tiistai 12. elokuuta 2014

REVIEW - Darksiders II | PS3 | 2012

GENRE(S): Action / RPG
RELEASED: August 14, 2012
AVAILABLE ON: PC, PS3, Wii U, Xbox 360
DEVELOPER(S): Vigil Games

A sequel to the moderately successful Darksiders was officially revealed in early 2012. Darksiders II was to star another Horseman of the Apocalypse in a series of events taking place the same time as those of the first game. The game turned out not only a very different game from its predecessor, but a huge step forward by Vigil Games from every aspect; whereas the first game was a standard hack 'n' slash with clever puzzles to make it stand out, Darksiders II was a carefully crafted mixture of a similar puzzle-laden hack 'n' slash and an action-RPG much in the style of the recently released Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning. Cult actor Michael Wincott was brought in to voice the main character. The game laid down great foundations for a third and maybe fourth game... but sales weren't very good, and during discussions for a third Darksiders game, THQ filed for bankruptcy. Well, if Darksiders II turns out the last game in the franchise, at least that which started with a flicking spark goes down with a moderate bang; the game isn't perfect, but damn if it isn't entertaining.

Shadow of Death

Michael Wincott : Death
James Cosmo : Maker Elder Eidard / Nephilim Wisper
Keith Szarabajka : The Crowfather / The Scribe / Wicked K / Nephilim Wisper
Andre Sogliuzzo : Karn / The Mad Smith
J.B. Blanc : Thane / Valus / Hellguard / Disembodied Voice / Human Soul
Claudia Christian : Muria
Jessica Straus : Lilith
Vernon Wells : Samael
Simon Templeman : Absalom / Avatar of Chaos
Troy Baker : Draven / The Sleeping Warden / The Phariseer / The Abyssal Forge / The Lost Warden / Legion

Horseman of the day.
While War faces the Charred Council for the destruction of the Kingdom of Man, his brother Death takes fast action and sets out on a journey to the Tree of Life for proof of his brother's innocence and to resurrect humanity.

Even when I was scavenging for a glint of light through the worst slumps of Darksiders, I had high hopes for Darksiders II. I had just read that it's more of an RPG than your everyday hack 'n' slash, it had Michael Wincott voicing the lead character - Top Dollar in The Crow is one of my favourite villains in movie history and this guy has such a distinctive voice these sorts of characters are meant to have! - and finally in that same regard, this game stars none other than DEATH. Death's been a villain or important side character in several games, just starting with the Castlevania series where he's nearly always been the penultimate boss, and of course one can't forget his importance to the classic Discworld series. In this game, we control Death (whoa, that sounded cool) and his name alone immediately gives off a better vibe than playing as something as ambiguous as War. Fury might also make for a good antihero just by his name. Strife... well... Cloud Strife? Nope, I've got nothing. DEATH. I am become DEATH, the destroyer of worlds. Sounds awesome. And plays out great, too. Darksiders II is a giant leap forward from its predecessor. NOT what Assassin's Creed II was to Assassin's Creed, but a very notable leap forward and a highly enjoyable game for hack 'n' slash and RPG fans alike, I think - at the very least just what I expected when I first got familiar with a franchise called Darksiders (cue booming movie trailer voice).

Death's not destroying the world, though - on the utter contrary, he's restoring it. If only it were that simple; beneath the simple and well-acted surface, Darksiders II once again hits us with a highly confusing story that makes us feel like the whole franchise is missing something, like a comic book or novel which would elaborate on these events. The good news is that although War's trial in the first game is the red herring to the beginning of Death's journey, the story of the first game doesn't really matter. You don't practically need to know more what happens in the very beginning of Darksiders, 20 minutes into it, everything else hardly matters. Hell, you could play through the tutorial sequence of Darksiders and then skip straight ahead to Darksiders II, 'cause that's where Darksiders II's story begins as well. War's situation is hardly mentioned once you're halfway through the game, it's all about the restoration and preservation of humanity - I guess? - and Death's journey is across a whole different land than War's, so you don't need to worry about repeated level designs either. This is more medieval-looking, not the post-apocalyptic landscape of the first game. To be frank, it kinda looks like World of Warcraft in the beginning - the comic book characters don't help.

I might not be a fan of the game's style, but
that's one hell of a landscape.
Darksiders II looks technically better and smoother than its predecessor, but the character design is exactly the same and I still don't like it. And, one thing I noticed right off the bat is how much I'm annoyed by the fact that whenever Death's without body armor, with just that cloth covering his criticals - if he has any? - he looks exactly like Kratos from God of War, just with a head full of hair, all the way from his pale skin to his stance, to the way he holds his weapons, to a tattoo on the shoulder, which in this case looks more like a scar though. And when he does have body armor (just another piece of cloth covering his shoulders), he looks like Raziel in Legacy of Kain. Thus I consider Death's look a bit unimaginative. Can't say I would've done him any different, but I didn't, so I'm entitled to judge. The voice acting is top notch, even better than in the first game. Michael Wincott rules, and he brings in that trademark, charming and intelligently sarcastic tone to his performance, which results in a much more intriguing lead character than Death already is. A few actors from the first game - such as Troy Baker, Phil LaMarr and Keith Szarabajka - either reprise their roles or voice completely different characters, and almost all of them lend their voices to several demons as well for cost-efficiency. Simon Templeman turns up as yet another obvious villain, and finally, James Cosmo of Game of Thrones fame replaces Mark Hamill as the mentor character of the game, who's a much nicer guy than Hamill's Watcher, though. The voiceover work is altogether awesome, although one can't help thinking that the voice actors did not have any more of an idea what the hell's going on in the story from time to time than us confused players do. Well, at least the gameplay shines enough for us to not really care what's happening, as long as it keeps doing so.

Darksiders II has plenty in common with its predecessor and is easily recognizable as a sequel, but it's still so different right from the start. The control scheme itself has been tweaked closer to a role-playing interface; there's a radial menu straight out of any BioWare console game, in which you can assign different special attacks and other abilities to a face button "speed dial"; you are also able to converse with several NPC's (some of whom give you "sidequests", although most of the sidequests in this game are best completed just by going along with the storyline), and a version of the dialogue wheel which originated in Mass Effect comes in. The overworld is completely open from the start, besides locations which cannot be unlocked without a special upgrade or conquering a specific plot point. It's Death himself who reminds you that although the game might look the part, Darksiders II is not an RPG. There are no decisions to be made, no customization at all beyond the skill tree which allows you to develop Death into two different directions; Harbinger, who's more into direct offense, and Necromancer, who's more into all things arcane. However, even that tree's designed so that you are pretty much forced to balance him out with skills from both branches. So Darksiders II is still a hack 'n' slash with notable RPG elements, and good the way it is. Much better than the first one, at least.

Death awakens an utterly docile rock giant
just to reduce him to a pile of rubble. Reasonable.
The one problem with Darksiders II is repetition. It's just one problem, that presents itself in several different ways. Exploring the huge overworld - of which there are actually two - is all for nothing. Sure, you'll find collectibles there, but if you're risking life and limb and spending hours on figuring out how to get that one mysterious treasure chest on the map checked off, don't bother. Just go with the game's flow. Talk to people, get those sidequests, and carry on. Again, you're more likely to finish them by making progress than going on a solo expedition. And the way you make progress in the game, well, just drift from dungeon to dungeon. And that's where the repetition hits. Sure, the puzzles in the game are clever, but every time you finally conquer a new type of puzzle, it starts repeating with tiny variations, sometimes even throughout a whole dungeon, until the puzzle becomes routine and a run-of-the-mill scenario for the game - the same problem the first game had, basically. In addition, the mission objectives repeat; kind of like to compensate for the confusing plot, it's laid out perfectly clear that you need to find three *something*, each time. In most dungeons, there are three different puzzle-laden paths, with an important quest item at the end of each. Get that and the next path opens. Why are you doing this, again? No idea, you fell off the wagon hours ago - someone pops up every two hours to mention War by name on the side of something else, so you would still remember how it all began. I guess it's the most important part. The one salvation of Darksiders II is Death. Just one salvation, that presents itself in several different ways.

Though Death's pale complexion, hunched stance and empty eyes make him look like the walking dead, he moves like a cat. Think a very updated Prince from Prince of Persia: Sands of Time, or Ryu from Ninja Gaiden. Like the Prince, Death can run along straight horizontal walls, and jump between two close ones like Ryu. He can also climb or run a wall, no matter how tall or wide, if there are these posts stuck along which give him a speed boost. In another "oh, come on" type of turn, he can't grab ledges that are inches above his head if the game says so, he can only grab certain types that are clearly highlighted. In combat, especially with the right equipment, Death is unstoppable against your everyday wave. You can equip Death from head to toe with different equipment and accessories that have a zillion different categories for perks; health regeneration from every successful hit, notably heightened offense and defense, elemental attributes, you name it. The amount of loot in the game is almost on the Fallout level; there's no inventory limit for the equipment, you can either put your excessive loot to good use by upgrading your "Possessed" equipment with spare parts from standard items, or sell it at any merchant. The equipment with the most perks sells for good money, no matter how useless it is to you at that particular point of the game. So, even if you get pennies in the beginning of the game, you'll start making hundreds of thousands of gold in no time, and you'll also max out your abilities in no time.

There's one combo trainer in each of the game's worlds, and these are the guys whose wisdom you should spend your money on first, 'cause you'll get perfectly good equipment from the field, at least stuff you'll manage with until you've upgraded Death's abilities to the max. Then it's the equipment's turn. There are a couple of weapon and armor merchants, one certain NPC who sells the best accessories in the game, and finally Vulgrim, the merchant demon from the first game who sells special items, such as a respecification item that lets you reassign your skill points, and mystery boxes with random elite equipment. A thing that eases the game up a little is the ability to fast travel, from dungeons straight to a merchant and back again, back to the last checkpoint of the dungeon. Basically, if you're heading into a boss fight with your health potions at zero, you can go back to a merchant to fill your stock and then go back in just a small jiffy. Easy, yet comfortable - just take a look at the map and think if you'd had to backtrack all that way.

I've got an open mind when it comes to women,
but I don't necessarily want to know what's
under that skirt.
Wrath abilities, the Chaos mode, and the secondary weapons in this game are far from useless. You'll most definitely need to test out the Wrath abilities and find your favourites quick, 'cause the bedlams get so merciless so quick that just being able to mash the attack and dodge buttons like a pro is not enough. Just one mistake might kill ya. Chaos is kind of like a last resort, since in his Grim Reaper form, Death deals ultimate amounts of damage that'll do you the most good against big enemies - including some bosses - and doesn't take any damage himself. The downside to it is that it's over very quickly, and the Chaos meter replenishes very slowly. Most of the gear - as fun as it is to try it out in combat - is useless for direct, standard offense, but they're invaluable key items for both free exploration and making progress. The secondary weapons, on the other hand, they're the shit. From the beginning, you equip Death with two sets of weapons. His primary weapon, of course, is his trademark scythe, two of them to be exact (which makes him look all the more like Kratos). You use the scythes with the square button, while the triangle button is dedicated to the secondary weapons - gauntlets, maces, axes, hammers etc. - which deal a LOT of damage, especially if used at the correct moment. The higher your combo, the more your momentum grows and the more likely you are to deal critical damage, especially with variation. Combat is perhaps the game's overall top quality - unlike in Darksiders, there's just the right amount of it, at just the right pace, and it's much smoother. Even that initially dumb targeting system is a little easier on the nerves.

The hardest parts of the game are the puzzles, but like I said, once you've solved one, you've solved every puzzle in the game for the next two to three hours, so occasionally you might find bearing the game the toughest challenge of them all. It picks up, though, on an equal amount of occasions, keeping you glued to the seat to the confusing end of the confusing story. It's far from a non-stop thrill ride, but I recommend the game with a much warmer heart than the last one to any hack 'n' slash fanatic. Since it's not a direct sequel to Darksiders and to be honest, it hasn't got much to do with the first game at all - I guess? - casual players can just skip the first game with good conscience and go for the main course. I'm not all that thrilled for the chance for a Darksiders III, and I'm not sure if I'd buy it, but the evolution on show on here is enough to convince me to at least welcome the game to the world.

+ Death - voiced by Michael Wincott, no less
+ Great voiceover work in general
+ Entertaining combat
+ Fun little RPG elements

- Shallow, confusing story
- Clever, but highly repetitive puzzles...
- ...As are the mission objectives
- Lots of empty space

< 7.9 >

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