One thing you have to admit about the Darksiders series is that it definitely likes to change things up with each entry, making it impossible to accuse it of being too much of the same. The first Darksiders had that perfect blending of The Legend of Zelda and classic God of War, then Darksiders II expanded on all that while adding in more RPG elements, a focus on loot, and platforming elements like you would find in Prince of Persia. The relatively recent Darksiders III went for the now ever-popular Souls-type gameplay loop with its combat and exploration elements. Now we have Darksiders: Genesis, a prequel to all the previous games in the series that changes things up even more. This title is a top-down view, hack and slash/shooting platformer that puts you in control of two of the Horsemen of the Apocalypse, namely the protagonist from the first game, War, and new protagonist Strife, the last of the Horsemen. I have almost no experience in these types of games with the isometric cameras, having never played games like Diablo or Divinity: Original Sin. The only game I’ve played (and that I can’t recommend anyone else play) that comes even close is the Ghostbusters game that was a sort of sequel to the godawful 2016 film of the same name. I’m happy to say that despite the very different approach to gameplay and the fact that this game was developed by Airship Syndicate and not by original creators Gunfire Games, Darksiders: Genesis still feels like a classic Darksiders game and stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the other games in the series in providing an enjoyable gameplay experience for fans and newcomers.
The story begins with War and Strife being sent on a mission by the Charred Council to look into some shady dealings that Lucifer has made with other demon lords that threaten the Balance of all worlds. After meeting with one such demon lord, Samael (arguably the coolest character in the series), the Horsemen make a deal with him: Samael leads the Horsemen to where his rivals are so they can dismantle their power base and execute them for upsetting the Balance. There is a bit more to the plot than that but not much more, if I’m being perfectly honest. The stories in the Darksiders games are sometimes hit or miss, with the first and third games easily having the best and most involved stories, while the stories for the second game and this game take a back seat to all the action to the point where you kind of forget the purpose behind all the demon-slaying (other than being a lot of fun).
That’s not to say the story for Darksiders: Genesis is not worth following since it does have some good moments, chief among them being the scenes where War and Strife converse about their purpose as Horsemen and why they fight for the Balance. Some of these scenes of brotherly bonding are appropriately dramatic, but many others are quite amusing, and the two protagonists play off each other very well, with Strife providing some amusing quips and one-liners that often serve to annoy the more rigid and by-the-book War. It’s very much like a classic buddy cop film in that respect.
Unlike the previous games in the series that featured more open worlds, Darksiders: Genesis is a more linear, mission-based experience that follows a very specific formula from beginning to end. You go through each level fighting enemies and solving a few puzzles here and there, a couple of which actually gave me some trouble (I was overthinking one of them though, so that unpleasant experience was on me). Each mission also carries a number of collectibles, including healthstones and wrathstones that increase each character’s health and Wrath (magic), chests full of the familiar souls currency used to buy items and combat abilities from Vulgrim and his servant, Dis, and Wrath abilities for the Horsemen. None of these collectibles affect the story, but they are very helpful in making the Horsemen more powerful and more readily able to face the many enemies thrown at them, so it’s best to try to collect as many as possible. Some will be unreachable until after you’ve gained a particular item or ability later on in the story, encouraging players to revisit previous missions, though it should be noted that the majority of abilities and items can be acquired just by playing each mission once.
The abilities and items include Strife’s Void Bomb, which lets him create portals on certain surfaces to reach certain areas and solve environmental puzzles, and War’s Vorpal Blade, the newest Crossblade iteration that lets him activate pressure plates and switches on walls and also attack enemies. I should mention, however, that it can be annoying at first trying to track down specific items and collectibles since the map doesn’t show the player character’s current location, it only highlights the current area of the map that you are going through. I eventually got used to not knowing exactly where I was on the map, but a character icon still would have been preferable.
Back to Strife and War, the two Horsemen play very differently, which I think really helps make the combat interesting. Strife’s guns allow him to dispatch enemies from a safe distance with a number of different firing modes that you can acquire as you advance in each mission, like charged shots, chain lightning blasts, energy beams, etc. His Wrath abilities that allow him to create Shadow Clones to attack and distract enemies, use the World Ender ability to blast enemies with a beam that covers a wide area in front of him, and leave explosive Caltrops behind him all make it easier for Strife to keep his enemies from getting too close while he deals out tons of damage. Fortunately, Strife can also attack enemies with dual blades in case he has to get up close and personal.
War, not surprisingly, is the tanky brute who can go toe-to-toe with the toughest of enemies in this game with his sword and assortment of weapon enhancements that allow him to hit enemies with shockwaves, flaming spin attacks, and even drain the health of enemies with each weapon strike. Anyone who has played the first game will find controlling War in this game to be very familiar, with only a couple of small changes made to his movesets. While both Horsemen can dodge enemy attacks, War can also block and parry them, and he also has his Blade Geyser and Stoneskin Wrath abilities from the first game that respectively let him impale surrounding enemies in a field of blades and increase his defense for a limited time; his new Wrath ability, Rampage, lets him charge into enemies from a distance (which was okay but definitely my least favorite of his Wrath abilities).
While collecting more of Strife and War’s gun and weapon enhancements helps to increase their attack power, the items called Creature Cores that you can gain by defeating enemies or completing side tasks within each mission let you add a number of special perks to the Horsemen. Many of the Creature Cores add percentage-based boosts to Strife and War’s health, Wrath, and attack power; others can improve the effectiveness of their abilities, like increasing the radius of War’s Blade Geyser and letting Strife summon two Shadow Clones instead of just one; and yet other Creature Cores can add elemental effects to weapon strikes or let the Horsemen summon other creatures to fight alongside them after scoring hits on enemies a certain number of times. So yeah, the Creature Cores add an extra layer of options through which players can customize the Horsemen to suit their playstyles.
You will find upgrading the Horsemen as much as possible will be necessary in some of the later missions that throw lots of powerful enemies at you, even more so in the Arena that you unlock before the game’s halfway point that throws some really tough enemies at you in the final stages. This leads me to my main annoyance with this game, which would be that some enemies feel way too tanky and take a lot of punishment before they go down, meanwhile the Horsemen, even the beefy War, can be almost one-shot by certain enemies (though this is mainly a problem in the later Arena stages and less so in the main campaign). Having said that, the combat is lots of fun, and being able to switch between Strife and War on the fly to use their different abilities on different groups of enemies and bosses is a great feature (though I personally would have liked having the AI control the other Horseman I wasn’t controlling for some cool teamwork play that doesn’t require another person, but I doubt the game would have run as well as it did if it had that feature).
I will say that the first half of the game isn’t as enjoyable as the second half since that’s when Strife and War’s abilities really start to open up. Not to mention that is around the time where Strife and War gain access to their totally awesome Anarchy and Chaos Forms, respectively. Having only played the game solo as of the writing of this review, I cannot say much about the co-op, only that you can play through missions and Arena challenges with another player through both local and online co-op play, which I imagine could be quite enjoyable as well (I intend to experience the co-op play with a gaming buddy of mine at a later date).
I’ll make a quick mention of the game’s art style and environmental designs. They are what one would expect from a Darksiders game, with the inclusion of comic book-styled cutscenes and lots of saturated reds, blues, and greens used to depict the many realms of Hell, whether they’re hellish sand dunes, frozen tundras, or subterranean areas filled with pools of acid. Speaking of the environments, a good number of them are big enough to allow Strife and War to ride their respective steeds, Mayhem and Ruin, though plenty of them do not allow for that. The voice acting is of the usual high quality of the series, with Liam O’Brien reprising his role of War with his usual intensity and Chris Jai Alex killing it as Strife (replacing previous voice actor Phil LaMarr, who also returns as Vulgrim). The talented Keith David also does great as Moloch, one of the demon lords. And we, of course, can’t forget Vernon Wells who continues his incomparable performance as Samael.
One aspect of the audio in Darksiders: Genesis that I can’t say I’m a huge fan of would be the constant echoing you hear whenever the main characters speak between missions in the Void hub area (and it happens in a couple of other scenes as well). If it weren’t for the subtitles that accompany the dialogue in these interactions in the Void, it would be almost impossible to understand what most of the characters are saying due to how intrusive the echoing can be. I saw a couple of YouTube videos of Darksiders: Genesis where the echoing is not present in these scenes, which is confusing. Either I can’t find the option to remove that effect from the game, or I’m just one of those “lucky” gamers who is stuck with that annoying little issue.
To sum up, fans of the Darksiders series would do well to give this game a go despite the fact it’s the only game in the series to make use of a linear mission structure and a top-down view camera. This is still a Darksiders game through and through, and it’s plenty of fun to play through solo or co-op.
Developer: Airship Syndicate
Publisher: THQ Nordic
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PC, Stadia
Release Date: 14th February 2020 (PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch), 5th December 2019 (PC, Stadia)