Darksiders Genesis (1)

After two games to its name, it looked like THQ’s Darksiders would be cut down in its prime thanks to the looming spectre of bankruptcy and the most piss-poor decision ever made in the business. Throw a few years onto the clock, and the franchise is back in the saddle thanks to the rise of THQ Nordic and developer Airship Syndicate. Darksiders 3 was a solid albeit flawed push to thrust the saga of the Horsemen back into the public spotlight, but it proved that there was still plenty of interest in gaming circles for the saga that began in 2010 to continue onwards.

Darksiders Genesis then, is the final chapter in a decade-long origin story. Smaller in scope and with a new bend to its action, it may look like your regular isometric hack ‘n slasher with a heaping dose of Joe Madureira flavour to its name, but it’s definitely Darksiders first and new ideas second. It’s also the grand introduction of Strife, who after a sneaky cameo in Darksiders 3 now finally gets to hog the spotlight with an adventure that lays the foundation for the story that Darksiders originale would kick off from so many years ago.

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Together with his overly-stoic brother War, it’s up to Strife to enact some Horseman justice and tips the scales of balance back to a perfectly symmetrical action, blasting his way through mobs of demons and corrupted angels along the way. Much like his brothers and sister, Strife is a dab hand at combat albeit with a skill that none of the previously introduced trio possess: The ability to wield a gun that does actual damage to the forces of Hell.

With his trusty sidearms equipped, Strife can unleash some hellfire of his own as he cuts down bruisers with concentrated blasts of ammo that always find their mark. His base damage can even be overcharged after enough ammo has been spent, raining down bullets at twice the speed and with even more damage contained within each hollow-point delivery system. Even better, Strife can equip numerous ammo upgrades uncovered during his journey, switching between black holes that can keep heavyweights at bay, chain lightning through cannon fodder and fire off seismic blasts of power.

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Strife may have some daggers with which he can eviscerate foes with, but he’s not exactly a tank in close quarters combat. He’s a more agile fellow, zipping between enemies and creating a distance with the use of shadow clones and caltrops to widen the gap, but at least War can fill in for him and create a meaty shield of pain and devastation.

That’s the real beauty of Darksiders Genesis, as the game absolutely shines with synergy between the two brothers. You can easily play through the 8-10 hours campaign in pure single-player fashion, but having a friend hop in to assist you? That’s some damn good fun to be had there, with the duo having an appetite for destruction when their various skills and abilities are wielded with maximum precision.

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War plays exactly how you remember him, with his character being a carbon copy of his 2010 and recent Warmastered form: Big, bulky and unrelenting as he cleaves through enemies with his Chaoseater sword and a few upgrades of his own that augment the lump of iron into anything from an earthquake-generating blade to a vampiric soul-stealing weapon of mass destruction.

On top of that, you’ve got the typical Darksiders experience: Dungeons to crawl through, puzzles to solve and the usual Legend of Zelda comparison to duck away from. The other big addition in Darksiders Genesis is that of a system of collectible cores, each one randomly dropped from defeated foes and used to power up War and Strife’s abilities. Split across three primary upgrade trees (Health, Wrath and Attack), these minor and major cores can lend massive buffs to your choice of character development, throwing more than just positive green numbers at your face.

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Some cores allow for Wrath to be generated faster, others give you more Health in exchange for diminished attack and some even augment your special skills with new abilities. There’s always some quid pro quo to which cores you slot into place, even if most of the more negative aspects of these power-ups can be lessened greatly by collecting more of the same core and grinding through stages several times.

So how does the game handle then?

It’s a weird mix of ideas the more I think about it, a clash of styles that sometimes lands and occasionally misses. The switch from third-person to an isometric dungeoneering viewpoint undoubtedly favours Strife and his trigger-happy nature, transforming a typical Darksiders game into an admittedly funky twin-stick shooter with all kinds of cool gear to flip between. War suffers more from this switch because while he’s still as satisfying as ever to throw into combat (By the Charred Council these meaty gameplay mechanics have aged BEAUTIFULLY), but you’ll need the eyesight of a hawk to even see him when he leaps into the fray.

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Darksiders Genesis may play fantastically, but its charm is derailed somewhat by a series of smaller gripes that stem from its decision to switch angles. It’s easy to mistime a jump when you’re dangling over a ravine, it’s easy to lose track of the Horseman when combat gets a bit on the hot ‘n heavy side. Hell, I’d appreciate it if Airship Syndicate could work out a way to create a silhouette for enemies when some of the isometric foreground obstructs the view and has me swinging my blade at air while I get gnarly gashes on my spine from savvy demons.

There’s also a boss fight whose very design is the textbook definition for overkill, an absolutely frustrating showdown that requires the patience of a saint to survive as all manner of lethality is thrown at you in unmerciful fashion. At the same time, those are annoyances and not dealbreakers because when Darksiders Genesis shines it does so like a diamond.

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It’s the combat at the heart of this game that sells it, that makes it feel far more satisfying than any other cookie-cutter point ‘n click hack and slash title on the shelf today. It’s augmented by a terrific arena mode which throws more powerful waves of enemies at you across almost two dozen stages of escalating danger, forcing you to constantly be on the march for an upgrade and skill acquisition binge that can help you survive odds which are never in your favour as bosses fill the screen up with danger.

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It all ties together to create an addictive grind back through the single-player and once again into the fray of the arena, maybe bringing a friend in for some tag team turmoil along the way.

Last Updated: December 4, 2019

Darksiders Genesis
As a stopgap between Darksiders 3 and the eventual Darksiders 4, Genesis scratches an itch in an unconventional manner that deserves some appreciation for trying something new along the way. Darksiders Genesis is action and co-op play firing on all cylinders. Even if I do need to strap a pair of binoculars to my face to see what I’m doing.
8.0
Darksiders Genesis was reviewed on PC
77 / 100

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