As a newcomer to the series, picking up the Darksiders II demo, shown running on Xbox 360 by THQ at E3, felt very natural, though not entirely new. The demo begins with Death riding his horse Despair toward a large, icy castle said to house some way to save his imprisoned brother War. Upon arriving at the keep, skeleton-like ice enemies begin to attack. Pressing X uses the two scythes for light attacks, while Y combines the two for an axe-like chain of heavy attacks. A dodge roll is used to evade attacks, and for the most part, the game ignores jumping during combat, during the opening scenes. The controls and camera feel fine, though a choppy framerate makes timing dodges a little more difficult than it should be.
The first few waves of enemies are easily defeated, and I’m led into a somewhat long environment traversal section, peppered with a few easy enemies along the way. Downed enemies drop experience and loot. Loot comes in the form of weapons and armor, and an intelligent rating system informs the player whether or not the loot is superior. Loot can be immediately equipped on pickup, or deposited into the inventory. All of the pieces that make up traversal feel familiar in one way or another: grabbing ledges, wall running, climbing on vines, and jumping between wooden poles are all things we’ve seen done before. It feels like a mix between Assassin’s Creed and Prince of Persia, assuming they were adjusted to be entirely linear and straight forward. Thankfully, none of these actions feel like a hassle, and along with a few impressive set pieces such as crumbling walls and falling rocks, traveling through the castle was a thoroughly entertaining process. At the end of this section is a small boss fight that isn’t much of a challenge. An ice giant, the boss is a slow and lumbering foe. A few well-timed dodges and quick hits before backing away to a safe distance again takes it down fairly quickly.
Upon reaching the roof, Death is confronted by the cause of the attempts on his life: an old man covered in crows, referred to as “The Keeper of Secrets.” Death wastes no time in asking that The Keeper tell him exactly how to save his brother War. The Keeper does indeed know of a place where Death can free War from the chains of the Council (an element of the lore I’m not familiar with), and that method can be found at the Tree of Life. The Keeper asks that in return for transporting Death to his new destination, Death must destroy the glowing amulet hanging on The Keeper’s neck. Death refuses, and proclaims that his brother’s innocence is enough reason to lead him there. The Keeper tells Death that he will not pass through as long as he lives, then teleports away.
In walks War, a surprise appearance from the presumably imprisoned horseman. War appears hostile, and the duel initiates the final boss battle of this demo. Though War is a much smaller enemy, this fight plays out very similarly to the previous boss battle. Death is slow and largely immobile, so popping in and out of range to land quick hits then dodging out of attack range is the best strategy. War goes down quickly, and transforms into The Keeper. It seems that this was all a ruse to scare off Death, but it failed. The Keeper’s dying words are a threat, and his glowing amulet bursts open to reveal small green souls. The souls fly into Death’s body, scarring him as the screen fades to black.
I found myself a bit lost, story-wise, due to the in-depth usage of previously established lore in the game’s opening, but the solid foundation of combat and traversal mechanics also left me wanting more. Tough there is little I could call new or innovative on an individual basis, Darksiders II successfully combines a fun loot system, solid third-person action combat, climbing, jumping, and entertaining boss battles.
View a new set of Darksiders II screenshots at the gallery.