By Darren Franich
Updated August 14, 2012 at 04:01 PM EDT

Darksiders II is not very original, but it deserves credit for imitating some of the best games ever made. The clearest inspiration here is God of War, another apocalyptic button-masher set in a robo-mythic fantasy universe. But there’s also Prince of Persia platforming, and light RPG flavoring that suggests a less overcomplicated Elder Scrolls. Like its predecessor, the new Darksiders is fundamentally indebted the Ocarina of Time action-adventure model: dungeons, side-quests, wild creatures who drop retail items when you kill them. There are times when Darksiders II feels like a greatest-hits compilation for this entire gaming era: A better title might have been Now That’s What I Call The Seventh Generation of Videogame Consoles! The game lacks personality, but it possesses a pure brute-force thrill. It feels like you’re playing the best game of 2007.

The game is a sequel to 2010’s Darksiders, but the action takes place alongside the original game, and follows a different Horseman of the Apocalypse: The blandly gruff War has been replaced by the sardonically gruff Death. Death sets off on a quest to clear his brother’s name, a journey which initially takes him to the mystical open-world called The Forge Lands, populated by a mournful race of vaguely Nordic iron-mongers.

Like a lot of fantasy games, Darksiders II suffers from serious mythology overdose, with a Wheel of Times’ worth of interlocking worlds and species and mystical objects. But the game’s pleasures are immediate and genuine. The dungeons function on pleasing clockwork-puzzle principles. Every half-hour you pick up a new weapon or learn a new combo, meaning that the combat system can never get boring. And yet, the technical perfection of the gameplay doesn’t quite make up for the game’s vanilla-neutral spirit.

The big name on the Darksiders II creative team is Joe Madureira, who was — for a brief moment in the ’90s — the next great mainstream comic book artist. In a great run on Uncanny X-Men, Madureira created an utterly unique style — cartoonish and yet hard-edged, a little bit manga and a little bit George Pérez. At the height of his fame, Madureira launched his own series, Battle Chasers, which riffed on basically every sci-fi/fantasy trope imaginable. Madureira published about two issues per year before abandoning the project, and it was horribly written, but the look of Battle Chasers was mesmerizing: It looked like the anesthesia fever dream of an autodidact ten-year-old, all dudes with big swords and medieval soldier robots and buxom ginger warrior femmes.

Darksiders II could have used some of that florid spirit. The game’s world is gray and a little dull — it’s miles removed from the decadent bloodsoaked bacchanal of the God of War series. That’s also true of the protagonist. Death is voiced by cult actor Michael Wincott, who does what he can to lend the character an amused-patrician air, but the character is a bit of a bore. There’s a lot to like about Darksiders II, but I found myself wishing there was more to love.

Grade: B

Available today on Xbox 360, Playstation 3, and PC; also available on the Wii U, whenever the Wii U actually hits stores

Follow Darren on Twitter: @DarrenFranich

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