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'Darksiders II' interview: Vigil Games talks loot, 'Zelda' comparisons

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'Darksiders II' screenshot

© THQ

The first Darksiders was often described as a darker, more adult Zelda, and those descriptions aren't entirely untrue. The follow-up continues to adopt the Nintendo classic's puzzle-adventuring formula while cherry-picking elements from dungeon crawlers such as Diablo. Digital Spy sits down with Virgil Games lead designer Hayden Dalton to talk loot and whether single-player adventures like this are a dying breed.

What improvements did you want to add from the first game?
"There were certain things that we wanted to do in the first game which we never got around to doing, which we always thought would be beneficial to this type of game, which is an action adventure - for instance, NPCs.

"Having a second, third person to talk to, and gather more information and background for Death as a character or the environment or the quests that you're on, that stuff has credence and depth to the world that I think we lacked a little bit on the first one.

"So I think adding those characters in there shows that there is something happening and developing in the background as you're on this quest, and I think that's important to make it feel like it is a world and something's happening while you're not there. Adding NPCs helps do that, and also helps give more feedback on the story.

'Darksiders II' screenshot

© THQ



"That's one thing. One improvement, or more of an advancement, is the loot system. We had something that players could pick up in the first one, but absolutely nowhere near the depth of this one. This is a full-on loot system that we've got this time. Not only does he change stat-wise, but he also changes visually a lot, there's a lot of visual progression for the player.

"We set the challenge where, if we had to people playing Darksiders II for two hours, that they have two different experiences. They might be on similar quests, but the visual and character progression would be completely different, so it was like 'choose your own Death', that was the thing we had in the back of our mind.

"How do we give them depth and customisation within the same single player action adventure that we did with the first one, and not really break [it] so it didn't feel like a completely new game? We thought the loot system and the skill trees were a nice addition to add that depth, but without breaking too far away from what we did from the first game."

'Darksiders II' screenshot
How random is the loot system?
"We have quite complex loot tables that we have, depending on what level you are for the character. When you kill [enemies] it does dice rolls in the background as to what it's going to give you. There are different bands, and you can get pretty diverse stuff from pretty much any creature if you hit enough and kill enough of them.

"There's a certain amount of chance. Then there are drops with certain types of creatures. We also have some named items which are very rare and unique that you can find in very specific spots that you can only get at that point. There's a big mix in our loot system, there's a lot of it. We have lots of visual variety, and we have lots of stat variety within the visual variety.

"We also section off a section of the visuals, so you'll only see certain types of armour at the higher levels, so it also feels like it progresses for the player, even though that you'll be seeing certain similar things but with different stats, later on you'll see whole new armour sets that you haven't seen before.

"We also hold some stuff back for a second play through, and you'll see new things again. We always want the player to feel rewarded for the amount of effort they do into killing creatures or completing quests, things like that."

'Darksiders II' screenshot

© THQ



Darksiders often gets compared to Zelda. Do you think that's fair? Are you happy with those comparisons?
"I think it's fair in the fact that the style of the level design you see in Zelda is very similar to what we do in ours because it's a formula that works. To be honest, we're not big believers in Vigil that if people like a certain thing, like A button or B [to] jump on a pad, we don't change that on purpose to be different.

"If we give someone to a pad, their natural instinct is to put it on A - why change it just to be different? A lot of developers will do that because they don't want to do what everyone else is doing. Sometimes it just doesn't make sense to do that, just to be different. That style of level design, the hub mechanism of doing level design, I think works really well in the action adventure genre, so it works well and if people enjoy it, why break from that, that style of design?"

Is there anything about those sorts of games that you didn't like, that you thought with yours you wanted to tweak or do a different way?
"The biggest thing generally with those styles of games that do that type of level design is that the combat is usually relatively light, and we're action fans, so [we] amped up the action side of that style of game. You have to be a pretty skilled action person as well to get through it.

"I guess with the action we've pumped it up more than anything, and with the loot, I don't know another action adventure game that does the loot system like we've done, I don't know if there's another game that does it that way.

'Darksiders II' screenshot

© THQ



"Obviously a lot of more games are starting to incorporate loot as a system, like how Borderlands introduced it to the first person genre, and I'm sure that it will pop up in different types of games as well, but it's such a continuously rewarding game system that it seems like a really good addition to what we're doing in Darksiders.

It's interesting you say that, because maybe loot will be introduced more and more into games, in the same way that role-playing elements have now crept into every genre in some way or form.
"I think it's because that style of customisation and development, it makes the player feel like they've got control over the depth and feel over their character, which is important. I think that level of customisation, it again automatically adds a certain amount of depth to it.

"Sometimes players might just go, well I love the action side and I want to make my guy look cool, I'm not really bothered about stats; you can do that too. If you're a good combat guy, a high level of skill could get around a certain level of just good stat choices within loot selection."

Why set the game alongside the events of the first, why not resume at the end?
"If we resumed the end of the first [game], it would have committed us to a style of game that we weren't ready to do, possibly. What do you do when you have the other three horseman, and we just keep it a single player game going forward? That doesn't make any sense to me.


"So the guys come down and I'm just going to just play Strife and move on, and just carry on as if nothing happened? It seems weird to continue that game there, and still be a single player adventure game, which is what we wanted to build upon.

"The first one had such a good response and it was fun to work on and it was kind of everything we wanted it to be, it seems weird to not do an [single player] action adventure again. But that ending kind of did set it up really heavily for something more than a single player action adventure."

Darksiders 2
You say you're not ready, the most logical thing would be a co-op adventure. Is that too far in the future for you guys?
"The thing is, we had a lot of risk and ups and downs, just like any other new studio just doing the first game. Doing something like that would add a whole new risk.

"We wanted to benefit from the things we learnt from the first game, [things] we thought to execute pretty well on a single player action adventure, let's build upon that and take what we've got, and add some new elements to keep it fresh for players who liked the first one.

"Co-op would massively change what style of game Darksiders is, and it would be weird to enjoy this game but then give them something completely different for the second game. That really is a big commitment

"It was a big enough commitment that we had to change the character in the second one, never mind actually changing the actual feel and style of the game, because I really do think now the single player action adventure is a dying breed, you know, we're not going to find many more games that... I don't know of any more games kind of like Darksiders out there.

"There's obviously RPGs and things like that, but not long, big action adventures with puzzles and adventure and all things that we've done in there. I can't really think of another title that's something similar to what we're doing."

'Darksiders II' screenshot

© THQ



Why do you think that is?
"It is because it is a very hard genre. Actually, just creating puzzles and the levels that we do, that takes up a lot of our development time, because trying to get that nice balance of mental challenge without it being obscure or too complex for most players, it takes a lot of... we revise our puzzles so much in the levels

"A lot of times you're doing this straightforward action game that the level is more looking like I'm doing some cool stuff in the level, where ours has to have function and the form in the way it flows, and comes back on itself. The feedback that you get to come back to there, and overcome obstacles, that's pretty important.

'Darksiders II' pack shot
"You can kind of forget all those things if it's not really puzzle-based or anything like that, because the background's just there to support the action going on within it, so it's a lot less restricted. I think that's why it's a dying breed because it takes a lot of commitment and a lot of time. And also with our style of game there's less hand holding from an actual gameplay point of view, because we give the player A and B, but then they've got to sort it out themselves.

"In most games, it's kind of always fed to you, what you're supported to do, there's a lot of hand-holding. I understand why people have done that, because there's been so much emphasis between hardcore and casual, and [that some people] think casual players are dumb, we have to tell them everything. It's not, players are actually very intelligent, they actually relish the challenge to actually overcome a problem on their own, there's a lot of satisfaction from that."

> Read our preview of Darksiders II

Darksiders II will be available from June 26 in North America and June 29 in the UK for Xbox 360, PS3 and PC. A Wii U version will be released at launch.

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