If imitation really is a form of flattery then Darksiders II is a shameless sycophant, a game that borrows so heavily from others you would be forgiven for assuming it's soulless and generic. But you'd be wrong, as like the first Darksiders the main sources of inspiration are all worthy role models: Zelda's dungeon exploration, God of War's combat and Legacy of Kain's visual style. And like the first, Darksiders II is a pretty decent tribute act.
Darksiders placed you in the massively oversized boots of War, the first of the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse. Blamed for prematurely starting the end of days [for reasons too convoluted to go into], War tries to clear his name and find out who was really responsible for wiping out mankind. This time around you play as Death, who upon hearing of his brother's somewhat unfortunate situation goes to lend a helping hand.
Not much has changed for the sequel with the focus still on fetching stuff from dungeons for demanding NPCs, solving puzzles and kicking arse. However, Death is slighter than his sizeable sibling and the difference is noticeable immediately. Adding Prince of Persia to its list of inspirations, Death is an adept free-runner and can scamper along walls with ease. It’s a welcome addition, but sadly doesn’t bring with it the sense of freedom you would hope.
Wall runs can be performed vertically and horizontally but only on specific surfaces, so if you try reaching places the designers don’t want you to, the limitations become obvious. For example, Death can perform amazing displays of athleticism to explore his surroundings but won’t jump onto a head-height platform if it doesn’t have the right kind of ledge. It’s not overly frustrating, but makes exploration feel scripted rather than organic. That said, the level of hand holding isn’t as extreme as games like Uncharted and bad timing can still prove deadly.
Combat speed is what really benefits from Death’s nimbleness. War was fairly sluggish to control, while Death is quick and responsive, dodging enemy blows with a speedy evasive movement rather than blocking. The overall feel is the same as Darksiders, with primary and secondary weapons and upgradeable special moves, but Death's agility allows for more frantic fights, making the rhythm of combat more satisfying than its predecessor.
Death doesn’t have many moves at first and initial enemy encounters are a case of simple button mashing. Thankfully, as his repertoire increases so does the fun that can be had from stringing together lengthy combos, tearing enemies to pieces and juggling them in the air. New moves can be bought and two skill trees can be upgraded, one for spells such as summoning a murder of crows or undead ghouls, the other for new powerful attacks. Before long, Death lives up to his name, dishing out punishment in a variety of gruesome ways.
Combos can be performed with simple combinations of primary and secondary weapon attacks, and though button mashers will be able to finish the game without much trouble, those who bother to learn the correct timing and best move combinations will have a riot with Death’s ever increasing move set. Fighting makes up a large portion of the gameplay and rightly so, towards the end of Darksiders it became a bit of a chore, but this time around scraps just keeps getting more fun and are easily the game’s strongest attribute.