This week, Zero Punctuation reviews Darksiders 2.
I think one should reasonably be dubious about any game in which you're supposed to play as the personification of Death. That doesn't sound like a game that would turn out very challenging, not after the fifty-thousandth random bad guy unexpectedly drops dead of catastrophic heart failure. Surely it'd be impossible for you to fail 'cause every time you get killed, you could just opt to not reap yourself.
But it turns out the Darksiders series is casting an increasingly broad net over the whole "Horsemen of the Apocalypse" thing and Death isn't necessarily the embodied concept of death, he's just some asshole who's really good at killing things although I don't see how that makes him any more entitled to be called Death than War was in the previous game. And while we're on the subject, the other two Horsemen of the Apocalypse are established in Darksiders 2 to be called Fury and Strife. I'm guessing THQ's bible was written by Image Comics in the 90's. We've already got the War remit covered, wouldn't Fury and Strife be a bit redundant? And besides, Strife?! What are his duties in the Apocalypse, giving people anxiety disorders?
Whatever. In Darksiders 2, we play as Mr William Death Esq. who looks like Skeletor's teenage son started doing his hair like Brandon Lee, and after War's big hairy bulging cock-up at the start of Darksiders that leads to mankind getting wiped out, Death goes on a journey to do War a solid by resurrecting mankind 'cause he seems to think that's how justice works. They don't release murderers because the victim's mom got pregnant again, Death mate!
The funny thing about the overall plot of Darksiders is that it's essentially about bureaucracy. War's in the shitter 'cause he embarked upon the Armageddon project without submitting a proper approval, so Death has to appeal the decision by going to the Tree of Life and filing the appeal form signed in triplicate by the bosses of at least three dungeons. Just replace 'forms' with assembling the latest collection of three random magical artifacts that will, in some way, help. But what I call the most bullshit on is the notion that Death is doing all of this out of affection for his brother War, because Darksiders is cut from the plot of such things as Warhammer 40,000 where no emotion exists besides barely contained rage, and I cannot imagine Death showing affection for anything. I can't picture War and Death sharing bunkbeds at Horseman Towers talking about BoyZone and doing each other's hair.
After all the jokes about Darksiders basically being Zelda with a slightly less manly protagonist, Darksiders 2 is consciously veering away from the Zelda format in a sort of RPG-wards direction. The first way you'll notice that Death differs from War is that he doesn't embark upon his quest wearing all his clothes and living room furniture at once bedecked with enough random monster faces to start a one-man gospel choir. Not at the start anyway, he might by the end because Darksiders 2 takes influences from dungeon-crawlers meaning that enemies and chests vomit random items of clothing like Mothra towards the end of a weekend bender.
And what games like this cry out for is to some way to clearly and unambiguously tell me whether the weapon or armour I've just found is objectively better for my playstyle than what I've currently got, 'cause just having higher numbers doesn't mean a lot when higher damage might not be as important as higher arcane crit chance or the 10% chance wrath regen bonus. For fuck's sake, I just want to hit things with it and gouge out progressively larger chunks of buttock!
Rather than basically just being Zelda, Darksiders 2 is basically just a whole bunch of Zelda dungeons broken up initially by horsing across the lanscape and later by fast-travelling. And for all you non-reviewing types who care about value for money, it's a bloody long game! My first runthrough clocked in at twenty hours and I skipped most of the side stuff once I realized that gold-plated marijuana trousers aren't that great a reward when a random stag beetle might vomit up a platinum-plated pair two dungeons down the line. But I was surprised to see a twenty-hour playtime on the save file because it had felt a fuckload longer than that!
It's that most tedious of game plots where you have precisely one goal that never wavers or updates in any way and they fill the time by putting a fucking parking barrier every fifty paces that you can't move past until you've gotten three of something from the local dungeon. And it's always three of something! In fact, more than once, I'd been asked to find three of something in exchange for one of another set of three things I was already looking for! It's not just padded, it's fractally padded! And when it's not three of something, it's something that's three times longer than it needs to be, like that one bit on Earth where you have an infinite mobile turret and have to gradually get past the entire population of the Isle of Wight.
But I know people will tell me I should just learn to appreciate the simple pleasures to be found in hitting monsters with huge useless chunks of ornate metal tied to sticks and I'm not above that, but I'd appreciate it more if the game wasn't spread thinner than Calista Flockhart on a train track so that there were more than two different kinds of monster per realm and if It didn't have to hold down the left trigger to target things and press the left shoulder button to cast magic because trying to press both those buttons at the same time is a manoeuvre not terribly considerate of the average number of fingers on a hand. So you can either leave yourself at the mercy of a camera system that would have you eternally menace the area slightly to the left of the guy you're trying to hit or you staple a chipolata to your index finger. And the quick select function is neither quick nor did it reliably help me select. If I'd had a penny for every time I accidentally turned on Reaper Mode when I wanted to do something else, I'd have tuppence!
It is nice for a AAA game to not be too short for once but you don't get any points for that if you're boring, 'cause you're just making more boring. And it is boring for all its bitching fantasy swordfights, mainly because I can neither care about nor comprehend the convoluted mess of mythology it's building. Okay, so Hell is Chaos and Heaven is authoritarian douchebaggy Order but there is also the Nephilim who are even bigger douchebags and the Makers and the Lord of the Dead- Wait, I thought I was the Lord of the Dead! Oh, I'm just middle management, okay. And every realm is being threatened by corruption which is another separate thing and it's in someway related to this bloke who is the avatar of Chaos- Wait, I thought Hell was Chaos! Okay, stop, just tell me if what I'm doing is going to make everyone not really angry at each other all the time, although I kind of doubt anything could achieve that.
This is the kind of story that's crying out for an audience surrogate character like maybe Death could be carrying around the soul of a dead Starbucks barista that he's supposed to be ferrying to the Afterlife and maybe they can ask the important questions on our behalf, questions like "Is there anyone around here who doesn't look like someone set fire to a thalidomide baby?"
Anthropomorphic personification: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
At least commit to ripping off Christian mythology, don't just rip off half of it and fill the rest with whatever bullshit comes to mind
You can't spell 'Horsemen' without 'semen'
So the Escapist Expo is still in September and you should still totally come, but also in October, I've got a second novel coming out! It's called Jam, and you can preorder it from Amazon and tfaw.com . It's about an apocalypse, with jam in it!