Xbox One, PS4, PC,
February 14, 2020
Darksiders has had an interesting journey as a franchise since it first launched a whole decade ago, with its sequels never quite living up to the excitement and nostalgia that the original tapped into. With Darksiders 3 failing to bring the franchise up to modern gaming standards, a shift in genres to a top-down Diablo-esque point of view seemed like a strange move. Still, Darksiders Genesis released on PC at the end of 2019 and is now available on consoles, proving that the isometric style somehow does work with the action-packed platforming gameplay the series is known for. It has its challenges, but as far as forays into new territories go, this is a pretty successful one.
Darksiders Genesis introduces a new horseman, Strife, who specialises in ranged attacks and gunplay, while War from the original game is back with his more melee hack ‘n’ slash style. The two brothers are the stars of the story, and you can switch between them at any time. The narrative is set thousands of years in the past and tells the story of how the Four Horsemen were tasked with the destruction of the Nephilim and then the eradication of Hell’s master demons following the fall of Eden. It sounds complex, but what it really amounts as an excuse to “kill all the dudes in each level” and get to the end to collect some sort of trinket to bring back to base. It’s also told mostly through static dialogue, which leaves a lot to be desired.
It’s a shame that the other two horseman introduced in the other games don’t make appearances here, but this does allow for a tighter level design as the focus is only on two characters and their abilities instead of trying to juggle four. Still, the levels are designed for multiple play-throughs, with plenty of hidden secrets in each of them allowing you to upgrade your character and acquire important currency to purchase abilities. At first, levels seem almost too big in scope, but this is to allow a good reason to come back when you’ve acquired new gear to access previously out-of-reach areas and claim the associated loot.
The map you can access to get a feel for your surroundings isn’t very helpful, though. It highlights the area you’re in and not the characters, which means that in larger spaces it’s a bit of a stab in the dark as to your exact location. No objective markers meant that we sometimes found ourselves unaware of the next step in our mission, leaving us running in circles. This meant we did tend to explore every nook and cranny we could, but it extended some play sessions well beyond what I was expecting by nature of us being kind of lost.
Additional areas in each level also open up as you acquire more skills; Genesis does a good job of tantalisingly dangling the carrot of places to come back and visit later. Platforming elements also make their presence known, and they mostly work okay, even if I was habitually trying to move the camera myself to change perspectives (despite this being impossible). The perspective makes things a little tricky but it does give you a bit of a breather to the constant stream of combat.
Progression feels good, and discovering secret upgrade goodies is always satisfying. An upgrade system linked to Creature Cores dropped from fallen enemies gives a bit the ability to connect them in a skill tree that can enhance your power, with those cores being upgradeable the more of them you collect. Returning to previous levels and grinding for different cores can be useful, but not essential. An Arena Mode eventually unlocks as well for wave-based missions if you’re just looking to smash some skulls without the exploration.
The hard-hitting style of Darksiders also translates surprisingly well to Genesis, allowing for a ranged or in-your-face approach depending on your character of choice, with satisfying fatal blows with the simple press of a B button allowing you to briefly become invulnerable as you explode enemies into piles of goo and bone. Strife has a range of different ammunition types like a punishing shotgun blast or a laser, while War has access to more AOE attacks and can launch enemies up into the air before slamming them to the ground. Wave after wave of foes will come at you as well, which makes the slick and easy combat system feel punchy without being too complicated. It became a rhythm of pummeling that always brought a smile to my face.
Despite the fresh take on the franchise, Darksiders Genesis does have some issues that made my time with the game frustrating at points. Getting stuck in the geometry of a level proved to be annoying, requiring a character switch to jolt back out of it. Objects in the foreground sometimes obscured the view of strong enemy attacks. Certain traversal mechanics like flying from one area to the next flat out didn’t work for my co-op partner at many points. At one particular boss battle, we both died and found ourselves trapped underneath the map instead of respawning, causing us to force quit the game and try again. This lack of polish was more noticeable in the later portions of the game, and paired with a bullet-sponge boss or two made for some controller-throwing close calls.
- Fast-paced and fun combat that the series is known for
- Plenty of secrets to uncover and explore
- Co-op with a mate is truly a blast
- Ho-hum storyline presentation
- Platforming sections can be frustrating
- Some bugs and glitches
Darksiders Genesis is a successful spin-off in that it manages to take the source material from its core franchise and implement it into a new genre, while bringing the same sense of punchy combat and platforming that the series is known for. It fumbles some of the execution with the isometric perspective sometimes doing the player a disservice and the environments and enemies lack in variety, but it’s an enjoyable co-op romp that blends fast paced action with plenty of secrets to uncover. I wish the storyline could have been a little more memorable and I’m puzzled the other members of the horseman aren’t even a consideration, but considering other universes have struggle to move between genres, I’d call Genesis a surprisingly delightful action adventure that hopefully earns a more fleshed-out sequel in the future.