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Opportunity knocks for the fourth horseman of the apocalypse in Darksiders II...
Darksiders II is a sequel in space rather than time. You play as Death rather than War, at the same time, in a different place. And who wouldn't like to be Death for a while? Reaping and pillaging is why we play games after all. To sate our repressed barbarous desires; to smash open an other and smear his blood across our naked chest. To have cool scythes.
Death approaches a huge bell atop a barren, craggy outcrop. He takes a moment to admire his jet black locks in the sheen of his scythe before arcing round to slice the bell into two juddering halves. An enormous floating fortress of rock and dread descends into view, as a pair of monstrous skeletal wyrms unfurl ahead of it.
War is a bit slow and lumbering anyway. A bit of a tank; good for soaking up blasts and crushing civilians, but not exactly nimble; not like Death. One minute you might be queuing up for bacon croutons in Lidl, the next - fatal heart attack. That's stealth. And if you were Death (are you?), you'd also be a bit miffed if your brother (War) got banged up on false pretences for a crime that wasn't really his (ending the world early). You might even set out on a quest to clear his name. In fact you will (did/are), in Darksiders II.
Summoning his undead steed, Death leaps down upon the serpent's rocky back, and charges toward the fortress.
Death is considerably more agile than his brother, scurrying up and along walls to reach far off ledges, and swinging across chasms with his whip-like Ghost Hook. In combat, Death fades and counters; he can't block - he doesn't need to - and relies instead on sneaky evasive manoeuvres to outwit his opponents.
Comparisons to God of War (combat) and Zelda (puzzles) were made with the first game, and they will certainly be made with the second. Despite its unique visual style (courtesy of X-Men comic artist, Joe Madureira), Darksiders is a series which perhaps borrows more than it innovates. Vigil are certainly making a much bigger game this time around however, with each of the four realms in the sequel containing as much dungeon content as the whole of Darksiders I. A central town (such as the fortress Death is currently charging towards) acts as a hub in each realm, populated with a range of NPCs offering side-quests and the promise of rare loot.
Bursting into the throne room, Death demands an audience with The Lord of Bones.
"My lord is busy tending his realm," cackles his skeletal aide.
"You must bring back the head of his champion to earn his counsel."
"I shall embark upon... the fetch quest," sighs a dejected Death, before trudging to the Champion's Arena and glaring at a statue with a few missing horns.
"O frabjous day! a fetch quest within a fetch quest. Guess I'd better go get those missing horns to summon this bloke, that's how it normally goes after all. Ho hum. Off to this conveniently placed dungeon over here I suppose."
The dungeon we were shown featured a few simple puzzles (e.g. rotate laser emitting statue to hit receptor across room) and a fair amount of good old-fashioned scrapping. Death wields his dual scythes with aplomb, occasionally fusing them into a single weapon when ending a combo to deal more damage. Brief flashes of his full 'Reaper' form occur during combat, and a range of magical 'Wrath' abilities allow Death to cause damage from a distance, like summoning a flock of eyeball-pecking crows. In addition to his scythes, Death will have access to a huge range of weapons throughout the adventure - including axes, spears, broadswords, and gloves with spiky bits on. Loot pick-ups (with the exception of quest items) are randomised, with foes dropping various unique stat-boosting pieces of armour. Darksiders II will also feature a full skill tree, allowing you to customise Death to your preferred play-style as you level-up. It won't be possible to max-out the skill tree in every direction, so you'll need to tailor your armour-bonuses, skills, and weapons to create a synergistic combination - choosing defense boosting armour and skills if you favour a slower hammer weapon for example.
As the final horn slotted into place, the arena floor began to tremble. A trail snaked its way through the dust towards the reaper. But it was no match for Death. He tore the skull-worm out of the ground before it could strike, felling it with a single sweep of his scythe.
In addition to the array of weapons and armour available, Death will gain access to three pieces of equipment during the adventure. Although the first game had six such items, each piece of gear in Darksiders II is said to have multiple functions and a far wider range of uses. Death's Ghost Hook allows him to latch onto high points and swing through the air, but also functions as a hook-shot, reeling in enemies or pulling him rapidly towards gargantuan foes. The Void Walker, which generates portals, will also be making a return, albeit with significantly revamped functionality.
The silence was all too brief. Before Death stood the champion, a mighty Golem formed of rock and bone. The beast roared with rage and, ripping out its own head and spine, lashed out - obliterating the gallows Death had been standing on moments ago. Death answered with a flail of his own, latching onto the beast's detached cranium with his Ghost Hook, and sent the Golem crashing into the ground.
Vigil is remaining extremely tight-lipped about any potential multiplayer modes, but have hinted that Death might cross paths with the other Horsemen of the Apocalypse on his travels. Although the ending to Darksiders I suggested the possibility of co-op in a sequel, comments from the developers seem to suggest that this might be something they're saving for a later title in the series - and given that Darksiders II runs parallel to the first game, its ending isn't all that relevant anyway. There's still much work to be done at this early stage - adding the promised in-town npcs, and building many of the side-quests and bosses - but the distinctive Marvel-esque aesthetic is already confidently established, with chunky, colourful character models striding through the game's intricately sculpted, monumental environments. Hopefully Vigil will be able to come up with some distinctive gameplay to compliment Darksiders' distinctive visuals by the time it ships.
"So I'll just finish off this fetch quest then shall I..?"
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