You know you’re in fantasy town in the state otherwise known as RPG Land when a sequel in a series rocks out the roman numerals to depict its succession. THQ was in town recently to offer hands-on time with the upcoming Darksiders II, and had even flown in producer Jay Fitzloff to guide attendees through the dungeons and demons of the lengthy demo section. We were also offered interview opportunities with Jay, but I’ll publish the full transcription of that a little later on.
The most surprising thing about Darksiders II wasn’t the rather buggy build everyone was wrestling with—a frequent occurrence for pre-release hands-on events—it was Jay’s attitude towards the glitches. In the past, I’ve been used to insecure developers floating nervously behind hands-on sessions and glossing over bugs or crashes, ultimately telling you that they’ve already fixed a particular error and you won’t see it in the final version. Imagine my disappointment when those bugs sometimes make it through to the release of the game.
Jay’s approach was just shy of thanking us for whenever we hit issues. According to him, the Vigil Games crew back home in Austin, Texas are currently busy ironing out all of the bugs for the 26th of June release of Darksiders II. Certain bugs were met with a, “Yup, we’ve seen that one a bit today,” while other issues were responded to with, “Oh, that’s new. The console’s creating a record of that issue? Great!” Not only was it refreshing to see the insecurity left at the door, Jay’s attitude towards helping to polish his product earned him instant respect.
While we were playing Darksiders II on an Xbox 360 build of the game, Jay was all too eager to let me have a look at the PC version that he was carrying around with him on his Alienware laptop. He only showed me a couple of minutes of gameplay, but the art design—one of the most notable components of the series—was particularly lush on PC. Best of all, Jay told me that the PC was their lead platform for Darksiders II. In fact, he admitted that the PC was also the platform they started with for the original Darksiders, even though the PC version of the first game was released some eight months after the consoles got it.
According to Jay, the reason behind this delay was that Vigil ran out of time and didn’t want to release an unpolished port of Darksiders. The good news for Darksiders II, though, is that the PC version is set to be released at the same time as consolers get the game.
In Darksiders II, you jump into the riding boots of the most renowned Horseman of the Apocalypse: Death. War has been ditched as a protagonist, and the events of Darksiders II run parallel to the original game, as Death sets out to clear War’s name. While the game felt familiar as soon as I picked up the controller, there were some differences between War and Death that were also noticeable straight away.
Death is nimbler than War, which translates to both combat and environmental traversal. He’s quicker and has more moves during platforming sections, which makes them faster paced and, ultimately, more exciting. Combat-wise, Death can still dish out the goods like his brother War, but there’s a greater emphasis on picking your combo moments in a brouhaha because Death can’t block. Initially, this was a little jarring, but Death’s reliance on evade for defensive purposes forced me to approach the combat in a hit-and-run way that felt different to the attack, block, counter approach I had to War.
Jay told me that the combat was less challenging in the demo than it would be in the final game, simply because we had a levelled-up character to allow us to access later-level skills. Fights against standard peons weren’t overly challenging, but the presence of mini-bosses showcased well that Darksiders II won’t be a game that you can simply button mash your way through. Both mini-bosses I faced kicked the crap out of me the first time around, while the gargantuan boss at the end of the demo was also adept at dishing out the pain.
Combat and platforming are only two-thirds of the Darksiders formula, though, with puzzles making up the remaining third of the pie. The puzzling and navigating were made somewhat easier by the presence of Death’s crow that would subtly indicate where I was supposed to be going or what I should be doing if I got stuck in one place for too long. This is a handy inclusion that meant I wasn’t frustrated by the puzzles or caught in a loop of backtracking when I wasn’t entirely sure where to go next.
The core quest mission that I played through was the perfect complement to the side-quest content I’d been shown earlier in the year. New kit, abilities and a deeper RPG system—including the ability to collect, sell and equip various weapons and armour—kept me interested while, ultimately, I’m most fascinated to see what they do with the story. Particularly when I learned that Michael Wincott, the man whose voice sounds like the result of a thousand cigarettes and glasses of scotch rolled into one, voices Death.
I was psyched to see Darksiders II earlier in the year and, despite the glitches of my recent encounter, psyched to play through a few hours of the game that had me hungry for more.
Are you looking forward to Darksiders II?