. In the last game, War acquired his items at specified times, very much like Legend of Zelda, and there was only one of each type. He could also collect blue souls to buy new attacks and a few new items from the demon shopkeeper, Vulgrim. In Darksiders II, Death collects actual money, called “gilt”, and there are several shopkeepers throughout the game, each specialising in a different type of item. For instance, one sells weapons and armour, the other sells accessories and potions and another sells combat moves. Often these shopkeepers will have a special deal for Death too, asking for him to bring them X amount of a certain item for a special reward. The demon shopkeeper Vulgrim is still in there too, if you can find him, and in addition to some particularly rare and expensive items, he has special rewards for Death if he can bring him enough pages from the Book of the Dead. Yeah, I’m sure bringing the obviously shifty demon pages from an ominously-named tome can’t possibly end badly, can it?

The items are completely different this time round. Rather than the Zelda-like formula where you get one item of each type when you’re supposed to get it, now you can find weapons, armour pieces, accessories and potions all over the place, in chests, as quests rewards and as loot dropped by enemies. They come in three varieties: the standard white items, the rarer blue items, and the elite purple items. Each piece of equipment has its own stats, like its base damage and several potential magical properties, like boosts to Death’s stats, regeneration for his life or wrath energy, or even elemental attack damage. My personal favourite, though, is the possessed weapons – which are weapons you can improve constantly by literally feeding them other items in your inventory. The more you feed them, the stronger they get. You’ll constantly be on the lookout for better weapons and armour, and they look absolutely awesome – meaning that Death will constantly change his appearance throughout the game as he equips new gear. It’s much more fun than getting one of each type, like in the last game.

Anyway, I could go on forever about this game, but I think I’ll call it here. If you want a game that delivers on all fronts, gameplay, graphics, sound, story – everything – then you’ll definitely want to play Darksiders II. It’s the perfect example of what every action game should aspire to be.

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