Republished on Wednesday 29th November 2017: We're bringing this review back from the archives following the announcement of December's PlayStation Plus lineup. The original text follows.
When THQ went bankrupt two years ago, we feared the worst for our favourite franchise that the publisher produced: Darksiders. It's an underrated yet fantastic hack and slash series inspired by God of War and The Legend of Zelda, and just a year before THQ's collapse, you could say the company released one of its most ambitious, high quality titles with Darksiders II, which we believe improved on the original game in nearly every area. Naturally, when we discovered that Nordic Games had picked up the rights to the franchise, we breathed a sigh of relief that it will live on. In the meantime, as we pray for a third game to be developed, the newly-appointed publisher is attempting to prove itself worthy of handling the series with a "Deathinitive" [Groan - Ed] remastering of the most recent entry tailored by ex-Vigil Games employees at Gunfire Games. Is this yet another inexcusable port that shouldn't have been bothered with, or has Death's journey been resurrected to a degree that's worth reliving?
First things first, the game plays and is structured identically to the original version in terms of all its content with the exception of DLC missions and items, which are now integrated into the main story. Other than that, this hack and slash, platforming, and puzzle-solving escapade still feels as tight and satisfying as ever. Combat usually has you fighting a crafty assortment of beasts and undead with your scythes and a heavy weapon like a hammer or gauntlets that literally pack a punch. You use dozens of combos with these weapons and mix them all up with special weapons like the pistol and unlockable Skills that you equip to the d-pad, all while dodging and circling your foes during intense brawls. While it can be annoyingly difficult to keep the combat flowing due to the erraticness of some fights, most encounters are a blast, especially the larger-than-life boss battles.
Backing the combat is an RPG system where you level up to not only unlock the aforementioned Skills, but also increase a range of stats that can be bolstered by armour down to your feet and up to your shoulders. You'll come across all kinds of incredible things to wear with the loot system – which is slightly more balanced this time around – and in merchants' shops. The same goes for all the weapons and stat-boosting Talismans, which are fun to look for in all of the treasure chests and enemies that you'll find. As for the platforming, it isn't exactly challenging, but the ways that Death gets around environments is fluid and mostly seamless as he flips, slides, and climbs everywhere he needs to go, which always feels great to execute.
Speaking of the environments, Darksiders II has a massive open world with smartly-crafted dungeons to be explored and meaningful side quests that you'll stumble across that are too alluring to pass up. And as a side note, Jesper Kyd's moody, atmospheric soundtrack of Celtic flair is a pleasure to hear on these missions and while exploring. Anyway, the dungeons largely owe their appeal to the puzzle-solving, since you get to use awesome abilities like going back in time to affect the environment in the present or splitting your soul into two bodies to solve bigger brainteasers. While the game famously suffers from the "get three of this" and "go to three places" design trope, the majority of Darksiders II is more distinguished, well-rounded, and entertaining than its predecessor.
What makes the game so recognisable are the gorgeous visuals, which truly make you feel like you're in an epic fantasy of Biblical proportions. Comic book artist Joe Madureira essentially gave birth to this world with his expressive, bulky, stylized art style, which never fails to impress with memorable character models, large-scale areas of sheer beauty, and more. What does the PS4 version enhance, though? In our direct comparisons, we were impressed by the reworked assets throughout every environment; the developer even took the time to add new ones in countless crannies and backdrops to maintain visual consistency and fix bare-looking spots. Materials now resemble their real-life counterparts more accurately, such as wood, water, and stone. Even metals in armour and weapons have reflective surfaces now and react to the improved lighting – which looks substantially more natural now – and the overall textures are noticeably sharper.
That's not to say that this "Deathinitive" edition will ride away unscathed. It's incredibly disappointing that it doesn't run in 60 frames-per-second, which should've been a must for this fast-paced game, and with frustrating frame rate drops sometimes, that adds insult to injury. We noticed some blatant screen tearing, a few graphical hiccups with the assets, and experienced some crashes, too. However, these negative factors shouldn't sway you from experiencing this version.
We should also mention the story, which we found to be entertaining all the way through. While it's not as cohesive as Darksiders, the dialogue itself is cleverly written, spawning outlandishly humourous conversations to epic exchanges thanks to the spot-on voice acting cast. On the downside, the game can feel like one gigantic fetch quest with Death always needing to go retrieve something, so it would've been nice if the missions had been more diverse in their objectives. And while the sequel is significantly detached from the first game's narrative, it mostly stands on its own to build and give background to the wonderfully brooding, sarcastic Death, who you'll have a grand time with given the game's massive amount of content that will guarantee you at least 30 hours of reaping soul after soul.
Darksiders II was one of the more memorable titles from the previous generation, with breathtaking, mythical settings supported by interesting characters, fascinating lore, and snappy gameplay. This very decent Deathinitive Edition includes all of the DLC and commendably improves the assets and lighting effects, but it gets slightly cut down by our scythe of criticism for minor glitches and framerate woes.