Darksiders: Genesis goes to show the power of an IP. I’ve never been one for isometric dungeon crawlers, but I’ve always been a fan of the Darksiders series. Combining the two saw me initially struggle with the same foibles of the genre, though getting invested in the world building and movesets of the characters more than overpowered this aspect and I ended up having a great time.
Set before the original Darksiders, we take on the role of two of the newly crowned Four Horsemen of The Apocalypse, War and Strife. War was the main protagonist of the original game, whereas Strife is the final Horseman to be put in players hands after Death and Fury were playable in the original sequels. Lucifer is suspected of plotting to upset the Balance of the worlds by granting power to the Master Demons throughout Hell, and it’s up to our Horsemen to discover his plans and stop him. Along the way, we meet several series favourites characters – such as the merchant Vulgrim – as well as plenty of new wonderfully designed Hell spawn. The tale weaved is not overly laid on – cutscenes and dialogue are kept fairly short – yet it’s still interesting enough to hold the attention. Additional lore can be found scattered around, and all can be caught up on in the menu should you need a refresher. War and Strife play off of each other nicely, their opposing personality and opinions offering up some genuinely entertaining back and forth, as well as when interacting with others along the way. Cutscenes are presented in a motion comic style – a personal favourite of mine – and look great, with bold colours and lines bringing the characters to life effectively.
Until now, the Darksiders titles have all been 3rd person adventure sorts. Genesis mixes this up, instead playing as a top down, isometric dungeon crawler. Despite this perspective change, the feel of gameplay hasn’t really changed all that much. We’ve still got plenty of areas to explore off the beaten path, power ups and skill tree’s are handled in much the same manner as before, and the token chests filled with Souls, health and the like are hidden in nooks and cranny’s. Along the way, we have lots of walls to climb, tricky platforming sections and more, all lending authenticity to the Darksiders name.
Combat feels like a mix between the two genres too. As mentioned, I’ve never really gotten on with the dungeon crawler style, but here I found myself having a great time. In fact, it really feels as though this is simply a fully fledged Darksiders game, just with the camera panned out. Each of our two Horsemen have access to close up melee attacks, with War’s massive sword Chaosbringer returning to cut down foes. Familiar powers return too, with a massive area of effect attack that sees the blade shoot up multiple spikes from under the feet of your enemies. Strife’s strength though lies in ranged attacks. Wielding two powerful handguns – Mercy and Redemption – that can take a variety of ammo types, he his best used to thin the herd from afar. We’re never far from battle, and it pays to head in to each encounter carefully. Especially solo, the amount of enemies on screen at any one time can be quite overwhelming. We’re able to switch between the Horsemen at will, with each suited to different tasks. War is by far the better choice in an all our brawl, but equally Strife is best used to weaken foes from afar before he charges in.
There’s plenty of scope for upgrades and abilities too. Our Horsemen slowly gain new skills along the adventure, some picked up in chests, while others are purchased from the store. Thankfully – despite appearances – there are no microtransactions hidden within, though you’ll need to really scour the levels to make sure you have enough Souls as well as the hidden Boatman coins to purchase some of the more meaty upgrades.
Each character can be levelled up by collecting glowing orbs dropped from certain enemies. After collecting the first of a type, it can be placed in the skill tree. It pays to place them wisely though; each slot has a preffered type of orb, and matching these up will grant additional bonuses. Special golden orbs dropped by bosses go in larger slots, and allow even bigger perks. As each orb is inserted, our Horsemen’s level is increased. Stages have a recommended level attached, though reaching these on first try is hard if you’ve not spent time hunting for additional perks or choosing the placement wisely.
Once we got it right though, we often felt unstoppable – as you should do when playing as one of the Four Horsemen! That’s not to say there isn’t challenge; far from it, but as long as we played somewhat tactically the Hellspawn before never stood a chance. The huge bosses that bookend segments are perhaps a little damage sponge-y, and at times it can be hard to keep track of just where we are in amidst the carnage, but overall there was rarely a moment that we weren’t have a blast. The slower platforming sections can be a bit hard to consistently navigate, with the camera occasionally obscured behind some scenery or making the angle and distance of a jump hard to judge. Some of these areas feature a no respawn section too, leading to a full restart of the obstacle if we fall. But it’s not long before we’re back in the thick of it, and that’s where Genesis shines.
Played solo it’s fun, though naturally adding a friend to the mix makes everything that much sweeter. Now, we can use both Horsemen’s abilities in unison to devastating effect. Some of the harder battles of attrition solo become more about managing the crowds between you, rather than having the full force bear down on one character. Levels tend to take no more than an hour, so it’s perfect for an evening here and there to go through without demanding each of you commit to it exclusively. It’s a bit of a shame that there’s no online matchmaking – you’ll need either an Xbox Live or couch co-op friend – but equally it’s always better to play with someone you know, right?
Darksiders: Genesis redeems the series after the disappointment of the 3rd entry last year. It manages to capture the essence that makes Darksiders what it is, while transposing it in to a new genre. Top quality action, over the top powers and spectacle and a fun core loop that provides challenge without too much frustration. Removing the series staple platforming wouldn’t have hurt, and at times solo play can be a little bit attritional, but overall you’d be hard pressed not to have a good time with Genesis.