"Now I am become Death," goes the quote, "the destroyer of worlds. Er, and also of lava temples and ice caverns. Oh, and I share dialogue with giant magical Glaswegians who sell me stuff." As it turns out, Darksiders 2 is Vigil Games taking a mythical immortal over well-trodden videogame ground.
This Fourth Horseman must answer the call of the skill tree, tackle ball-rolling puzzles, grab loot and even preserve a health bar - yes, Death himself can die. It's like the schoolbag scribblings of a 90's kid come to life. Does it make much sense? Not really - but look at those dual scythes.
The artists, including Joe Madureira from Marvel, embrace the garish and ghastly. Armour rinsed from chests clashes purples and greens and sits asymmetrically on stout shoulders. Enemies who wield thick axes built from bone swing for your ivory codpiece. Elephant-sized NPC's top up weapons, health potions and move lists and lumber with fists as big as Smart cars. Imagine Zelda if Shigeru Miyamoto listened to thrash metal.
While the visuals don't have much in common with Nintendo's series, Darksiders 2 pays a gameplay debt. After War, protagonist of the last game, is charged with starting Armageddon early and sent to Earth by the Charred Council, Death sets out on a personal mission to prove his brother's innocence. Defying the council's orders he travels to the Nether Realms, a limbo between Heaven and Hell, to seek aid from the almighty beings residing there.
Darksiders 2 treats the dungeon-raiding structure of Zelda as a viable genre...
Cue dungeon-raiding, puzzle-platforming, seeking out magical macguffins and exploring hubs on horseback. Cue Zelda. (This isn't a copy-and-paste job, however. Much like Dante's Inferno scooped up God of War's core combat and plonked it in the bowels of Hell, so Darksiders II does the same to Zelda and takes it to... Heaven. Well, slightly beneath it.) Nintendo might have popularised the structure, but it certainly hasn't the grounds to patent it, and Darksiders 2 treats it as a viable genre rather than trademarked entity. Simply, it's the best way to give players thirty hours of adventuring. It just happens to come with a lot of Zelda callbacks, the most prominent of which being the dungeon.
ZELDA IN FEEL BUT NOT LOOKS
Dungeons may vary in size, complexity and colour, ranging from fiery lava temples spitting up ash and sparks, to icy caverns where frozen winds rip through glazed halls, to open-air monuments under a charred sky, but they all have one thing in common - the treasure chest. Crack them open for familiar trinkets: maps, compasses, keys (here purple rather than silver) - but Darksiders 2 mixes it up. Random loot is something Zelda never had. There, every blade, shield and spell was bestowed in choreographed gestures, players' hands gripped for fear they'll throw the world off kilter. You couldn't get too powerful, or stray too far off message. Darksiders 2, meanwhile, doesn't give a damn.
Killed a low-level ice golem? Here's a pair of wolverine claws that do insane frost damage. Offed a deadly boss? Here's some, er, pretty mediocre boots that you'll inevitably sell to the next merchant you find. There's no rhyme or reason, and this makes every chest, every encounter with a group of enemies you've dispatched a hundred times before, completely unpredictable.
There are literally thousands of pieces of loot, in numerous different categories. Boots, greaves, chest pieces and (there's no cool way to say this) shawls can be worn for their defence or attack bonuses, or merely because you look badass. (Shawl apart.) The only thing missing in this crazily lengthy customisation list is a short, back and sides at the ethereal barbers.