Welcome to Hyrule. It looks pretty different from the last time you were here, right? Also Link seems to have been replaced with a burly avatar of destruction, the literal embodiment of Death. Make no mistake though, this is a Legend of Zelda game at its heart, even down to the unerring fascination with things that come in threes.
A bit confused? How can a game about the Horsemen of the Apocalypse have anything to do with a “kiddies game on a kiddies console”? If you stay a while, you might find out.
Darksiders II Deathinitive Edition isn’t your average copy paste HD edition of the game. Besides increasing the resolution of textures, which works great on Joe Madureira’s art-style, they increased the number of trees and other objects in otherwise spartan areas that you travel through. They even took time to improve the geometry of features in the world around you, making sure walls aren’t perfectly straight and even, something that is far too noticeable in a lot of HD versions of games, where better textures look out of place on perfectly straight and even surfaces.
At a price
This improvement to resolutions and textures and the like comes at a price though. The game is set to run at 30fps. If you play a lot of hack and slash games where timing is off the essence, you will know that they best of the genre runs at 60fps and does its best to keep it there all game long. Losing frames is losing time to react to an enemy tell, as well as losing time to input commands. Even with this change to 30, which would be fine if it was always a stable 30 frames per second, it dips under this mark at times, which is disappointing. I have read that the Xbox One version has the problem much more often than the PS4 version and luckily the frame-rate drop hasn’t been during boss battles where it would hurt the player, but when exploring large areas where that crazy draw distance that looks so beautiful suddenly takes its toll. I found it especially noticeable in the Lands of the Dead, where you are exploring complex multi-level dungeons.
Combat for the most part is really smooth. Death is an agile hero, relying on quick dodges to avoid crushing blows, with his razor sharp scythes slicing through enemies. He is really strong too, though probably not as strong as War, allowing him to wield some obscenely large hammers and axes to deal with larger foes or groups of monsters. With just two buttons for attacks combat might appear shallow, but clever use of holding the button down or pauses between presses results in several new combos to eviscerate enemies. It takes a bit of time to get used to, especially mid fight where your instinct might be telling you to just mash buttons and hope for the best.
But you said something about Zelda?
If you have never played a Legend of Zelda game, I understand your reluctance to believe that this land of angels and demons and nephilim has anything to do with such a colourful game with cartoonish graphics. Death can climb up walls, run along them and solves all manner of puzzles in the world around him. Like Link, or even like Raziel in Soul Reaver, a lot of the world is cleverly barred until you acquire the correct method of traversal to bypass an otherwise impossible obstacle. Whether using a phantom hand to grab objects or splitting his soul to reach two objects at once, Death has a whole arsenal of odd abilities by the time the game is over. These abilities often have places to use them right in the beginning areas of the game, obstacles you passed hours ago without noticing.
A lot of the game boils down to things done in threes as well. Three major world areas, three spirits to judge to pass one trial, three Dead Lords. The first hub area you come to is called Tri-Stone, another place with three trials set before you.
Even the progression in the world and in dungeons mimics Legend of Zelda. Dungeons are complex multi-level affairs where the first part of the dungeon is finding an item to get a new ability, while the second half is using that ability to reach otherwise impassable barriers. Sorry if I broke your head, but if you like Darksiders, there is a place you can go to for more games with similar progression and adventure styling.
Death Loves Corpses (DLC)
All the DLC from the game is included in this version, and the game has opted for a pretty strange method for playing it. Once you reach certain points in the game, you will be told that the DLC is ready to be played. To access this content you need to save your game, exit to the main menu and load of the new content. Then your current progress with Death is taken to a new location that isn’t on the game’s world map, where you face the challenge of the DLC, which often requires mastery of the new power you just acquired.
So this means that there is less chance of you missing the DLC by not stumbling into the area where the DLC is hiding in the world, but the lack of integration with these large places you explore is a bit jarring. They are worth checking out though, if not just to test out the new tricks of your various traversal powers, but to get some extra XP and loot, with each DLC ending with a legendary item, because you know you want all that loot!
Darksiders II is the better of the two games in all ways except the story. Michael Wincott adds depth to the character of Death, his sardonic tones and quiet threats coupling well with the nephilim’s uncaring, patronising demeanour. If you missed the game when it was released, this is a great time to catch up on the story so far.
Now I am just left wanting the games where you play as the other two horsemen.