Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Minor annoyances in Darksiders 2

To be honest, I did not have that high expectations when I started up Darksiders 2, the main reason being that its predecessor left such an underwhelming impression on me.
Back at that time, everyone compared it to Zelda, calling it a more mature (and better?) version of Link´s adventures. Naturally, I expected a gigantic adventure game with loads of secrets, clever puzzles and a lot of exploration. What I ended up with was a very short and linear game that left me wondering whether the people that compared it to Zelda just played to the point where you find a boomerang and called it a day. Talking about false advertising, they raised my expectations to unrealistic levels, leading to my disappointment with Darksiders 1.

Darksiders 2, however, is a completely different story. It seems that the developers at Vigil Games improved on nearly all aspects of the first game. Not only is it a much larger game with loads of optional areas, side-quests, a ton of collectibles and a rpg-like character growth system, it also made an incredible leap in the atmosphere department. Gone are the days of depressing grey ruins that made up 90% of Darksiders 1 (although grey is still a dominant color). The art style, the level design and especially the music are very memorable. I recommend to everyone who has reached the Tree of Life to just stand near it and listen to the music for 5 minutes, it is that good. 

Beneath the Tree of Life

With that being said, I want to present you a few minor gripes I had with the game. Just my thoughts on points that can be improved upon.

1. The story is unnecessarily convoluted

Having played Darksiders 1 I expected that this background knowledge would help me understand the events in Darksiders 2 a bit better. But no, there were plenty of scenes and dialogues that left me completely puzzled. Too many characters that seem to play an important role pop out of nowhere, their motivations and background stories kept in the dark and still the main character seems to know many of them personally. It felt like I started watching a series in the middle of its seventh season and not knowing any character from the previous ones.  

Who are these people?

The best example for the strange paths the story takes comes right at the beginning. I expected the game to take place right after the final scene from the first game. But no, somehow it runs at the same point in time as Darksiders 1: humanity is wiped out and War is lying at the feet of the Council. So will Death travel to the post-apocalyptic earth? No, he rides towards an icy tower that is left totally unharmed by demons or angels (is it in another dimension?) to seek advice from the Crowfather on how to revive humankind. Does this sound feasible, even by the game world´s logic, to revive an entire species? There is a lot of dying going on in the Darksiders games but reviving dead people? Not so much. And now we are talking about an entire planet? And after meeting the Crowfather, without any warning, we are transported to the lands of the makers. The makers? Didn´t we learn that the important races in the Darksiders universe are humans, demons and angels. Now I am stranded on a world of the supporting cast? Is Death getting a bit off track here? With a story like that, I found it difficult to understand the motivation of the protagonist.

2. Too many collectibles

The main culprit in this case is the side-quest where you have to look for roughly 70 power stones that are mostly tucked to ceilings and cliffs. To finish the quest and get the corresponding achievement you have to find ALL OF THEM! This is an unrealistic expectation, players are bound to miss a few since they are not that easy to spot. And without any clear indication where you missed the stones you have some serious backtracking to do in this huge world. Even a walkthrough will not help you much if you don´t use it right from the beginning and mark every stone you found. But playing a game with a walkthrough (or just a checklist) lying in front of you where you have to watch every step does not sound like a fulfilling experience.
My suggestion would be some kind of icon on the map for areas where you found the collectibles, in Ocarina of Time, for example, every region where you found all the golden spiders was marked with a spider icon on the world map.

Not even close.

3. Artificial game time extenders, a.k.a. time sinks

Darksiders 2 has a healthy length for that kind of game and an impressive number of dungeons. You are certainly getting enough entertainment for your money. And still there were 2 prime examples for articial game time extenders implemented into the game. A little bit of background information: artificial game time extenders are implemented by designers to inflate a game´s length without much effort from the designer. Most of the time they require a lot of time investment from the player side compared to other in-game activities and offer little reward and much repetition. Also, they tend to throw you back at square one every time you make a mistake. A very prominent example is the Cave of the Ancients from the Lufia series: 99 stages, no save feature and when you die you start at stage 1 with all equipment and experience gone.
In Darksiders 2 you can find two “Caves of the Ancients”: Soul Arbiter´s Maze and the Crucible. Both involve fighting waves and waves of enemies, require a lot of endurance and failing will throw you back significantly (although not always deleting all your progress in that area). Since games tend to go for quality over quantity, players will react negatively to this kind of feature. Especially when asked to do it all in one sitting. And Darksiders 2 already has quality as well as quantity so there is no need to resort to such time sinks.

This won´t be over soon.

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