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Darksiders Genesis

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: THQ Nordic
Developer: Airship Syndicate
Release Date: Dec. 5, 2019

About Jared Hall

Jared started playing computer games in the '80s on a Commodore 64, moving over to PC gaming in the era of Wolf3D and Doom. Favorites include Dark Souls, Mass Effect and Civilization.

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PC Review - 'Darksiders Genesis'

by Jared Hall on Feb. 12, 2020 @ 1:00 a.m. PST

Darksiders Genesis is a top-down action adventure where the fourth Horseman of the Apocalypse Strife is called upon to save humankind from certain destruction at the hands of Lucifer.

Buy Darksiders Genesis

Darksiders Genesis marks the fourth entry in the popular Darksiders series, which is published by THQ Nordic. This particular version was developed by Airship Syndicate, an independent studio based in Texas. They only have one other game to their name on Steam, but you would never guess that based on the professional design and polish on display.

Genesis is a prequel, with story elements occurring before the original game. The game may provide some interesting information to those familiar with all the events of the series, and for those unfamiliar, you won't even notice it's a prequel. The story seems standard fare for an action-adventure game; it's nothing to write home about but does the job of moving the player from mission to mission with a general purpose. The short version is that the council gets word that Lucifer is up to no good (shocking, right?), and they assign two of the four horsemen, War and Strife, to investigate. In this case, "investigate" is a euphemism for murder everything that moves.


What really kept the story fresh wasn't the plot but the interactions between War and Strife. War plays the straight man to Strife's sarcastic rebel, a tried-and-true archetype that works perfectly here. War is singularly focused on duty and balance, and he's perpetually hostile to everyone he encounters. I can't help but think of a pen-and-paper Dungeons and Dragons game whereupon meeting any NPC, War's player consistently blurts out, "I try to intimidate!" This suits War's play style as the beefy melee character who wades through hordes of demons and executes them with brute force.

Strife, on the other hand, consistently questions what they are doing and why they should trust the council in the first place. While his dialogue was occasionally anachronistic, like casting Will Smith in "Lord the of Rings," it was humorous enough that it was easy to forgive. The pair's verbal jabs at each other got me laughing quite a few times and kept me playing to hear more. It helped that the voice-overs were absolutely fantastic. Granted, there wasn't as much dialogue as some of the major RPGs out there, but what's here is done exquisitely. The gravelly impatience and frustration in War's voice is done so perfectly that someone needs to cast that man as the protagonist of an RPG.

OK, I'll stop man-crushing on War for now. The gameplay is a bit of a departure from the rest of the entries in the series. They've abandoned the behind-the-back camera view for an overhead isometric view, along the lines of Diablo and Gauntlet. Darksiders Genesis is a far cry from Diablo, despite what the screenshots may lead you to believe. The gameplay can be summarized in three distinct categories: combat, exploration and town.

I use the term "town" loosely; it's more of a hub. Regardless, this is where you'd do all the town-like activities, such as converse with NPCs, buy upgrades, and configure your character. After each mission, there's a conversation with one of the NPCs in the hub that will outline your next objective. You then go to the teleporter, which allows you to select a mission or arena (more on that later) and whisks you away to the appropriate location. Any mission can be repeated at any time, and for full completion, you will need to return to old missions after you unlock various tools that let you reach previously inaccessible areas to find resources.

 


There are two vendors in town where you can spend currency (boatman coins and souls) on an assortment of upgrades for your characters. One specializes in upgrades to your move sets, such as adding a fourth attack to a combo. The other focuses on stat-based or passive upgrades, like increased health and increased potion capacity. Overall, I found the progression curve to be quite smooth, with no jarring power spikes or must-have purchases, but everything on offer felt desirable.

The primary source of character progression comes in the form of creature cores, which offer a variety of passive increases as well as stat increases. Creature cores are collected from the vendor or as drops from the respective enemy type. You can think of your character setup as a bunch of sockets with types: attack sockets, health sockets and wrath sockets. The creature cores are the gems that fill the sockets. In total, there are 30 regular sockets and eight boss sockets. Put an attack creature core in an attack slot, and you gain a bonus to your attack statistic in addition to the bonus passive ability. You can change your setup at any time for free, and for the first half of the game, you won't have enough cores to fill up the tree, so you just slot everything you find. The difference between average and optimal setups isn't as drastic in Darksiders Genesis as it would be a more loot-centric game, like Diablo or Path of Exile. The system is effective at making you feel like you're progressing and getting more powerful. You get an overall power rating for each character, and each mission has a recommended power level, so you can tell if you're falling behind the curve.

If you are falling behind the curve, it might be time for exploration. There is an occasional puzzle that's required to proceed, and it'll require you to light all of the torches or blow up obstacles. None of these are frustratingly difficult, but they do a nice job of breaking up the combat segments. The real exploration comes in the form of secrets, and this game has a lot of secrets. Most often, you'll be rewarded with chests full of boatman's coins or souls, but there are more exotic finds. Every mission also has a map that reveals the whole mission and all of the secrets. The catch is that even if they show up on your map, some of them are still difficult to reach. Sometimes, you don't have the necessary tools to get to the secret yet. I suspect anyone who enjoys a good treasure hunt will get more than their fill here, and it's rewarding since it increases your effectiveness in combat, which is the crux of the game.


As mentioned before, Darksiders Genesis is first and foremost about murdering lots of demons, undead, the occasional corrupted angel, and … well, there's just a lot of murdering. Anywhere you go, there's another small horde of demons to contend with, but that's good because the combat system is enjoyable. Both characters, War and Strife, are accessible at any given time. In single-player mode, you can switch between them with a button press, providing you with some strategic options.

Strife focuses on ranged attacks, and his combat feels like a twin-stick shooter. He has a standard shot with infinite ammo, and you will find a variety of ammo types for specific situations. For example, lightning ammo arcs between clusters of enemies, making it a prime choice for groups of monsters. I favored Strife if there were large melee monsters that were easy to keep away from, especially if they had a knock-back attack. He has some melee attacks, but they aren't the focus of his play style.

War, on the other hand, has a gigantic sword. He tended to take more damage overall, and he has a bigger health pool, and it's much easier to use finishers with War. The game has a mechanic a lot like the new Doom, where you can use finishers on injured monsters to receive additional health, wrath, and ammo drops. Executes have to be done at melee range, which makes them more suited to War's play style. Not only do they cause extra health orbs to spawn, but you're also invulnerable for the duration of the animation. Some of the major boss fights have waves of lesser demons spawning in that are often helpful since you can use them for invulnerability frames and power-ups. War also has the ability to block, which is essential against larger monsters with slower, harder-hitting attacks.

 


Both characters have a dash or dodge ability that can be used for mobility and a few frames of invulnerability to avoid major attacks. The core of combat was shoot guys and dash, or melee guys and block. Wrath is a resource that powers each character's special abilities. Strife begins with the ability to make shadow clones that distract enemies and dish out minor damage. War starts with a ground-smash ability that does heavy area-of-effect damage and knocks back those around him. More abilities are unlocked as the game progresses, mostly by exploring the aforementioned secrets. There are also some ultimate abilities that unlock, but I won't spoil anything.

Suffice it to say that the combat is challenging and satisfying enough to entertain you through the 16 missions and still leave you craving more. Thankfully, there's an arena mode! The missions are all wonderfully handcrafted levels that take you through a variety of locations with the occasional grand view thrown in for good measure. The atmosphere is excellently reinforced by the music, which is spot-on throughout the game. Between missions, you can delve into arena mode and play for score. I suspect this is where the co-op — did I mention there's also co-op?! — would really shine.

The co-op in the story missions, with the occasional puzzle or jumping sequence, might be awkward with another person, especially if they aren't as experienced as you. I think that jumping into an arena with a friend who's never played would work fantastically. Virtually anyone should be able to figure out the basics of combat in short order, and trying to top your previous best score would be a never-ending challenge, since the final arena features endless waves.

Darksiders Genesis is a great game. I feel like the developers masterfully ticked every box on their design sheets, so they should be proud of this one. Unless the genre really turns you off or the occasional puzzle is a deal-breaker for you, Darksiders Genesis is definitely worth your money.

Score: 8.9/10

 



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