As the first DLC expansion to accompany Darksiders II, Argul’s Tomb has the challenging honor of trailing one of this year’s finest action adventure RPG experiences to date. Divinely designed worlds, torrid but intuitive combat, absorbing storytelling and lore: we know from our Darksiders II review this August that Vigil Games is capable of bringing all of these elements – and more – to the table; if anything, Argul’s Tomb might tell us how committed they are to extending Death’s run with quality future content.
As it turns out, the expansion is more of a mixed message with regards to Darksiders II’s longevity, despite implementing some slick new features.
Selecting the DLC summons Death out of the main campaign world and into the icy resting place of Argul – the “Deposed King” whom players can encounter during one of Darksiders II’s side quests. Death isn’t met by Argul directly, but is instead briefed on the current clime by Ostegoth, a wheezy old merchant still subservient to the coin. Ostensibly an unsettling source of power lies within the tomb that Ostegoth aims to acquire – and Death is more than happy to receive compensation for its retrieval. The premise, at the very least, is proficient and it allows Argul’s Tomb to usher in gameplay elements unseen in the core campaign.
Immediately noticeable – and the most divergent ingredient in the mix – is the insanely overpowered Gore Hammer. Essentially it’s a grenade launcher. Players find it during their very first assignment – a side mission before they can begin exploring the world’s two main dungeons – and it’s not long before Darksiders II morphs into a Gears of War-like third-person shooter with Death blasting his way down a linear path of frozen ruins and recently unfrozen enemies. As gimmicky, unexpected, or anachronistic as the action might seem though, it actually works when contained as a unique side mission. The Gore Hammer’s learning curve is shorter than the three-second fuse of each explosive projectile (which can also be detonated manually), and Death can always drop the weighty weapon in favor of his more agile suite of natural talents.
The dynamic shifts back in the direction of puzzling and traversal when Death enters Argul’s Tomb’s two dungeons, placing an emphasis on the DLC’s provided spellcasting abilities: Voidwalker and Deathgrip. The former is aptly named: a network of void portals dots the icy inlays of dungeon architecture, any two of which can be simultaneously activated with the Voidwalker spell, shooting Death – or anything thrown through them – to another section of the map. Where most obstacles throughout Darksiders II frequently presented Death with a collapsed bridge, a growth of Corruption, or a locked-shut gate, the concentrated focus, now, connects an level’s entire dungeons labyrinth of hallways via teleportation. Unsurprisingly, the design acumen of Vigil Games hasn’t receded in the months following their original work, yielding a clever set of puzzles that delivers some rewarding payoffs for being solved. Deathgrip, by contrast, is a little more subtle in its navigation application – in a few instances Death can force-pull himself onto “grip hooks” or suck in large objects – but players will find ways to utilize the combat ability of whisking in foes and dropping them off balance for a follow-up attack.
The trouble with Argul’s Tomb doesn’t involve its new additions or the inclement setting Death is called into, but rather the short-sighted nature of the DLC’s approach. It ends before it really gets started. Two dungeons, each possible to complete within two hours, offer only a tease to gameplay elements that could have flourished in lengthier, more substantial contexts. The narrow focus doesn’t give the writers much time to craft a compelling, rounded story. And even the final boss battle feels incomplete, eschewing the chance to combine the void walking and death griping and gore hammering that permeates the rest of the DLC into the questline’s climax. Furthermore, while the added experience and Legendary loot acquired during the adventure becomes a permanent asset for the main campaign, players will find themselves missing some of the focused gameplay concepts.
For what Argul’s Tomb is – a modest piece of downloadable content offering players a few more hours to explore Darksiders II – Vigil Games has done a respectable job. The clever void-walking traversal begs the question of why it wasn’t so emphasized before; Deathgrip could use a push component to the pull, but it’s still a worthy part of Death’s tool set; and if players are okay with Death as the living embodiment of everything Darksiders II offers a joyful reprieve from, the insane linear shooting level is a dose of spirited – albeit mindless fun.
At the same time though, story and substance concessions undercut an expansion that feels like it’s anything but. Argul’s Tomb might be a a semi-auspicious beginning to the gameplay and adventure in Death’s post-release future, and yet even for $7 it’s a hard sell.
Darksiders II – Argul’s Tomb is now available for the Xbox 360, PS3, and PC. Game Rant played the Xbox 360 version of the DLC.
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