The Darksiders series has always been in a bit of a weird place. The original game was oft-referred to as "Zelda May Cry", with 2 adding in loot and stats while 3 took the series in a more Souls-like direction. In short, Darksiders doesn't really like to stick to one established formula. Even then, Darksiders Genesis is quite the oddball. A top-down action game prequel, does Genesis change the formula too much or is it a natural evolution of the series?
The game follows War and Strife shortly after they chose to become Horsemen. The Charred Council tasks them with seeing what evil shenanigans Lucifer has gotten up to, as he tends to do. Not long into the mission, the pair discover he's formed a mysterious alliance with other demon lords and appears to be planning something. So, they set out to stop him, confronting the actions that led to them becoming horsemen along the way. The story is perfectly fine and serviceable. It's not some deep mystery or engaging drama, but it does a good job bringing characters from point A to B and keeping it interesting enough along the way. The real star of the show is clearly supposed to be Strife, who's making his debut as a playable character. He plays off of War well, and his cocky "question everything" attitude is a fun change from the other three Horsemen. I'm excited to spend a Darksiders 4 with him if that's where the plan is still going.
One Horseman, Two Guns
It seems fitting that they chose to debut a gun-based character in a top-down game. You'll play as both War and Strife at the same time, either using a button to instantly swap between the two or playing the game co-op with a buddy taking the character you're not playing as. Both characters play vastly different. In Strife's case, this means the game plays closer to a twin-stick shooter. You have a few melee attacks, but Strife is really all about staying away from enemies and shooting them from afar. He can switch between ammo types, giving him abilities like firing a health-sapping nature shotgun, or an explosive gravity well. As Strife deals damage he fills a bar that, when full, allows him to enter a mode called Hotstreak. Here, all his bullets types have unlimited ammo and new effects, from firing faster, to charging instantly, to bigger explosions.
At first, I thought Strife was a ton of fun. Even when I put Darksiders Genesis down I still thought positively about slipping into the gunman's role once in a while. However, of the two, Strife started to feel stale the fastest. Maybe it's because he plays more like a twin-stick shooter, but it made many of the tougher enemies feel like bullet sponges. I often found myself doing nothing but pointing one stick at them while occasionally dodging away. There are enough enemy variety and interesting abilities to help keep Strife from getting totally boring, but as I got further into Darksiders Genesis, War quickly took over as my main.
If you've ever played the original Darksiders, then you may be shocked by just how much War feels like he did back then. Chaining together light and heavy attacks, with occasional magic, you'll be dodging around enemies and keeping them locked in combos. Surprisingly, this translated quite well to the top-down view. I found myself easily able to outsmart enemies and deal enough damage so I could execute them. War will find various enchantments that change both how his combos work and what his charged attacks do, so there's also plenty to experiment with as well. While I always appreciated the option to switch if I was getting bored of War, or if I needed to shoot someone from far away, I found myself gravitating to him more often than not.
As mentioned before, there's a large variety of enemies to fight against. Every one of the game's 17 levels seems to introduce at least one, if not more, new enemy types. From angelic archers to chaingun wielding demons. From fishmen that jump out of the water to shoot lightning, to grubs that spawn more grubs. It's a nice batch of baddies, and I never really got bored fighting them. The game also needs a varied group of enemies to support its system of stats and improvement.
You see, while Darksiders Genesis looks like a Diablo-styled game, there's no loot to equip or levels to gain. Instead, by killing enemies, they'll have a low chance of dropping an orb. You can place these orbs into a tree, with each orb offering passive and active buffs for your characters, with bonuses if you place them in spots that match their alignment. Some buffs are what you'd expect, like straight-up adjustments to damage. Others can be fun, like chances to spawn friendly hellhounds as you deal out fire damage. You have to think about where to put each orb, to ensure bonuses and freeing up slots, since there are more orbs than open slots.
However, at times you don't really need to think about the combat. This is because the enemy AI isn't quite able to keep up with the rest of the game. On more than one occasion I saw enemies just sort of... there. They'd stare at walls, stare at the horsemen, stare at each other or whatever seemed interesting to them and let themselves be viciously murdered. Some enemies can't leave specific areas to chase you. Combining some careful planning with Strife's unlimited range meant that I could kill mini-bosses without them even reacting to it. It's lame when nothing matters other than standing far away and shooting.
A Bit of Sneak, A Bit of Murder
At least this never happened with the game's dramatic bosses. Most chapters end with a fight against a particularly nasty enemy, but the really great fights are spread out and have chapters entirely to themselves. One boss dives into piles of gold like Scrooge McDuck, pulling out ancient and powerful weapons to set loose on you. Another runs around the arena at such speeds that it requires characters to use their horses, and never directly attacks but instead keeps drawing summoning circles to bring living bombs into the fight. Each boss fight was a fun and unique encounter, and I enjoyed every creature I had the pleasure of beating.
If you're not slaying random baddies or fighting bosses, there are puzzles that need solving. Both War and Strife have grappling hooks to start with and get more tools over time. War gets a vorpal blade that can hit switches and transfer elements, plus a big angry gauntlet to smash crystals. Strife can get bombs that create portals and an energy orb that has to traverse mazes to hit switches. The combination of items can lead to some surprisingly interesting puzzles, having characters interact with each other in clever ways.
In fact, there's a lot of game to Darksiders Genesis. I was quite shocked by just how long the experience was. I expected 8, maybe 10 hours tops. So imagine my surprise when finishing the final act of the game took me a solid 20 hours. Once you finish the story, you can also revisit past levels with new abilities War and Strife have earned along the way, allowing them access to new areas with more collectibles and other goodies. I could see someone taking 30 hours to 100% the game, at least.
So Much to See, So Much to Kill
The other option is the Arena. Opening up about halfway through the game, the arena allows you to fight waves of enemies for, what else, rewards. If you're looking for specific goodies or enemies to kill, then this is where you want to be. It's a fun way to kill a few minutes if you don't have long to play without getting involved in an entire mission from start to finish.
Between levels and arena matches, you'll be dumped into The Void. Mostly serving as a hub level so you can buy things and get to the next chapter, there are actually some hidden goodies if you look around a bit. As you complete chapters, The Void grows larger. You can find strange puzzles, rewarding goodies, and unusual buildings where they shouldn't be. It's not game-changing, but it's a neat little extra area if you want to spend time exploring.
I just wished the missions looked great. During my time with Darksiders Genesis, I was practically bombarded with visual glitches. Characters would start to float away in the middle of executions, enemies and riders would sink into the ground or get caught on geometry. Cutscenes showed characters talking, but on several occasions displayed the wrong character portraits or subtitles. Health bars would vanish in combat, enemies would get stuck in animations, and more. I rarely ran into actual game-breaking bugs, but the number of visual ones was absurd.
At least I always had a fantastic soundtrack to accompany me. Darksiders Genesis' soundtrack is almost absurdly good. I wasn't super surprised considering the high quality of the past few game's soundtracks, but it's nice to see it continue to be in top shape. From dramatic battles to quiet moody moments, this is a soundtrack I'll be adding to my playlists.
Darksiders Genesis Review | Final Thoughts
Honestly, Darksiders Genesis is a game I'll be returning to in the future. I'm not really sure what I was expecting, but it wasn't something so genuinely high quality and fun. Taking the series to the world of top-down action games felt like a risk, but it pays off well, and this is a worthy prequel for anyone interested in future entires. Here's hoping Strife's solo outing is just as much fun.
TechRaptor reviewed Darksiders Genesis on PC using a copy provided by the publisher. The game is also coming to PlayStation 4 and Xbox One at a later date.
- Fun Top-Down Combat
- Great Enemy Variety
- Awesome Boss Fights
- Surprisingly Length Story
- Fantastic Soundtrack
- Strife is Less Fun to Play Than War
- Occasionally Terrible AI
- Many Visual Glitches