THQ’s long-awaited sequel to Darksiders is just over a month away from release, after a somewhat painful delay from the game’s originally slated June 26 date.  That’s understood, in a way, as the team at Vigil wanted to make sure the sequel was every bit as good as the thunderous original, while at the same time exceeding it in its own special way.

As you might have seen from earlier impressions, Darksiders II takes a different turn from the first game.  Instead of playing as War, you’re in control of a fellow Horseman, Death.  The dark one has his own agenda, as he’s out to prove that his brethren wasn’t the true start of the apocalypse, and actually has an idea that could help bring the humans back.  Yes, Death, of all people, is looking to resurrect humanity.  As corny as that sounds, the story kind of makes sense.

When we looked at Darksiders II from a previous hands-on event, some slight frustration set in, as it took place later in the game and required a greater deal of time to complete.  However, THQ set it up that way to show off the exploratory nature of the game, requiring you to seek out side missions and find items crucial to your progress forward.  The demo they recently showed to us, one that will actually be on hand at Prima’s booth this week at the San Diego Comic-Con, takes a more traditional action turn.

The demo started out with Death working his way through ice-covered mountains, running past glaciers on his steed, Despair.  He’s looking to pay a visit to the Crowfather, a being that’s capable of opening a portal to help Death get where he’s going.  But the path is far from easy, as he has to contend with various skeletons that break out of the ice.

With this demo, we were able to get a better idea of how the combat system worked.  Utilizing some interesting scythe weapons, we were able to chain together some smooth looking combos while dispatching of said skeletons.  What’s interesting, though, is how you can change things up by using items left behind by your enemies.

Yes, you can loot them and use their currency to your advantage for upgrades, but it’s the weapons that actually play a bigger part in Darksiders II, as you can use these in combat, along with armor and additional goods, to help you move ahead in your quest.  While some items are better than others (the hammers and axes are better against bigger enemies, while the scythes are good for slice-and-dicing), being able to mix them up and acquire new ones over the course of your journey means possible replay value.

What’s more, you can also choose which way you can expand Death’s skills through skill trees.  One features a focus on melee combat, with improvement in combos and strength.  However, if you prefer, you can also push your summoning and magic skills further, using your supernatural techniques to bury your foes.  You can’t really level them both out, though you can play through the game more than once to see how things fare.  Again, that adds to the replay value quite significantly.

The really cool part of the demo, however, is the boss battle that comes at the end.  Crowfather ends up being reluctant to open the portal for you, so, of course, being Death, you threaten to force him.  This is when he transforms himself into…a facsimile of War.  Yep, that character makes a brief return in the sequel, as a boss you need to cut down to size.  Though he’s powerful, all it takes is figuring out a little bit of his patterns (strike, block, dodge, strike) and you can finish him off.  It’s truly an epic battle, even though it’s not against a colossus like the last demo we played.

Though there were still some rough spots that Vigil needs to iron out before the game’s release, Darksiders II looks wondrously epic with its settings and animations.  Death is quite the nimble character, jumping around and carving enemies up like steaks, and the effects he leaves during combat are truly earth shaking.  What’s more, the icy surroundings look excellent, especially as you’re climbing up the side, barely able to grip the wall as icicles shimmer all around.  The final boss battle is impressive to boot, with a dark-eyed War threatening to rip you apart.

And on a side note, Michael Wincott is a great choice for the role of Death in terms of voice.  His growl is just about right for the character, without losing any bit of the conviction.  We love it.

Darksiders II is set for release on August 14, but if you can’t wait to check out Death’s little endeavor, we invite you to come down and check it out for yourself at Comic-Con…and maybe grab an art book for yourself in the process.  This thing is NICE.