Reviews

Darksiders II: Deathinitive Edition Review – Death Comes To Us All In Remastered Form

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Platforms: Xbox One, PS4, PC
Reviewed On: PC
Developer: Gunfire Games
Publisher: Nordic Games
Singleplayer: Yes
Multiplayer: No

Disclaimer: Review code provided by Nordic Games free of charge for review purposes

When it came out in 2012 Darksiders II became one of my favorite games of the year. Sadly it didn’t do overly well commercially, despite a lot of good reviews and plenty of positivity from the people that did play it. From there the once mighty THQ empire fell, and after a while the rights to the Darksiders name was bought by Nordic Games, who also managed to snap up a lot of the game’s original developers and use them to found Gunfire. Talk of a sequel has been ongoing, but nothing concrete has thus far been announced. And then suddenly came word that Darksiders II was getting the remaster treatment, which was surprising since nobody had asked for it, not even the dedicated fans. Indeed, it was even more surprising considering that the first Darksiders wasn’t going to get the same treatment. What’s clear is Darksiders II: The Deathinitive Edition is about, “reactivating the community” in the words of Nordic on the Steam forums, and getting them warmed up for Darksiders III.

It doesn’t really make any sense, when you think about it. The community didn’t need reactivated and this Deathinitive Edition does have the smell of Nordic simply wanting to earn some cash from a license that has been sitting there for a while now, especially since this is a pretty barebones remaster that clearly didn’t have too much time or money sunk into it. However, there’s nothing wrong with that provided it’s a good product that people will enjoy, and may finally result in a true sequel.

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So how to approach this? I reviewed Darksiders II when it first came out and re-reading it I’m actually pretty happy with it. Hell, it was probably a better review than I write these days, which only indicates that I’m somehow getting worse at this whole thing, a terrifying prospect since I’m hardly great at this anyway. Still, I wanted to revisit the game properly and try to see if it’s a game worth buying in today’s market since there’s potentially a lot of people out there whose first console has been an Xbox One or PS4 and have thus never played Darksiders II. Three years is a long time in videogames, so does Darksiders II still hold up? To that end I’m going to talk about the remaster specific elements first for those of you who just want to know if its worth double-dipping, and then tackle the rest of the game from a traditional review standpoint, asking if it’s something worth buying over other games currently available on the market.

A major blow is that both the Xbox One and PS4 versions only run at a paltry 30FPS, which is slightly shocking considering the massive boost in hardware that both the modern consoles afford over their far weaker predecessors. For review I’m running the game on PC and can confirm that 60FPS makes the already fluid combat and environment traversal feel even better. Of course PC users were able to hit 60fps beforehand, so there’s no improvement there for anybody that already owns the PC version. Speaking of which the options available to tweak settings on the PC version are very limited, and the lack of a PoV slider is especially frustrating given the game’s sometimes overly close camera, but performance in general is solid. With my rig (read the specs HERE) I was able to maintain 60FPS at 1080p with every turned up to max without any problem, and it seems older hardware should scale nicely. The one exception is stuttering that seems to be related to shadows. Since writing this review two updates have already been released to address this problem and have been almost completely successful. Stuttering now only occurs rarely, and isn’t very serious when it does. However, a lot of the original glitches from when the game first hit shelves are still present, and I experienced a couple of crashes along the way, too.

As remasters go this is a relatively light one, the developers opting to just gently update the game rather than overhaul from the ground up. The biggest graphical changes that make themselves quickly apparent are the more natural lighting system which the developers have maximised with the addition of some extra light sources that cast more shadows across the environments, making them more alive. Meanwhile the toned down contrast settings stops detail getting destroyed in darker areas but also has the effect of making the entire game seem slightly less colorful than when it was first released. The whole game has been upped to run at 1080p with refined anti-aliasing working in the background, the two combining to ensure a sharper, more detailed picture all round. There are more trees scattered around the environments, foliage has been tweaked,  the draw distance has been improved, although some pop-in still exists when riding the horse, and there’s just generally more to admire.  The end result is a slight layer of realism that lies atop the game’s gorgeous art style. When you see Darksiders II on the Xbox 360 running next to this edition there’s no denying that the Deathinitive Edition looks far better, at least in my eyes.

Another change is DLC integration, as in it’s actually integrated rather than being accessed via menus. All previously released DLC is included in the package, with the exception of the soundtrack. While out wandering the world you can now encounter these new areas and embark on them, with DLC loot being discovered rather than handed to you. Indeed, all the DLC’s loot has had some rebalancing done in order to fit it neatly into the game. The way DLC is handled now makes for a much better experience.

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Another change is that you can now find some skill points in chests around the game, increasing the amount of upgrades you can grab. There’s also a new Deathinitive difficulty mode for those wanting a challenge, while the dreaded Nightmare Mode, where your entire save game games deleted if you’re defeated in combat, has been updated to run at Deathinitive difficulty as well for a true challenge.

But is this enough for you run out and repurchase Darksiders II? No, not unless you’re one of two things; an absolute die-hard fan who wants to see the game in its best form, in which case opt for the PC version since old hardware can run it quite easily, or you want to help support the idea of Darksiders III. Otherwise while the upgrades are certainly appreciated, and as someone who loved the game originally it really is nice to see it looking so good, they don’t warrant another purchase, especially on console.

What of those poor savages who have never played the game, though? What of them? Have they been missing out on something tremendous? Yup. Here’s the simple answer in case you’re too busy to read the rest of the review; go and buy it. Seriously. Yes, you can pick up the original version cheaper, but this is a truly brilliant game that successfully captures that elusive feeling of epic adventure that has been missing in so many triple A titles over the past few years. It draws heavy inspiration from both Zelda and the Metroidvania genre, creating rich levels that loop back on themselves and demand exploration. There’s always something cool to look at, great loot to  equip and monsters to fight using smooth, fluid combat. It doesn’t innovate or bring anything new to the table, but it’s hard to care when it does everything so damn well. It’s simply a classic adventure in the truest sense of the word.

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You take up the mantle of Death, one of the four Horsemen of the Apocalypse whose job it is to maintain balance at the behest of the Charred Council, an ancient group of beings. Death is intent on helping his brother War, who has been convicted of ending the human race by bringing about the apocalypse early in the first Darksiders. Realising he can’t prove his brother’s innocence Death instead decides to simply erase the crime by resurrecting humanity, a somewhat daft plan considering it doesn’t truly erase the crime; War would still have brought about the apocalypse, after all. Knowledge of the first game helps with understanding aspects of the areas you visit, but it isn’t vital to enjoying Darksiders II. On his journey Death encounters ancient Makers who once forged entire worlds,  journeys  to the Land of the Dead and fights his way through a hell of a lot of dungeons. The writing and quality of acting aren’t great, but there’s enough going on to keep things interesting and its clear that the game has its heart in the right place. It wants to tell an epic, sprawling story in this unique and diverse universe, but trips over its own feet and winds up feeling a little goofy in the process. Still, it’s actually pretty enjoyable, mostly because the beautiful art and glimpses of a completely unique world serve to draw you in, and leave you wanting more. The ending delivers a solid finale with a cliffhanger for that third game that never happened, at least not yet.

One would exactly imagine Death as being the life of the party, yet he’s surprisingly a strong anti-hero. What draws me to him is his snarky, sarcastic, flippant attitude. He’s cold, calculating and wholly arrogant, but possesses a dry, sharp sense of humour. Death has been around for a very long time and is viewed as the most powerful of the four horsemen, feared across every known world. He’s grown weary, it would seem, and seemingly cannot help but casually insult everybody he comes across, viewing them as a waste of his time and treating them as such. As one of the last surviving member of the very race he helped destroy, the Nephilim, he carries a weight that can be heard in his voice, a weight only increased by the many things he’s done, participating in the destruction of worlds and the geonicide of entire races, all in the name of maintaining balance. Despite this, he’s not as cold as he seems, going out of way on occasion to help others, and shows a strong loyalty to his brothers. His actor nails this combination of traits very well, delivering his lines with confidence and biting brilliance. It’s a shame that the rest of the characters aren’t nearly as interesting at times.

The world, however, is interesting. Darksiders II boasts a truly beautiful artistic style, the characters and world clearly slaved over by artists with a genuine love for their job and this universe. There’s a cartoony, almost cel-shaded look to everything. The game, even with its upgrades, is no marvel of technology. It doesn’t boast incredibly lifelike faces or enough polygons crammed into one square millimetre to replicate the tiniest piece of rock with incredible detail, but it does have something else; beauty. The story serves as little more than a reason for Death to fight and scramble his way across several different worlds that in turn serve to show the undeniable talent of Joe M, a comic book artist whose talent shines through in every stunning locale. Even corridors somehow manage to look good. The game is filled with astounding vistas and huge monuments that break up the often large landscape, a landscape which admittedly while playing host to a small selection of side-quests is mostly empty, its size less about housing ridiculous amounts of guffins for the player than it is about just making everything seem vast. No, Darksiders II isn’t a technical powerhouse, but it is sodding gorgeous.

These environments are usually filled with basic platforming puzzles that break up the flow of combat and loot wonderfully. For someone with skin so pale that most would assume it has never actually witnessed the miracle of daylight Death is an agile chap indeed, able to scurry around with a dexterity that would have the Prince of Persia himself looking a little awed. Death is able to scramble up walls and along them, too, using posts to regain his momentum along the way, and can shimmy across handholds rather quickly. Beams can be bounded across or swung on, while leaping off a wall across a 90-degree bend lets Death continue his wall run on the other side. All of this is done with a sense of speed and grace that’s downright impressive, helping cast Death himself as an incredibly agile warrior. It’s not skillful stuff, though; unless you do something pretty stupid Death handles himself well, and this failure while platforming is rare, unless the game has one of its occasional panic attacks where the controls don’t quite respond as expected, which is only particularly annoying since Darksiders II is incredibly responsive the rest of the time. Still, the lack of challenge isn’t too bad since navigating the environment feels so nice.

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Basic puzzles often bring the smooth leaping and climbing into play as well, so that you’ve got parkour your way around massive rooms to reach switches or perhaps get into position to shoot an explosive. It’s not overly complex stuff, involving quite a bit of pulling levers and standing on pressure pads, but Darksiders II melds them together incredibly well, completing its equally wonderful dungeons. No solution ever requires more than perhaps a minute or two at the very most for the eureka moment to arrive and send you scampering off through the environment, quietly humming as you leap across chasms and navigate wall-runs to operate switches and then watch as that opens up another area or alter something else so that you can then reach another area you saw earlier.

Death earns his name in combat, moving with intense speed and ferocity, becoming a whirling dervish of destruction capable of ripping through enemies. Combat is fast paced, fluid and very, very satisfying. His primary attack method are his dual scythes, backed up by a secondary weapon of your choice, be it hammer, axe, glaive or even bladed gauntlets for some incredibly quick strikes. From these weapons stem a relatively decent selection of combos to be learned. He’s also capable of launching foes into the air with a devastating upwards kick for some juggling action and executing enemies that are near death. Fights are fast-paced and frantic, the smooth animations and satisfying feedback managing to make you feel incredibly powerful, even when enemies occasionally shrug off attacks to launch one of their own. Tying it all together is an incredibly responsive dodge that feeds into a few different counter attacks, placing the emphasis on whaling on an enemy, dodging an incoming attack and leaping straight back on the offensive. What is slightly awkward is how its possible to use dodge to cancel out of certain attack animations but not others. Over time you’ll figure out what combos can be cancelled out of, but learning can be frustrating and will lead to you getting kicked in the face a lot as enemies shrug of your strikes, aim their boot for your nose and then laugh as you fail to cancel out of your assault. There’s also a problem with the counter attacks, which is that it’s pretty easy to launch the scythe throw counter when coming out of a dodge when you actually just meant to perform a regular attack, the thrown scythes locking you in place until they return. Enemies with slow charge attacks also pose a problem, because if you dodge them slightly too early they’ll be able to magically hit you by spinning around to your location or even sliding across the floor to deliver the blow. It’s fine when tacking creatures one-on-one, but in a crowd you can find yourself dodging straight into a slow charge attack with no method of escape. Speaking of which the combat is really at its best against a moderate amount of mixed foes where you can focus on a few at a time, so it’s a shame to see that the developer’s often fall back on simply throwing more and more enemies at the player to make things difficult, especially in the closing stages. Focusing on a specific enemy, done by holding down the left trigger if using a controller, let’s you target them specifically during a fight, which is handy because otherwise aiming for a certain enemy in a group is tricky. Focusing also helps control the sometimes problematic camera which sits a little too close to the action, a problem made worse by the lack of indicators for off-screen attacks.

Adding to Death’s armory of destruction are special magic powered attacks that can be unlocked via a relatively small but solid dual skill tree. One side is named Harbinger and much of it is based upon a handy teleport attack that can buffed up with fire, frost and explosive damage types. It also includes a powerful spinning strike that can deal hefty damage to all nearby foes and provide some breathing room, while some other upgrades boost Death’s strength and speed, essentially making the Harbinger tree perfect for brute force. The Necromancer tree, meanwhile, takes on the role of the spellcaster tree, with the first core ability letting Death summon forth Ghouls to fight by his side. These Ghouls can be further upgraded, while other abilities let Death bring forth a murder of deadly crows as well. At any given time only four of these special moves can be mapped to the . These skills are controlled by a Fury meter that is regenerated by attacking and destroying enemies. Finally Death also boasts the powerful Reaper mode where he unleashes his true Grim Reaper form and goes to town on enemies for a brief period of time. All of these powers bring a bit of extra spice to the combat, and more importantly feel good to use, packing a sense of power.

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That’s a lot of negative points about the combat system that stop it from becoming truly special or managing to go toe-to-toe with dedicated hack ‘n slashers, yet it’s still remarkably fun and still remains one of the smoothest feeling systems around, managing to compete with dedicated hack ‘n slashers on that front. Death moves and attacks with an almost feral, savage purpose. It doesn’t evolve much throughout the game, either, with your methods of tackling the different enemies rarely changing much.

One of the game’s biggest driving forces is the constant acquisition of new loot to equip, from scythes and secondary weapons with powerful effects to pauldrons, chest armor and bracers that buff defense or magic. Enemies will frequently drop new gear while a multitude of chests are generously strewn around the environment, often giving you a reason to head off the beaten track in the hopes of gaining something powerful or rare. There’s a constant sense of progression, both from a pure stat standpoint and a visual standpoint as Death begins the game in some basic wrappings and winds up wearing some pretty awesome armor mere hours later. Useless equipment can be sold off, or it can fed to Possessed items to power them up, letting you keep them for longer. These Possessed weapons can also inherit new powers as they level up, granting them new abilities like fire damage. And of course there’s Legendary items to discover, powerful gear that isn’t generated by the randomized loot system but rather hand-crafted by the developers, although sadly these items are Possessed and therefore you inevitably wind up abandoning them for tools that boast the better stats. The only issue is that the loot you can acquire in the field is typically just as good or better than that stocked by the shops, and doesn’t cost you a small fortune, either, making merchants feel a bit redundant.

The game is split into a series of hubs that act as nothing more than a method of separating the game’s sprawling dungeons, the vast distances being traversable using Death’s summonable horse or by a fast travel system for when equine transportation feels like too much hassle. These hubs are largely empty apart from some enemies and treasure chests, their existence mostly serving to reinforce the game’s sense of scope rather than giving the player an area packed with things to do. There’s not much exploration to be done in these hubs, either, but plenty of beautiful scenery does provide a reason to pause and take stock of your situation. It does, however, also make me wish for a better look into Darksiders world, its history and its many people. The gorgeous art hints, but the game never tells. Side-missions can also be embarked upon that lead you to new dungeons, but never really manage to break away from the typical formula of “go here and kill some things so you can get a thing,” often for a slightly lackluster reward. Thankfully the gameplay loop is strong enough to keep you grinding away. Likewise the dungeons are brilliantly designed, looping back on themselves in clever ways that so a single area can act almost as a mini-hub that sends you off doing multiple things to open up more routes to get to more areas and so on and so on. The design style is classic, again managing to imitate the likes of Zelda very well.

Between the earning and upgrading of new powers and discovery of increasingly powerful weapons and armor Darksiders II does a good job of luring you forward with the promise of becoming more badass. Should you ever grow bored of your current skills, though, Vulgrim is on hand to let you reset them, which is nice. Outside of shiny loot Death will slowly but surely get hold of new gadgets and tools along the way. The first these is a simple one; Strife’s revolver, a chunky gun which sadly doesn’t stay useful in combat for very long thanks to it being entirely non-upgradeable, but is otherwise handy for detonating sticky bombs from a distance. Later on comes a ghostly hand that can grab distance hooks and use them to pull Death across large distances and also grab distance objects. Even later comes the ability for Death to clone himself and use portals. None of the games puzzles are exactly taxing for the ‘ol brain matter, but everything is executed well enough that they remain highly enjoyable. There’s a lot of pressure plates to stand on, plus the game really enjoys making you roll around massive balls (cough) and drop them into receptacles built into the floors, although this idea is enhanced with the concept of ridable stone golems that have these giant balls built into them.

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Ultimately Darksiders II is a huge game thanks to its many dungeons that need delving, but from that hugeness stems repetition. Puzzles have familiar enough structures to almost immediately clue the player into how to solve them, while the platforming never does change very much from what you see in the opening hour or two, instead just increasing the amount of things you’ll need to do in one sequence. Like I said earlier combat doesn’t evolve throughout the game, either. New offensive powers and gadgets that can be used to backtrack through previous areas for some bonus loot do help to mix things up a bit, but it’s not enough to ease the sense of deja vu as you run across yet another wall or battle the same enemy using the same combos or use yet another lever.

Spattered throughout the game is a series of entertaining boss battles that range from smaller foes to hulking brutes that you can barely dent. Again, there’s nothing particularly inventive at play in these fights, but that doesn’t stop them from being a joy to play.

Before I wrap this review up I need to stop and briefly chat about the stunning soundtrack created by Jesper Kyd which complements the beautiful art style. Kyd has crafted a surprisingly calm score, even during intense action, that has a Celtic vibe, mixing soothing strings and tribal, warlike beats. Brilliant, absolutely brilliant.

Darksiders II has its fair share of problems, beginning with a less than impressive story and continuing on with slightly scruffy combat and a repetitive streak. But man oh man do I love it anyway! There’s just something so invigorating and fun about the game, a powerful sense of spirit that so many modern games lack entirely. It oozes adventure, and plays so wonderfully smoothly. It’s entirely unoriginal, favoring classic design philosophies from numerous other games over innovation, and quite honestly that’s just fine because it does it all rather well. It holds up perfectly well, and thus I can’t honestly recommend it more to anyone looking for a Zelda-esque adventure through beautiful worlds packed with smartly designed dungeons and plenty of glorious loot, mixed with God of War style combat. Darksiders II deserves a place on your shelf if you’ve never played it before.

Follow me on Twitter @wolfsgamingblog

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