While primary weapons are a pair of scythes dealing fast damage, the player is given a choice between choosing secondary weapons that are either slower axes and hammers, or faster claws and armoured gloves to accommodate different play styles. Thankfully, this liberty of choice gives a bit of strategic respite from the button-mashing monotony of the uninspired combat system. If you get bored swinging your scythe, DS2 also offers Devil May Cry's (DMC) brand of gunplay. This can be tied together with certain attacks that launch enemies in the air, which can then be juggled with hot lead, the way you did in DMC. For anything else, the guns offer nothing more than mere nuisance value. Your scythes, hammers, and axes also feature standard RPG damage and arcane attributes that can even be levelled up in the case of certain special weapons. Thankfully, in this respect, DS2 is generous enough to reward fastidious RPG strategists, without penalising casual hack and slash gamers who can't be bothered with fiddling around in the inventory screen.
Ia! Ia! Cthulhu Fhtagn!
Enemies range from boring XP fodder to mid-level monsters that can prove annoying to those who are loath to press the dodge button. However, the real fun comes from Vigil's shameless photocopy of gargantuan monsters from the Shadow of the Colossus. When I say a carbon copy, I really mean it. Those who have played Fumito Ueda's masterpiece will instantly recognise not only the physical similarities with the colossi, but also the gameplay mechanics required to kill them. Thankfully, what DS2 lacks in originality, it sure as hell makes it up with the sheer number of boss fights, most of which are genuinely fun to play.
Eye candy or the lack of it
How good does the game look, you ask? To put it simply, a colleague happened to ask me if I was playing Legacy of Kain. He didn't say that only because our protagonist shared the same scrawny, blue-skinned look of Raziel, but also because DS2, in his words, has the graphical appeal of a 5-year old game. Just as I was about to blame it on over half-a-decade-old PS3 hardware, I realised that God of War 3 sure looked much better than this. The level and character design themselves are uninspired and lack the kind of texture and 3D model details that you've come to expect from an AAA title. Unfortunately, the game suffers from choppy framerates despite the low-key graphics.
Wait, did I just fire up Warhammer 40K by mistake?
The 10-foot tall NPCs wear a brand of oversized armour reminiscent of the Space Marines from the Warhammer franchise, but that's about as interesting as it gets. The levels have a blend of open plains optimised for riding around on a horse, whereas the dungeons have the same linear platforming elements across varied terrain. There isn't any remarkable effort evident towards adding verticality or spicing up the dungeons with truly interesting puzzles. It's all a perfunctory mish-mash of the stuff that you've seen in similar titles.
Sound design is, however, up to the mark with satisfying Foley effects for weapons, monsters, and magic. Jesper Kyd's soundtrack ramps up during boss battles; however, it doesn't have the same impact as Koh Ohtani's epic score in Shadow of the Colossus. The voice acting is mediocre at best, whereas DS2's biggest transgression is resorting to perfunctory cinematics that seem to have been shoved in as an afterthought. I mean, they endow game's narrative with just the same enthusiasm and finesse found in the plot of a pornographic film.
You're one ugly mother...
A Hyundai of the video game world
By this point, you will most certainly wonder how does a game that borrows choicest elements from the best gaming franchises known to mankind end up sounding so mediocre. Some may even argue that should, in fact, make it a darn good game. However, if that were the case, Hyundai would have been the best car maker in the whole wide world. Think about it: just like Vigil Games' Darksider II, popular Hyundai cars such as the Sonata blatantly "borrow" from the best cars of the time. The first-gen Sonata, for example, was what you'd have gotten if a Mercedes-Benz S-Class rolled in the hay with the Jaguar S-Type. The second-gen Sonata happened to be a BMW from the front and an accord from the back, whereas the upcoming one is a photocopy of the new Ford Mondeo.
My point is that while the Sonata may successfully imitate the design of these cars, it cannot have the same communicative finesse of the BMW's hydraulic steering. Or, say, the transmission of the Jaguar needed to efficiently put all the horses down on the road. Neither will it be able to replicate the magic carpet ride of the Merc. Much in the same way, DS2 may resemble its sources of inspiration, but it fails to replicate the finer gameplay aspects that make the originals what they are. In the simplest terms, clones lack the soul of the originals.
Hyundai's "inspired" designs
Drawing inspiration isn't a bad thing; all forms of entertainment after all are derivative by nature. DS2's fault lies in its inability to take these elements and use them to shape a new identity for itself. The game simply fails to rise above the sum of its borrowed parts. Having said that, most of you are likely to thoroughly enjoy this game for just the same reason why Hyundai cars sell like hot cakes in India. The Korean car maker churns out uninspired yet feature-packed facsimiles of expensive cars. DS2, similarly, is a mediocre game corralling all the fun elements found in popular franchises. Unless you happen to be a discerning gamer who's tried out the best, you probably will be oblivious to DS2's mediocrity. Therefore, just like Hyundai's automotive offerings, Darksiders II will prove to be a mediocre game pushing impressive sales figures.