When it comes to sequels, not many stray too far from the roots established by their forebears. Sure, they may add a few new mechanics, but gameplay fundamentals largely remain unchanged. The Darksiders games are a series that go against the norm and generally mix things up a fair bit between games. Despite obviously taking a lot of inspiration from other prominent genres and games, like the first title's Zelda-like progression to the more recent Darksiders III's substantial Dark Souls influence, the series has deservedly carved out a fanbase of its own. With the latest entry, Darksiders Genesis, the series is set to tackle yet another new style as it switches to an isometric view and introduces co-operative play to the mix.
Is it a welcome change or a step in the wrong direction? Let's jump into the abyss and find out.
Aptly dubbed "Genesis", the latest entry in the series takes us back to the beginning, before we first met War and his angry siblings. The prequel sees us joining War and Strife as the Charred Council tasks them with knocking on Lucifer's door and throwing a sickel/spanner in his plans to bring a civil war to Hell. The story is once again presented in a mix of in-engine with dialogue boxes and beautifully hand-drawn flipbook-style cutscenes that set the tone excellently. While the series' strength has never been its story, Genesis does enough to reward fans of previous games as well as providing a decent introduction for newcomers.
With the shift in perspective to the new isometric view, I must admit I was concerned that this would be too much of a departure for the series and that doing so would make it feel more like an off-shoot as opposed to a full-blown Darksiders entry. Thankfully this change feels right at home with Genesis and the series' signature blend of action, platforming and puzzles remain intact and as entertaining as ever. While Genesis is billed as an Action-RPG, the game definitely skews more toward the action side of things with its heavy focus on hack and slash combat, and a peppering of RPG in its excellent skill & upgrade tree. I love the way upgrades are handled in this game. Killing enemies will sometimes drop a creature core. These are then slotted into your desired spot, offering bonuses to damage etc. What really makes it great is that none of your decisions are permanent. If you don't like where you slotted a creature core, it's as easy as opening the menu and slotting it elsewhere. You don't have to pay extra or lose points to do so, which make experimenting and tweaking your build a breeze.
The new camera angle doesn't change things nearly as much as anticipated but does, unfortunately, lead to some new issues, especially on the Nintendo Switch. The new isometric view, when combined with the small screen of the Switch can make the action a bit hard to follow at times and a complete lack of camera control means some of the platforming segments can be a bit of a chore to get through. The environment can also obscure secrets and pickups, which can be frustrating. The player character and enemies are thankfully outlined in blue so at least getting killed by unseen enemies, isn't too big an issue. Losing track of the action and enemies when things get chaotic happens a bit too frequently and lead to my death more than I would have liked.
The variable screen resolution also leads to the action looking a bit blurry during the more intense battles (a common issue with the Switch), which is a shame because the game has style aplenty. Outside of resolution and some frame dips, it's still impressive to see the game running on the Switch, and I quickly became accustomed to these graphical compromises.
Perhaps most impressive, Darksiders Genesis retains what made the series so great in the first place. Combat is still as fast and frantic as ever, and the game still has a strong focus on entertaining puzzles and platforming. The skill upgrade system is excellent and allows for a nice amount of variation in how you play. War remains the stoic in-your-face brute with his mammoth sword and melee focus, while Strife plays like a twin-stick shooter that centres more on precise ranged combat with his guns. I found myself constantly switching between the two characters and really hope the series experiments more with co-op and character changing in future instalments.
When playing solo, you can change between War and Strife with the push of two buttons, and the two play differently enough to each other to offer a welcome amount of variety. Playing co-op with a friend, either online or split-screen, is an absolute blast and is definitely my preferred way to play. It's just a tonne of fun carving and blasting your way through the hordes of Hell with a buddy at your side and co-op goes a long way in adding to the replayability.
Genesis offers a wealth of upgrades and items that feed into the Zelda-like progression where you will travel back to previous areas, albeit with a new way of traversing previously inaccessible areas. New abilities and powers like summoning a hellhound to fight by your side also provide plenty of diversity to combat tactics, which you will have to take full advantage of to succeed at the higher difficulties.
Some of the areas you visit on your journey are quite large, and the game's abysmal map is not very helpful as it only highlights the area you are in as opposed to pinpointing your exact position. This can, unfortunately, leave you blindly stumbling around an area for a bit too long and slows down the pace occasionally. I also encountered a few bugs with chain attacks and enemies glitching out and vibrating on the spot before they disappeared. I also encountered the classic bug where you initiate a finishing move, only to see the enemy silhouette plummet through the floor, while War or Strife carry out the fancy attack on thin air. It's certainly a little buggier than I would have liked, but I had too much fun with the game for it to be a real issue.
Despite its issues, Darksiders Genesis is still another entertaining entry in the series. If you own a PC, PS4 or Xbox One, those versions certainly look a lot better, and the action is much easier to follow on a bigger screen. Despite this, the game lends itself well to handheld play, and once you get past the visual compromises, there's a solid action-RPG here that will keep you busy for a solid fifteen to twenty hours.
Genesis provides an entertaining story that adds to the Darksiders mythos and is hellishly fun, making it a must-play for fans. Considering the future of the series was in question just a few years ago, it's great to see the developers still willing to try new ideas to keep things fresh. Now that we've been adequately introduced to all four of the Horsemen I'm excited to see where the series goes next and am still holding out hope for a full-blown four-player mainline sequel.
+ Awesome skill-tree and upgrades.
+ Combat is fast and frantic.
+ Art style is excellent.
+ Playing co-op is a blast.
- Variable resolution blur.
- Characters look a bit small in handheld mode.
- Action can be hard to follow in handheld.
- Occasional bugs & glitches.
- Platforming can be frustrating.
- No camera control leads to some things being hard to spot.