It’s interesting to look back at Vigil Games’ Darksiders 2, which came out in 2012 but may as well have been from another era considering all the events that transpired afterwards. Though it followed up on War’s story in the original, Darksiders 2 actually took many different approaches to its gameplay, visuals and overall story depiction. When THQ went bankrupt in December 2012, it was assumed that the Darksiders name would flounder in obscurity. Fortunately, Nordic Games acquired the license and expressed interest in making a third Darksiders. Darksiders 2: Deathinitive Edition could be seen as an attempt to familiarize fans with the franchise. However, it could very well serve as the basis for Nordic’s work on the next sequel – Gunfire Games, which handled the remaster, is actually composed of several former Vigil Games employees. It’s also led by former Vigil founder and Darksiders creator David Adams.
With Darksiders 2, Vigil Games wanted to change up the aesthetics from the first game for a more animated dark fantasy style of game. This also marked Vigil’s modular approach to level building, offering a unique look to each environment while cutting down on the time spent creating them. The approach facilitated Vigil’s desire to have a more open world littered with secrets, enemies and hidden bosses. Darksiders 2 also marked the first time that the series would rely on cut scenes using in-game assets as opposed to pre-recorded FMV scenes.
The Deathinitive Edition essentially saw Gunfire Games rewriting its renderer in order to implement physically based rendering. Gunfire then went about reworking each texture and surface in the game. How significant are all these changes and how does it compare to the original game?
As it stands, Darksiders 2 maintains its detailed art design. Whatever many would have thought about the “cartoonish” art style, it actually works very well for the entire game. Considering how intricate the art already was, it’s amazing that Gunfire actually went back to completely replace assets or simply make pre-existing assets stand out better with improved texture filtering. While the texture work hasn’t seen a massive overhaul (this isn’t Gears of War: Ultimate Edition on the Xbox One by a long shot), you’ll still notice a number of subtle improvements over the original. These are apparent in the environments, NPCs and characters, particularly during scripted sequences and cut scenes.
Head to head comparison between the PS4, Xbox One and PC versions of Darksiders 2. Select 1080p and 60fps option for best possible playback quality.
Even with its brighter and more colourful art style, Darksiders 2 was fairly gritty. So it’s interesting to see the remaster opt for a cleaner look. If you compare the Deathinitive Edition with the original game, the lack of the dark and grimy feel seems even more obvious. Whether Gunfire simply opted for a different colour palette or decided to take a more refined route with the visuals, the difference is certainly there.
There isn’t too much to say about the shadow quality but the engine in the base game has also been revamped to have more detailed shadows. If you go back to areas in the original and compare them with the Deathinitive Edition, you’ll find shadows filling up previously empty spaces. Again, it’s a nice touch and certainly showcases Gunfire’s passion and familiarity with the game.
When Darksiders 2 released for PCs, the variety of options felt a bit barebones. Nonetheless, it was well optimized and ran very well across different configurations. It also didn’t demand a whole lot of resources to run smoothly. For the sake of comparison, we pitted the PS4 and Xbox One versions against the PC version since it could ran at higher resolutions and at 60 frames per second.
The PS4 and Xbox One versions feature a 1080p resolution and marginally unlocked frame rate. Frame rate performance is slightly better on the PS4 but both games have very little by way of performance issues, save for the odd judder here and there.
The Deathinitive Edition also features anisotropic filtering in both versions, which results in detailed surfaces even over long distance. A custom SSAO solution brings ambient occlusion and softer shadows to the mix and draw distance shows significant improvements. Oddly enough, the foliage looks exactly the same as the base game. Not that we’re complaining or anything but it was fairly odd.
We’re somewhat disappointed that the game doesn’t run at a 60 FPS frame rate, especially considering its age but as it stands, Gunfire Games worked hard to ensure that Darksiders 2: Deathinitive Edition wasn’t a simple port, resold for the sake of raking in a bit of extra cash. Despite the criticisms against the gameplay and puzzles, Darksiders 2 has an art style and large open levels that we rarely see in games these days. It’s an interesting mesh of gameplay styles from other games that managed to break from the derivate identity of its predecessor and establish the series as its own entity.
And that makes it especially tougher to judge Darksiders 2: Deathinitive Edition. Perhaps the success of this remastered title will result in Darksiders 3. We still stand firm on the lack of 60 FPS being a major issue, especially because the 30 FPS frame rate is unlocked and a few drops can be seen every now and again. As it stands, a game as action packed and movement-oriented as Darksiders 2 would have benefited greatly from 60 FPS.
Nonetheless, Gunfire Games has proven its worth when it comes to developing Darksiders for the Xbox One and PS4. If Darksiders 3 does eventually arrive, we can’t wait to see what it brings to the current generation of consoles.