Darksiders: Genesis Review

When A Sword Doesn't Work, Try Guns
Developer: Airship Syndicate Publisher: THQ Nordic Platform: PC

Fresh perspective – familiar gameplay

It has barely been 12 months since I reviewed Darkiders III – yet here I am reviewing another entry in the series. I am pretty sure this is me living my best life.

To begin, I need to make it clear – it would be incredibly easy for an observer to mistakenly label Darksiders Genesis as a ‘side’ game, or a forgettable entry that sits external to the main ‘numbered’ series – this could not be further from the truth.

Ah, just drinking in the serenity

Developed by the talented folks at Airship Syndicate, Genesis is utilising talent with an existing Darksiders pedigree. You see, Airship was founded by ex-Vigil Games employees, the original gangsters that created the Darksiders series as a whole – in particular, Joe Madureira, the comic book artist legend that creatively birthed the apocalyptic world of the Horsemen. It’s a truly unique dynamic – between the folks at Gunfire Games (who produced Darksiders III) and Airship Syndicate, you have essentially every proud parent who staked a claim in the property all those years ago, now allowed the flexibility to let their creative juices flow in their own unique way.

Unique is a fantastic word to describe Genesis. The title is unmistakably Darksiders to the eye, but in operation it is different enough to carve its own path. Whereas previous Darksiders games were third-person action-adventure games, Genesis is a third person action-adventure game …where the third person is now elevated to an almost isometric position. With the camera pulled further back from your character, and a level of dynamic movement that shifts as you traverse the environment, the visual storytelling at work gets a fantastic opportunity to communicate spectacle in rich and interesting ways.

To say it is an isometric-perspective game almost communicates a far more mundane, static camera – but it needs to be said that the camera work in Genesis is far more organic and interesting. Entering a confined space such as a corridor will almost always have the camera draw in a little closer – expressing that claustrophobic experience from having your workable space robbed from you. Step out into the open, however, and the camera will move backwards and perhaps even pan a little communicate the freedom now offered to you. Couple this with the game’s offering to ride your horse through the large areas and you end up enjoying cinematic events driven by your own hand.

All of this spectacle draws from the rich visual foundation of Joe Mad’s signature style. Darksiders as a property attributes so much of its visual identity to his penmanship, enforcing clean, stark comic-book details across exaggerated proportions within character designs and environments alike. In motion, this gives Genesis a gorgeous style that lives and breathes with the camera’s movement.

Here we see War talking like ‘the kids’ do

With so much observable information on screen, it is paramount that a level of restraint be employed – and I am appreciative that Airship Syndicate have worked to make sure that you are not overwhelmed with visual noise. I find that many games that have a camera style that opens up the amount of environment in this way are often likely to pack every corner of the screen with enemies, doodads and whatevers. When Genesis wants to employ impending action, it does so in a focused way – showing enemies in the foreground and background scrambling to ambush you, The camera will subtly pan to better view the area where your would-be aggressors lie in wait, while the backing music track swells to reveal that it’s time to throw down. It is all masterfully done.

These environments are every bit as characterful as the Horsemen that trample through them – rich with colour and fantastic landmarks that draw your gaze. The terrain you navigate is cleverly designed to urge you towards your objective, but rewards the observant with clues to explore and deviate from your path. One fantastic set piece saw me riding towards a massive open gate, set into a crudely built wall. As the camera pulled away to show me the scale of this thing, every part of my being was being drawn towards, and eventually through it. But from the corner of my eye, I couldn’t help but notice a part of the wall seemed to be obscured from view by the foreground. Upon dismounting my horse and moving closer, I identified that the wall itself could be traversed – and I was rewarded with an optional boss fight and in-game goodies. This elevated the whole experience even further beyond the original wow factor, as I was now further satisfied with my curiosity.

Bad boys, bad boys – whatcha gunna do

Genesis’ story will take you to every corner of Hell and beyond – it’s an appreciable decision that the developers chose to make Hell far more than a fiery wasteland. Snow covered plains, searing acid pools, ancient temples and the rain-drenched forests of Eden await the keen explorer.

The narrative at play serves as a proper introduction to the mythos of what makes the Darkiders-series’ protagonists (The Horsemen) tick, explaining their beginnings alongside the more straightforward story that Genesis is telling. Even while your player objectives flit back and forth from simplistic ‘Kill Guy’ to ‘Get Thing’ objectives, the interactions between War, Strife and the environments tell a deeper story full of regret and discovered purpose.

Genesis feels quintessentially Darksiders

The game is gracious in offering these opportunities to explore further expository moments within the game world, flagging an area where a ‘conversation’ will take place – inviting the player to stop and reflect on their environment while Fury and War take a moment to perhaps discuss their current situation, or maybe share a part of their past that led them here. These serve no other purpose than painting a broader picture of what makes the Darksiders world work at a grand scale, and I grew fearful of missing them.

Strife, the Sassiest Horseman

Between chapters you get to interact with the supporting cast of familiar Darksiders characters, serving essentially as a briefing table for where you are headed next. The writing is sharp (quite witty at times) and endeavours to never outstay its welcome. On some level I am disappointed that the majority of character interactions are done via a ‘talking portrait’ method, with images of the characters facing off while voiceover audio plays (previous titles employed in-engine cinematic interactions), but in the grand scheme of things it keeps the exposition punchy and to the point, while also cementing that Genesis is very much a ‘different’ Darksiders title.

The story ends abruptly, but at the same time it does so on a plot point that encourages personal thought. I found myself ruminating during the credit crawl, digesting what I had discovered in the game’s final moments. In some ways I felt that I was meant to be upset that the game was over, but the completionist in me saw potential for a great deal more opportunity to play, independent of narrative.

The core gameplay loops of Genesis focus primarily on the combat and traversal. It’s admirable how familiar the control scheme of War feels to his original Darksiders 1 outing, with every swing of his blade feeling as comfy as warm winter slippers. In stark contrast, Strife plays a great deal more like he is starring in a twin stick shooter, with the majority of his bullet-blasting abilities pouring out while he nimbly avoids damage.

Throughout the game you will discover or buy augmentations that will impact your playstyle, such as being able to shoot lightning from your guns or perhaps turning into a whirling spinning top of death – each of these will increase your overall damage, and start to open doors to unique gameplay combos to employ upon hapless foes.

Ha, this guy brought a trident to a gun fight!

These augmentations always had the same impact on me – I’d be having such fun with my current toy that discovering a new one meant I would begrudgingly swap to it, thinking there was no possible way it could be as fun as the carnage I was already dishing out. However, I was thrilled to find that it was every bit as fantastic. And with the freedom to change these augmentations at your leisure – even in the middle of a fight – it means there was room for every toy at the table.

Your own character growth is drawn from the games ‘Creature Core’ system – a familiar method of investing points into a tree to increase your stats. My immediate reaction to this was to groan, because so often these systems will come with the baggage of punishing incorrect choices, or even leverage themselves into a ‘resource dump’ to try and drain a players coffers of currency. Upon further inspection however, I was overjoyed to see that the Creature Cores could be mixed and matched however I pleased. The system was extremely streamlined – killing enemies in the game world will drop their Creature Core, with its own unique stats and bonuses. Slot these into the tree to gain their effects, and kill more of that same creature to further upgrade and increase their benefit. If you take the time to match a particular core type to its corresponding slot, you increase the benefit of these stats.

The power of these cores extended far beyond raw stats, with creative passive bonuses that add some flash and flair to your bread and butter attacks. Bosses in particular would drop cores with exciting bonuses, like leaving a skidmark of lava behind you when dodging. The fact that these cores would ‘level up’ and become stronger by repeatedly killing the corresponding enemy, meant you could essentially farm your preferred power at your leisure – and with gameplay as solid it is, I found myself doing just that.

Confusing demon doggy butt glint

I predominantly played the single player component, meaning I could leverage the brute strength of War or the unwavering firepower of Strife whenever I wished – but never at the same time. While I briefly got to enjoy the split screen co-op at a convenient time, it was difficult for me to really get a feeling as to what the development of Genesis was focused on. Whether playing solo or with a friend, the game felt balanced and enjoyable – I have played other co-op titles that lump you with an unimpressive computer-driven ally, or simply feel overwhelming when alone – but to its credit, Genesis felt comfortable in either format.

Final Thoughts

Despite the drastically different change in perspective, the game feels quintessentially Darksiders. With a rewarding gameplay loop and pacing that keeps you engaged, it’s a solid recommendation from me. For fans, Darksiders Genesis is a must-play. For anyone with even a passing interest, it is also a must-play.

Reviewed on PC   //   Review code supplied by publisher

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Good

  • A truly genuine Darksiders experience
  • Art direction is vintage Joe Mad
  • The unique perspective is a natural fit
  • Music is incredible
  • ‘Core’ levelling system takes the best parts of other similar overwrought systems, and distils them down to the base (and most fun) elements

Bad

  • Foreground elements need to decide if they fade away or just show your characters as a silhouette - then stick to it
  • Story ends a bit suddenly
9

Bloody Ripper

Known throughout the interwebs simply as M0D3Rn, Ash is bad at video games. An old guard gamer who suffers from being generally opinionated, it comes as no surprise that he is both brutally loyal and yet, fiercely whimsical about all things electronic. On occasion will make a youtube video that actually gets views. Follow him on YouTube @Bad at Video Games
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