Also, a selection of branching magical moves is available as he levels up and spends skill points. Used with a radial menu (or tied to button combinations), these moves refuel as a player accumulates wraiths during battles.
Our pale hero eventually can enlist the help of a group of ghouls that pops up (from coffins) and attacks (one of the coolest moments of any fight), use a teleport slash to cut through victims, unleash a swarm of crows, and harness the powers of fire, ice and lightning to complement his special attacks.
Finally, Death’s translucent purple Reaper form can be called to clear a battlefield, dealing devastating damage.
Memorable moments (in no particular order): The first time Death opens a treasure chest and the translucent glowing purple claws of his dark side emerge to rip open the lid; Death accidentally falls off a cliff and his Reaper form emerges to resurrect him; mounting a rocky construct to blast away at a corrupted yellow crystal barrier; fighting with Thane just for the fun of it; an encounter with the massive Earth Crag called Karkinos; exploring the forested Baneswood; and admiring the sunset while stopping by the Tri-Stone village.
Violent encounters: Controlling a character named Death, as you can imagine, translates to a level of brutal ferocity that often allows him to crush opponents into glowing embers. Surprisingly, it is not as bloody as many M-rated games these days. Although a player will see his fair amount of spurting life fluids, exploding torsos, pieces of flying bone and creatures bursting into flames, it always feels a bit cartoony.
Death actually is kind of easy-going and always seems to be helping somebody. This makes the Grim Reaper more of a lovable lug rather than maestro of mortality.
Read all about it: Fans looking for more background on the potent lead character can go to the Dark Horse Comics website (http:// digital.darkhorse.com) and download the Darksiders II: Deaths Door miniseries (99 cents each).
Pixel-popping scale: 8.6 out of 10. Imagine comic book creator Joe Madureira animating a World of Warcraft cartoon and toss in a pinch of Warhammer and Battle Chasers character design to get a picture of some dynamic elements realized in Darksider II. Actually, that should be no surprise as Mr. Madureira is creative director for Vigil Games.
The result is a beautiful, often-stunning world boasting rich locations (be it dungeons, open fields, castles and underwater ruins) that make a player stop and just look around to appreciate the developers’ passionate effort.
Star power: Actor Michael Wincott (best remembered as the evil gang leader in “The Crow”) stars as the voice of Death and James Cosmo (the distinguished character actor known for “Braveheart” and “Game of Thrones”) voices the burly Maker Elder.
Extras and Unlockables: Use a code included in the package to unlock the Crucible mode that adds more than 100 levels of survival-wave-type challenges to the game. An anonymous letter found in the Serpent Tome (a cool messaging system to gift new equipment or receive exclusive content) at Tri-Stone eventually will invite Death to an arena where he quickly whips through levels of battle five at a time and receives awards and experience for his effort.
Final thoughts: Darksiders II won’t be remembered for adding innovation to the role-playing genre, but it is one heck of an immersive and extended adventure for the fantasy-loving gamer. I’m hoping I’ll never need to admit this again in my life, but I absolutely appreciated Death.