I generally hate loot. It requires too much time to deal with, you end up with vast menus full of stats, and I generally consider it a lazy way to balance a game towards hunting down the biggest number instead of any real skill. However, Darksiders II managed to make me like loot.
You see, Darksiders II does have plentiful loot drops, with weapons and armor popping out of defeated enemies and practically every chest you open. Generally this would have driven me crazy by the end of the game’s first dungeon, but the game handles loot in some interesting ways.
In Darksiders II, every piece of loot happens to be an equippable item. If you stand above something, its stats pop up onscreen and are compared to whatever you have equipped already. The new item be equipped automatically by holding the back button on the Xbox 360 controller. It made dealing with loot simple, and anything I didn’t want, I could sell for Gilt, the game’s currency.
The cool thing about Gilt is that it’s not simply used for buying more loot (or potions). Instead, you can use it to purchase new combos and skills, in essence making Gilt much like Devil May Cry’s red orbs. In my opinion, using your Gilt to expand the game’s combat is more than enough reason to justify the loot. Because the combat is quite good.
The main character Death is pretty capable when it comes to tearing things apart. There seem to be some cues taken from Devil May Cry in regards to the game’s combat, and I mean that in the most positive way possible. Death’s main weapon, his scythes, are mapped to the X button. Much like Devil May Cry, the combos you have are based on timing. For instance, X, X, X, X will do a combo that ends with Death rushing forward with his scythes, but X,X,(pause),X,X will result in Death throwing his scythe like a boomerang before launching a reaper-like phantom toward his enemy.
Everything you do with a scythe is mapped to X, so you learn your combos quickly and find out which is the best for each situation. If you pick up a sub-weapon, either a slow, giant hammer/axe/mace/glaive or speedy hand-mounted bracers/claws/armblades, those techniques are mapped to Y. Your main and sub weapons are separate, and while there are a few attacks you can do by segueing between them, combos are generally simple and easy to commit to memory.
There’s also a bit of an air combo system in place. Death can launch an enemy simply by jumping in the middle of a combo, then slash them in place with X before grounding them with something like a Y attack from a hammer. Alternately, with a certain purchasable ability, Death can drop himself to the ground before his launched opponent, roll under them and continue the combo by juggling them before they hit the ground.
Bear in mind, these are the abilities you get at the very beginning of the game. As you accrue Gilt, level up, and progress through the story, Death gains some new tricks. He can perform teleport slashes that heal him and light enemies on fire/freeze them (depending on your allocation of skill points gained by leveling up), gain a pistol that you can mix into your combos (I said that the game took cues from DMC!), combo out of an RB-mapped dodge roll, and even summon minions to help him out. Needless to say, Death has some options, and loot never gets in the way, only serving to do things like add extra elements to your combos or help you buy new skills. The loot also looks cool in combat, since rarer weapons will add some flashy lights to your combat. It sounds silly, but it’s a nice touch.
However, there’s more to Darksiders II than just combat, as much fun as it is. The closest analogue to the game’s structure is Zelda, since you’re tossed into a giant overworld with a number of dungeons to explore (using “skeleton keys” to open improbably large locks on doors). Given Darksiders’ focus on combat over gadgets, however, the game doesn’t quite fit the Zelda mold. Instead of finding the right way to use a new item, like in Zelda, a lot of the challenge in Darksiders is traversal, in or out of dungeons.
You see, while there are dungeons that you have to play through to continue the story, there are also a number of smaller dungeons and little nooks and crannies to explore. Death can run up and along walls, swim perpetually (I guess you don’t need to breathe when you’re the grim reaper), and do all sorts of acrobatics to get where he needs to go. While the game has some visual cues to show you how you can progress (scratch marks on walls Death can run along, for instance), traversing terrain effectively feels nice and usually results in a great reward.
What reward is that, you ask? Why, loot, of course!
Food for Thought:
1. Death is a fantastic character. Not as much in the way he’s written as the way he’s voiced. He’s cynical and sarcastic, but not whiny. He cares about his brother War (who he’s trying to save by reviving humanity), but isn’t so focused on his mission that he’s become humorless. I’m particularly fond of the way he kind of mocks the player when they try to pick up a potion when they’re overloaded by chuckling “impossible.”
2. While I like Death, I can’t shake the feeling that he looks like the lovechild of Skeletor and Jackie Estacado from The Darkness.
3. The sidequests I’ve played thus far have been refreshingly free of the “kill 25 so-and-so” style of questing, Instead, they’ve led me into new dungeons and pitted me against hidden bosses.
4. I highly recommend playing the game on its harder “Apocalypse” difficulty to get the most out of the combat. It’s not too hard, but it gives the game an extra little bit of challenge that forces you to learn how to fight better. (It’s also pretty forgiving with checkpoints)