Darksiders Genesis Review: Flipping Perspectives For the Apocalypse
Darksiders Genesis is deceptively good. I don't mean that negatively, implying that it starts bad and only gets fun after a while. Instead, it lures you in with its Diablo-esque isometric action RPG gameplay.
Then it hooks you with just how much of an authentic Darksiders experience it all turns out to be. The deception is skin-deep and does a great job of selling the action early on.
For those unaware, Darksiders is an action-adventure RPG series that started last generation. It tells the story of the end of humanity by way of The Four Horsemen ushering in the end of times via the actual apocalypse.
While the first three games in the series follow a similar behind-the-back third-person action format, Darksiders Genesis tells a prequel story from a top-down perspective.
Darksiders Genesis Review: The Fourth Horseman
The timeline for the Darksiders universe continues to get more and more muddled. Technically, the original game in the series picks up at the start of the timeline and ends at the most recent events in the timeline due to a time skip.
Darksiders 2 and Darksiders 3 both take place during that time skip from the first game. Now Darksiders Genesis is a prequel to all three, but it still doesn't add a whole lot of meaningful development to any of the characters or the narrative as a whole.
Truth be told, I'm a pretty massive fan of the Darksiders franchise. The original is one of my all-time favorite games with its apocalyptic Zelda design focused on large dungeons letting you control War across a mostly linear story.
I also adored the second entry even after it took a more open-world approach with dozens of tiny crypts and tombs over a handful of labyrinth-style temples featuring Death. And though Darksiders 3 faltered in most ways beyond the core gameplay and combat, it was still a good outing to introduce Fury as a playable character. She certainly lives up to the name.
Other than the genre shift here, Darksiders Genesis is notable because it lets you take control of Strife for the first time. In Genesis, you can switch between both War and Strife freely, as you like, across the entire campaign — or you can play the whole game in online or split-screen co-op instead, which is another long-awaited first for the series.
In terms of playstyle, Strife and War wonderfully complement each other. Whereas War is all about up-close and personal melee attacks with his massive two-handed sword and short-range burst-style AoE special attacks, Strife is best used from a distance.
His dual handguns can unload a bevy of bullets and the various types of special ammo he gets help him land the right shot for every enemy. If things get dicey, though, he can still slash his way out of close-quarters if needed.
Technically, THQ Nordic and Airship Syndicate offer keyboard and mouse as a control option. Still, I played with an Xbox One controller because it just felt more appropriate when controlling either Strife or War.
Darksiders Genesis is split into a handful of chapters that each serve as medium-sized maps. While linear in their objectives, each chapter can be explored relatively freely as you complete them. Then, if you want to go back and find collectibles you missed or farm for souls (the game's currency), you can easily do that.
Returning character Vulgrim runs the underworld serpent tunnel system that lets you travel between zones, while also serving as the merchant for all your needs.
Heaven And Hell
There are no classes, experience points, gear loot to find, or levels in Darksiders Genesis. In a lot of ways, Genesis is a streamlined action game that's more focused on flashy, fun combat than giving you stats to min-max.
The result is something that does tend to get a bit repetitive due to a lack of nuance and generally uninspired enemies. However, there is still a decent, albeit shallow, progression system to work with in the form of Creature Cores and gear upgrades.
Powerful creatures in Darksiders Genesis drop unique cores that can be slotted onto a grid to allocate bonuses. If you collect a duplicate core, then it improves the core you already have. The grid admittedly looks a bit like a much smaller and more focused version of the orb grids in games like Final Fantasy X and Path of Exile.
On top of that, you'll gradually unlock new abilities and gear as you go through the game, such as the Vorpal Blade. It's a powerful multi-edged ranged weapon that War uses to trigger switches and stun enemies from a distance, as well as lock onto multiple successive targets.
Switching between gear and swapping characters is all done at the press of a button, so the action never has to get bogged down by menus. Summoning and dismounting horses happens just as fast too.
After the opening moments, it becomes immediately clear that this is much more than just a Diablo clone from a pure gameplay perspective. While controlling War and Strife, you'll not only smash through dozens of enemies using powerful attacks, but you'll also have to glide across gaps, scale walls, solve light puzzles, and explore for hidden collectibles and upgrades.
In other words, this is very much a Darksiders game at heart, which is refreshing to see. All too often, you'll see a series switch genres and lose sight of what made things work in the first place, but that didn't happen here.
Darksiders: Genesis — The Bottom Line
- Great visual style with a solid soundtrack
- War and Strife each play very differently
- Expertly maintains the heart of what it means to be a Darksiders game
- Captures the frantic fun of top-down isometric action RPGs
- Good variety with platforming and puzzles to shake things up
- Generally non-consequential story
- Progression system is a bit shallow
- Enemies eventually get repetitive
Darksiders Genesis doesn't do much to move the franchise forward other than introducing Strife as a playable horseman for the first time. However, it's still an exciting and well-made romp through the depths of Hell.
Shifting genres doesn't always work out for popular game franchises, but Darksiders has proven itself to be adaptable and deep enough to evoke the best of whichever game style it finds itself in.
Darksiders Genesis releases on December 5 for PC and Stadia, with a PS4 and Xbox One release slated for February 14, 2020.
[Note: THQ Nordic provided a copy of Darksiders Genesis for the purpose of this review.]