In a way, the premise of Darksiders II is one that guarantees instant success, both commercially (people are suckers for vaguely Biblical fantasy antiheroes) and critically, so long as you can follow through on either a thoughtful philosophical journey ala El-Shaddai, or a ridiculous heavy metal over-the-top beat-everything-up gorefest.
Darksiders II, the sequel to a story about the horseman of War setting off the apocalypse, follows his brother, Death, as he attempts to prove War's innocence, and in the process gets dragged into restoring humanity, which has been all bust destroyed in the apocalypse.
It's ridiculous schlock, but it's very fun ridiculous schlock, taking the ridiculous heavy metal Biblical fantasy route with a distinct emphasis on 'fantasy'. The plot is almost an afterthought, popping up here and there to mumble some vague reasoning as to why you have to go to a particular dungeon or so on, but mostly serving to prod you in the direction of the action, and to give you a reason to go to different worlds.
|Seen here: Bling, and a frosty world.|
The different worlds are the most distinctive part of the game, and they are varied. The game gets off to a very slow start in that regard, as after the tutorial world, your first two worlds are Grassy High Fantasy Dwarfland and Grey-and-Purple Skull-themed Underworld, and while they're both very nice to look at, you spend ages there. The Land of the Dead in particular gives new meaning to the term 'busywork', as you are constantly, constantly, being sent off on fetch quests. At one point, you have to find three particular people in the Land of the Dead - upon finding one of them, you're told he'll only come with you if you find three more things. It's a matryoshka doll of dull, interminable busywork.
After those two, the worlds become gratifyingly shorter. There are only about three more worlds after this, though, and though they're varied and interesting - including one with a timeshift mechanic and one that forces you to play it as a cover-based shooter - they make up a considerably smaller chunk of the game than their predecessors.
(They are, at least, all rendered very prettily, with the game's relatively gorgeous graphics put to good use on its range of environs. The soundtrack is all very nice too, which is a plus.)
The gameplay is, for the most part, very fun as well. Each world has its own gimmick, from activating golems to perform tasks to jumping backwards and forwards in time, but most of the gameplay is typical, if well done, hack and slash fare, with the game throwing hordes of enemies at you and you dealing with them by button-mashing. Death's main weapons are two scythes, but there are also a lot of secondary weapons, which deal varying damage at varying speeds and which you'll likely want to experiment with, as well as a gun, separate from the secondary weapons, which does very little damage and is usually used for puzzles. There's a vaguely RPG-oid system where you can put skill points into different abilities, but it's not an especially memorable or important part of the game. In the open world, Death can summon a horse to travel faster on, too, which is nice, but not something you'll be doing very often.
The gameplay gets a brief change-up on Earth, where you're thrown into a third-person shooter that seems to be one big Resident Evil reference, as you stride through the blasted ruins of an American city killing zombies. This might well be frustrating to you at first, as it was to me, and you can switch to your regular weapons and use those instead. What you might find, like I did, is that it's better to stick with the gun, as it's fast, powerful, and restores your health bit-by-bit when you're killing enemies. I do like that touch, incidentally - the gameplay change is not enforced, but it's offered and made worth your while.
|Oh, right, and there's a super mode too. Standard.|
It's a very flawed product, I won't deny that, but it is a lot of fun, and I finished it easily and with a minimum of grumping, so I would actually recommend it to people. It's available on Steam, as well as for pretty much every console. As of yet, there's no announcement of a sequel, and it's entirely likely that there won't be for some time - THQ, the company that owned it, went bankrupt and sold its assets, with Nordic Games, publishers of, among other things, Alan Wake and The Vanishing of Ethan Carter, having acquired it. Nordic Games has said to not even start looking for news of a sequel earlier than halfway through 2015, and sure enough there has been no news.
So, we'll see on that count. I would very much enjoy a Darksiders III, though.