Many have criticized the Darksiders franchise for aping from other famous franchises, most notably God of War and The Legend of Zelda.  But the apocalyptic series mimics Kratos’ combat and Link’s exploration so well in an interesting package that continues to impress in Darksiders II.

Not exactly a sequel in the traditional sense, Darksiders II parallels the events of its predecessor, with the original protagonist War’s brother Death taking center stage.  THQ’s demo for Death’s adventure showcased the very beginning of the full title as Death, now aware of War’s sentence to Earth in the first title, searches for answers as to why his brother is in trouble.  On his journey to the Profiler, a keeper of secrets, the demo showed how this horseman handles differently from his kin as well as some of the alterations made to the series while largely keeping in tact the solid mix of gameplay styles.

The unique environment served as the first noticeable difference.  The frozen mountainous tundra looked far different than most of the first Darksiders, and it was a nice change of pace.  I enjoyed the locales of the first title, but the promise of new areas of this world to explore should maintain a sense of discovery.  Death himself is also a divergence from the character design of War.  Gone is the heavy armor and warm colors.  Death is barely dressed and more lithe in his appearance.  It’s a visual clue that translates into some gameplay changes as well.

Perhaps the other most significant addition is the inclusion of an inventory and equipment system.  Adding a few RPG elements to the mix, Death can pick up dropped items from vanquished enemies and upgrade his garb and weaponry.  A leveling system adds a bit more complexity to the system, and while it’s nothing new for fans of the genre, it’s another example of Darksiders integrating various genres.

Death moves more nimbly than his brother, traversing the landscape more nimbly and with more agility.  He scales walls and jumps from obstacle to obstacle like the prince in Prince of Persia.  Also distinguishing him is his choice of weapon, dual scythes.  While Death did obtain a hammer during the demo, it moves quite slowly, and combat moves with a rapidity that War and his hulking mannerisms could not match.

Despite these modifications, the demo felt decidedly like its predecessor, and as such it’s hard to say how the full title will pan out.  It’s not necessarily a bad thing that the demo provided many familiar moments, as I still enjoyed my time with the game.  yet built in with that familiarity is a somewhat disappointing aspect – the game just does not look that sharp.  The art style is great, but for whatever reason, the graphics don’t quite live up to the images on screen.  Hopefully the team will be able to add some polish and prevent the game from looking not much better than the first.

Despite this concern, the changes made look to be those that will pay off in the long run through an entire campaign, and with a solid foundation in place, I have faith in Vigil Games to produce a worthy successor.  I may be a sucker for the Apocalypse and Four Horsemen narrative, but the demo offered the glimpse at a promising expansion of the series’ mythos in addition to a twisted story for Death, whose meeting with the Profiler does not go exactly as planned.  Though not a surprising demo, I’m looking forward even more to throwing my hat into the battle of heaven and hell on PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and PC on August 14.