The Darksiders franchise has been through some rough spots. It spent years languishing without a new game, after the promise of a fantastic sequel following the ending of the first entry. That sequel arrived, but it didn’t take the story anywhere near that promised reunion, and nor did the other game that followed it later on, released in 2018. After the truly mixed reception of Darksiders 3, my hope that Darksiders would go back to the roots set by the original, easily the best in the series, let alone a new game somehow being released faded away. But lo and behold, one was announced during E3 last year, and it would come out at the end of the year. And it was going to be an isometric, Diablo-like game.
Hell, every Darksiders game had been a mix of different genres up to this point, so I wasn’t surprised to see one being done in such a way. What really surprised me was that Darksiders Genesis, developed by Airship Syndicate — a studio formed by ex-Vigil devs, including series’ creator Joe Madureira — is the closest the sequels have come to playing like the very first game. Yeah, it looks like Diablo and plays a little bit like it, but there’s platforming in it, the loot craze is gone, and there are plenty of environmental puzzles to tackle along a bunch of levels. To all accounts, Darksiders Genesis is the first Darksiders with a co-op mechanic, only now in a different camera angle and a much smaller budget.
Having less to work with isn’t a bad thing when the team developing the game knows how to make things work, and the guys at Airship definitely do. Sure, there’s some jank here and there, like animations not synching up to attacks, or the occasional floating character, but overall, Genesis works, and most importantly, is fun to slash or shoot around in. The only things that might annoy anyone looking to play it are tied to the isometric viewpoint which tends to throw off jumps due to the awkward way the controls work, and obscure the action with foreground elements, where only the player character shown as a silhouette and nothing else.
Another tidbit that might make fans mad is that the story of the game once again fails to follow up on that promise I mentioned a while back. Instead, we’re only given control of Strife, the only new Horseman who was not playable in a Darksiders game, who made a quick cameo in Darksiders 3, and War, the star of the original Darksiders, both working under the Charred Council prior to any of the previous games’ events. The good news is that there’s not much to worry story-wise, and thankfully the gameplay speaks for itself. The only real good part about the writing in Darksiders Genesis is the constant exchange between Strife and War, who are opposites in terms of personality: War is a gruff and no-nonsense warrior, while Strife just wants to have fun and riff off of his brother-in-arms. This side of the game is very well done and helps draw your attention away from the half-baked, cookie cutter story that doesn’t do much beyond glue together a much of missions.
You’re free to play this single player, but the gameplay is obviously best suited for two players. Strife is a ranged character that excels at crowd control and the keep away game, while War is totally in-your-face, just like in his solo adventure. Having both of them going at it at once is very chaotic, as enemies tend to blow up quite nice as they die, especially when you execute them, a la the previous games. Still, playing by your lonesome isn’t a terrible deal, and the difficulty is well tuned enough to make it enjoyable to do so, controlling one character at a time and freely switch between them as you wish.
While there is no loot to speak of, you can definitely treat Darksiders Genesis as a grind game. Along the way, you pick up monster soul shards which you use to power up both characters, and those can be leveled up by killing those monsters repeatedly. The base stat boost that they give, however, is powerful enough to take you through the base difficulty modes, so there’s no particular need to grind unless you really want to, or choose to play this game on hard. These upgrades make it so you get extra health, for instance, or even special active or passive abilities. Boss enemies drop special orbs that you have to first place normal ones in the board before you can use them, so there’s always a dance between picking up weaker enemies’ souls in order to slot stronger ones’ powers, and vice-versa.
Outside of being able to play two characters interchangeably, the gameplay in Darksiders Genesis will be really familiar to anyone who is used to playing action RPGs with a controller. You aim Strife’s guns or War’s warglaive with the right analog stick, while the triggers shoot whatever ranged weapon you might be equipping, with the face buttons handling all of the melee. Combinations of triggers and bumpers work to activate special attacks that you pick up as you make your way through the game, as well as calling your horse where they can’t be used. After all, them being Horsemen, it would be weird not having them ride, but man, there sure are lots of no-horse-allowed signs put up around the hellish places these to go to!
Anyway, the balance between action and puzzle solving in this game feels really good. Don’t expect to wreck your brain trying to figure out any of the obstacles put in your way: just like the previous games, nothing is outside of your vision in terms of a solution. The only real thing that might stand in your way are special doors that can only be opened by finding or buying special keys, but even those are easy enough to obtain since Vulgrim sells a limited number between levels. I found Darksiders Genesis a really good game to just turn most of my brain function off and relax to, and it really worked pumping up the fun when I needed it.
If experiments like Darksiders Genesis are where the series is going off to, I’m more than willing to give Airship Syndicate a pass and try something new with every new game. While Darksiders 3 was a disappointing attempt at aping Dark Souls, I truly think Darksiders Genesis is a step in the right direction. Considering that Darksiders II went a little too far in the loot-heavy direction, not having it this time proved to be the right decision. For as convoluted as things can get thanks to the shift in camera angle, this is the clear as the message has been in a Darksiders game in quite a while.