The day began in the snow-entrapped airport in Seattle. Unsure of whether I’d make the flight or get stuck in the Northwest, I stared out the window. A heavy snowstorm was brewing and there was something nice and calming about it despite the accompanying anxiety. I had to make it down to California within a few hours.
The ground was coated with thick snow, the kind that sticks to whatever it touches without fail and builds up quickly. Eventually the plane was boarded and after a couple hours of preparing to taxi and defrosting the body, we were eventually off on the runway and up in the tumultuous, turbulent skies of Seattle. It turned out to be the only flight in that direction not canceled that morning and once we got above the chop of the weather, anxiety gave way to certain relief, the mess of snowfall replaced by the fluff of persistent clouds.
Further on we touched down in San Francisco and things were good – the weather leveling at a comfortable fifty degrees. Taking a taxi into downtown, in short time we arrived at the hotel. The streets were the ones I’d seen in too many films. On my way to the Darksiders II event was a motorcade with the Vice President and on the accompanying sidewalks, some Occupy protest or another. Things were busy and alive in San Francisco that day but I was on the way to an event preoccupied mainly with the motif of death.
The Regency Center in San Francisco sits to the edge of the city’s heart, the surroundings informing the feeling and vibe of the city while the inside took the form of a dark, brooding convention center; a convenient place where people gather for such meetings. Upfront, we signed our NDAs and took an old elevator to the top floor, where booth babes and alcohol awaited us against the backdrop of Darksiders II promotions. All the good things one readily associates with death or debauchery, if not only a good time.
We followed a hallway around back and were seated in a well-fitting cathedral-like room, adorned with backdrops of coffin outlines, more open bars, and a natural esthetic in its classically-designed architecture. An open bar set to one side and swarms of games journalists gathered in the middle, there was plenty of time for networking and anticipating what might be shown.
The presentation started with an efficient tease for the character of Death, the protagonist for Darksiders II and Horseman of the Apocalypse in mythological lore. Death’s features are neatly articulated with a lean skull mask and a look not far from Soul Reaver’s Raziel. Death is a more than sufficient stand-in for prior hero War and one with a catchier and more marketable name than Pestilence or Famine. Nobody wants to be those guys but who wouldn’t want to play as the incarnation of death.
A key note was given by Dane Munro, an expert on the subject of Death in art. There was a sense of déjà vu for so many college art history classes. But none of those lectures ended with Darksiders II.
We were then shown a live demo, the meat of the presentation. It wasn’t playable to the press but someone from the design team led us through. The game looked sharp and clean, running off the PC version – we were later told console versions would be comparable.
There was an emphasis on mechanics. In whole, it felt less attached to the typical Zelda formula and more in-line with a Prince of Persia or Soul Reaver. There was a generous showing of wall running and more dynamic movement through the environments, leaving behind the first game’s limited style of wall climbing. There were also beasts to be ridden and mechanical puzzles surrounding them. Several environments were shown ranging from a volcanic setting to some rustic ancient ruin and there appeared to be ample room for expounding on the improved mechanics.
Combat took the main focus, exhibiting Death’s arsenal of stylish weaponry. He carries a big scythe and quickly burns through crowds of enemies, lopping off heads and hit points, as numbers spring from the enemies with each consecutive hit. Vigil showed off some impressive looking boss battles with some sizeable enemies that brought the series back to its Zelda roots: a lot of ‘Z-targeting’ and a sound understanding of Miyamoto’s rule of threes. It’s the way any effective boss battle is designed and it looks like Vigil have done another fine job, with an enticing teaser capping off the demo and promising even larger bosses.
All signs indicate that Darksiders II will be exactly what fans want from a follow-up: essentially, more Darksiders. And while we’ve yet to play the game, everything we were shown at the event suggests Vigil is on the right track. Darksiders II is scheduled for a Summer 2012 release.
Airfare and lodging accommodations provided by the publisher.