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Previews

Darksiders 2

He kindly stopped for me

As far as all-powerful forces of nature go, Death is startlingly inconsistent. One minute he's chopping enormous steel bells in half with a vicious ivory scythe, the next he's having trouble stomping a glorified beetle.

Given a full power bar he can transform into a fearsome winged wraith, but he still has to scale vertical surfaces the old-fashioned way, scurrying and hopping from handhold to handhold in a fair imitation of a certain princely Persian. He can summon a fancy demon horse, Despair, from the ground beneath his feet, but if he wants a new pair of boots he'll have to schlep down the merchant's like any other jobbing hero. Oh yes, and he can die. That last one's a bit of a chin-scratcher.

We'll forgive Death his contradictions, though, because the game he's a part of looks very steady indeed. Strictly speaking Darksiders 2 isn't a sequel, taking place as it does right alongside the original game. On the surface of the Earth, Death's brother War has just been framed for starting the Apocalypse early. Your task, should you find time in your packed schedule of mortal-scalping, is to clear his name.

This entails travelling the vast underworld region on foot to gather evidence from the souls of the dead, of which there's now a surplus thanks to the almighty hullabaloo on earth. Unlike Darksiders, progression here is closer to a dungeon-crawling RPG. Four giant hub zones spill over into a mass of smaller areas, laden with trinkets and novel breeds of Death-defying monster to abuse. While there's not a shade to be seen during the demo, we're told that hubs will ultimately bustle with shops and quest-giving NPCs.

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Each side area is a unique architectural entity, and exploring them will be key if you're to truly ransack the new equipment options. You've got slots for two weapons, shoulder pads, body armour, gloves, greaves, boots and accessories (or as the manlier of terminology may prefer, "talismans"). Changes to Death's gear are manifest on his character model and retained in cut scenes, for an impressive degree of personalisation. Our demo handler kits the grim reaper out with funky gold-leaf clogs and a fabulous purple Necromancer's cloak.

Equipment isn't just to make you look good, of course. It's for maximising attributes like speed, magic, strength and defence. The beefier they are, the beefier the damage numerals you'll rip from the flesh of whatever's braindead enough to get in your way (cf. walking skeletons). Save for the slightly incongruous, Borderlands-inflected sight of ones and zeros tinkling over the scenery, Darksiders 2 combat puts us immediately in mind of Devil May Cry. Fast and heavy attacks are judiciously mixed, uppercuts and juggles deployed, and there's even room for the odd bout of Castlevania-esque grappling thanks to Death's handy Ghost Hook.

While he looks chunkier than you may remember from the Terry Pratchett novels, the lord of the underworld is fleeter of foot than his thuggish bro, offsetting the want of a block button with nimble evasive rolls and aerial strikes. Should the enemy prove just as speedy, you can bog them down with a summon crows spell. Should they prove not so speedy, Death's got the most brilliantly stupid hammer tucked into his trousers.

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Puzzles pop up here and there to give the combat system time to cool off. One of the examples we're shown involves refracting beams of light into gemstones to open doors. Cookie-cutter stuff. Almost as cookie-cutter as collecting three of X to access Y, where X equals "horns" and Y equals "rampaging golem boss who uses his own spine as a flail".

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