The Wii U version of Darksiders II may suffer from some additional technical hitches, but this vast adventure is so absorbing, it's still easy to lose yourself in its oppressive world. And what a world it is, with architecture so sharp that every spire threatens to puncture the heavens and make them bleed. You needn't worry about too many confusing story details if you missed out on the original Darksiders: this sequel's narrative isn't so much about plot as it is about place and tone. And that tone is what sets Darksiders II apart. The skies are ominous, the armor is impossibly chunky, and the game's star--Death himself--speaks with gravelly, somber tones, save a few moments of sarcastic humor that betray his agitation.
This port isn't the finest way to lose yourself in Darksiders II's fantastical universe, however. On the bright side, the Wii U release includes Argul's Tomb, downloadable content delivered for the earlier versions. The tomb isn't Darksiders at its best, with a protracted shooting segment lasting too long to be fun. (Though to be fair, you could take the melee approach in spite of all the guns scattered around.) This content can be accessed at any time, and provides you with the abilities necessary to complete it if you haven't unlocked them in the main campaign. But significantly, the game suffers from some frame rate problems, distracting loading times as you move through the overworld, and longer loading times when opening doors than in the other iterations.
Technical hiccups aside, Wii U owners get the same experience as everyone else, though with some gamepad tweaks: menus are accessible on the touch screen, special abilities can be (but don't have to be) activated by touching their icons, and tilting the pad changes your direction when swimming and pushing boulders. As for the basic mechanics, an icy opening introduces you to combat and movement. In traditional action game style, you slash away at clawed creatures with primary and secondary weapons. You run along walls and jump across beams like a devilish Prince of Persia. There are also role-playing elements: your enemies drop coins, armor, and weapons. You can don equipment, sell it to a merchant, or sacrifice it to level up rare possessed weapons, which you can customize at certain thresholds.
Darksiders II is clearly reminiscent of other games you have probably played. It recalls the structure of The Legend of Zelda, the parkour of Prince of Persia, and even the dimension-bending puzzles of Portal. Yet in spite of how heavily it wears its inspirations, Darksiders II establishes an identity all its own. The game's large scope and thoughtful pace allow you to breathe between battles, and each new mechanic has time to settle in before a new one is introduced. The leisurely sense of pace is obvious in the first level, where you can take in the frozen chasms beneath you, and enjoy the slick motion mechanics that have you defying gravity in heady flights of fancy.
If you played the original Darksiders, you might miss the up-front barrage of action at first, but Darksiders II is more about adventure than constant onslaught, though there are plenty of battles waiting ahead. As you ride your steed to the first main dungeon, you can relish the green fields of the first of multiple major regions, and simply enjoy the act of being. If you want, you can explore some of the surrounding ruins, where treasure chests protect valuable pauldrons and cloaks. Or you can slash up the baddies that roam the land, even from atop your horse. But once you get into the dungeons, Darksiders II becomes special--more cerebral than your average action game, and more energetic than your average exploration game.
As expected, each dungeon requires that you puzzle out how to get from one point to the next. At first, this involves scaling walls, throwing the naturally occurring bombs you stumble upon, and pulling a few levers. Then, you get a phantom grapple hook that allows you to swing from glowing hooks and extend your wall runs. Later, you split yourself in three, petrifying your main form and using two doppelgangers to stand on switches and move platforms. Ultimately, you fire portals to travel across great ravines and even through time itself--and these are hardly the extent of the tools you use to make progress through Darksiders II's clever self-contained puzzles.