I’ve always been a stark proponent of the adage, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” but only up to a certain degree. Familiarity breeds contempt, as another adage goes, and with that contempt comes not only boredom, but a resentment toward what was once loved.
Last year’s Darksiders III, despite having all the ingredients of what should have been a triumphant return for the series, plodded and meandered, giving the player only a cursory, bland, and ultimately disappointing look at what Fury had stumbled upon while War and Death were busy battling their own trials. How fitting, then, that a journey back — rather than forward — to before everything came to be spins a tale that is very much the series at its strongest.
Darksiders: Genesis was released on December 5th for Google Stadia and PC. A review copy for PC was provided by THQ Nordic and used for this review.
In the Beginning…
Taking place following a tumultuous war for Eden, Genesis follows War and Strife as they’re tasked with tracking down Samael, one of Lucifer’s generals, on behalf of the Charred Council.
Series veterans will be intimately familiar with War, but this is the first time (for the most part) that we’ve really even seen Strife, much less control him. Throughout the course of 16 chapters, each containing their own set of objectives on a unique map, the two Horsemen attempt to follow the thread of their prey across besieged forts, glacial ice caps, acrid sewers, and even an underground treasure vault.
While the story itself admittedly does little more than serve as a vessel for War and Strife to wreak their personal taste of destruction, the interactions between the two, coupled with stellar voice acting, is an absolute treat. I can’t think of a better description than equating it to a Lethal Weapon movie. Strife’s role as a foil for War (and even the voice of reason in some cases) allows for Genesis to showcase the inner turmoil that is apparently inherent in all of the Horsemen, something that we’ve seen only moments of in the first three games. As the brothers venture ever closer to discovering the catalyst for their journey, the dialogue becomes more introspective and less flippant, eventually culminating in a revelation that makes sense given what they’ve been through, if admittedly a tad rushed.
The new top-down viewpoint is jarring at first, but after the first mission or so it feels natural, given the topography on which the game is played. As in the first three games, each Horseman is given their own particular skillset based on their weapon. War’s greatsword, Chaoseater, feels just as brutal and visceral as it did in the original Darksiders, while Strife’s pistols, Mercy and Redemption, allow for the player to attack from afar, safe from the melee-heavy attacks of their enemies.
Each of the Horsemen has its own control scheme to boot, which keeps the gameplay from getting too stale. While controlling War, your face buttons work in tandem to set up ground- or air-based combos which can be chained to add elemental damage, AoE damage, or even jettison you (and your prey) out of harm’s way. Strife, on the other hand, takes advantage of twin-stick-style gameplay. The left stick controls movement, while the right stick allows the player to aim wherever they please. Because many of Strife’s upgrades revolve around different types of ammunition — a Shock round that chains electrical damage to foes in close proximity of one another, a charge-up round that pierces through enemies regardless of their armor type, etc — the ability to unleash a barrage of one elemental type and then switch on the fly creates ample opportunities to unleash the most delicious type of chaos.
The real star of the gameplay is the new “Creature Core” mechanic. Each type of enemy — from bosses all the way down to the lesser demons — has the chance to drop a Creature Core. These cores can then be slotted into what amounts to an empty talent tree, giving unique abilities to War and Strife, and sometimes augmenting their existing weapons and Wrath powers. Each empty slot has a maximum power level, and Cores can be added and removed at will without losing them, so mixing and matching to suit the challenge is a great deal of fun.
Additionally, Cores can be upgraded by farming the particular monster from which they came, giving the player added incentive to replay chapters in order to maximize their arsenal. Once a Core’s level has been capped out, picking up those same Cores will award Souls instead, meaning that farming them in order to buy new skills can be just as rewarding as their original intention in the event that the player still needs a particular currency. In short: they don’t become meaningless once their power level is capped out.
Wait for the Drop
The presentation of the game, from the minute-to-minute gameplay to the comic book artwork of its cutscenes, showcases just how much love has been put into Genesis. While the foreground changes in response to the Horseman’s actions, the hand-painted backgrounds are a marvel to look at during their journey. One particular level finds the Horsemen traveling through an acid-filled sewer in an attempt to circumvent a blockade, and the enormous pipes spilling in the background pulse with a nefarious glow that does just enough to show just how dangerous the environment is without being distracting.
Attacks from the Horsemen sound incredible as well. Strife’s pistols have a satisfying pop to them, and War’s swordplay shakes your bones with a satisfying bass. Enemies’ attacks also reverberate the atmosphere, and it’s hard not to enjoy the one-lines that follow an execution.
If there is one major drawback to be had, it’s that enemies are not shown when they disappear behind the topography, leaving the player to guess where exactly they are. And if they’re an enemy that has a ranged attack, they may simply sit there taking pot-shots until they’re pulled from their location by the player running out of range. In a fight where there are tens of enemies on the screen at once, this can be more than a little annoying.
Feels Like Home
Darksiders: Genesis is every bit a Darksiders game as the ones that came before it. The addition of Strife is employed in such a way that it feels natural, rather than forced, and showcases the developer’s ability to build upon the series’ lore instead of ret-conning any of it.
Overall, and especially at the price point of $30 USD, it’s hard not to recommend to fans and newcomers alike. Even once the story is finished, the replay value is extraordinary, and the urge to find every secret and Trickster Door left behind is one that I haven’t felt in ages.
Review copy provided by THQ Nordic for PC. Screenshots taken by reviewer. Featured image sourced from official game trailer.