We were initially hesitant when we heard that Darksiders was shifting from the usual God of War-like action-adventure and puzzle-solving style it was known for into to a more top-down dungeon crawler style. It’s not a drastic shift, but the less personal, more arcade-like nature of those types of games definitely made us feel like Darksiders Genesis could lose out on something its predecessors had going for them. Fortunately, Darksiders Genesis loses very little of its signature nature while also adapting well to a style that will remind players of the best of other games in its newly embraced genre, with only a few hiccups along the way.
Going back to the beginning… again
Many of the Darksiders games have been parallel to each other, each telling the story of a different Horseman of the Apocalypse when the crud hit the celestial fan and the End of Days started early. Darksiders Genesis introduces us fully to the fourth of the apocalyptic Four Horseman, Strife, but instead of playing out alongside the events of the first three games starring War, Death, and Fury, Strife’s story heads back to even before War was mistakenly summoned to Earth and tricked into unbalancing the war between Heaven and Hell.
Strife doesn’t go it alone in his Darksiders debut either. Genesis puts Strife and War at our command as they seek to curtail the schemes of some of Hell’s biggest baddies to maintain the balance of power between Heaven and Hell, killing everything that stands in the way of their mission. Where Darksiders has usually had a pretty constant flowing narrative, Genesis is cleanly divided into levels spanning the various domains of Hell and its lords, complete with a hub zone in which to power up Strife and War and pick which level you play at will. The whole setup might be a bit jarring to series veterans, but it includes the convenience of being able to go back to scenarios when you feel like it and abandon levels to return to the hub zone as you please.
The balance of dungeon crawler & Darksiders
Gameplay in Darksiders Genesis is very similar to other dungeon crawlers with distinct characters. In a solo game, players can play as Strife or War and swap the two out at will, whereas in a co-op game, one player will take War and the other will take Strife. You’ve got your standard melee attacks, heavy attacks, jumps, dodges, and special abilities, but where War has good close-range combo potential, heavy-hitting attacks, and elements for his sword that cast different effects, Strife has a long-range firearms, agility, and a multitude of ammo types that also each do their own separate thing. Strife feels safer with his long-range focus, but War feels sturdier when you can’t keep your distance. Both are great to play in their own way.
The levels feature sprawling landscapes of plains, dungeons, castles, and corridors teaming with swarms of demons and monsters to slay. Each culminates in a boss creature at the end, but along your demon killing spree, Darksiders Genesis manages to keep the puzzle-solving element of the game alive at least a little bit. There are plenty of switches, levers, and breakable obstacles that give way to level progress or secret treasures, and as you progress, Strife and War amass unique tools with which to deal with them.
For instance, Strife eventually gains an item that can open a portal between two panels, allowing you, or objects you throw, to pass from one portal to the next, making for some interesting scenarios of platforming and/or reaching switches. There are plenty of sections where you won’t have the tool to open up a path, but can return to later after you get your hands on it, which is where the easy selection of levels and ability to abandon them at will is extremely handy. It’s also just nice to see that Darksiders Genesis retains some Legend of Zelda-like puzzle-solving even in such an arcade-like genre.
Becoming a bigger, better Horseman
Gaining new tools along the way isn’t the only way in which War and Strife become stronger. As mentioned before, both Horsemen gain unique upgrades to their weapons. War’s upgrades change his blade elements, giving him different enhanced attacks, and affecting his enemies in different ways, such as the Thunderclap slowing enemies or the Flamebrand igniting them for damage over time. Meanwhile Strife gets different ammo types, such as a charge up shot that can deliver a powerful blast or a gravity shot that will suck enemies to a spot. Even further, hitting enough shots with Strife allows him to enter a temporary empowered state where his ammo types have different effects, like the charge shot needing no charge or the gravity shot exploding after a short time.
That’s not all. Each level is also packed full of power-ups, life-enhancements, and coins that you can use to buy abilities and further power-ups from the merchants in the hub zone. As you amass more tools and make War and Strife stronger, you can get into areas you couldn’t before and collect even more treasures to power them up. Even further. Some enemies drop special orbs called Creature Cores when they die. These Cores can be slotted into an upgrade tree where they not only increase War and Strife’s attack power and life, but also give them special effects based on the type of creature slotted into a spot on the tree. The tree is a branching path where certain Cores have a better effect and it’s genuinely enjoyable to figure out the best branch in which to use your growing collection of Creature Cores to their full potential.
All in all, there are a ton of ways to make Strife and War more powerful in Darksiders Genesis and plenty of reason to go back and continue to play with your growing arsenal to open further secrets in previous levels.
A delightfully hellish landscape
The environments and atmosphere of Darksiders Genesis are particular standouts. The domains of Hell aren’t a one-trick pony of fire and brimstone. Each level is a vast landscape of variety and secrets with a pretty great soundtrack to accompany them. The game kicks off with War and Strife standing on a ledge of a dusty mountainous region observing a siege on a fortress, and in the course of that level, you make your way through cliffs and encampments into said fortress. Other levels are similarly fun, such as a snowy landscape with a massive and fiery forge at its center, or a cavernous trek into a gold strewn money pit full of traps and lava. Each level, including the hub, is full of secrets and beautiful visual diversity.
The part where we can’t exactly say the same is in the enemy design. Darksiders Genesis has a lot of enemies coming at you at all times, but it doesn’t take long to keep noticing the same swarms over and over again. Even the sub-bosses start to recycle around the fourth or fifth level. It’s not that there isn’t variety, but Genesis throws so much of certain types of foes at you that the mobs can’t help but seem repetitive even as the rest of the game shines.
The only other thing hinders the experience is some glitches with movement in the environments. Darksiders Genesis is so full of secrets that it absolutely encourages experimentation and exploration, but sometimes, that can get you caught in a spot where you either can’t move or worse. On one occasion, trying to reach a high collectible left us stuck in a crack in a perpetual falling motion, having to rapidly switch characters and button mash to unstick ourselves. On one occasion, it happened while we were being attacked by a strong creature and it left us a sitting duck for the beating. It’s not a common occurrence, and Genesis still often rewards you and minimizes the consequences of these incidents enough to keep it fun, but it still drags down the game a bit when those incidents occur.
Darksiders Ultimate Alliance
We’ll come out and say it: Darksiders Genesis feels a lot like some of our favorite parts of the Marvel Ultimate Alliance games mixed with Darksiders tone and puzzle-solving. It unfortunately brings some issues in those games along, such as enemy repetition and glitchy environments, but these are light problems among the genuinely enjoyable and accessible gameplay, continuously expanding arsenal of the playable characters, and the gorgeous visuals and music throughout.
If anything, the similar vibes to Marvel Ultimate Alliance and the built-in aspect of the Four Horsemen make us want Death and Fury in the mix from the get-go with the option to utilize the powers of all of them as we see fit, or shared in a four-player co-op fracas. That said, for its first approach to this style of gameplay, Darksiders: Genesis does a genuinely good job of delivering what makes those games good while keeping its own unique flair about it.
This review is based on a PC Steam code provided by the publisher. Darksiders Genesis is available on December 5, 2019 on PC and Google Stadia, and on February 14, 2020 for Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and Nintendo Switch.
- Excellent variation between War & Strife
- Easy pick-up and play of levels
- Satisfying character upgrades and progression
- Beautiful environments and music
- Enemies get repetitive quickly
- Environmental exploration can get glitchy
TJ Denzer posted a new article, Darksiders Genesis Review - Marvel Ultimate Armageddon
Very promising, thanks for the review. Adding to the wishlist for after DS3
Been looking for a Diablo style scratch to my itch. Could be interesting