War, Death, Fury and Strife are The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. I commonly know them as the perfect storm of a hangover, but each to their own. It’s a perfect concoction of varying personalities to create a unique franchise. The Darksiders series has always mimicked other properties, and has for the most part been fairly successful. The first two imitated the Zelda format with their own flair, whereas Darksiders III followed the Soulsbourne games route to create a challenging combat experience. Darksiders Genesis now attempts to replicate the Diablo formula. The result? An incredibly fun hack-and-slash adventure which still retains the spirit of the series by remembering its roots.
Set before the events of the original trilogy, Darksiders Genesis acts as a prequel to the preceding events and is able to create an entirely new story. Set in a cooperative fashion this time, you have the chance to embody War and Strife – both with a unique set of skills and combat setups. Both are tasked to track down the demon king, Lucifer, who attempts to upset the balance by recruiting powerful demons to his cause. It’s a completely serviceable and throwaway plot, but manages to introduce you to the grand cast of characters Darksiders is known for. Prior to this, each entry has played a straight face, with an overall serious tone that, given the overly dramatic setting, had a tendency to remain uninteresting. To Darksiders Genesis’s credit, it manages to provide a more accurate tongue-in-cheek approach here, with a quippy Strife playfully bouncing off a straight-faced War. It’s chalk and cheese, and works effectively at elevating the mundane story with a successful to and fro of banter.
Though Darksiders Genesis may seem like a Diablo clone at first glance, it’s actually got things going for it. Everything is presented through linear levels with an isometric point of view. You’ll hack and slash through waves of enemies and blissfully scour the environment for collectibles, all while solving small puzzles. It still manages to retain the DNA of the Darksiders series while experimenting in new directions. While Diablo is often cited for its frantic action and loot systems, this is definitely more favoured towards exploration while mixing in a whirlwind of cathartic combat.
Fighting is very reminiscent to the first two Darksiders games, which blended a use of combos with satisfying finishers. The same can be said here as you gleefully puncture through seemingly endless hordes of enemies. None of it is particularly challenging, but it is mighty satisfying as each swing of the blade cuts through the waves of enemies like butter. With two characters to swap between, they both favour varying combat stances. War is a straight up bruiser, with slower, more methodical attacks that pack a walloping punch. Strife is breezier, able to spring around the battlefield with ease with his quick manoeuvres. Each character also has abilities which can be quick-mapped to perform deadlier attacks, depending on whether you have enough wrath to use them.
Where the combat takes a dip however, is in the boss battles. Each level ends with a grotesque creature of sorts haunting your progress and become nothing more than tedious feats of attrition. Very few of the bosses play towards using the skills War and Strife possess and simply boil down to a heavy mix of button-mashing and avoiding easy to monitor attacks. You won’t find any very much challenging, but instead provide heavy roadblocks in the experience as all they identify as is a stronger version of every other enemy on display. One such example is an early boss which consistently charges towards you, leaving a trail of deadly lava behind. The whole battle was completed by simply running around the map and using Strife’s pistols to whittle down his health. In a nutshell, they’re boring, drawn out and lack any inventiveness.
Outside of fighting, the world of Darksiders Genesis is a joy to explore, with secrets and collectibles tucked away in every corner. The level design constantly encourages you to explore every nook and cranny. Each level is littered with platforming, puzzles and combat to consistently change the pace and keep things interesting. Platforming is definitely the weakest element though, with an isometric camera which can make it increasingly easy to misjudge jumps. The first level features a few collectibles which caused such unnecessary stress through the mistimed platforming that I just gave up entirely.
War and Strife will receive regular upgrades though, such as the Vorpal Blade which allows you to throw the item at hard to reach buttons to proceed. There are also other abilities such as the Tremor Gauntlet – a massive glove which can shatter specific crystals or even enemies. The constant acquisition of new items builds towards a lovely sense of progression. What makes every new item meaningful is the way they can be incorporated into fights – for example using the Vorpal Blade to deal a powerful ranged attack.
The progression is filtered into an overwhelming upgrade system. Each level provides a recommended level for each character to reach before proceeding. To do so items known as Creature Cores can be found from enemies or around the world, and can be slotted into an overly complex upgrade tree to level up both characters. Each core is presented with a symbol which stands for either health, wrath or attack. The cores can be levelled up by finding remnants of the same core throughout the world. Additionally, bosses will drop larger cores, which can only be placed in specific core slots for deadlier upgrades to your characters. Though the idea of the system seems simple enough, in practice it’s rather cumbersome with an extremely complicated upgrade tree and a tutorial that is incredibly thin. In fact, the upgrade system was only made aware to me after playing around with Darksiders Genesis’s menus and stumbling upon it. It’s baffling that such a key feature is presented so poorly.
This is definitely an experience that is favoured more towards cooperative play. Though it’s incredibly easy and perfectly playable to soak in the campaign as a single player experience, the game has built its foundations around a multiplayer environment. Often, puzzles require the use of both characters to proceed and combat definitely showcases its vibrancy more when two players are working together to lay waste to the hordes of demons in their path. If the option presents itself, this is a game that begs to be played through with a friend.
Whereas Darksiders III missed the mark by straying too far from the path, Darksiders Genesis on Xbox One proves that the formula from the first two games was successful enough for their franchise. It’s true that this is a more linear experience this time around, but none of what made Darksiders a cult hit in the first place has been sacrificed in translation. The isometric camera often has its hitches, boss battles are disappointing and the upgrade system often provides bumps in the road. But this is a game that oozes with confidence from the get-go, with a lighter style, satisfying combat and an engaging world to explore. If this really did mark the apocalypse, then I’m all for it.