Despite effectively being seen as a near-copy of The Legend of Zelda, with other obvious inspiration from God of War, Vigil Games' Darksiders impressed with an interesting setting and an overall quality that made the perceived borrowing easy to forgive. The apocalyptic game, where players took control of the Horseman War, was successful enough for publisher THQ to continue the franchise, with the sequel due out later this year. Despite the debatablility of just how "RPG" the first game was, Darksiders II promises to be much more relevant to the genre than the original by adding a number of features firmly at home in RPGs.
"Darksiders II certainly looks to substantially expand upon a promising first entry."
Darksiders II sees players switch away from playing as War, instead playing as his brother Death. As revealed in the beginning of Darksiders, War has been framed for prematurely bringing the start of the Apocalypse, and so Death sets out on a journey to clear his brother and punish those responsible. The game is stated to take place in the same time period as the first game, however Death's journey instead takes him to a new setting between Heaven and Hell known as the Nether Realms. This leaves players with an entirely new set of locations to explore that the developers claim will be double the size of those in the original. The other two Horsemen, named Strife and Fury in Darksiders' world, are slated to feature at some point, although the extent of their appearance and how much effect they will have on the story at this stage is currently unclear.
Battles will retain the hash-and-slash style, with players using light and heavy attacks to create combos. This time around, however, players will get a numercial display of how much damage each attack does to the enemy. Unlike War, Death is not able to block attacks but is nimbler and is able to rely heavily on dodging instead. This extra nimbleness should come into play elsewhere in the more platform-orientated sections of the game as well, with Death also including a grappling hook in his equipment. War's sword has also naturally been replaced with the iconic scythe, however, players will have a number of options for weaponry, which does include a hammer as one of them. Outside of these physical attacks Death also has a number of magical, or Wrath, abilities. One such ability that has been shown off in demos summons a flock of crows that peck away at enemies' health. Death's skeletal steed, named Despair, will also naturally feature in the game although he will available from the start. This slight change from the first game is in response to critism that War's horse took too long to become available. Despair will likely fulfill many of the same roles, not only enabling quicker travel but also assisting Death in fights.
Character customization and equipment form part of the closer link with RPGs, with the inclusion of multiple skill trees and equipment slots that can be filled with armour or other items. Vigil has stated that players won't be able to unlock the entire skill tree in a single playthrough, hoping that this encourages players to stamp their own personal flavour onto Death. There is also more customization and freedom in how the game is played thanks to NPCs that provide Death with a number of sidequests from the game's city hubs, as well as the inclusion of loot dropped by enemies. Despite early rumours that it would be included, multiplayer will not make an appearance in Darksiders II due to technical limitations coupled with a desire to fully develop each of the Horsemen individually.
Where Darksiders did manage to stand out on its own was in the unique art style, and these striking and somewhat over-the-top visuals return for the sequel. The art direction, headed by comic book artist Joe Madureira, looks fantastic and demos indicate it is again accompanied by excellent animations and appropriately epic and violent boss battles that the style demands. Vigil Games has stated that locations have been created using more modular techniques to help reduce time, but fortunately signs are that they have avoided the frequent pitfall of repetitiveness that can result from such tools. So far only actor Michael Wincott has been confirmed for the voice cast, playing Death, but RPGamers shouldn't any reason to doubt that Darksiders II will have the same high-quality level of voice acting as the original.
Darksiders II certainly looks to substantially expand upon a promising first entry. The new features should help to differentiate it further from its initial inspirations and stamp out a more defined identity, even if individual parts of that identify may be borrowed from elsewhere. Darksiders II will be released on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC, and is currently due out in June 2012 according to THQ Executive VP Danny Bilson. The game is also planned as a launch title for the Wii U.