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Death Becomes Darksiders II: Hands-On with Vigil Games Sequel

Vigil Games decided to introduce the new playable character Death with its second Darksiders game, which actually plays out during the same time period of the original, and even features some overlapping story events. With Death comes a whole new slate of abilities and new gameplay features, which should appeal to fans of the original as well as gamers just looking for some action adventure this summer.

“In Darksiders I, War was more about power and momentum. He was very stoic,” said Ryan Stefanelli, producer of Darksiders II at Vigil Games. Death’s more arrogant and he’s going to go his own way, disregarding the rules and laws that War followed. Death is a ‘dirty deeds’ kind of guy. He has more agility and is very athletic.”

With his bad attitude and parkour-style skill set, gamers will find a whole new arsenal at their fingertips when exploring the four huge worlds of Darksiders II. THQ hosted the first hands-on of the game in San Francisco, inside a crypt-like environment, complete with stone coffins. The demo featured about three hours of gameplay inside the final dungeon of the Makers’ Realm, which takes place approximately six hours into the game. Called the Foundry, this dungeon was chosen because it highlights many of the new gameplay mechanics that take advantage of the Pale Rider’s capabilities. This is the first of the game’s four massive zones and the dungeon featured ancient temples and mythical ruins.

Joining Death in his quest to find three Heart Stones hidden inside the Foundry is Karn, a giant Maker who steps in to help during combat by swinging his massive hammer to eliminate constructs. He also comes in handy as a catapult, tossing Death to hard-to-reach places at key points in the game with the press of the “A” button (on an Xbox controller, of course).

From the onset of the demo, which features lots of fire and lava, Death’s new abilities come into play. He can run straight up walls, which have strategically placed ledges for him to vault higher or hang from. With a lean in the direction in the direction you want to jump, it’s easy to leap to moving objects like a giant cauldron or to other things like wooden posts and pillars. There are also certain areas of the walls with vines that Death can climb up.

One of the things that takes some getting used to is pulling off traversal combos to navigate a room. Death can perform a wall run whenever a clean stretch of wall shows up on screen. Some rooms require multiple wall runs, including moving from one wall to another around a corner. Strategically placed outcrops allow Death to string together runs (gravity pulls him down the longer he runs and there’s always lava below as an incentive not to fall). Vigil Games calls this feat “mantling” and it’s something that is used a lot.

About half-way through the demo the Death Grip is introduced into gameplay. This device, which acts like an electrified Web, can be used to swing from objects and jump to high places. It can also be used in conjunction with wall runs, vine climbing and lever switches to solve the dungeon’s assorted puzzles.

Death can also swim, and one area of the demo sends him diving into the drainage system that lurks beneath some areas of the dungeon. The on-screen menu makes navigation easy underwater and there’s no need to worry about resurfacing for more air. Light rays above indicate key points for exiting the water, as Death solves a puzzle involving a giant ball that needs to be rolled from a walled chamber.

Armed with deadly scythes and an assortment of attacks, it’s fun to hack and slash through constructs at the points in the game when they appear. It’s easy to rack up a lot of combo points during combat, and when you can hitting the “B” button performs some cool finishing moves. That combat earns skill points, which can be used in the game’s RPG-light format.

“Players can use skill points to level up and branch out into a couple of different skill trees,” said Stefanelli. “It’s all part of offering a bigger world that gives you more opportunity to explore. These are all things that we wanted to do in Darksiders 1, but just didn’t have the time to do.”

The size of the game has grown, as well. Just the Markers’ Realm zone alone is larger than the entire first game. Because of that, Death has multiple ways of getting around. Within the dungeon, he frees up some giant Maker Custodians and rides on their backs. These huge allies can break through corrupted crystals, run over constructs and easily navigate lava flows to get Death from one area to another. There’s also his trusted steed, after all, Death is one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

“One of the things fans told us after the first game was they wanted to ride the horse earlier in the game,” said Stefanelli. “In this game, you literally start the game on horseback. People loved Ruin (War’s horse) and they’re going to love Despair. This also gave us a chance to build the world around the horse. Darksiders 1 was a challenge because we had to make a world that felt good on foot and then also on horseback, once you found Ruin. Because you have Despair right from the start, the world is much more expansive. Getting from one dungeon to the next is all about being on the horse and it’s all about exploring the world from horseback.”

Despair also comes into play in the demo’s boss battle against the giant Guardian. After a corrupted Heart Stone sends the freed Guardian on a rampage, Death must down the hulking beast. Stefanelli said this is actually the largest boss battle in the game, as the Guardian towers above Death, even riding on Despair. It’s similar in scale to Shadow of the Colossus’ boss battles. The action, which takes place outside in a giant open area, requires a lot of horseback riding and some on-foot targeting, as well as maneuvering to avoid the giant hammer.

With plenty of time before the June release on PC, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, Vigil Games can fine-tune the controls and tune out the bugs of Darksiders II to make the new gameplay spot-on accurate. The new gameplay has the potential to attract a broader audience to the Darksiders franchise.