Darksiders: Genesis delivers a new perspective in the first major shake-up of the series in ten years. But does it take us through the pearly gates to gaming heaven, or send us down to the ninth circle of hell?
Darksiders has never been known as a franchise that leads. Even with the release of the original game at the beginning of last decade, critical response made sure that players knew that what they were getting was a melding of tropes from The Legend of Zelda and God of War, the latter of which released its series finale that same year.
And look, that’s fine! Darksiders played well, had some good animations, and was clearly beloved enough to garner three sequels, spin-off DLC, and even a novel. It’s all a bit of fun, if a bit childish – all gruff musclebound dudes with big glowing swords. That said, the spectre of its own unoriginality has always haunted Darksiders, and general excitement (and sales) for the series has diminished over time. To see a game like Darksiders: Genesis come along, with what seems like a solid shake-up for the series, is perhaps cause for celebration, but that’ll come down to how much you like Diablo – yeah, Darksiders hasn’t kicked the copycat habit, but that’s not such a bad thing.
Here’s the situation – Darksiders: Genesis ditches the third-person hack-and-slash mould for a new, top-down co-op dungeon crawler experience. The two bad boys of the apocalypse this time around are the OG horseman from the first game, War, and newcomer brother Strife – who both looks like a Destiny character and has the same sarcastic disposition as that series’ fan-favourite Cayde-6. It’s all set before the events of the first game, but things still seem to be in a state of perpetual crisis. We guess that’s just what you get when you’re holding the balance between Heaven and Hell, as the horsemen are tasked to do.
Something is afoot, you see. That dastardly Lucifer is up to his tricks again, and the only way to stop him is by going to a variety of environmentally and mechanically distinct areas, fighting demons on your way to the area’s final boss, collecting a McGuffin for your troubles and returning to a hub world between missions to purchase upgrades for your characters. Of course! Is there any other way when it comes to Darksiders? It’s a tried and true gameplay loop, and it works perfectly fine.
With the ability to switch on the fly between War’s closeup bruiser combat style and Strife’s double-pistol long-ranged forte, the combat of Darksiders: Genesis is totally serviceable. War is basically a one-to-one remake of how he felt to play in the original game, with big weighty swings and a real menacing presence. Strife is a welcome breath of fresh air with the way he can dart around. Using his pistols will fill up a power bar that automatically pops him into a super-powered mode, giving a natural cadence to his combat. That said, it remains a button masher, without a tonne of nuance for complex combos or tactics, which are bucked in favour of bombastic animations and plenty of ‘press circle for execution animation’ opportunities, but the Darksiders games have always tended to put accessibility first, so that’s no surprise. This is dumb fun of the highest degree, so if you’re looking for something deep and complex, perhaps look elsewhere.
“This is dumb fun of the highest degree, so if you’re looking for something deep and complex, perhaps look elsewhere.”
That’s not a dig on the quality of the game’s systems though, everything here works pretty smoothly, and the Darksiders brand translates to this new perspective rather well. One area that is sorely lacking, however, is in enemy variety. By the time we’d made it over six hours into the game we could probably count all the enemies we encountered on one-and-a-bit hands.
Perhaps we ought to be thankful for that though, as adapting to different combat scenarios will rely on your ability to internalise the game’s control systems. Frankly put, they don’t need to be as complex as they are, and we found ourselves often taking a moment or two to remind ourselves of the minute yet meaningful differences between the two characters’ button layouts. This doesn’t ruin the experience, but nothing pulls you out of the flow of a game than wondering why the same ability for each character is bound to two different buttons. It’s not a huge problem, but it is inelegant.
Where variety isn’t lacking is in Darksiders: Genesis’ progression systems, which combine purchased moves with an upgrade system powered by ‘cores’ – items dropped by enemies that build out a network of stat-boost and passive upgrades. Much like how you’ll end up with a huge list of combo moves in games like God of War, Darksiders: Genesis is the same, and it’s a joy to see them play out in real time thanks to the generous combo-timing that the game gives you.
Much like any good dumb hack n’ slasher, Darksiders: Genesis delivers a deep enough pool of mechanics to play about in, while keeping things visually exciting and playing off its two leads for some pretty good character moments. The developers’ decision to adapt the game to this new isometric style has paid off well. Fans of dungeon crawlers, here’s your new bible!
Darksiders: Genesis is available now on PS4, Xbox One, Switch and PC.