The first Darksiders game was mechanically well-designed, but the generic story and the breadth and variety of those mechanics made it feel like a Frankenstein’d combination of a number of other games. Somehow, by adding mechanics from a genre untouched by the first game, Darksiders II also finds an identity of its own.
Personally, I think the reason the first game felt so disjointed was because of how the game was framed; it looked and felt more like a God of War ripoff with a bland story because that’s how everything was framed, and the lack of a self-created frame caused all the problems that game had. However, Darksiders II instead chooses the framing of a dungeon crawler like Diablo II or Torchlight, which gives a much clearer sense of progression, somewhat more variety in the combat that makes up the game, along with giving multiple playstyles room to work. The bonus is that many of the features and mechanics from the first game, like looting chests for items to increase your health, find a better-designed purpose here, that being the standard loot dump that a chest usually signifies. The dungeons are still Legend of Zelda-esque, but the added loot mechanics make exploration more entertaining and worth more than 1/4 of a health upgrade. The other mechanics, like the platforming and wallclimbing are about as well-designed as they can be without going full Mirror’s Edge and just parkouring everything. As a side note, it wasn’t until I played this that I figured out I could shoot portals through the other portal, which would have made the first game much easier if it told you that.
The additional RPG mechanics separating the God of War-style game and the dungeon crawler help this game immensely. The skill trees give a much greater sense of variety along with more active skills than the first game had. You also start out with a horse, but that’s just icing. The secondary weapon variety would normally also add some variety, but it seems that there’s only two classes of them: faster than the primary scythes, or slower. That being said, the gauntlets feel somewhat overpowered, since the increased attack speed lets you hit more than any other weapon.
Like the first game in the series, there are also puzzles, but none of them are harder than one during the tutorial…figuring out how to jump backwards during the wall-climbing sections while using a controller. Honestly, it seems the controls for a controller while playing the PC version aren’t well-designed…the health potions are activated with the 360 D-Pad, which apparently is about as responsive as a dead parrot for most people. That wouldn’t be so much of a problem if the dodge button wasn’t the right bumper, which is unintuitive at best and likely to get you killed at worst. If it and the action button, that being B, had been switched, it would have felt better because combat is more common than opening a chest or pulling a lever…which is exacerbated by the lack of a block ability, which works well for me but probably not for others. The only problem the base PC controls have is that the radial menu that accesses potions and abilities is opened with Tab and flows about as well as a pile of bricks. There might be hotkey options with the PC controls, but that wouldn’t really fix the flow issue.
Aside from control issues, this is essentially what a sequel should be; it expands upon the original, fleshes out the world more, and improves the current mechanics while adding new mechanics that make the game feel less like a ripoff and more like its own game.