I have to admit, it was with a bit of trepidation that I picked up Darksiders II to review. My initial peek at the game videos seemed to show a lot of jumping and leaping. Heart in the mouth jumps over precipices is not my idea of entertainment, and usually results in a cold sweat and an extreme case of controller hunchback.
The other thing that worried me about the game was the main hero: Death, the Grim Reaper, taker of souls, skull faced man with a scythe. Not someone you would see as saving humanity. Regardless, in this third person action adventure, that's exactly what you have to do. With your brother Nephilum (Angel/Demon hybrid) War held accountable for the death of humanity, it is your job to set the record straight and re-establish humanity.
Death, of course, has been upgraded from the traditional one skeleton, one scythe, caped crusader of old. He now dual wields two scythes and can also equip himself with secondary weapons, including two handed axes, maces, hammers, and a pistol. These you pick up as you progress through the game or buy from traders. Other coin collectables can gain you better items.
Epic items are possessed... but in a good way. These can be upgraded by feeding them other magic items. You can also pick up armour items as well. The more demons and creatures you reap, the more experience you gain. Once you level you can then allocate skill points to either melee or magic skills. Stats can also be increased through some of the items you pick up. As you fight you pick up Wraith energy (read mana), health and Reaper points. The latter is used to activate a temporary boost; you can turn into the more traditional ethereal Death we all know and fear, and do extra damage.
The game itself has been out for awhile on other platforms and has consistently been receiving very positive reviews. The Wii U version includes all the download content available on other platforms together with some unique weapon and armour items.
So, how does old skull face look and feel on the Wii U? Well, I said jumpers are not my favourite games, but I was pleasantly surprised by how easy it was to play on the new Wii U GamePad. As I have said in some of my other Wii U reviews, I really like the new controller. It's very comfortable to use and this game - although only scratching the surface of the unit's capability - certainly made the tricky parts of the game a lot easier and less stressful to navigate.
I found the game quite enjoyable, too. The visuals on the Wii U were a slight step up on other platforms and I found the game flowed smoothly and was full of action almost from the beginning. The button mashing and some really good looking combos made the combat fast paced and - especially with the boss fights - quite a challenge.
As you start the game you are pretty much 'led by the nose' down a single path, but once you have defeated the early bosses you soon have options for differing side quests in addition to the main quest. In the outdoor areas you can ride your fiery horse “Despair”, and your pet raven acts a guide to show the direction of your quest.
There are some quite challenging puzzle elements also thrown into the mix. Regardless of my loathing of platform jumping puzzles a lot of these were just that. Strangely though, with the combination of the controller and the well thought out game elements, these were a lot of fun to do.
The control pad is used for skills and your inventory, but outside of this none of the motion control or other features are used. Certainly, when we start seeing more developers taking on board the special features of the new console, it will be interesting to see what the can do within the action/RPG genre.
Overall I found this a good action/RPG game that, despite my early reservations, I found to be an enjoyable play. The only thing I struggled with is the concept of death as a hero. Too many Terry Pratchett books makes me think of Death of a morbidly funny guy, who likes cats and curry, rides a horse called Binky, and is really good at cutting your lawn...