Darksiders Genesis Review – A Spin-Off Better Than (Some Of) The Main Ones
Developed by Airship Syndicate
Published by THQ Nordic
Available on Xbox, PS4, PC, and Switch
MSRP $39.99 ($29.99 on PC)
I’ll admit, I wasn’t excited for Darksiders Genesis. I’m not a fan of Diablo-style dungeon grinds, as I’m immune to the toxoplasmosis that makes you desire the next piece of gear more than food, water, and the love of another human. As someone who plays games for work, co-op games are also a non-starter for me. If you’re ever curious about the fastest way to lose all your friends while simultaneously growing a hefty disdain for humanity, try playing games on a deadline with people who are playing for fun. I get it, I’m the problem here. I’m the asshole looking at the sandbox everyone’s playing in and complaining that it’s coarse and rough and gets everywhere. The fact remains that when I see a trailer coming out about the 7000 different specs and the limitless loot, I don’t think, “oh what fun I’ll have trying those out!” I think, “well I was going to spend time with my cat, but I guess he can just keep crying for me in the living room.”
I’m taking the long way around saying that I’m a month late reviewing Darksiders Genesis because I’m shit. I thought I knew what I was getting, and kept shuffling it off to the backburner to pursue projects that wouldn’t consume an epoch of my time on this earth. Ultimately, I have to admit that I was wrong. Darksiders Genesis is not what I expected. And it’s incredibly good. I’m sorry, Mr/Mrs. Airship Syndicate. I’m a very bad journalist/critic/“real professional.”
If I had any kind of hindsight or generalized awareness, I could have predicted that Darksiders: Genesis would be more than meets the eye. This was the same case with the first Darksiders game. Everyone thought it was a God of War game, but surprise, it was Zelda. I thought Darksiders: Genesis was going to be Diablo, but surprise, it’s also Zelda.
If you’re unfamiliar with the Darksiders franchise, it’s basically a sexy modern reimagining of the Book of Revelation’s end times. For some reason, the apocalypse happened early, and Hell won. All the people are dead. Heaven has shut the gates and is refusing to let the stranded angels back in. The only ones that can save the day are the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, who serve as biblical peacekeepers and not heralds of our coming destruction. The first three games take place concurrently, each focusing on a different Horseman’s personal quest to figure out why things are so dicked up. So the franchise has expanded its world for three games, but the plot hasn’t actually progressed past the end of the first Darksiders.
Darksiders: Genesis continues this proud tradition of not pushing the plot forward by boldly taking the plot backward. Set long before the events of Darksiders 1-3, some stuff is going on that might upset the balance between heaven and hell. It’s up to two of the Horseman—Strife and War—to stop it. The downside is that we don’t actually get to finally find out what happened after the epic conclusion of the first Darksiders. The upside is that you don’t really need to play any other Darksiders game to get what’s going on.
Both War and Strife are the playable characters in Darksiders Genesis, but that doesn’t mean you have to play through the whole thing twice to get the full story. Playing through the game in singleplayer allows you to swap between the two on the fly. Strife is more agile and has a ranged attack, while War is a brawler with devastating melee and the ability to block. Each also has their own special gadgets which are mostly used to solve puzzles. The game can also be played entirely co-op, which might not actually be the preferred way to play. While having two characters filling the screen with disco-flashing death animations is certainly more entertaining, Genesis has a heavy focus on platforming and exploration. It’s perfectly fine as a co-op game, just make sure you play with someone who is similarly inclined towards exploration.
This is the first time we get to see Strife in action, and he steals the show. Armed with two pistols and sarcastic wit, Strife’s comedic styling sets the tone of Genesis. Darksiders has always been celestial melodrama, with very serious Horsemen scowling and very serious demons in every cutscene. With Genesis, we get to see a more colorful side of this world. Even if Strife is the only one actually cracking jokes, the juxtaposition between his witticisms and War’s stalwart determination makes for some great comedy.
While the plot is a fresh new take on Darksiders, it doesn’t really steal the show. I’m not sure anyone knows what Darksiders is even about at this point, so Genesis is going to have to hold up on its gameplay. Luckily, the gameplay is some of the strongest I’ve seen in a top-down action-adventure. As I said before, Darksiders Genesis is more like Zelda than it is Diablo. While enemies will explode into confetti balls of ammo and EXP, the only real loot that enemies drop are cores. The cores are then used to upgrade your Horsemen in various ways. All enemies drop a specific core, and each level tells you what enemies will be in it. You grind by killing these enemies until you have enough cores to max them out. Aside from that, there’s no reason to keep slaying the same 6 elite dudes in hopes they drop special shoes.
Other than that, the progression in Darksiders Genesis is entirely done through exploration. Hidden in each level are a number of coins, keys, chests, and secrets. Each of these items confers some kind of permanent bonus to your horseman, be it more health, special meter, or new abilities. Each level has a map that tells you how many collectibles are on it, but the level geometry is expansive enough that the clues aren’t always obvious.
Despite the 2D perspective, Genesis takes place in 3D environments. This means you’ll have to hunt around for secret passageways just outside of the beaten path. On top of that, many items are hidden behind subtle puzzles. More than once I’d go back through a level and realize that a series of unlit torches weren’t just decorative. Not all of the puzzles will even be solvable when you first encounter them, requiring you to play through levels again with your new gadgets.
The exploration and puzzles in Darksiders Genesis hit a sweet spot. I’m a completionist myself, and it’s rare that a game can make its optional objectives feel like anything more than a chore. In Genesis, the optional puzzles were complicated/hidden enough to feel compelling, but also not necessary to finish the game. The quests reward you with various cores, EXP, and coins, but the real satisfaction comes from figuring out that this world has more to offer than initially meets the eye. I’d say I spent around 70% of my time just exploring Genesis, and it never felt like a waste. The only downside is that the jumping puzzles were sometimes a bit obtuse, which is mostly a limitation of the perspective.
The combat is likewise more satisfying than what you typically get from a 2D game. War and Strife play substantially differently, and each has an arsenal of destructive skills to mix things up. Most of War’s skills are AOE explosions or gap closers, but modifying your build with cores adds tons of variety to the already expansive system. Strife’s skills are more of a mixed bag, allowing him to switch between different ammo types for different situations. You’ve got AOE lightning ammo, piercing ammo, a gravity bomb ammo, etc. The downside is that Strife has a limited amount of this specialty ammunition. Each has further specializations beyond this (Strife has an entire Melee system if you’re feeling spicy), so you can get plenty of bang for your buck by just fucking around with new builds.
This fluid system is what I love about dungeon crawlers, minus the grind. While skills are unlocked and delivered piecemeal, there isn’t a sense that you have to grind for 20 hours to make an interesting build viable. Of course, there’s min/maxing you can do, but the game doesn’t require you to create a spreadsheet to tackle the biggest challenges.
There are 16 levels to in Darksiders Genesis, plus one secret level for those dedicated to hunting down all of the Trickster Keys. Five of these levels are boss arenas, meaning you won’t have to wade through a whole level just to right a specific boss. Each level also has its own miniboss, and are significantly varied enough to feel special. Playing through the game can take between 8 and 20 hours, depending on how much time you invest in hunting for collectibles. The real challenge will come from beating the game on the hardest difficulty, which I haven’t even tried yet.
I suppose I should scare up some negatives, as Darksiders Genesis isn’t a perfect game. The platforming is a bit finicky, especially when you’re trying to wrap your mind around jumping onto 3D moving platforms in a 2D plane. Some of the levels also have annoying points of no return, meaning you’ll have to play through the whole level again if you want to get all the collectibles. If you’re like me and like to hunt back through once you get to the end to see what you missed, this is a bit annoying. The game also suffers from having too many buttons, and it can be easy to forget what activates your gadgets and what triggers your explosive AOE death spell. Still, all of these complaints are minor nitpicks, especially considering the budget. I’ve seen full $60 games get away with far more egregious bugs and game design than this.
I went into Darksiders Genesis expecting a forgettable spin-off to a B-Tier series that long ago faded from the public conscious. What I got was a challenging, innovative, and creative action-adventure RPG that surpasses the obvious comparisons. Even as someone who doesn’t like this style of top-down action game, Darksiders Genesis sucked me in with solid combat and engaging puzzles and level design. It might not be visually striking or robust enough to compete with the big boys, but it’s perfect at the $29.99 price point. It’s far better than your average budget spin-off and well worthy of being considered a full installment in the franchise.
Darksiders Genesis blew my expectations out of the water. It’s packed with classic level design and modern fluid combat. It’s challenging, funny, and most importantly a lot of fun. At just $30, it’s a solid recommendation. Even at $60, it would still be getting 4 stars.