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UPDATE 8/20: Added just a couple sentences at the end about further impressions.

But fun and pretty aren’t all it takes to make a game. Get ready for a very screenshot-heavy review, because for betterand worse the style is most of what I have to praise.

This is a whole other world. The first game took place on an Earth so ravaged as to be unrecognizable but Darksiders II leaves terra eartha entirely. The 12-year-old-boy type of rad character designs executed with professional curve and color are pushed further in this game to make a better setting than most other action games. That’s good, because people that want to perfect this game will find that makes it more pleasant when they have to criss-cross the world four or five times or something. More about that later, though.

Eat ten sandwiches. Or eat the souls of five people that each had two sandwiches.

Death is a more enjoyable character than I remember War being. War’s most interesting dialogue was one-liners, the templates for which might have been found in a summer blockbuster. Death, on the other hand, seems to be more engaged in conversations and teases the other characters or purposefully needles them for a response. He’s not complex, but it definitely makes him feel more real than War did. Also, he’s deliciously powerful. Treasure chests and doors aren’t things he deigns to open for himself. Instead, purply-magical skeletal arms materialize and violently throw open anything he wants to get inside. Though you spend most of your time shaped like in the screenshot above, some attacks and abilities give you time as a real reaper, a cold force clad in long tatters with curls of smoke slipping off your bones. It makes you feel cool.

Blah, blah, setting and writing, that’s cool. Let’s just look together at this game for a minute here:

Shambling around in those chains has done wonders for his posture.

If you didn’t already, open that screenshot you to full scale. Look at it. It’s so awesome! It’s like fantasy candy. Or illicit fantasy drugs.

You’re like a dwarf. But you’re huge. The fuck is— my brain’s really twisting here, man.

I want to store my inventory in his beard! And the creepy hands? I’m on board with all of it, inviting and otherwise. The character designs are fun and I’ve listened through every conversation tree thus far in part to see the animations and details longer. Even when they looked like they might try to push me down and take my blood money.

“I’m going to push you down and take your blood money.”

So my point is that my experience thus far has been artistically enjoyable. Like, I-want-to-print-out-the-characters-and-trace-them sort of enjoyable. But the rest of the game hasn’t excited me to any similar degree. I’m being carried on by artwork I love and pretty good gameplay through what I find to be a too-thick forest of collectibles and customization.

Running up to an enemy and viciously slicing works exactly as you would hope. Death looks lithe and very powerful whirling through combos. Different attacks and/or different weapons give you an effective sensation of slashing or smashing at different times. It’s intensely satisfying.

A little off the top.

The trouble is that I’ve invested four hours in the game by now and found, if I remember correctly, two enemies and one boss that demanded strategies more complex than “hit them, be hit less.” I mean two actual enemies, not two types of enemies, by the way. While I do still take the time to kneel with clasped hands held out towards my monitor in prayer for more boss fights like my most recent one, the game hasn’t instilled confidence in me yet.

If it doesn’t pan out, I can’t say they haven’t given me choice about how to straight-up wail away on the villains, though. This game’s depth of collection and customization is so far beyond what I want that it bothers me. But I know this will be Darksiders II’s crown jewel for some players, so I’ll try to give you an objective glimpse into it rather than piss and moan.

I want a friend sphere to get Death onto Auron’s skill track, dammit.

You want to spec your character? Two trees full of prerequisites to plan and multiple levels of each skill to consider.

This man teaches you techniques. He does this because you and he would use the same techniques, given your similar body types.

And if you didn’t find the kill-all move you were looking for in the skill trees, the NPCs will be happy to let you in on their secrets, for a price.

The model’s really that pixelated in the game for this screen. I don’t know why.

Armor, weapons, and trinkets dropped by your foes come with random enchantments on them. You can build Death to withstand the physical assault of a room full of corrupted constructs or you can unbalance him instead for maximum wrath (it’s like mana) and summon ghouls to push back against the enemy forces.

Dude, Death, take her stuff. Just take it when she’s not looking. That’s ALL OF THE TIME.

And if you didn’t find what you wanted on the field, multiple merchants are somehow carving out a living in this world even though you seem to be the only one buying and you’ve been here for, like, a day. To help you fund your item-lust, Vulgrim the demon merchant will pay you for collecting pages of an ancient tome hidden around the world. And I keep picking up greenish sigils and blue rocks for reasons I barely remember now.

The point is, you can’t put the disc in and frown at Death’s skull-y face because you feel like the game designers gave you too little to do.

The time spent fleshing out so many secondary goals may have contributed to some of my gear issues with this game, however. They’ve granted me just a horse and a pistol right now. When I look at the permanent equipment screen, I’m tantalized by the handful of item slots not yet filled, but the Zelda-style item-per-dungeon thing has not been borne out yet in this game. You find your way through the mostly laughable puzzles, hitting little guys along the way, get the dungeon map and the keys and all, and then hit the big guy. It’s bucked the adventure genre trend of discovering an artifact in each dungeon that happens to be exactly what you need to cross the big room and to expose the boss’ vulnerable spots. I don’t like it. Still, I pray to my screen once again that those empty item slots I mentioned mean that the utility stuff is waiting in the next few zones with the strategic bosses.

One can tell by how my weapon has left my hand and is pinning the enemy to the ground of its own accord that this is a fair match.

Darksiders II is fun. It’s really pretty and it’s fun. It’s not going to blow you away and its itemization might prove a little divisive among players, but it’s definitely fun to put dungeons to the scythe. Trust that I’ll come back and add later impressions if they differ at all from what I’ve written here.

UPDATE 8/20: Four more hours in and I’m not on the end’s doorstep by any estimation, but I can tell I’m drawing nearer. The game has delivered more complex bosses and remained unrelenting with its badass style. Some of the itemization has even started to grow on me. But I feel like the fun has remained fairly steady, these slight improvements serving mostly to keep me playing a game I might not have finished if they hadn’t appeared. It’s a good game and it makes me want to draw.

- Matthew (RAP)