Like its predecessor, Darksiders 2 isn’t very original, but that doesn’t stop it from being an awesome game in its own right.In case you somehow missed the millions of reviews for the original game that all basically said the same thing, Darksiders was basically Zelda style dungeon crawling mixed with God of War’s combat. It was a combination that worked well, and while I think the original Darksiders wasn’t as good as either Zelda or God of War (and honestly, what is?) it was still an excellent, quality game that everybody needed to play. Using the series’ trademark lack of innovation as an example, I’m going to echo those same sentiments in my review of Darksiders 2: there’s nothing in this game that you haven’t seen before, but that doesn’t stop DS2 from being a whole lot of fun.
Set concurrently with the first Darksiders, DS2 casts players as Death, the slightly less uptight brother of the protagonist of the first game, War. Following War’s banishment to Earth after he’s framed for prematurely starting the Apocalypse, Death journeys across several fantasy-themed worlds in order to clear his brother’s name. While the game’s narrative takes you to a lot of interesting locations and introduces you to a number of colorful characters, the story ultimately doesn’t really add much to the series’ overarching storyline — since the game takes place at the same time as the first game, it (spoiler?) ends with the same exact cliffhanger ending that the original game did, which is sort of disappointing if you actually care about this series’ story and want to see what happens next for War, Death, and the rest of the Four Horsemen.
But while Death’s adventure may feel like a narrative side story, it’s certainly a massive improvement over the original game in terms of gameplay. Death doesn’t feel like a simple reskin of War from the first game: despite the core gameplay of the two games being similar, the way Death moves and fights has a noticeably different feel from how War moved in the original game. He’s also a lot more customizable, too: DS2 introduces an RPG-esque loot system, where you can acquire new weapons and armor for Death that allow you to customize him to suit your play style; depending on what you equip him with, Death can either be a slow, hulking bruiser, an agile fighter who attacks with a flurry of quick strikes, or even a magic user who relies on special abilities (like summoning a swarm of crows) rather than his standard repertoire of melee attacks.
Death is also more mobile than his more heavily armored brother, as the game also introduces Prince of Persia style platforming to the series’ formula. Death can run along (and straight up) walls just like the Prince in PoP, and while it wounds like a minor change, it does a lot to alleviate the feeling that you’re just playing a Goth-ed up Zelda. Likewise, where as the original game’s tools and upgrades felt like reskins of items from other games, Darksiders 2 does a better job of giving you gear that doesn’t simply feel like “grittier” versions of Zelda items like the boomerang or bombs. Rather, DS2 gives you a host of cool abilities to play around with, like the ability to summon ghosts to fight for you or hit switches that are out of your reach, or the ability to split Death into two shadow versions of himself.
While Darksiders 2 manages to be better than the original game in most respects, there are still a few areas where it comes up short: while the game still has bosses that are epic in terms of scale, the boss fights themselves aren’t quite as memorable as the original game’s encounters. Similarly, while the dungeons are laid out better and are more interesting to play through, they aren’t as interesting visually: most of DS2’s dungeons are simply the high-fantasy ruined castles that you’ve probably seen a million times before, and I found myself missing the original game’s more memorable mix of fantasy elements and post-apocalyptic cities. There are also a few moments where DS2 strays from its proven “Zelda meets GoW” formula in order to try something completely different, and while I respect the developers for trying to add some variety into the game, these detours just aren’t very fun to play. For instance, there’s a section of the game where the game abandons the dungeon crawling and melee combat completely and it transforms into a very terrible and very repetitive third-person shooter, and I can’t help but feel that the overall game would’ve been much more enjoyable if these sections had been cut completely.
Still, despite those complaints, I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Darksiders 2. Yes, the game still isn’t very original, but you know what? Maybe originality is overrated. I enjoyed the hell out of games like Super Mario Galaxy and Halo 4, and both of those franchises have been using the same formula for a decade or more (though, admittedly, they have made great strides in terms of polish, level design, etc.) Like those games, Darksiders 2 proves that you don’t have to be innovative in order to be a good game, and that it’s more than possible to compensate for un-originality with quality. Reviewers lazily summed up the original Darksiders by saying “It’s like Zelda and God of War, but not as good as either,” so I’m going to sum up Darksiders 2 by saying that “It’s like Zelda mixed with God of War, Diablo, and Prince of Persia, and it comes damn close to being just as good as any of the best titles in those franchises,” a statement which is high praise when you consider those series’ legendary reputations.
Final Score: 9/10