The first Darksiders won a loyal following of fans for its badass remix of the Legend of Zelda's dungeon-crawling gameplay. But you couldn't really differentiate the way that main character War played. He was a bruiser with weapons that worked the same way for everyone. But Death will be more individualized, once players get their hands on the new lead character.
I got my hands on a build of Vigil Studios' action-adventure sequel yesterday. Some of the changes coming to Darksiders II—like the size and scale of its levels—come across immediately. The entirety of Darksiders 1 would fit in the Foundry section I was playing, I was told.
Storywise, Darksiders II happens in the same chronology of the first game, taking place when War was unjustly imprisoned for starting the Apocalypse. Death's mission is to clear his comrade's name by reaching the Tree of Life and winding back time so that Armageddon never happens. In the Foundry level I played, Death needed to awaken a giant Guardian to take time to the Tree of Life. To do that, I had to find three Heartstones through the level and implant them into the massive but inactive automaton. The bulked-up anime fantasy feel of Joe Madueira's art style still comes through all the character designs, even if Death himself is a slimmer, more sinewy character model.
As his looks imply, Death differs from War in his movement and fighting styles. He's a lot more agile and acrobatic, with wall runs and dodges playing a big part of locomotion and combat. He gets a grapple move, too, and will also be accompanied by NPC characters that help him work through puzzles in the game. Death wields a pair of scythes as his main weapon and carried a huge warhammer as his secondary while I played with him. You'll be able to tweak stats on these implements thanks to the game's all-new Loot system.
Randomly generated loot drops when you defeat certain enemies and you can start using new gear right away by pressing a button, which keeps you out of the game's menus. You can only hold but so many items and it's a person's style of play that will influence decisions about what to keep. Any items you equip will also show up on Death's character model during cutscenes, too.
Another RPG element that you'll come across in Darksiders II are branching skill trees You'll have two skill sets, with Harbinger representing combat and Necromancer representing magic. I got to use two spells in my time with the game: Exhume, which summons corpse allies to attack enemies and Murder, which launches a flock of crows at antagonists.
When I finally reached the Guardian, I found that the corruption unleashed by the apocalypse had made him evil. Of course, this meant that I had to fight him. Elements of the modern Prince of Persia games showed up in Darksiders II's traversal, and the imprint of Shadow of the Colossus showed plainly in the fight against the Guardian. I circled the giant boss with riding Death's ghostly horse Despair, making it swing and and lodge its giant hammer in the ground. Then I targeted the giant enemy's upper arm portions with the pistol, blasting away the explosive shadows. This severs the arm and let me climb the massive limb to grab a Heartstone. The next phase of this fight had me running from huge magical boulders that tracked me. Shooting at them breaks a protective shell and the then the orbs hover in the air right before flying at me. The trick here was to run underneath the Guardian and have the boulders attack the giant who shot them in the first place. Once he got hit by his own projectile, the boss battle ended and a cutscene full of exposition unfolded.
Darksiders II improves on the formula of the first game by making it faster and more flexible. The introduction of RPG elements might make it a game worth playing more than once. You'll get the chance to become Death and kill those who stand in your way exactly how you like when Darksiders II comes out on June 26th.