Friday, September 9, 2016

X360 Look - Darksiders 2

Note: This is a review from back around the launch of the game, so some complaints are likely to be really outdated.

If a concept sounds good on paper there should be no reason for the execution to turn out poorly. With close to thirty years experience with videogames I should know full well that the last sentence is pure and absolute fantasy. Still that didn’t dissuade me from picking up Darksiders 2. I never played the first game but I have a fair bit of experience with The Legend of Zelda and many similar titles. Also I have spent an inhuman amount of time with Diablo, Phantasy Star Online; and other games where hundreds of hours are spent amassing a collection of blues, yellows, and golds. Darksiders 2 marries both genres, and the dream is that it will have the best of them, or at least the good. Unfortunately reality crushes like a mace.

The story starts off promising enough. The Four Horsemen are bros to the end. The end in this case refers to humanity, and War is being held accountable. In order to clear War’s name, Death must seek out a way to resurrect humanity. This involves traversing through four worlds, several dungeons, and dealing with the legions of corrupted adversaries that inhabit them. Despite playing through the game I admittedly don’t remember anything else about the storyline. Somewhere in-between the collecting of the second piece of a mystical shard that belonged to a mighty scepter I stopped caring about Death, War, and the fate of the many worlds outside of Earth.

Collecting objects of importance is expected of the action-adventure genre. Whether it is pieces of the Tri-force, the spirits of the world, or even a bunch of furry animals with superpowers, the quest can be boiled down to collecting between three and eight objects. This opens the way to the final dungeon, and then the final battle that decides the fate of blah blah blah. The most important function of these games is to keep the pace interesting, to make each dungeon that houses these trinkets worthwhile, in ways beyond being able to continue with the game. Players should be able to go into a dungeon with the expectation that they’ll be rewarded in terms of stimulation by the combat and puzzles they’ll have to deal with. They expect monetary rewards, such as currency or equipment. Yes, even the story should be well-provided to maintain the player’s interest in the plot. These three motivating factors should make the gamer want to continue with the game because they enjoy it, not because of some obligation that they have placed on themselves.

Where Darksiders 2 fails is that most of the dungeons only provide in terms of length of time required to complete them. A common element is that three tokens of progress are required, or three switches have to be pulled, or three other things have to happen before you can move on. There are some clever puzzles late in the game but early on you’re going to be rolling boulders onto switches, throwing bombs at destructible crystals, and performing tasks that have long worn out their welcome in other games. There are many treasure chests found throughout each dungeon, most of which contain random pieces of equipment. While far more valuable than the rupees that you can’t fit into your bulging wallet, the equipment you find has faults that I’ll go into later in this review. At the end of each dungeon you’ll face a boss. Some of these bosses are more than just a very large target, and require a second action for them to show their weak-point. More than likely, all you’ll be caring about is that they’ll drop a nice weapon when they’re killed, not if they were entertaining and challenging to do battle with. There are a couple exceptional boss-battles, but they are cut short by the other problems this game suffers from.

If I wrote for some other review websites you can bet that I’d petition for the category “loot” under graphics and sound when reviewing titles like Diablo. As much as I hate to admit it, the quality of loot can impact my enjoyment of a game, and Darksiders 2 is no different. Death can equip a multitude of armor pieces, as well as one primary and one secondary weapon. He always wields his trademark scythes, and he can back it up with something slow and powerful like a hammer, or something fast and weak like claws. All equipment is color-coded by usefulness and rarity as per genre tradition. Possessed weapons are the best and worst items to find in this game. They’re the best in terms of capabilities but it is those capabilities that will allow you to grind whatever challenge this game has into dust.

Possessed weapons demand the sacrifice of other lesser weapons and armors so that they can become stronger. If for example you find a pair of scythes with +15% to health steal, you’re going to want to feed them to a possessed weapon, so you can acquire that ability upon its next level-up. These very rare weapons can be leveled up to five times and typically far outclass anything else you’re likely to find. With a little bit of diligence and some luck, you’ll have a tool so powerful, that you’d have to close your eyes and drop your controller to have a chance at dying in battle. That is being a tad hyperbolic, but when you’re hitting for tens of thousands of damage, and recovering your entire life-bar in the process, you start to wonder how Death managed to lose so many fights to the Belmonts.

It’s too bad because the combat system shows a lot of…promise. There are a strong variety of moves, and when you learn the ins and outs of fighting, you’re rewarded with more damaging attacks that also look pretty stylish. It’s a vast improvement over “click-to-kill” games, or the kind where you just bump into monsters, until whoever has the lower numbers falls over. Death also has two different trees from which to attain skills from. The Harbringer focuses on meaty attacks to mash enemies into a very nasty paste. The Necromancer relies on the arcane to destroy foes. You can mix and match however you like, but it’s best to rely on skills that coincide with your equipment. Certain armor sets boost arcane damage over strength and vice-versa. As I said though, once your weapons outmatch your opponents you won’t need to do much of anything to win. I got through the entire game just using Death’s teleport slash and unstoppable skills.

What really tears this game apart are all the bugs, glitches, and design-decisions that do everything possible to impede the enjoyment I’m trying to derive from it. While usually I’d be quick to recommend looking into the PC version of games such as this one I’m hesitant to do so after reading all the problems other gamers have had with it. The console versions don’t fare much better either, and some players have even been hit with game-killing bugs where they’re unable to progress. Hopefully, those cases are just exceptionally rare as I was able to complete the game without seeing anything of that sort. Still, there was an instance where a golem I was riding disappeared back to his spawn-point when I walked away for a bit to collect a treasure. Then there is a frame-rate that’s prone to drops and screen-tearing, which helps to round out the technical deficiencies of this product. It’s very apparent that this game was rushed to beat the juggernauts arriving this fall.

At least the bugs and glitches are expected to be fixed over time; the same probably can’t be said about other problems that this game has. In open-field areas Death can summon his horse to cover ground more quickly, and this is done by pressing RB and LB together. These two buttons are tied to evade and skill-usage as well. So in the midst of the battle I will hear Death lamenting that there’s no room for his horse. Also the lock-on camera uses the 3D Zelda effect of letterboxing the screen while pulling the camera in much closer. It kind-of works in those games because the combat isn’t nearly as involved, but in Darksiders 2 you have to know what’s going on around you, and it makes for a camera that’s only useful for some boss-fights. The overall structure of this game is also very frontloaded. The first couple worlds are pretty massive with multiple optional areas to explore while the latter two are basically a straight line.

The most un-gratifying aspect of Darksiders 2 is the same as what I believe a number of games this generation suffer from: the automation. While I do not miss the early days of 3D platforming I feel like we really could be doing better than jumping from marked ledge to marked ledge with a next to 0% probability of error. This game involves quite a bit of platform-navigating, but it is done mostly because a series of one-floor dungeons would look absolutely horrible. It is like game-designers have given up and that’s the worst thing I can ever say. “We can’t do platforming right, so let’s just make it so impossible to screw up that it won’t really bother anyone.” Is that the thought-process we want to see today when it comes to videogames? Take the platforming out and replace it with any other aspect. That is not a future I want to be a part of. I can’t lay the blame entirely on Darksiders 2 for this because they’re just performing to expectations, but when a sizable percentage of the game is spent doing something that offers absolutely no challenge, it makes me wonder why I haven’t given up as well.

These days promises couldn’t pay for a used napkin but as long as it shares ties with hope I find that I’m stuck in the cycle. Darksiders 2 has a lot of good ideas but most of the time they don’t follow through, and the times they do deliver it involves things that nobody would ever ask for. This game might be worth a look if you’re a fan of the first and want to see how the story progresses but I’d wager that you’ll be really disappointed when all is said and done. Between extras such as the new-game + mode, and the various side-quests like the 100 waves of fighting in the Crucible you’ll have the more than enough content to last you quite awhile. Dollar-wise you may get enough value but time-wise…eh…it’s not like death will wait for you.

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