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Friday, July 26, 2013

Freshly STEAMed: Darksiders II Review

 Wrote this one last august, but since steam has an 80% discount up until Monday (7/29/13) I thought "Hey, might as well try to get some more folks on the bandwagon." A bandwagon stuck in IP hot potato hell...but still, I love this game. I'll let my past self explain why (in tiny text I couldn't reformat):

Sometimes a remix can feel just as fresh and invigorating as originality. Originality can be strange and unrefined. Why not make something special by mixing in a ton of bits and bobs people already love, like trail mix. Then weave in diablo-style loot, prince of persia-style platforming, god of war-style combat and zelda-style puzzles and dungeons. . . unlike trail mix. Stir well for two and a half years and presto! Out pops Darksiders 2. And it all tastes great.

Over the course of twenty two hours or so, you play as Death, one of the four horsemen (and one woman) of the apocalypse. These guys had one job to do, and they couldn't even get that right. Someone, or something, rang the end times bell a little early and only War showed up to the party. Naturally War takes all the blame and is sentenced to purgatory. 
And they called him "Hookster McMurderface."
DS2's main story focus is on Death and his efforts to resurrect humanity to clear his brother's name. Anyone who skipped War's chapter is never let in on why the Apocalypse happened and rightly so. Darksiders was a damn fine game and anyone left scratching their head at the end of DS2 has only themselves to blame. you'd be surprised at how good the story actually is and you'd be ruining the little “hey it's that guy!” moments sprinkled throughout the game.
But either way, the story you get from this game is handled by a small troupe of fine actors. None of which take themselves too seriously and each always find the right way to read a line. A special shout out goes to Michael Wincott as Death. He knows how to be a raspy, no-nonsense, personification of loss. But you'll be amazed at the depth of character he creates with even simple line readings and I know he made me laugh out loud at least once. That's right folks, Death's kinda funny.

DS2 is the product of a rare and respectable kind of ambition. The kind kind that makes a sequel that at first glance looks identical to it's predecessor, but is actually almost a completely new experience. The first played at being non-linear, but the second time around, a good two thirds of the game are  entirely free roaming. There are side quests, there are secrets, and there is loot to be finished, discovered, and equipped. My hat goes off to Vigil Games as none of these activities ever feel like a grind. Find a ton of loot you don't want? You can sell it all for decent pocket money and always find something you can buy with it. Every activity feeds back into the other until you've had your fill and want to take on the main game.

Though you could have just stumbled onto one of the four or five “secret” dungeons and thought you were playing the main game. That's just the kind of mirror-sheen polish you can expect from this world. Even the side dishes feel like the entrĂ©e. 
That was the last food reference, hand to god.
I could go more into detail about the master class of animation and art direction on display here, but the linchpin in this already award worthy game is it's score. It always gives you what you expect, but in unexpected ways. You'll get a medieval choir for your trip into hell, but you'll also have a growling, otherworldly, techno-static baseline along with it. Some tracks are more overused than I would have liked, but when the music needs to swell to the action on screen, composer Jesper Kyd, of Assassin's Creed fame, moves in with a symphonic hay-maker. I mean blues guitar for an rag tag army of angels? It's f*king brilliant.

While I may have loved this game to pieces, it's not all puppies and sunshine. The final third of the game is a straight shot. No more hopping off your horse to go chest hunting anytime you want, you just gotta stick with the game's plan. Not to mention the end comes out of nowhere just when you think the finale was kicking into gear. But the New Game+ mode lets you bring all your loot and experience around for another ride. A feature that would have pushed my score to a perfect five, had the final moments not been so rushed and unsatisfying narrative wise.

As it stands, this is still one of the best games I've played in over a year, and you bet your ass I'll run through it again at least two more times.

Lets hear it for Rodney!

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