Darksiders II Previews and Interview

A slew of hands-on previews dedicated to Vigil's Darksiders II has emerged recently, and we have rounded them up for your reading pleasure.

"One core thing was that we had more time to focus on what kind of character Death is," confirms lead designer Haydn Dalton. "Having that time at the start of development in order to think these things through was very important and meant that we ended up with a greater data-file on who Death is and have been able to sell him more as a character."

This deeper characterisation manifests itself in many ways; some incidental, some defining. The opportunity to customise Death's appearance via a vast array of weapons and armour offers visual variation, while numerous options for progression along the Harbinger and Necromancer skill trees allow for an individual's play style to be complemented by Death's abilities, both passive and active.

In combat, Death's lithe form, twin scythes and reliance on dodging, not blocking, see him adopt an altogether more fluid style than War, whose heavier, soldier-style combat often relied on a series of staggering attacks, sometimes lending a stop/start cadence to his combos.

Computer and Videogames:
The Foundry is a network of chambers and corridors, each of which focuses on a specific type of gameplay. In some, the 'floor' is actually a bubbling pit of lava, forcing you to use Death's free-running abilities to skirt around the edges, swinging on scenery, clambering up pillars, and wall-running. Others are circular arenas full of enemies that you have to defeat to proceed, or maze-like caverns submerged in water you have to swim through.

But it's the huge chambers that impress the most. After a claustrophobic network of tunnels, the dungeon suddenly opens up into an enormous ruin in the middle of a lake. Here you have to get a broken water wheel running to power up the foundry's ancient machines, which involves navigating a tough platforming challenge, and flooding the area by pulling a series of levers. The scale is impressive, and we hope areas like this are a frequent occurrence in the finished game.

The dungeon ends with a boss battle that's straight out of PlayStation's Shadow of the Colossus. It takes place in the overworld area we mentioned earlier, and sees Death battling an enormous beast, The Guardian, that's bigger than a skyscraper, and much angrier.

Rock, Paper, Shotgun had a chance to play the PC build of the game:
Running along walls above spitting lakes of lava, scaling a toppled tower, activating ancient and ominous machinery; that's what he does best. The Makers, from what I can gather, are the Genesis of all things and their realm is one of creation. Accompanied by one of the beings, best described as a giant dwarf, Death is attempting to activate a huge automaton that will assist him in his quest. However, a corruption has taken hold in this world and, presumably, all others, a webbing of dark fluids and crystals growing on surfaces and infecting some of the Makers' own machinery.

To clear it, Death can hop onto Custodians, large humanoid structures that have a sphere in place of their legs and trundle about smashing enemies into pieces. They're not just battle-mounts though, they're also the only means of clearing the corruption and therefore accessing new areas. And that's not all either. They can also fire large chains, slamming into distant walls to create a bridge. More still, as those spheres they roll about on fit perfectly into indents in the floor; parking on top of these changes the level, opening a door or activating an elevator. The Custodians are combat machines and keys in the guise of artificial beings.

In practice, they are temporary abilities that, like every other ability in the game, allow the player to progress to the next battle, the next puzzle. Crucially, they are fun to use, as are the other abilities that were on show. Darksiders II is a game that's proud of the fact it's a game. (Hey,) it seems to say, (isn't it cool when chests creak open and bits of armour, potions and weapons shower out and bounces on the floor making noises that sound like joy?) And then it throws in a randomised loot system because, yes, that is cool.

Destructoid (also comes with video interview and preview):
I'll admit that some puzzles do throw you for a bit of a loop. Their solutions aren't always obvious (as they shouldn't be), and solving certain head-scratchers provides a real sense of accomplishment. At times, frustration might rear its fat, ugly head, but it's totally worth those moments when you slap your forehead and think, "Ah, of course!" I won't lie, though -- other moments may include your dropping the controller and saying to yourself, "Are you fuckin' serious? That's what I had to do?"

Combat is of the fast hack-'n-slash variety, with numerous combos and special moves to clear out several enemies at once. One move I utilized frequently was Death's ability to send a scythe spinning into an area in front of him, stunning and dealing steady damage to enemies in its proximity (bigger monsters didn't budge, though). Death's scythes prove to be very versatile weapons and could easily rival Kratos' Blades of Chaos as some of the most kickass game weapons around. Also, much like during the fights in God of War, a button prompt, which triggers a finishing move, appears above the heads of nearly defeated enemies. Wait until you see him change into his traditional Grim Reaper form as a result -- one of the game's finer "holy shit" moments.

For players who enjoy customization, Darksiders II features some pretty decent RPG elements. Monsters and treasure chests provide loot in the form of weapons, armor, and items, all which can be applied to Death for stat boosts. Every set of boots, greaves, or shoulder guards I slapped onto Death provided a different, more menacing look than the last. Even his scythes got a nice visual upgrade each time I found a better pair. By the end of the demo, my Death looked like something off of a heavy metal album cover -- how very appropriate that THQ decided to play Metallica during the event.

Darksiders' gameplay is built on the Zelda model, combining environmental puzzles, exploration, and combat. Death is furnished with a such a dizzying array of abilities that it can be hard to keep track of them all. To progress, he can jump, dodge, swim, wall run, wall climb, scramble up vines or scamper along narrow beams. A special ability, called (Death Grip,) sends out a spectral hand that can grab hard-to-reach handholds. Conveniently, if you miss a jump, there's no death-and-reload cycle Death simply sprouts magical wings that return him to his point of origin. If players get lost, they can ask for advice from (Dust,) a mystical talking crow that accompanies the horseman throughout the game.

Getting lost isn't a common occurrence, and as players start to recognize the visual cues that signal the presence of a climbable wall or a Death-Grippable ledge, progression becomes much easier. At its worst, the game's platforming can start to feel a little rote more like acting out a designer's intentions in order, and less like controlling an infinitely powerful horseman of the apocalypse.

Atomic Gamer:
Gear drops like it would in Diablo in this game, so you'll be able to geek out over damage, resistance, and bonuses listed on hundreds of pieces of randomly-generated loot. You can replace your main sickles, switch out your secondary weapons, and then move on to equipping pieces of armor as well. Some of your gear is customizable, too, and you'll also be looting cash (known as gilt) to buy new gear at what I imagine will be the few places that sell things like sickles and hammers.

Throughout the dungeon, many challenges are placed in front of Death, and not all of them are battles. There are quite a few puzzles players will have to complete, some of which require perception, while others require exploration - and more than a few require a bit of spatial awareness, too. Death can ride on the Makers' constructs to traverse lava or throw out a chain that he can then walk on, and throughout most of this particular dungeon, he'll have Karn, a rather large Maker with a heavy Scottish accent, for a companion that fights alongside Death and can help him get across quite a few pits and gaps by simply throwing him over.

The combat in Darksiders II is fast and fun, balancing between normal weapons and the specialized secondary weapons with furious action. The skills are also a powerful addition to the gameplay. My favorite is "Murder" [Also my favorite ~Ed. Nick] which draws a flock of ravens that do incremental damage to the enemies around, both distracting enemies and building up the battle multiplier. At higher levels, the ravens also refill Death's life gauge and Reaper gauge as they attack and can the ability to inflict ice damage. Had Edgar Allen Poe lived in these times, he might have written, "Quoteth the Raven / Cold and health bonuses!" (It's probably better for the state of poetry that he lived in an earlier era.)

The traversal sections make up a huge part of the game and involve a new moveset for the series including wall-running, mantling, wall-bouncing, and later in the level, the use of his grappling hook-like Death Grip to keep Death constantly on the move. These sections, which take the place of platforming in other games, allow the player to navigate from one area to the next quickly once you've determined where you need to go. Death is clearly the Parkour Horseman (Parkourseman?).

In this dungeon we earned Death Grip, which was something between a grappling hook and and a spear in function. With Death Grip, we were able to hook onto objects to swing across gaps and reach previously unavailable areas. In combat Death Grip can be used to bring smaller enemies closer to you, and it can also help you close the gap with larger enemies. In a few combat sections I was able to pick and choose a few of the smaller enemies to separate from the larger group; one by one I grabbed them and killed them with a variety of sword and hammer swings. Afterwards I was able to select a larger enemy and I launched towards him to continue the battle. After playing with Death Grip, I'm really looking forward to seeing the full toolbox of gadgets at Death's disposal. It feels like Vigil Games is going to expand past the standard Zelda-styled tools and gadgets from the first game and give us some really fun tools and abilities to play around with.

One thing that the developers at Vigil Games wanted to get into the original Darksiders, but couldn't was a loot system; loot drops from some enemies, the game's chests, as a reward for completing a quest and in trades from the game's NPCs. Items are randomly generated and when you stand over an item on the ground a small box will appear in a corner letting you know the item's particular stats and with a hold of the back button, you can directly equip the item without the need for a sub menu. If the item isn't something you want to equip, you can press one of the face buttons to put it directly into your inventory.

Totally Gaming Network:
With its massive landscapes and huge areas there is a lot of ground to cover in Darksiders II. In fact we were told that the levels are roughly four times the size of those found in the original game. The area that we were able to explore during our time there was (The Foundry). This is an expansive area where we swam underwater to find secret passageways, navigated our way across pools of lava and much, much more. We were also introduced to Karn who helps you out along your journey through the Foundry. Karn is a huge warrior that can help you advance in the level and participate in combat as well. See that giant chasm over there? Chances are that Karn can throw you across it so that you can go deeper into the level. You'll then have to find a way to open a door or active a bridge so that Karn can cross the chasm himself and continue to help you out. One of my goals in this area was looking for pieces of the Heart Stone which is not an easy feat to accomplish. You really have to explore the area while solving some puzzles at the same time. It definitely gave me a Legend of Zelda vibe (the first one did as well) which is a very good thing. It is definitely high praise to be compared to an iconic series like Zelda and the team over at Vigil Games should be proud of what they have accomplished here.

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.

Playing with a wired Xbox 360 controller plugged into a PC, Death controlled as smoothly as Batman does on the PC in Arkham City. (The mouse-and-keyboard controls weren't quite ready for action, but Vigil assures me they'll be in there.) Although I didn't come across any lesser demons that didn't go down after a couple of hits, mixing light and heavy attacks and dodging out of the way of enemies all felt very responsive. The frequency and quality of loot items was tuned up for this demo so I'd have a chance to see the different armor and weapon sets, like a gigantic hammer twice the size of Death himself that quickly stomped the life out of any nearby enemies.

The scenery of this single dungeon shifted from underground vats of lava to flooded tunnels and then caverns covered in crystals, really showcasing a wide variety of well-crafted locations -- and this is one just one of several areas. Granted, I can't yet tell what the quality of every dungeon will be, but if this one sub-area of a large zone is any indication, it bodes well.

"There are certainly conventions in Darksiders 2 that will be more familiar to PC gamers," explains Producer Ryan Stefanelli. "The loot system, leveling up, managing your skill tree, having an inventory to manage -- that type of depth we've added to Darksiders 2 should make PC gamers feel right at home. Now that we're even more familiar with that platform, we can go even deeper into creating Darksiders 2 on PC, so we won't have to use WASD to go through the menu and select different elements. Now you can click on them and move things around with the mouse. I think PC gamers will be happy and I don't think it will feel like a port."

Loot whore players who have experienced games like Diablo, Torchlight, World of Warcraft, and plenty of others know that loot drops are a major part of the game. Juggling a constantly changing array of weapons and armor becomes as intrinsic to the gameplay as combat. Darksiders 2 wants to ride that same train, and there's a huge loot system in the game complete with tiers and sets.

As you defeat enemies or encounter chests, you'll come across loot ranging from weapons to pieces or armor to potions. These will be common, rare, or unique, and you can equip them as long as you meet the level requirements. In our build, since we were already six hours into the game, Death was outfitted with decent armor, so we concentrated on the weapons you can find, like axes, hammers, claws, maces, and more. These are all triggered with your secondary attack and deal more damage than your standard dual scythes attack.

But one thing they've added to the game is possessed weapons, which can be upgraded and leveled up by feeding other items to them. You can drastically alter an items stats by what you choose to feed it, bringing another tier to the loot system, and making you not feel the need to run back to a vendor every few moments to sell off the loot you don't need. Needless to say, these items are rare, and much desirable. You'll have to mix and match ingredient-wise to find out what to feed them to produce the results you'll want most, but they will differ for everyone. All of the loot you equip will change the look of your Death on the fly as well, providing a different visual for him throughout the game.