Last week we got the chance to see a preview of Vigil Games Darksiders 2. Much of the event was centered on the new protagonist character Death, who is the brother and fellow horsemen to War from the first game. We got to see how Death has been personified throughout history before settling in to the popular rendition of the skeleton horsemen that comes to reap your soul with his scythe, and how he differs from his brother in methods of movement and combat styles. We sat down with Haydn Dalton, Lead Designer, to answer a few of our questions.
The Escapist Magazine: Excited about showing the game off?
Haydn Dalton: Yeah. It’s obviously really good that, the team’s been working on it so long and so hard. It’s nice to start getting some recognition for all the work they’ve been doing. And obviously it kind of kills us that we’ve been working on it, we can’t say anything about it so, these events been able to vent that stuff and kind of show everyone how we’re doing, it’s pretty exciting.
TEM: So other than Death appearing in the first game, was there any particular reason you wanted to transfer into him as being the protagonist?
Haydn: It was a very close call, Death was very nearly the first horseman in the first game, so really it was after we did War we thought it was an unusual choice to begin with. We thought “Well, if we’re going to do another horseman who would it be?” He’s pretty much like, whenever you speak to anyone and say, if you could be one of the four horsemen, Death nearly always came up as the most popular one. And originally in the concept sketch, he’s obviously looks a lot leaner, a lot more dynamic than War. So we thought we can really give players the Darksiders experience but give them a whole new slant with this kind of more dynamic faster, more agile character. That was the big thing we thought was cool, he was probably the most popular Horseman so he seemed like the natural choice out of the three Horsemen to do next.
TEM: Going back to the first game, what was the original decision that made you steer towards War instead of Death?
Haydn: It was kind of hard, Death was the most popular one but if we’re going to do a combat-based game it seems to make more sense to go with War. It kind of personifies that conflict. So it seems to be a really good fit for the story we had at the time and at the time what we wanted to do.
TEM: So with Darksiders 2, what aspect do you feel your enjoying the most, that has improved the most or that you’re really excited about?
Hadyn: There’s two areas really that I think have improved a lot. I think the traversal has been a really fun addition because, not only fun from a gameplay point of view but from a level design of point of view and an aesthetic point of view. We can create levels which are a lot more complex and interesting to look at, more vertical, and lots of different ways to interact with the environment. So that’s been a very kind exciting for level design and implementation, and in that element of commitment on the locomotion side of the traversal like with the wall run, once you start a wall run at some point you’re going to fall off right? So the player’s gotta commit and try and jump and keep that timing element going, so that’s one of the many things and also I like the loot element. I mean it kind of lets you control the way you look, put stats together, and have a customization system. That’s been pretty exciting, I remember when we first started getting the loot I had to spend hours looking at all the different loot. So that’s been pretty exciting.
TEM: So that’s one of my other question, what was the the driving factors for wanting a loot system? How did you make it fit into Darksiders?
Hadyn: It was one of those things we really wanted to do in the first one but we thought it was stretching ourselves too far. So the first thing we wanted to improve was that we could do the type of action-adventure game we wanted to do. And the things like the loot system, lots of NPCs and things like that were on the table for the first game. We did some itemization in the first game but we didn’t do too much. We thought it might be too much work for the project, but now that we have all the core systems from the first game, we can kind of go with that and commit to something pretty robust and deep loot system. I mean, especially when you see more of the game later on you’ll find out how deep our loot system is.
TEM: So speaking about the loot, items and weapons, I noticed the combat feels like everything chains together more smoothly now. What other improvements did you guys bring in to the combat for this one?
Hadyn: Well, the fluidity between the secondary and the primary worked pretty well in the first one, but because of Death’s speed and agility we wanted to make sure that his strikes are quicker. He doesn’t block or stand on the same spot and deliver the damage. He’s all about evasion. So when you actually see Death as a character in combat he’s pretty much always moving, so he’s either getting away or going into combat. So we did a lot of moves that actually come out of these evasion states and they link back into the secondary weapons and the primary weapons. So that was a lot of fun, like in the first one you’re kind of limited by the chains you can do, but in this you can pretty much anytime combo chain link to one of the weapons and get a slightly different move out of it. Then you start putting the loot into there and using different weapon types. There’s lots of creativity, not just visually but gameplay and skill wise for the player.
TEM: This is kind of a side question, but so in the first game The Watcher is voiced by Mark Hamill, one of the most well renowned voice actors in video games right now from his rendition of the Joker. Are you guys bringing in anyone of that caliber for Darksiders 2?
Hadyn: We’ve got Michael Wincott as Death, I mean that guy’s a legend, right? I mean, you’ve probably seen him in The Crow and he was in Top Dollar, and Death’s a lot more vocal than War was in the first game, so you’re going to hear a lot of Michael throughout the game, the quests, the dialogue, the thing he says in combat and even in the puzzle situations he has things to say. We’ve actually got some very decent-level voice actors, it’s something that’s very important, the sound, it’s just as important as everything else so we wanted to make sure the people we brought in were of the same caliber, maybe even higher than the first game.
TEM: So you mentioned side dungeons during the preview, what were some of the thoughts behind including these?
Hadyn: We wanted give players everything from Darksiders the ideas and the mythos. The world it’s huge and massive so we wanted to kind of expand out the world that they could explore. The first was relatively linear, but you’d always backtracking things and all. So now that we’ve expanded out the world, we wanted to make sure that people who explore that world were rewarded in finding things. Additional NPCs, new items, new parts of the story you didn’t know about, filling the main story, maybe referring back to the first game whatever it might be. So we think that it’s very important, we look at it as the amount of effort the player puts in, and we’ve kind of got to give them that effort back. So, if you explore really off the beaten track, we’re going to make sure that what you find is going to be good.
TEM: So Darksiders was equated a lot to Zelda, and I’m sure you hear this comment a lot, but, to turn that question somewhere else, how do you feel about being equated to that franchise or was the goal always a homage?
Hadyn: It’s very flattering, it has that classic action-adventure feel when you play a game like that even from all sorts of different games from around that time, like Castlevania and Metroid. It’s such a good formula for level design, it’s kind of like a dying art now. We thought we got a nice balance with the first game, so that’s kind of the core of the second game as well, we made sure the the level design and the philosophy behind how you get new items and all the obstacles was a key part of the second one as well, it’s a blessing and a curse in some ways. Everyone references it, but we think it’s in a good way, and I think people maybe like us because of that.
TEM: So what can you tell us about the story of Darksiders 2?
Hadyn: We can’t go too much into the main elements of the story right now, but this is the what was Death and the other Horsemen doing at the time of the first game. This is that story from Death’s side specifically, so you can see him try to clear his brother’s name. Now with this one because it’s set in a completely new world. It’s set in the underworld, it’s not set on Earth, it allows us to have creatures, people to talk to and a living breathing world around the player that we really couldn’t do that in the first one other than these demon and angels just kind of warring out. So it allowed us a lot more freedom from a story point of view.