Darksiders 2 (Wii U) Review

Developer: Vigil Games / Publisher: THQ / Played On: Wii U / Price: $59.99 / ESRB: Mature [Blood and Gore, Suggestive Themes, Violence]

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If Legend of Zelda and God of War had a baby, Darksiders 2 is what you’d get, a kid unfortunately uglier than both of its parents.

Now that might sound like an overall negative statement, but considering that Vigil Games’ fantasy action title has managed to earn itself comparisons to some of the biggest titles in Nintendo and Sony’s history, that is no small accomplishment… even if the game doesn’t quite hit the same ultra-high quality bar.

Darksiders 2 is a greatly enjoyable adventure and a welcomed addition to the Wii U launch line-up, but what does the new Nintendo version bring to the table?

MODES

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The main campaign makes the jump over to Wii U unchanged. Death sets out on a quest to rescue his brother, who is being held accountable for the premature annihilation of mankind. How do you go about clearing a man’s name of such a hefty charge? By killing a bunch of shit yourself, of course.

Thus ensues a huge adventure that mixes the brutal, fast-paced and visceral fighting of God of War with the puzzle-filled dungeon exploration of Zelda. You journey through a pleasantly rich variety of fantasy environments, from dark claustrophobic caves to large open expanses on horseback, and take on enemies from small goblins to towering giants reminiscent of Shadow of the Colossus.

Bolted onto the Wii U version, however, is the additional Argul’s Tomb expansion, which was sold as paid DLC on PS3 and Xbox for $6.99/560 Microsoft Points. This expansion added new Legendary loot alongside two entire dungeons to conquer. Additional bosses and snow-covered environments are also featured.

GAMEPLAY

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As you might expect, the Wii U version of Darksiders 2 is a near-identical port of the console versions that came before it. Predictably, Vigil has taken the time to add new functionality to take advantage of the Wii U GamePad, but how much of a difference does it actually make to the game? In this case, unfortunately, not much.

During play on the TV you can display inventory menus on the smaller screen, which allow you to browse and equip the many weapons and other items you collect as you batter your way through hell’s minions, all without having to go to the pause screen. This sounds cool on paper, but in practice the benefits are minimal.

The menus can feel cramped and, at times, unresponsive to the imprecise prods of your blunt finger. Thus, it doesn’t provide the convenience and speed you’d need to swap gear at a glance. With that in mind you’ll still need to eliminate all threats and find a safe space before glancing down. That being the case, it begs the question: How is this any better than just retiring to the safety of the ‘pause’ screen?

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More intriguing is how the game attempts to use the GamePad speakers as a secondary channel of sound for split dialogue in cutscenes. The protagonist Death’s voice comes from the GamePad speakers, while any characters he speaks with chime through the TV speakers.

This is an interesting idea, as it adds a dimension to audio using the handheld device, but the results are odd and somewhat uncomfortable. The disparity in quality and volume between my 5.1 surround sound setup and the tiny phone-like speakers of the GamePad is too large. Because Death’s voice would be drowned out by music or ambient sound effects from the big speakers, during cutscenes the developer also moved all those sounds to the GamePad. You go from having a room filled with dense atmosphere to near silence as almost all sound transfers to your GamePad for a cutscene in which only half the dialogue can be clearly heard.

Finally, you’re able play the game entirely on the GamePad, which is a nice convenience. But overall Darksiders 2‘s GamePad-specific features fail to enhance the gameplay beyond what it already is, though the gameplay is pretty good anyway.

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VISUALS

Visuals were never a strong part of Darksiders 2, and its conversion to Wii U does little to improve in this area.

As soon as I started the game, coming straight from the crisp lines of New Super Mario Bros. U and Nintendo Land, I instantly noticed the glaring abundance of jaggies, where the dip in resolution and lack of software techniques to fix this left pixels clearly visible. The lower resolution, along with some rather subpar texture detail, is telling of a struggle to keep frame rates up in the game’s admittedly large open areas and chaotic fights, but even these cutbacks fail to maintain consistent refresh rates.

The Wii U version even seems to lack certain minor environmental details of the other platform versions. Bushes, trees and small details appear cut back in their density slightly. It’s almost unnoticeable, but is evident in side-by-side comparisons.

So it’s not Uncharted-good-looking, but the game’s unique and interesting art style does make up for its technical drawbacks, and some of the giant bosses in the game are truly a spectacular sight to behold.

BOTTOM LINE

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Darksiders 2 is a very accomplished adventure game from a relatively young Texas-based studio whose first release was this game’s predecessor (back in 2010). Its blend of Zelda-like adventure and God of War-style battle pace and brutality, along with an almost RPG-like loot system, ticks all the right boxes for those who want a meaty adventure to sink their teeth into. It just doesn’t quite reach the heights of those franchises due to some substandard visuals, occasional glitches and patchy voice work.

While the Wii U version doesn’t do anything that’s detrimental to the overall experience it also does little to improve it in any meaningful way. You’re essentially getting a solid port of an enjoyable quest with the DLC thrown in, and if you’ve not played the game on any other platform, the Wii U version is basically as good as any other.

+ Epic quest that draws influence from Zelda & God of War

+ Deep RPG-like upgrade system

– Some bland textures and choppy frame rates

8 / 10

 

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