The Darksiders franchise has lived a strange life. The first game seemingly came out of nowhere and gained a lot of fans. Darksiders II was released a couple of years later to reviews that weren’t as glowing but were positive nonetheless. Then the series went dark with the demise of THQ. Last year, and seven years after the second game, Darksiders III released to very mixed reviews. And now, just a couple of months later, we have another entry in the franchise, Darksiders Genesis, from Airship Syndicate.
In the shadows and out of them
The first thing you will notice about Darksiders Genesis is that the viewpoint has changed. Whereas the other games in the series used a traditional third-person view, Airship Syndicate has decided to go with more of a God’s-eye view. Look, let’s get the elephant in the room out of the way from the start: Darksiders Genesis looks like Diablo. The viewpoint, the settings, the action — even some of the particle effects — are all reminiscent of Blizzard’s masterful action role-playing game. While it can never quite compete with that game, very few can, and the gameplay here is certainly satisfying.
The action is set before any of the other games in the franchise. War, who was the horseman featured in the first game, is joined by Strife, making his franchise debut. They are tasked by the council with finding out what Lucifer has been up to. The plot is conveyed through conversations between missions as well as animations. The writing is pretty solid. It manages to convey character and plot while injecting some humor without ever being too cringey. The animations are of a similar style to previous games with one slightly annoying change: In earlier games, characters were displayed as dark outlines. It was like watching shadow puppets. This contrast made it very easy to see what was going on. The animations here are fully colored, but they’re all similar colors and nothing really stands out. It all seems very muted.
It takes two
The inclusion of the two horsemen adds something new to the Darksiders formula. Firstly, it adds the ability to play in co-op. You can either do this via an online connection or with a friend on the sofa next to you. It has to be said, though, that this isn’t implemented very well. To join a game, the player who is hosting the game has to go to one of the stone pillars with a purple gem on the map to add you. I ended up sitting around, waiting to be added for up to 10 minutes before trying somewhere else. Why the developers couldn’t have just allowed drop-in, drop-out co-op, I don’t know.
However, having two protagonists enables players to swap up the gameplay. Fans of the first game will be familiar with War being a hack-and-slash master. There are combos to learn and dodges to time. Master these and you feel unstoppable as you mow your way through the myriad of enemies. Playing as Strife turns the game into a twin-stick shooter (think Diablo III’s Demon Hunter). As you would expect, the left thumbstick moves you around while the right thumbstick aims your weapons.
Playing as Strife, you can access different ammo types by using the left bumper. You could choose a charge shot that varies its power depending on how long you charge it up. Beam shot fires a constant stream to lay waste to your foes. Strife can also use lava shot, static shot, gravity shot, and nature shot. All of these use ammo, but there’s usually plenty to collect from your fallen enemies and you can always fall back onto the standard shot if you find yourself running low. All of this variety helps to keep Darksiders Genesis fresh and allows you to play the game however you like.
Each character also has unique abilities. War has a glaive that can be used to kill enemies as well as solve puzzles. Not only can he throw it out to activate switches, but you can also use it to spread a flame from one fire pit to another. He also has a ground slam that breaks special rock formations and triggers certain floor switches. Strife has a sort of portal grenade that works on specific panels. He can also activate a floor switch that then tasks you with guiding a ball of energy through a maze to unlock something in the world.
Rinse and repeat
These puzzles and abilities create a Metroidvania aspect in the game. As you gain your abilities, it will become beneficial to revisit levels and collect more items. This becomes essential as you can’t just go through the levels in order and expect to be powerful enough to continue. When you are in the level selection, you will see a recommended level for your characters and you will not reach anything near the required level without playing levels more than once. Personally, I found this a little irritating (and one of the reasons this review is a little later than we would have liked). It’s not as though you have to find a specific key back on level two that allows you to progress on level five. Your character just won’t be leveled up enough to withstand the attacks of enemies on later levels unless you replay levels.
Visually, Darksiders Genesis is generally pretty good with a few niggles. There are some nice effects and backgrounds. There is a nice variation in locations and a good level of detail in the textures. However, I found that on a couple of the levels that have been corrupted by acid, the frame rate does stutter a little. I’m unsure whether it’s a particle effect on these levels that is causing the problem, but the rest of the game is generally fine. My biggest gripe, though, is that the camera just feels a little too far away from the action. Your character is quite small on screen. This can make it tricky to locate yourself among the maelstrom of action that is occurring. The problem is amplified when playing on my Switch Lite rather than on my big TV. However, these are minor issues really.
Darksiders Genesis is a worthwhile sidequest
Darksiders Genesis is a nice side step for the franchise after the disappointing Darksiders III. The gameplay is compelling. Enemies have a nice variety about them, and the bosses offer a nice challenge on harder difficulties. The game has a good visual style, but you just a feel a little distant from the action due to the fixed viewpoint. Cooperative play is a nice touch and a welcome addition for the franchise. However, its implementation has not been thought through properly. Darksiders Genesis may forever be in the shadow of Diablo III, but that’s not necessarily a bad place to be. If you are a fan of Blizzard’s ARPG, chances are you’ll find a lot to enjoy here. I know that I did.
A review code was provided by the publisher.