Working out which games Vigil has been playing is simple, because they all appear in Darksiders II. The Legend Of Zelda’s overworld-and-dungeon structure, which underpinned the original Darksiders, makes a reappearance here, along with God Of War’s combat system. Between scraps, the player character, skull-masked Death, scrabbles along walls just like the Prince of Prince Of Persia, and occasionally awakens (and kills) colossal stone beasts that were already on loan from Fumito Ueda when they appeared in Castlevania: Lords Of Shadow.
Darksiders II is so heavily indebted to so many sources that it struggles to stand as its own game. To be fair to Vigil, the team has further elaborated on its one original aspect – the Marvel-meets-Milton blend of Old Testament myth and trashy nu-metal stylings that is the Darksiders mythology. Death, for instance, has little in common with the spectral reaper of pop culture or the Horseman of Revelations. His scythe has been broken into two singlehanded curved blades, excellent for fluid, Kratos-style combos but lacking some of the elegance and simplicity of the traditional design. Michael Wincott’s cut-glass throatiness, meanwhile, gives the character a deadpan delivery that makes for more engaging company than the one-note brawniness of the first game’s lead, War.
And while Darksiders II’s cast is largely composed of Old Testament figures, Vigil has moved a step beyond the ravaged Earth that was the setting for most of the first game. Taking place concurrently with War’s adventure (in which the Horseman was framed for kickstarting the Apocalypse ahead of time), Darksiders II sees Death attempting to prove his brother’s innocence by exploring the more fantastical realms of Vigil’s mythos. This means that while you might make the occasional visit to the Tree Of Life, you’ll be spending more of your time exploring desolate ash plains ruled by a ghost-king, or lush green realms overseen by a pack of ravening Scottish giants. There’s a move towards more typical high fantasy here – and it’s come at the expense of the apocalyptic Book Of Revelations atmosphere of the first game.
Structurally, you’re still being sent on plot-advancing fetch quests in dungeons sprinkled across a large and occasionally beautiful overworld, and what happens in those dungeons is the same blend of combat, exploration and puzzle-solving that defined the original Darksiders. Where that game was broad in its influences but workmanlike in execution, Darksiders II works hard to refine its diverse set of mechanics.
Combat has had the most attention lavished on it – the influence of Ben ‘Tragic’ Cureton, a combat designer known in the fighting game community, is easy to detect. Darksiders’ combat, last time around defined by lazy, repetitive combos and all too easily welcoming a button-mashing approach, has now been injected with a shot of Dantean adrenaline. The influence of Devil May Cry is as obvious as the brutality of God Of War.