I’m not going to lie, when Darksiders Genesis was originally announced, I was a little more than sceptical. Just off the back of Darksiders III which, while enjoyable, didn’t give the impression of pushing the series forward much; it didn’t feel unreasonable to consider that Genesis was going to be the start of the end of the series – or at least a focus change from their main series outings. For a start, I don’t think that the latter will actually be the case, but also, thankfully, Genesis is anything but a lame spin off from the main series.

Set before the events of any of the main entries, Darksiders Genesis sees Strife and War – two horsemen who act on ‘The Council’s’ orders to maintain a balance in the universe (between heaven and hell, to explain it briefly) – are sent on a task to uncover and put a stop to a plot by Lucifer, who is, for an unknown reason (other than to ‘upset the balance’), granting power to various warring demon lords. Along the way you enlist the help of series favourite (and dodgy dealer) Vulgrim – a demon that utilises ‘serpent holes’ to transport between areas. Vulgrim allows you to use his serpent holes and extensive knowledge in return for a few ‘favours’ along the way.

Unlike the previous entries in the series, Darksiders Genesis is not a third person action RPG, but instead a top-down action game. A little bit of twin stick shooter and a little bit of Diablo is probably the most accurate comparison, while also maintaining essential mechanics and tones that make this distinctly a Darksiders title. Familiar themes and weapons are still present, as well as the puzzling and platforming that gave the previous entries their edge.

As War, you utilise his signature sword to hack and slash your way through demons. There are numerous combos to be unlocked, resulting in this being just as versatile a combat experience as the main games. Special abilities can also be unlocked, which for War includes mainly AOE attacks such as a dash attack, a ground smash and an ability that brings swords from the ground to impale those around you, and for Strife these include creating an active clone of yourself, deploying mines, and a powerful blast from his guns. Strife focusses mainly on ranged attacks; equipped with two fast firing pistols, you aim and shoot as you might in any other top down shooter, but Strife also has a couple of small knives which you can use in close range.

For both War and Strife you have a selection of unique abilities specific to their weapons. I’m not referring to the aforementioned powers, but abilities that enhance your sword and guns. War gets a range of secondary attacks which are used by holding the heavy attack button – these range from spinning attacks to slamming and even creating small whirlwinds. While these are cool for War, Strife’s abilities I found a little more interesting. You have two types of attack for Strife’s guns just as War does for his sword, but while this generally means a light and heavy attack, instead you can choose an ammo type for either of these slots. Strife can shoot explosive bullets, laser beams, electricity and much more. You can create a combo of ammo types – so having explosive rounds on heavy attack and electricity on light attack – to great effect, the only catch being that any ammo type other than the standard one has limited capacity and needs refilling from ammo drops (found in destructible items and sometimes dropped from enemies). While these drops are quite frequent, if you get a little too excited – particularly during a boss fight – you could find yourself running low quickly.

All these abilities are either found in chests across the levels or bought from Vulgrim. You can also buy combo upgrades from another character introduced early on, as well as general upgrades such as armour, health, keys to secret doors, etc. All of this is bought with souls garnered from defeated enemies and discovered chests, as introduced in Darksiders III, and also ‘Boatman Coins’ which are collectables scattered and hidden around the levels. If this all wasn’t enough, the game also has a ‘creature core’ system. Each enemy type in the game, be that grunt or boss, has the chance of dropping a core. Each enemy type has their own core with its own stats and benefits (and sometimes negatives). You have a number of slots within your creature core tree that you can place these cores into, changing Strife’s and War’s stats and increasing their level. Some of the slots require specific enemy types to get the best benefit, and combining a string of these together reaps better results.

You can also place these cores anywhere willy-nilly, which will still give you a benefit, but to a lesser extent. It seems like a bizarre mechanic to have in a game like this, but in practice it’s a lot of fun collecting the cores and implementing them as you see fit. With each core collected you also upgrade your current cores, increasing their level and effectiveness. If you’re thinking any of this sounds a little overwhelming, there’s no need to worry as practically the game is well designed and all its mechanics and systems are well balanced. They fit together to create a thoughtful high intensity experience.

The combat is generally fluid and always exciting – producing visceral encounters that make you feel powerful and challenged at the same time, and that thematic Darksiders scale carries to this game as well, with you fighting some really cool looking and imposing enemies. The boss fights are no less impressive than those in the main series, with you taking on mammoth demons through waves of enemies, adapting to their attack patterns and ultimately finishing them off in gruesome style. Switching between War and Strife is also seamless, and in fact the game utilises switching in the combat – if you acquire the ability to do so, you can switch character straight into a devastating attack. I’d say I preferred to use Strife, and in some encounters it was clear that War was at a disadvantage in not having a ranged attack, even if he is the bulkier of the two, but both characters are enjoyable to play as and provide their own unique playstyles. The chaos forms also return, which are epic to say the least – filling a chaos meter allows War and Strife to transform into huge monsters for a limited time, smashing and obliterating anything in their path.

The puzzling isn’t quite as detailed or complex as you might expect from the series, but it is still enjoyably challenging, and even introduces a new puzzle mechanic as prompted by Strife. Strife can throw void bombs on specific platforms/surfaces to create a portal. This is usually used to find secret areas, but you also have to use it to traverse tricky terrain and blocked/missing paths. If, for example, you create a portal on a surface angled across a chasm, you will need to find and place a second portal elsewhere – jumping into it and using the momentum this creates to fling you across to the other side. There’s also the familiar Cross Blade which can be thrown at switches, light fires when ignited, and so on; and War utilises his Tremor Gauntlet on certain platforms to thrust himself into the air – this can also be used to smash through previously unbreakable obstacles. All of the items for puzzling combine to create a few cool puzzling moment, while also being able to be utilised in combat.

The levels themselves are of an impressive size, allowing for a sensible spattering of enemies to fight, and also providing numerous secret locations. Some levels are large enough to require the use of horses, which you can switch to at your discretion to traverse the landscape. Combat is possible on horseback, however it’s more effective (and entertaining) on foot. While impressive though, there is a downside to this level design. Initially areas can feel frustrating if you care about exploring top to bottom, with a map that doesn’t show you your specific location – just the general area – meaning that finding your way about can be a chore at first. Especially in more linear areas, this can mean missing out on collectables and side areas until you are able to return. The perspective of the camera with this being a top down action game also causes some issues. It’s difficult to know sometimes what parts of the environment are reachable, and for trickier platforming this can result in a lot of frustration. As an alleviation to this, the game does provide the ability to return to all the chapters after completion – meaning as you unlock more items and if you’ve missed anything and want to 100% the game, you can return with your knowledge of the areas to hoover things up if you find it all a bit much to begin with. In fact, you are encouraged to return to chapters, with some areas being un-accessible until you unlock items later in the game. For those who aren’t interested in that, however, some levels might seem a bit more convoluted than they are worth.

Aside from this, Darksiders Genesis is an absolutely solid entry, and definitely one that outdid its expectations. True, you aren’t going to get as much depth from gameplay or story as you would in the main games of the series (in fact, exposition is left to simple still screens with dialogue and so-so voice acting), but it does offer enough to fulfil in its own right. I mean this in terms of satisfying gameplay, but also in content. The game isn’t as long as it initially seems – there are 16 chapters, but a few of these are boss fights only – but the game also offers an expansive arena mode and more than enough reason to return to previous levels. The co-op option will be inviting for mates who want to kill demons together, and while I didn’t sample this I can certainly see its value – the gameplay and level design accommodates for two players, while also remaining single player friendly. Not only is this a great spin off for current fans of the series, but also a reasonable place for non-familiar gamers to jump in – due to its location in the storyline and also not being as large an investment of time and money. With any luck we will have some news about a main game entry for the series this year, but honestly if this is anything to go by, further adventures in this theme would not be sniffed at either.

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