- Total Score - 9.2/109.2/10
Darksiders Genesis’s superb blend of action, platforming and exploration make it one of the best games of the year.
Developer – Airship Syndicate
Publisher – THQ NORDIC
Release Date – December 5th, 2019
Platforms – PC – Reviewed, Stadia. PS4, Xbox One, Switch
Darksiders Genesis finally let’s Strife take the reigns.
The first thing that sticks out is the perspective. Darksiders games, while different, all shared the third person perspective. Genesis opts for an isometric perspective that will undoubtedly draw comparisons to games such as Diablo.
I can see this shift in perspective putting off some returning veterans. On top of the huge shift in camera, is the fact that the game is at a budget price, and features co-op. On the surface many of these things made me hesitant. It lowered my expectations just a bit. Especially because I wondered to myself which kind of game style Genesis would take after.
Darksiders was highly influenced by Zelda; part two had a very Diablo influence and was sprawling in its scope. Darksiders III is also influenced by another classic, but not Zelda. Super Metroid and Dark Souls are what that game drew its inspiration from.
Darksiders Genesis pays tribute to a combination of games I would never have guessed. Tomb Raider and the Guardian of Light, and the original Darksiders itself.
Much of the design resembles the original in terms of balance. The massive multi-realm adventures of previous games are stripped down to a much tighter and more cohesive level based structure. Now initially the thought of a level based design made me worry that Genesis would lose some of the scope and grandeur of previous games.
Even from the beginning of this game you will see many pathways and locations that you just don’t have the ability to traverse at the moment. Instead of huge dungeons to gain new abilities, you will have to explore, solve puzzles, and work in tandem as you control Strife and War to navigate each stage.
Some levels are massive and sprawling with multiple sub stages and secrets everywhere. Other stages are boss fights in tight and small arena’s. The levels also do a great job of showing you secrets that you can’t quite reach at the moment, which is not the kind of thing you expect from a game not set in one continuous open world.
This game also received a ton of Diablo comparisons pre-release. Genesis is not a Diablo style game in any way shape or form. This game has no random loot. You won’t be waiting for an epic legendary piece of gloves, or plus 25 Guns to help you get that next dopamine fix.
Upgrades and abilities are acquired much like the original game. Through adventuring, solving various puzzles and secrets. Health Stones, Wrath stones, if it was in the other games it’s here as well, just in isometric form.
The individual tool sets each character has is limited compared to the main trilogy. This is fine because you play as Strife and War together. These characters are not palette swaps or alternate models what so ever. They’re completely unique
The combat and character progression also sees a handful of changes. While responsive and smooth as it has always been, the ebb and flow of combat is very different. It can be easy to see surface-level comparisons to the other top down hack and slash games, but this isn’t mindless combat.
For one, each of our two horsemen play completely different. Strife uses his trusty pistols and knives. He is the glass cannon. His basic controls resemble many dual stick shooters you all know and love, but he is completely capable of using melee attacks as well.
Knowing when to dive in and manage his ammo types are all a huge part of the game.
War plays almost exactly like you remember from the original. From his combo strings, special attacks and even his abilities.
High level gameplay comes in the form of managing your wrath, and knowing how to either use your invincible frames with Strife, or block and parry with War.
Most of the game is not too tough on the standard difficulty, but both characters, especially Strife are frail. A couple of good hits and you will be killed.
In co-op this is handled separately than in solo play. In co-op your partner must come over and revive you, in solo play you will automatically switch to the other horsemen and after a short cool down the dead character will be revived.
It’s a nice way to have a challenge, and on the harder setting some combat encounters wont necessarily be tough, but they can be intese and thrilling.
The game also controls incredibly well. All the attacks, gun shots and dodges are pulled off with finesse and responsive controls.
Upgrades are present in the form of creature cores. Genesis features a unified upgrade path that resembles a sphere grid, more than a skil tree.
Each horsemen has three core stats. Health, Wrath, and Attack. When you kill a creature, they have a chance at dropping their core. Each enemy in the game from lowly minions to the huge bosses, has their own unique core.
These cores are all based in one of those three stats. The grid will have nodes. Slot a core into a node, then it becomes active and adjacent nodes can be used. Fill out the grid with whatever creature cores benefit you.
Each creature core can also be leveled up three times. Once you max out a creature core, getting duplicate cores will automatically convert them to currency used in the shops.
Now these cores range greatly in what they can do. Some cores just offer the standard percentage buff of a stat, while others can add things such as increased invincible frames or a larger window for perfect parries.
This style of upgrade system is a huge refresher. Instead of pausing every two seconds to micro manage the 40th blue sword you picked up, the creature core system allows for true freedom for builds and variety that fit your play style without drowning you in junk.
Its a smart, refreshing way to manage upgrades and at anytime you can freely tinker with the whole skill tree without needing to buy a skill reset of any kind.
The story telling in Genesis is where the modest price is most keenly felt. The story is told either through portraits or motion comics that usually book-end each stage. Now don’t get me wrong, the story is told very well and the voice actors all portray their roles with perfection.
The story line itself is decent. It’s a good primer for how things are the way they are in the original game. The highlight of the story telling however, is the relationship between Strife and War and how their characters develop over the course of it.
Strife may come across as Deadpool in some of the marketing, but his brashness and attitude give way to moments of painful memories. The quite moments of dialogue where that attitude peels back just long enough to tease something underneath was more of a motivation to keep pushing the story forward than the plot itself.
War also does a great job. The normally stoic and quietly angry horseman actually has somebody to speak with who he isn’t trying to kill or loathing at all times. This back and forth gives him more nuance, as Strife consistently pokes and jabs as how grim and serious War is.
This allows us to truly see these horsemen, sworn family in a light that we have only caught slight glimpses of in previous games. These moments are now the thing I didn’t truly realize I wanted in the inevitable Darksiders game that picks up where that infamous cliffhanger left off.
I can’t wait to have all four of them, riding together, bantering and just engaging with each other to see and learn more about all of them.
I’d also be a fool not to mention some other details of note. This game looks gorgeous. War and Strife are clear on screen, and despite the isometric camera the animations and various moves all carry a a lot of impact and weight. Small details like the horses flaming tracks or the massive amount of unique execution finishers just bring the game to life.
The score is also incredible. Where three went for a more sparse soundscape, Genesis is right up front with a great sondtrack. It has original tracks, but also features some great variations on themes from the previous titles. Each level is accompanied by it’s own music, and it was great for getting me pumped up during the bigger moments in the game.
Not all is perfect, and Genesis does have some flaws.
Because the game features so much freedom to explore and versatile movement, more than a couple of times during co-op sessions my partner or I would find our self stuck in the world. The isometric angle can also make certain platforming sections, especially going for secrets a bit more difficult because lining up angles and how high or low you are can be challenging.
It wasn’t a deterrent, or something that ruined the game, but it wouldn’t be fair if I ignored those moments of slight frustration they could cause.
Combat can also get busy on the screen. Between souls, health orbs, wrath, and creature cores and other collectibles the screen can sometimes explode with a ton of noise during big fights. The game always does a great job of highlighting you, but in co-op pray for the War players. It isn’t uncommon for Strife to fill the screen which can make blocking and parrying with him a bit difficult. In solo play it’s easier to manage. It wasn’t a problem for me, just something that I noticed.
I’ve been loving my time with Darksiders Genesis. It has a ton of depth, the campaign is lengthy and has great character development. The superb blend of action, platforming and exploration that made the series such a standout is intact. Even better is the fantastic co-op, whether its local split screen or online, being able to play the whole game front to back with a friend is awesome.
Some of my co-op partners have never played a Darksiders game before, only hearing of it through me. This has been the perfect way to bring them into the fold, and Genesis does a great job of being an introduction into this fantastic universe.
It’s easily one of my favorite games of the year.