The Deadliest Errand Boy

Transient

Darksiders 2 is better than its predecessor in almost every way. It still has that puzzle-filled dungeon-heavy design that’s been a trademark of Zelda all these years, but the rest of the game around it is fresh enough that it feels like its own thing.The deeper combat, customization and loot systems make Darksiders 2 much more of an action RPG than a character action game (think Fable as opposed to God of War). Death has the droll sense of humor you’d expect the Grim Reaper to have, and kitting him out with new gear, weapons and moves helps you connect with him more than the last game’s reserved War.

I think the story and premise--a flubbed apocalypse, confused horsemen, angels fighting demons--is great. Very few games pull inspiration from Biblical myth. Much like Greek and Roman myth, enough Biblical myth has bled into our culture over the years that many of the touchstones are familiar to the general public. So, much like the God of War games, you’re dealing with names and ideas you’re an acquaintance to, but don’t really know. As a big fan of mythology, I can’t get enough of stories like this.

Which is why it’s a shame they just won’t hurry up and tell it. Darksiders ended on a cliff hanger. The sequel does not pick up there, but instead tells the story of what Death was up to while War was attempting to fix a mess in the first game. It’s disappointing that we’re not jumping off from the last game’s great ending, but Death is a cool character, so he was probably up to some cool things, right? Turns out he was just running errands.

Wanna see? Here, in bulleted form, is a section from Darksiders 2. This is about four to six hours in. You’ve already done a great number of errands to get here. Minor plot spoilers ahead.

  • Thanks to a hot tip, Death goes after the Well of Souls.
    • But the Well of Souls can only be accessed by the Dead King
      • But the Dead King is on a flying fortress that has to be summoned. Better get to the spot where it is summoned
        • You summoned and scaled the king’s fortress! Great, but the king won’t talk to you until you prove yourself. You have to beat his champion in the arena.
          • No problem, the fortress is conveniently parked next to the arena. You’ll just stroll in, beat this guy up and be right back.
            • But the champion must be summoned! Find three summoning stones and place them at the altar to get the champion to come out.
              • Hooray! You killed the champion and now you can ask the Dead King about the Well of Souls...
  • But the Dead King won’t help you until you track down his four lords and make them get back to work.
    • The second of the four lords tasks you with collecting three souls...
    • The third of the four lords tasks you with beating another champion in the arena...

And that’s how far I’ve played the last week or so. It’s maddening. It’s all such an obvious video game trope--they built some really cool puzzles, combat scenarios and environments, and the only way they could think of to get you to them is by unrolling a long task list. I’m not complaining about the combat or environmental puzzles here. Those remain engaging and the game is always fun to play. What bothers me is the transparency--that paper thin reasoning for all this running around.

Transient

I feel like this trend is wearing out its welcome in video games. I have enough errands to run in my real life, I don’t want to do them virtually. The last time the errand list was this transparent (at least for me) in a game was in the late sections of Red Dead Redemption. I almost gave up when I met yet another outlaw that wanted some favors done. I can see two possible solutions to this:

1. Write a better story with actual subplots and mini-arcs. Having to hit switch G which turns lever F that will eventually lead to the opening of door A is not a subplot or a story arc. Stop treating them as if they are--we can see right through it. If you’re going to force us on errands, make something happen during those errands that’s relevant to the story.  

2. Offer a shortcut with some kind of penalty and/or perk. How about you let me choose how I take on that champion? Option A: Find the three stones and summon him--this will get me some extra loot and experience, and maybe make the fight a tad easier. Option B: Screw the stones. Let me fight him now. I’ll miss out on the loot and environmental puzzles, and he’ll probably be harder to take down, but that’s what I get for taking shortcuts.

Darksiders 2 is a fantastic game filled with expertly designed puzzles and combat scenarios (though I have noticed a fairly large amount of bugs in the PC version). I’m more than happy to cruise through it and see all the things the developers spent years creating. But enough with the errands. At some point I can no longer suspend my belief. The Grim Reaper, one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse, takes orders from some derpy looking guy in a kilt? I don’t think so. You want those summoning stones? Go find ‘em yourself jerk face.