Who needs He-Man? Death makes Grayskull look better than ever.

The level design is impeccable, and each of the enormous areas has a distinct feel. From the once tranquil Forge Lands to the deserts of the Land of the Dead, each offers a unique aesthetic with denizens that help bring them to life (or, I suppose, death). There is a pervasive sense of overwhelming and awe-inspiring scale that exists from the moment you gain control of Death upon his spectral steed, Despair.

The impressive scope of the environs permeates through every design decision, but despite the massive architecture, Death manages to surmount the challenges. His ability to sprint up and along walls, propel himself using small posts stuck into the masonry and jump back and forth between two narrowly spaced pieces of building to extend his run are not only fun to execute, but look extremely fluid.

In fact, everything about Death seems to stem from the word “lithe.” His acrobatic dodges, rapid weapon switching and even the grace of his true Reaper appearance (which can be activated for a burst of powerful attacks when that meter is full) all stem from his sleek form. Watching the Horseman in action is not unlike viewing a carefully choreographed dance. You can survive by button mashing, but you’d be missing out on some of the game’s must spectacular sights.

You'll be doing this often, but it always looks great.

Terrifying and powerful, Death's true form is a sight to behold.

The quest design varies, including ongoing collection tasks that will have you bringing stones, relics and torn pages to NPCs and, on the opposite end of the spectrum, missions to hunt down enormous, angry monsters. The side quests are largely well-crafted. The main path is mostly impressive, also. But it does have a few oddities.

There is an adherence to the number three that seems almost obsessive. Within one main three-part quest, there is a section that has its own trio of pieces. What I found odd was that there were multiple times when the third phase was so much shorter and straightforward that it was hard not to wonder why things weren’t condensed.

I also found myself confused by one area of the game that heavily suggests players take a third-person shooter approach. Putting away my hard-earned gear, abandoning my Wrath-powerd skills and ignoring the bevy of melee moves at my disposal was frustrating. I appreciate the attempt to try something different and give us something else to do, but it didn’t feel like it fit well.

Thankfully, the visuals in that section (and all others for that matter) are gorgeous. Despite its focus on the grimmest of the apocalyptic quartet, Darksiders II is a vibrant game that makes use of the entire color palette. Within the first major realm, lush greens meet fiery, red rock and cool, blue rivers. There are even locales where things are intentionally washed out. Joe Maduiera’s eye for character and landscape design yields an experience that is thoroughly engaging, but it would not be complete without the audio design.

Except for the giant monster and the ghastly horse, I'd totally vacation there.

Lush scenery with warmer coolers was both unexpected and welcome.

Jesper Kyd’s work on Darksiders II is one of the finest soundtracks to grace the medium this generation, possibly ever. His work is instantly recognizable if you’ve played any of the Assassin’s Creed titles, because of his unique style. Kyd’s music manages to capture the mystery of Vigil’s supernatural universe with all its ephemeral beauty. Subtle one moment, epic and driving the next, each of the compositions feels fully integrated into the realms visited by Death on his journey. If you are purchasing the special edition of the game, download the score immediately. If you are going with the standard version, you can grab it from iTunes.

The voicing is equally masterful. Michael Wincott, known in part for his role as Sir Guy of Gisborne in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (“Why a spoon, cousin?”), is the voice behind the bone mask. James Cosmo, who also starred in the game’s live action trailer, voices one of the support characters early on. There isn’t a weak link in the bunch. I did run into the occasional audio glitch during extended play sessions with the soundtrack dropping out. Saving and rebooting the game cleared up the issue, and the team at Vigil is aware of it.

With a brilliant and compelling story, masterful aesthetic and audio design and gameplay that is absolutely addictive amusement, Darksiders II is more than a worthy sequel. It’s a brilliant evolution of everything established in 2010′s apocalyptic tale, incorporating advancements that create a sense of convenience without sacrificing challenge. If you derived any satisfaction from War’s adventure, this should be the first game you play of the fall 2012 season.

How about that. 2,200 words and I managed not to mention The Legend of Zelda once… damn.

Here’s the Rundown:

+ Put simply, Darksiders II is ridiculously fun to play
+ Thrilling combat and acrobatically intense platforming and climbing
+ Possessed weapons are extremely well-implemented
+ Art style and use of color are masterful
+ Jesper Kyd’s soundtrack is one of the best I’ve ever heard
+ Convenience features improve experience without diminishing challenge
+ Action RPG elements and New Game + expand replay value
+ Side Quests that actually mean something
- Occasional audio glitch
– Some quest sections seem forced into fitting a “rule of three” 

 

10 (TEN) represents a game that you would unequivocally recommend to all gamers. This score is reserved for games you consider to be not only the best of their genre, but to be one of the best games of the year.  A 10 does not have to be absolutely perfect — we do NOT hold games up to an impossible standard because that simply is not fair.  Ebert and Roeper did not give 1 and 9/10ths thumbs up.

Darksiders II was developed by Vigil Games and published by THQ. It was released on August 14, 2012 for Xbox 360 (reviewed), PlayStation 3 and PC. A copy was provided to RipTen for the purposes of review.