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In his grunting Scottish brogue, Karn chortles "You jump like a lass". Our broad-shouldered companion through our first hands-on dungeon playthrough highlights one of the distinctive characteristics of Darksiders II's grim new protagonist (this time you take control of horseman Death). No, Death doesn't have a womanly gait. But he can certainly jump.
In fact, the Pale Rider seems to have attended the same school of architectural navigation as a certain Persian royal as in our foray deep into the steamy bowels of the magma-filled Foundry, we soon have him wall running, beam crossing, pillar ascending and bouncing his way up to otherwise unreachable ledges.
The Foundry is a lava-filled collection of ruins, forming a dungeon six hours into the game. It's vast and filled with bubbling pits of lava to traverse over, as well as the odd ridable golem and Zelda-esque backtracking puzzle. To top it off the playthrough ends with a gigantic faceoff, from atop Death's horse, Despair, reminiscent, in all the good ways, of Shadow of the Colossus. In short, it's a blast.
DEATH WARMED UP
One element of Darksiders II is immediately potent. Its stylised world is incredibly vivid, from the seemingly insignificant chipped paving and sharp cornered pottery in the fore, to the shimmering vistas in the topside distance, where we can see a colossal and beautifully luminescent tree glowing ethereally. Lovely.
But while we spend a fair chunk of time admiring the view we also spend too much time cursing the poor navigation and unforgiving controls. Death's 'trusty' crow companion Dust is supposed to highlight the correct path through the labyrinthine dungeon, but his glowing purple form seems to enjoy leading us down dead ends or having us attempt to climb unscalable walls instead.
Loot is another new aspect, with the occasional clatter of metal on stone after a battle signalling a potential opportunity to customise your weapons or armour. These items do change Death's visual appearance but not so much as to make any two Death's look startlingly unalike or to distract from his character. We could, however, switch slow and powerful axes for speedy but low damaging claws, lending combat a significant amount of tangible player-based customisation.
Climbing has clearly been implemented to consciously provide bona fide puzzles, rather than flashy crossings between areas. Mostly they present welcome challenges as you scour Death's surroundings for applicable handholds. We smash open a chest and stumble upon the Death Grip, a grappling fist on a chain which enables you to reach hooks and to swing across previously impassable areas.
Its addition to our climbing repertoire highlights how unforgiving the controls can currently be. There's plenty of time for the expected tweaks to be made ahead of the game's June launch - though our playthrough was nonetheless tough, so don't expect the finished game to be a casual, button mashing waltz in the Apocalyptic park. matthew sakuraoka-gilman