For the first Darksiders, new studio Vigil started out with a grand and ambitious concept to weave a narrative revolving around the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, starting with War, who found himself unknowingly setting the end of the world in motion.
Fast forward to 2012 and Vigil is looking to capitalise upon the success of Darksiders with a parallel story that runs alongside War's, which sees the fearsome and creepy Death taking up his scythes to go out and save War from judgement at the hands of the Charred Council.
We caught up with Vigil's Marketing Manager, Jay Fitzloff to talk more about Death's role in the overarching narrative, as well as where the franchise could head in the future. A plan for 4-player co-op with all four horsemen? It could well happen and was once the original idea. Read on to find out more.
Darksiders II is only Vigil’s second game, right? Are you finding it a little easier this time out?
Oh dude, totally! You have no idea. With the first game they built the engine, found the staff and built a team... they had lofty goals, let’s just say that. Now there’s nothing wrong with that, but the goal originally was to have four horsemen and four players. But we realised what a huge task that is and how long that would take. For a while, they didn’t even realise what the game would be like in the final product. There was a lot of playing with ideas, seeing what worked.
So now with Darksiders II; the engine is done, the team’s assembled, you know what the Darksiders franchise is roughly, so it’s night and day for what we can accomplish.
With Darksiders 1 the game picked up a lot of comparisons to Zelda. Did the studio see that as a positive or a negative thing?
Well, firstly, when you’re compared to awesome games - please! As long as people aren’t saying it’s like Atari Combat (a hoary old Atari 2600 war game - Ed) then that’s great. Being compared to great games is a compliment.
When you create a new IP, it’s the same as anything. If you were to ask me who a new band were, I’d have to say, ‘Oh, they’re like this and this’ just to make a quick comparison. But our hope is that now we’ve established Darksiders and people have seen that it’s this combination of all these different elements that don’t come together a lot in a lot of different games, maybe two years from now and a game comes out, someone will say, ‘Oh, it’s kind of like Darksiders.’ That would be the ultimate, for us.
Does it surprise you that more developers haven’t borrowed from Zelda’s action-adventure template. Why do you think that is?
Because it’s hard, dude. Honestly. It’s easy to try, but it’s hard to get right. Our team of designers is talented to even come close to that comparison. So the real answer is it’s hard, y’know, to get that balance right. You have to feel that you’re learning, and the new stuff is getting layered in, but at the same time you feel like you’re moving forward and are never bored. It just takes a lot of focus.
So for Darksiders II, it seems as if you’re expanding on that blueprint. What can we expect?
I think a lot of the new elements we’ve shown off today are more RPG-oriented, with loot and stuff like that. A lot of that was left on the floor from Darksiders 1. We wanted to do it but just ran out of time, we had to finish and just get the game out of the door.
That’s another reason why we went with a different character this time. It would have been easy to go, ‘Here’s War again.’ We want to build towards these four horsemen, but kind of make it like the Director’s cut, in movie terms. So we’re mixing in all that stuff that we wanted too before, but there wasn’t time. This is a way of getting all the elements in and making it the whole experience.
So are you still building towards a co-op game featuring each of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse?
Question mark on that, you know. I mean, that’s our goal. It has been from the beginning - all four horsemen, four players and do it all. But to do it right, every character has to have his own animation set. Each one has to be completely unique, they have to feel different.
They’re already out there. Right away, Joe (Madureira, the game’s creative director) did a sketch of all four horsemen. They released it where there’s War, Death, Strife and Fury. So for example, Strife has two guns. So that would be completely different and he’d need a completely different tool set to pull that off. As soon as we can get it all right, all in one place, that’s when we’ll make that four-player game.
But is that for the next one, or the fifth game? I don’t know. We’re trying to get there, we’ll do it.
Ok, so here’s what you’re going to do. Do an individual game for each of the horsemen and by then the fifth game you’ll have worked out how to have everyone in it. And you can give me 10 per cent of the profits. Deal?
Ha! We’ll see what we can do.
Alright, so back to Darksiders II. Elaborate on those RPG elements for me.
Ok, so to break it down, there’s two basic elements: You go up levels and gain abilities with those levels, and then there’s the equipment - random drops, you know what I mean? You go up a level and gain more health and all this kind of stuff, but then the abilities you choose kind of determine your direction. So you can be a warrior archetype, or a rogue, or a mage- that kind of thing.
When you finished Darksiders 1, you kind of have it all. There’s a little bit of variation on some things but anybody could have every ability. That not going to happen in this game, so you’re going to have to make a choice in one direction or the other and say this is the direction I want to go.
That, for me, is what makes for the RPG element. You’re not choosing a class per-se, but you are choosing a direction. And that goes along with the loot. You saw the big hammer today - you get that and you think, "Aw dude, I really dig this hammer," but that means you have to focus on increasing your strength in order to wield it properly.
The stuff you will equip, including your armour, now appears on your character too, in a different way to the original. There’s a lot more customisation there.
In the first game you had items that appeared on War, but they didn’t appear like this. The first one had CG and rendered cut-scenes, but we can’t do that in Darksiders II. Now it’s all in-game animated cut-scenes because we really want Death’s look to reflect your personalised choices.
Death is a very different character to War, isn’t he?
War is the more the honourable type. A warrior type of dude. When he was wrongly accused of bringing about the apocalypse, he couldn’t just walk away, he had to try to restore his honour.
Death, meanwhile, is willing to work behind the scenes, he’s willing to work with shady characters like the Lord of Bones. He knows all the right people and he’s going to cheat the system to get things done.
In addition to that, he’s more a more agile character. We wanted to make him more spider-like, with his climbing and jumping and stuff like that. He’s gotta be more creepy than War.
There’s a hell of a lot going on in the game. With the platforming stuff we’ve discussed, as well as the RPG elements, the combat, the loot, the exploration and everything else - is there a worry that it’s difficult to communicate what Darksiders II is all about?
That was the hard part of Darksiders 1. The easiest part to communicate is combat. You see that in a video and it makes sense to a lot of people. So that’s what was going on before the Zelda comparisons, people were saying it was like God of War or Devil May Cry.
It’s easier this time around because we have a fanbase and people understand. But that’s what we’re going through now, not with the gamer types because they’ll go through and read-up on the game in depth, but y’know, how do you describe it to people in five seconds, ten seconds? What’s the pitch?
So... I dunno. It’s a hard task. We just hope the quality of the game can shine through.
Darksiders II is out in 2012.