PREVIEW: Darksiders II [X360, PS3, PC]

Darksiders II looms ever-larger on the August release calendar – but what are we really getting ourselves into? The sequel to THQ‘s surprise hit of 2010 is looking awfully shiny. Early preview builds had left us a little doubtful over whether Vigil could bring the magic a second time around, but as we draw closer to release, things are looking better and better.

Remember, while this is a sequel, it’s actually running in parallel with the original game (…there’s only allowed to be one apocalypse, after all). So this time, now that you’re finished with War, you’re taking on Death’s journey – along with his trusty steed Despair, and a mysterious bird named Dust.

You’d be forgiven for thinking that you were in for more of the same, as Darksiders II opens with a sweeping cinematic reminiscent of the original game, but things quickly get very different as you start to explore the snow-covered mountain to the Forge Lands. Toto, we’re not in Kansas any more – in fact, we’re not even on Earth, rather, among the Heavens, in a place which might answer your questions, but will likely leave you asking more. As exciting as it ise to see Earth torn apart in Darksiders, it’s equally alluring to see it in a more mysterious light in this sequel.

Did we mention it’s four times larger than the original game? Did we mention you actually get to explore the world properly, this time?

The extra layers of subtlety extend to the character, as well as the location he finds himself in. War, while he was interesting enough, was fairly …simple. He’s angry, and that’s about it. His grim brother, on the other hand, has a personality, has motives, has emotions. He’s not just doing this for something to do, y’know.

[img_big]center,8035,2012-07-25/7301Darksiders_II_Online_DeathandDust.jpg,Darksiders II[/img_big]

Vigil has learned from some of the mistakes it made with its original game, and while Darksiders II looks, plays and generally feels the same, there’s been a few tweaks here and there to make the whole lot ‘better’. You’re still running around, hacking and slashing your way through everything – but this time, you’ve got defence and damage stats added to your weaponry and armour, and those enemies you’re storming through now drop some nifty, randomly-generated loot.

Death can also spring from point to point, triple dash, flip and leap, leaving poor old War somewhere in the dust, clunking along behind like last year’s model. It’s a change that’s reflected in the game design, too – you’ll have to think vertically too now, when it comes to exploring all of those locations.

Thanks to these additions, and some significantly game-changing amendments, Darksiders II is a very different beast. Gone is the button-mashing of the first game, replaced by an RPG model that’s almost as complex as you can make it. Play around with numbers, stats, effects and skill trees to your heart’s content. Death is no cookie-cutter horseman. You can shape him, mould him in your image (or otherwise), into a terrifying wielder of magic, a light-footed agile foe, or of course, a thudding, hard-hitting tank. All the time, you’ve got those massive scythes at your fingertips (not quite Edward Scissorhands style, but still), meaning that no matter quite which style you choose, Death is a pretty terrifying creature.

Don’t worry: The more things change, the more they stay the same. Core combat is just the way you remember it – combos, quick-time events and a bunch of diverse weaponry meaning that even if you ignore most of the fine tuning, you’re in for a viscerally satisfying experience.

[img_big]center,8035,2012-07-25/7303Darksiders_II_Online_Karkinos.jpg,Darksiders II[/img_big]

Throughout all of this, you’re on a simple quest. Well, a quest that starts simple, at least. Along the way, the Crowfather – a cursed sage – plays a bit of a trick on our Reaper friend, sending him into the Underworld. From there, it’s a bit of a hike to reach the Tree of Life (the only thing which will reverse the extinction of mankind, and redeem his brother War), plus there’s any number of nasty creature standing in the way.

If this is the sort of jump between Darksiders and Darksiders II, we’re left wondering just what Vigil has in store. While nothing has been mentioned about any further sequels (indeed, with THQ‘s financial woes, anything could happen), there are still two more horsemen of the Apocalypse yet to be explored…

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