Darksiders Genesis Review
is a great new direction for a series known for its many different directions. While its isometric view may conjure thoughts of loot-centric action-RPGs along the lines of Diablo or Path of Exile, rest assured this is a Darksiders game, through and through. It’s an action-adventure complete with hard-hitting combat, dungeon diving, exploration, and more than a few “Press B to Brutally Murder” executions. What it lacks in Blizzard-level polish it makes up for with a respectable amount of content. Most importantly, though, is how Genesis manages to be just as fun at the start of its solo and co-op campaign as it is at the end thanks to a wide variety of enemies, well-thought-out character progression, and smart level design that encourages and rewards thorough exploration of its expansive environments.
As the name implies, Genesis takes place at the beginning of Darksiders lore, centuries upon centuries before the apocalyptic events of the first game. The overarching plot is pretty standard fare and functions mostly just to give the playable pair of characters, War and Strife, reasons to visit a location, kill a big bad demon, collect a magic trinket, turn off a poison faucet, and so on for the duration of its 15-hour campaign and compelling New Game+ (called Apocalyptic difficulty). The real star of Genesis’s story is the dynamic between its two main characters.
Darksiders Genesis Screenshots
The witty and snarky Strife is the perfect foil to the straight-laced and duty-bound War, and their pairing immediately brings to mind the dynamic and chemistry of Peter Quill and Drax from Guardians of the Galaxy. There’s some genuinely funny interactions between the two, but also some heartfelt moments as they both cope with the guilt stemming from their betrayal of the Nephilim during the War for Eden, along with some deeper-rooted (figurative) demons. These emotional highs are particularly resonant thanks to stellar voice acting from Liam O’Brien and Chris Jai Alex as War and Strife, respectively.
Perhaps the most surprising thing about Genesis is just how well the fast-paced, hard-hitting style of Darksiders’ combat translates to an isometric camera style. War plays exactly like he does in the original Darksiders: he’s got simple mashy combos, an option to launch enemies up for air combos, big AOE special attacks, and a quick dash that gets him out of or into a fight in an instant. He can also block enemy attacks and can eventually get an upgrade that allows him to counter if he blocks right before an attack hits, which is super important in the late game.
It all feels really good. War’s attacks feel weighty and impactful, sending smaller demons flying when he hits, and there are several small touches, like being able to cancel any attack with a block or dodge. That sort of thing keeps the action quick and allows you to realistically react defensively when chaos covers the screen.
Then there’s Strife, who finally makes his playable debut in a Darksiders game with a style that’s completely different than War. While War is meant to rush head-first into combat, Strife is much squishier and does his best work from a distance where he can use his guns. To facilitate this playstyle, Strife has multiple dashes, seven different types of ammo that he can eventually add to his arsenal, and a Hotstreak meter that dramatically improves his weapons for a short amount of time.
In solo mode, you can switch between the two characters at any time, and in co-op each player controls one of the Horsemen. Local co-op is done in split-screen, which is not ideal since it reduces your screen space by half and makes it easy for enemies to hit you from off screen, but it’s better than nothing and at least allows you to explore without being tethered to your partner on a short leash.
The biggest bummer about the combat and camera angle is that there are often times when rocky crags in the foreground and other bits of the environment obscure the action. It’s a puzzling problem because Genesis already has half of the solution in place: you can see silhouettes and outlines of War and Strife through the environment, but the same isn’t true for enemies. So while you can always see your character, you can’t see what’s hitting you. It’s never a problem for too long, but it can be frustrating whenever it happens.
Similarly annoying is when your character gets stuck in the geometry, which happened to me far more often than it should. It was never game-breaking, fortunately, because switching characters and jumping a whole bunch typically got me out of any jam, but that’s a telltale sign of an overall lack of polish that is a bit disappointing to see.
Genesis’ greatest success is making its gameplay thoroughly engaging all throughout its campaign, and beyond. There are mandatory upgrades that introduce fun new facets to both combat and puzzle-solving, like War’s chargeable Tremor Gauntlet, which is used not only to break specific red crystals but can also be charged for big long-range damage or used in the air for an AOE attack. Then there’s Strife’s Void Bomb, which doesn’t have any use in combat but does lead to some great Portal-like puzzles.
In addition to the mandatory upgrades, there are also some potent ones that you can actually miss if you neglect to explore some of the better-hidden areas of every level. These upgrades, like the Deathtouch enhancement for War that makes enemies explode upon death to deal big damage (and potentially setting off a chain reaction), are extremely powerful and make exploration very rewarding. In addition to that, there’s also valuable currency to collect that allows you to purchase upgrades and items from the shop, along with a unique progression system involving Creature Cores that strongly encourages replaying levels or participating in combat arenas to improve stats.
I rarely have any desire to replay levels of any game in any one playthrough, but in Genesis I actively wanted to revisit earlier stages with new abilities in order to explore a previously closed-off pathway leading to an epic chest that promised either a new ammo type for Strife, a new enhancement for War, or a new special ability. Of course, it also helped that replaying levels would also give me more souls to spend in the shop and Creature Cores to further upgrade my characters.
There are three types of Creature Cores that are randomly dropped by enemies: Attack, Wrath, and Health, and the slots that they can be placed into have the same categories. You can place any Core into any slot to unlock the adjacent ones, but you get a significant matching bonus if you match the type of Core with the type of slot. Obtaining duplicate Cores also serves to upgrade them, but if a level 3 Core is placed in a level 1 slot it’ll only get you the level 1 benefits, so there’s another thing you have to consider.
It definitely sounds more complicated than it actually is, and it’s pretty satisfying to reconfigure your Core placements and squeeze out some extra stats. However, although it works great on the first playthrough while you’re still filling out the entire grid, once all of the slots are filled and you need to focus on grinding levels in order to improve specific Creature Cores so you can survive on Apocalyptic difficulty, it becomes a chore to hunt down specific monsters in specific levels in order to upgrade them to max level. Especially since the amount of time needed to increase just one soul to level 3 is fairly substantial for just a small incremental gain in your stats. It turned into a bit of a slog – but at least the combat remains enjoyable enough to make it feel worthwhile.