I know I've used this tired cliche a few too many times, but the summer really does suck if you're a gamer. It used to be that the summer was reserved for indie titles on Xbox Live Arcade and PlayStation Network to rise to the top in, but in 2012 it's seemed that's not necessarily the case.
With just about a month to go before the industry begins to pick up again, Vigil Games' Darksiders II may just be the piece of software that saves your gaming summer. The follow-up to 2010's sleeper hit, Darksiders II delivers a lot of what I'd expect to see in a proper sequel.
In the original game, players took on the role of War, one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse. In the sequel, you'll get to play as the horseman Death, one of War's brothers.
The story, while totally epic in its scope and conveyance, is a bit muddy and perhaps not as accessible as other games'. Regardless, the general idea is made clear enough and there's mostly solid voice acting throughout the campaign.
So why should Darksiders II be a template for other follow-up games? Because it has trumped its predecessor in controls, graphics, and plain old fun. Darksiders combined the best parts of games like God of War and The Legend of Zelda, giving you a hefty dose of slash-'em-up action with problem-solving puzzles and riddles. The sequel does a clever job of implementing a lot of RPG mechanics that allow players to skip micromanaging items.
There's plenty to like for the hard-core fans, too, it's just not required. You could spend plenty of time mixing and matching Death's armor, weapons, and magic, or you can equip items when you find them, using an onscreen indicator to see if what's on the ground is better than what's on your back.
Not everything about Darksiders II is a vast improvement over the original. Environments, while more diverse, lack the polish and detail I've become used to seeing. There's also a curious amount of in-game loading from room to room that wasn't as obvious in the first game.
It's an odd thing that these fortresses of doom have neatly laid-out puzzles and vines wrapped around their walls and corridors, but if you suspend your disbelief enough you'll realize just how enjoyable things can get.
Combat is beyond satisfying, carried by a weighty and brutal attack system. There are tons of weapons and special moves Death will find along the way, making gameplay that much more addictive.
Darksiders II can be enjoyed by anyone who has a love for action and puzzle games, and its perfect-timing release is the icing on the cake.