Don’t Call Darksiders II a Zelda/God of War Clone «

Most video game press events feature a slick-looking “vertical slice” demonstration, an airing of a marketing-produced trailer, and maybe a short presentation from the creators. While Darksiders II showed off a decent chunk of gameplay and a new trailer, it was also preceded by a lecture about the various depictions of Death from Australian art historian Dane Munro. It was a bit odd to go from a normally serious lecture that touches upon topics such as the Etruscan portrayal of the Angel of death and the Danse Macabre, to a demo where Death jumps around shoots bad dudes with a pistol from mid-air.

Disparity between collegiate lecture and “Saturday Morning superhero cartoon video game” aside (Vigil Game general manager David Adams admitted that the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse were essentially modeled after the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles), Darksiders II still looks like a damn solid game. The demo showed off a few more gameplay features and abilities, but overall, it still focused on how Death is a quick and agile badass compared to how his brother War was a hefty Horseman. During combat, Death rolls around, jumps repeatedly, and quickly switches between his scythe, some claws, a gun, and his Ghost Hand (the current name for the previously seen Ghost Hook, which allows him to either yank small enemies to him or yank him towards larger foes). When he wasn’t fighting, Death was wall-running and using his Ghost Hand as a grappling hook across numerous chasms, pillars, and passageways.

 Click the image above to check out all Darksiders II screens.

In previous demos, developers from Vigil have remarked on how Death can be customized by the player, and this presentation illustrated how: through three archetypal armor sets (Necromancer, Wanderer, and Slayer) and two skill trees (Harbinger and Necromancer). From fiddling with gear and skill points, players can create different “builds” — the Slayer armor helps make Death one heck of a brawler, while Necromancer gear and abilities will turn him into a wizard that can summon a murder of crows or litter the area with exploding zombies.

It’s after a lengthy navigation puzzle that required Death to ride on top of a stone golem and position it for effective Ghost Hand usage that we get to the main takeaway: pretty much everything shown was optional. All the fights, the platforming, the puzzles, and the boss fight against a fire golem named Ghorn can be completely skipped. Adams elaborated, “Let’s take a typical sidequest in another RPG. You tend to get asked, ‘go in and kill this skeleton guy,’ and you fight him after going through a few rooms. But ours had a real boss fight, some traversal, and a bunch of puzzles — all the cool stuff that you wouldn’t normally see in optional side content. It’s a whole dungeon experience.”

Adams repeated something that’s been said before — about how the first area in Darksiders II is larger and has more dungeons, optional and critical, than the entirety of the previous Darksiders — and used it to explain how Darksiders II will try to rise above its clone reputation. When asked about the constant references to either God of War or The Legend of Zelda when talking about the previous game, he answered, “At first it was flattering, because those are both awesome games. But yeah, it got old after a while. I would like people to think, ‘oh wait, this is its own genre now.'”

Adams expressed his hope that players will pick up on how Darksiders II mixes customization via gear and the skill tree, the large open world, and the combat into a single game. He noted, “Usually you have to choose one or the other; you either choose a more vanilla combat presentation where events are a little more watered-down and everything you fight is a little more humanoid, but it has a super cool and in-depth RPG element with NPCs and all that. Or you choose the super high action linear super romp against the crazy colossus, but you never really get pulled.” Adams wants the audience that would appreciate fast combo-driven combat paired with actual RPG-style character progression/customization.

Click the image above to check out all Darksiders II screens.

More than anything, Adams hopes that Darksiders II helps steer games back towards the idea of exploring a giant world. He noted, “As games have gotten higher graphical fidelity, there’s been this arms race of bad-assitude: ‘We’re going to sink a battleship while you’re on it.’ ‘Oh yeah? Well, we’re going to drop a skyscraper on you.’ ‘Well, we’re going to have you crash into the side of a giant robot and then crawl around its insides to kill its central heart.’ So the end result is a game that’s very linear; it’s a lot of work to make a sequence like that. A developer can make five of those, string them together with some hallways, and say, ‘that’s our game — roll credits.’ You lost that sense of, ‘I’m in a world that I can explore around. What’s over there? I can go there.’ I don’t really see that in modern games, except for ones from Nintendo.”

I admire such a sentiment, and I hope that’s something I get to feel for myself the next time I check out Darksiders II. I’m hoping that such a time will let me actually play, rather than watch someone else play after listening to an art history lecture.

 

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