Review: Darksiders II (PC)
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"I am become Death, Destroyer of Preconceptions."
I'll admit that when I was first given the opportunity to review Darksiders II, I had mixed feelings about it. I had tried the first one and I wasn't too keen on it, and so I hadn't really followed the development of the sequel all that much. But when news started to trickle out from E3 earlier in the summer, and the Internet was abuzz with excited murmurings - the game, they said, had a lot of promise. So when a lovely little redeemable code appeared in my Steam Inbox from our editors, curiosity got the better of me, and I fired it up.
Not, I might add, without some degree of trepidation. Reports from some of our more pessimistic sources were touting the PC version of the game as being a rather poor port on Vigil's behalf, and didn't lend itself well to the PC's mouse-and-keyboard setup. So I mentally prepared myself to be bogged down by bugs, glitches and crashes-to-desktop that would all impediment my ability to simply enjoy the game. And I have to say that, at least in that regard, I find myself pleasantly disappointed.
For fans of hack 'n' slash games, Darksiders II is like a gift from the heavens. Players find themselves in the chunky leather boots of Death, one of the infamous Horsemen of the Apocalypse charged with keeping the very fabric of the universe in order. Death finds himself in the position of defending his brother War who, after the events of the first game, finds himself being brought to the remnants of Earth to account for his crimes of destroying pretty-much everything. And Death's journey takes him through a number of the realms of Creation to undo War's actions, and in the process... Well, destroys pretty-much everything.
So with such hefty emphasis on destruction, it would stand to reason that the power put into the player's hands would feel hefty and powerful. And so it does - after investing around 20 hours in the game I've started to amass quite a formidable arsenal of weapons, each one feeling by turns unique and lethal, and the staggering array of combinations you can mix up with these prevents the gameplay from becoming stale any time soon.
In comparative terms, Darksiders II manages to successfully mash-up some of the best aspects from some of the more memorable games out there: the combination of open-world exploration and puzzle-solving dungeons is reminiscent of Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time; the climbing, platforming sections can be likened to Prince of Persia or Uncharted; the nature of randomised equipment drops feels like it's fell straight out of a Diablo title; and the weapons and setting are evokative of God of War, to say nothing of the jaw-dropping set-pieces and brutal finishing moves. Despite this, the game still manages to feel original in all its aspects, as there honestly hasn't been anything quite like it.
The controls, however, are a little bit finicky. Most of the game's controls are mapped to the left-hand side of the keyboard for "convenience" around the WASD movement keys. However, this often means that using the game's controls feel a little bit cramped and clumsy - some of the most-often keys used, like using C to summon Death's flaming steed Despair, Z to make use of the raven guide Dust, and Alt to use the crucial dodge function. This requires either mashing the thumb under the fingers placed on the movement keys blindly (sometimes even hitting the Windows key in the middle of combat and being ejected out of the game) or taking the fingers off the movement keys and potentially handicapping the freedom of movement the player can experience at any one time. It's a relatively minor gripe - despite my complaints, I haven't yet felt myself compelled to attempt to remap the keys, and in fact am not even sure if the option is even there - but it nevertheless stands out on occasion and it sometimes feels like the aforementioned functions could have been more logically and conveniently mapped to some of the more comfortably-reached keys: E, R, F, etc.
What's more, some of the gameplay settings feel a little bit wonky from time to time. One of the more outstanding of these foibles is using the over-the-shoulder aiming function. Certain points of the game require Death to either use his brother Strife's pistol sidearm, or throw objects using a close-up view complete with crosshair, but entering this mode makes the camera incredibly jittery. Granted, there is a setting in the options to adjust aiming sensitivity, but it still manages to create a jarring transition between the "free" camera and aiming mode - even with the sensitivity slider much closer to the "continential drift" end of the scale than the "hummingbird on caffiene" side.
One of the major one-ups the PC has on console platforms is the ability to accommodate absolutely spellbinding graphics, and in that sense Darksiders II does fall short. The game's graphics are nothing short of spectacular - sometimes vibrant, sometimes gloomy, yet always an absolute treat on the eyes.
It's not perfect, however - in terms of options the game only offers the player the opportunity to change resolution and gamma, enable or disable virtual sync, and adjust the gamma levels. It's a shame, as the game could really use some of the more advanced graphical options that are normally afforded to PC games, most notably anti-aliasing. At some points in the game the number of "jaggies" is glaringly noticeable, especially when it comes to shadows - even on the highest settings, static shadows will appear blocky and jagged, and in some shadow-heavy areas of the game it can actually make it more difficult to navigate as a result. This is one of the most common complaints among PC gamers to date, and it is justified, but even so it's a few relatively minor niggles that nonetheless fail to overshadow the game's gorgeous graphics. What's more, Vigil has stated that they're "looking into" complaints about graphics settings, providing a promising - if vague - possibility of more extensive options being implemented in the future.
With a game as fast-paced as Darksiders II, having a smooth gaming experience is imperative. It's no use having fluid animations and fantastic effects if the player is subjected to only a few fragmented frames of these as the game struggles to run. And Darksiders II rises to the challenge admirably - as well as looking, feeling and even sounding spectacular, the game manages to run incredibly smoothly with barely a hitch. Even running on my decidedly very average setup at fairly high settings, the game plays fantastically, with only a few framerate hang-ups when the game gets particularly frantic - certainly nothing to impede gameplay. Strangely, at times there are a few unusual audio blips where character voices will stutter slightly, but at this point bringing up isues like this is verging on nitpicking.
Overall, Darksiders II delivers everything you'll expect it to and more. The gameplay is an absolute joy to experience and even after investing enough time to complete your average game by today's standards, the end is nowhere in sight and I find myself struggling to even guess what might be around the next corner. By today's standards the PC version leaves a few minor things to be desired, but overall it excels in terms of gameplay and execution and will definitely leave you coming back for more. If you want a game that you can sink some time into, immerse yourself in its world and have one hell of a good time doing so, there are few games this year you'll find more satisfying. An absolute must.
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