Wednesday, January 23

Not A Game Review: Darksiders 2

Genre: Hack and slash/RPG
Platforms: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PC
Release date: 14/08/12
Developer: Vigil Games

In Not A Review I won't be delivering my final verdict, only my limited impressions of the game. Why? Because I grew bored of the game before I completed it.


Darksiders was a highly derivative game, with combats mechanic ripped from franchises like God of War and Devil May Cry and dungeon crawling straight from the Legend of Zelda. Despite the whole not being greater than the sum of its parts, Darksiders was none the less enjoyable, if uninspired.
Thus when Darksiders 2 was announced, I eagerly anticipated how the developers would improve the sequel and make a product of their own creation and imagination. While Darksiders 2 is certainly more unique than its predecessor, it still suffers some of the same problems while the new additions have their own set of issues.

So before we get any further I need to state I haven't completed the game. As of writing I've played about 15 hours (recruiting the 3rd undead lord for the bone king). So this is not a review, merely a summation of my thoughts so far.


Equipment

Darksiders 2 adds several stock RPG elements to the franchise. One of which is the ability to dress Death in various pieces of gear and weapons, with something like 8 equippable slots (2 weapons, 5 pieces of armour and a talisman). Loot is handed out extremely generously, it isn't uncommon to obtain 20 pieces of new equipment after completing a dungeon. Unfortunately most of the equipment collected can only be referred to as "trash loot", that is the loot is both useless and worthless. Such gear is either sold or used to upgrade weapons. For so much of the loot to have so little value was a big mistake.

Another problem with the equipment is that it introduces this concept of "If I'm not good enough I can simply come back with better gear!". In an action/adventure game it should be "If I'm not good enough, then I should become better at this game". For instance a side quest directed me to a boss who would kill me in 1-2 hits and my weapons did almost no damage to him. The game was clearly telling me "Come back later when you are pimped out!". I hated that the message was so blatant, and that I couldn't simply defeat him with some perseverance and skill, especially when I hate taken the time to explore off the beaten path.

Health potions are found throughout the game, which can be gathered from smashing environmental objects or bought from merchants. Death is able to carry a maximum of 5 potions, which each restore around 50% of your health. Potions can be the difference between life and death in any difficult battle. Their inclusion is perplexing; if you have maximum potions, the hardest fight becomes cake. However when you are low on potions a generic fight can become very dangerous. Your stock of potions can alter the tension of a fight significantly; from not caring because you can heal 250% of your health, to being on the edge of your seat because you are on 10% health.


The game features a reasonably extensive number of armour slots, but most loot goes straight to the vendor.
Levelling

You earn experience through killing monsters and completing quests. When you gain enough exp and level up, you are able to spend a single point in one of 2 talent trees. The talent trees contain around 5 abilities each side, with the option to further upgrade each ability marginally.  And it is marginally. An ability may go from doing 200 damage, to 270 damage. The talents feel insignificant and fail to add depth to the game. The inclusion of the levelling system feels shallow and out of place.

Combat

In Darksiders 2 combat is handled thus: You have a dodge move, various abilities (though you can only map 4 abilities at once), a few items and 2 attack buttons (each of which uses a different weapon). You'll regularly face hoards of enemies, often with some variety of monsters. On paper it sounds like combat should have some depth to it. It doesn't.

First off the abilities don't change combat in any significant way. They typically give some sort of simple stat buff (like increased damage) or damage enemies. There is little strategy to using such abilities. Throughout most of the game I found myself only using a single ability, which increased melee damage temporarily, because the other abilities were close to useless.

While you have 2 attack buttons, there generally isn't any reason to use both. There are no cross weapon combos, and in fact switching attacks mid combo will interrupt your current weapons combo and start a new chain with the new weapon. Thus once you find a type of weapon you enjoy, and it has high damage, just stick with it and ignore secondary weapons.

Speaking of combos, they suffer from the same problem as in Darksiders. If you thought God of War had button mashing, you haven't played Darksiders. There are no meaningful combos. Just mash X and watch the spectacle.

Dodging is perhaps the greatest aspect of asset of the combat system. You can dodge all moves, receiving no damage and performing an automatic counter attack, if timed correctly. However when you are faced with hoards of enemies often you'll be attacked off screen with no way to anticipate the attack. This can lead to you taking several hits in a row, as enemies’ can chain attacks together while you are staggered. This becomes extremely frustrating in harder difficulties as you spend your time panning the camera and running around the outside of the arena in order to centre enemies on screen.


The art style is one of the few stand outs in Darksiders2
Difficulty

Darksiders 2 difficulty levels were poorly implemented. Normal difficulty makes combat feel like a battle of attrition.  Enemies do so little damage that there is little incentive to bother dodging. It becomes a button mashing fest, without the little depth dodging might offer. Turn the difficulty to maximum and you'll see the flaws of the combat system in all their glory. As mentioned before often you can't see all the enemies due to the close camera, which means leaping attacks can hit you with no forewarning. In closed environments pillars can obscure the camera further. The difficulty spikes ridiculously as well. Boss battles tend to be very easy, whereas battles involving multiple foes can be incredibly difficult due to enemies chaining together attacks, leaving you unable to react and taking high amounts of damage.

Story

The story never manages to truly excite or engage. You don't need to play Darksiders, to really understand what is going on in Darksiders 2, though it will add some perspective. Regardless of what you know of Darksiders, the plot to Darksiders 2 is extremely hard to get excited about. Death is trying to resurrect humanity in order to clear War's (Death's brother) name. He needs travel through various locations, helping characters simply so he can get from point A to B. The problem here is that I don't care. I didn't care for War in Darksiders, I have no motivation or emotional investment to rescue him. I don't care about humanity either. You barely see humanity in these games but apparently I'm meant to get motivated about resurrecting them. There is a central villain but he is mostly removed from the plot, only serving as a side distraction who inevitably will have to be killed in some epic finale battle.

Conclusion

I can't say much good about Darksiders 2. Visually it’s competent with some interesting art styles (such as characters like the Makers or the goat merchant) but everything else just falls flat. Combat is dull, difficulty spikes are infuriating, the UI is awkward to use with console controls and impossible to play with mouse and keyboard. It’s a game I'm forcing myself to play because I spend a precious £12 on it in the Steam sale. Even my aversion to wasting money won't be enough to stop me from giving up on this horribly run of the mill game.

UPDATE: 20/4/2012. I progressed another 2 hours or so after this article was first written before I gave up.