Darksiders II is breaking what some would consider rule number one for video game sequels: Never change the main character. Not satisfied to send gamers on another adventure as the hulking War from the first game, Joe Madureira and the team at Vigil instead went back to the early concepts they had sketched out for the other three Horsemen of the Apocalypse to find a new lead character. During our recent trip to Vigil, we talked to Madureira about the process of creating this new character and dug up some old sketches of the character.

“The earliest vision for Darksiders was to play the four horsemen cooperatively, so for our pitch and prototype, I had already loosely concepted all four of them,” Madureira explains. “We knew roughly what playstyle and what personality they would have at that time, since we were planning to do all four.” Digging into those early pieces, one character stood out as someone who would give the sequel a truly unique feel from the original: Death.

“We wanted to get basically as far away from War as you can,” Madureira says. “War was a very stoic, slow-moving, hulking, massive warrior. We gave Death movements more like an assassin or a rogue. He’s very agile, very quick, very aggressive, whereas War was a little more reactive.” Madureira’s excitement is evident in his voice as he describes the dark new hero: “I like those kinds of characters, so it’s perfect.”

This focus on faster movement affects every level of the character design, right down to what he wears: “If his armor gets too heavy, obviously he starts to get into War’s territory.” This became an even greater concern as Madureira realized that loot was going to become a major gameplay element for the sequel. “Not only do the pieces need to look good as a whole set, but you might equip shoulders from one set and the chest from another set with the boots from another set,” he laments. “It could look ridiculous, so we have to test each and every piece against itself so that hopefully it looks cool no matter what combination.”

From an art design standpoint, Madureira describes the loot system as “limiting” but “a lot more rewarding.” This is especially true for the players: “Changing something on your character every 10 or 15 minutes that you’re playing is pretty exciting.”

As Madureira set out to work on a final design for Death, Vigil decided they wanted to focus on the supernatural elements in series in general and the character specifically. “We wanted to play up the dead aspect of him and make him look almost zombie-like,” Madureira says. “He’s as close to a zombie as you’d want to get for the main character of a game.”