I unfortunately missed out on the first Darksiders, but heard some interesting things about its upcoming sequel, Darksiders II. Described as The Legend of Zelda, but with the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse and set in the worlds between Heaven and Hell rather than the green plains of Hyrule, Darksiders II features the one and only Death as he quests through the Nether Realms in an effort to free his brother, War, from exile. Along with a new loot system giving players the chance to customize their play style and levels purported to be larger then anything seen in its predecessor, Darksiders II offers an impressive blend of action, adventure and RPG elements on a massive scale.
The demo was set roughly six hours into the main story, with Death tasked to awaken a massive construct called the Guardian, which is needed to purge a corruption plaguing the area. Death is accompanied by a hulking blacksmith named Karn, who helps the player out by holding open doors, throwing Death over chasms that are too far to jump, and using his hammer to smash any enemies that happen to get in the way. Players need to traverse rivers of lava, battle corrupted monsters and solve the occasional puzzle on their quest to awaken the Guardian.
The first thing I noticed is that Death is a fairly agile fellow and within just a few minutes of playing, I was climbing, running and jumping across walls like a madman. A little later on, after acquiring the hookshot-like "Deathgrip," I was able to pull myself up walls faster and swing across pools of molten metal with ease. And then, just a few minutes after that, I was rolling through the fatal lakes of lava on top of a golem-like Custodian. The controls were a little tricky to get used to at first (leading to quite a few plunges to an incendiary death) but once I got the hang of it I was leaping and climbing from ledge to ledge from like a professional parkour runner.
"We just did it because we thought it'd be cool," said Ryan Stefanelli, producer at Vigil Games, when asked about the variety of ways players can travel from one point of a level to another. "It's like, 'what would be awesome in this dungeon?'"
Darksiders II's combat is a fast paced affair, as you'll be able to hack your way through various monsters with ease with Death's hand scythes or by using his heavy revolver to soften them up from a distance. You'll also have access to heavier weapons like a massive crystalline hammer which deals heavy damage (at the cost of attack speed), giving you plenty of choice in how you'd like to take out the various monsters that impede your path. One nice touch to add some flair to combat are these short, cinematic execution moves that Death can perform on injured enemies with just a quick push of a button.
"We stayed away from the quick time events, so usually you just press the button once and you get to watch a really cool finishing move." Stefanelli said of the game's combat and the mini-quick time events. "And there are certain elements of it that aren't quite fully implemented yet too, little bonuses for choosing to kill the creature that way versus just finishing them off with a weapon. We did it mainly just for flash, [and it] gives us a chance to let Death's character really come out in these fancy, sort of brutal killing moves."
Another interesting feature is the fairly robust loot system, which was something Vigil had initially planned for the first Darksiders but unfortunately wasn't able to implement due to time and resource constraints. In Darksiders II, you'll pick up a variety of armor and weapon types either through killing enemies or by hunting down treasure chests scattered across the game world, each offering their own sets of bonuses and giving you the chance to customize your play style (and Death's appearance). I was able to swap out my weapons to deal more damage or have a higher chance to deal critical hits, or equip pieces of armor that increased my toughness and or how fast my mana regenerated.
"We're really, really excited to get that in, because it's just so much fun," explained Stefanelli. "Darksiders at its core is all about adventure, it's an action-adventure game, but we want the adventure to really be a focus, and to do that, you need to incentivize exploration and loot is a super easy way to do that. Any time you find a new chest, you get that tingle of excitement because you get to pull on the slot machine and you might hit the jackpot."
Darksiders II aims to be a larger and more detailed experience than its predecessor, as the demo I played for a few hours was just the ending portion of the game's first zone. Vigil Games' has claimed that each of Darksiders II's zones is almost large as the original Darksiders. With the game scheduled to launch in June, Stefanelli said that the biggest hurdle his team has faced is managing the sheer scale of Darksiders II in comparison to its predecessor.
"For Darksiders 1, it was just figuring out the formula. What is the dungeon really going to be like in Darksiders, how are the dungeons tied together by the overworld?" said Stefanelli of the game's size in comparison to Darksiders II. "With Darksiders II, everything is bigger. When you make things bigger a lot of the times, the finite polish on the individual elements isn't as detailed because [developers] in some ways [are] sacrificing quality for quantity. We said we were going to do that, but we can't really do it, and we end up trying to polish every element of the game, despite the fact that we're trying to replace some of those details with breadth and just managing that so where we can go ok, this is good enough, we're doing this so we can spend time elsewhere to make the game bigger."
Darksiders II is due to launch June 26th, 2012 for the PS3, Xbox 360 and the PC.