There is a special place in my heart for the Darksiders series, the first game featuring War absolutely blew me away on its release for just bringing something to my Xbox 360 experience I never knew I was lacking. I absolutely loved Darksiders 2 that introduced us to the Horseman Death even though the game itself suffered from a rushed development due to the collapse of the THQ. But in the years since the series has had a bit of a revival with successful remasters of the first two games and a third Darksiders releasing which brought the Horseman Fury and her lethal whip to the series and whilst it was an overall lacklustre game, the hope would be to have the 4th and possibly final Horseman have their own game…and though introduced in Darksiders 3 as a teaser, the next game to feature this unseen Horsemen would not actually be a typical Darksiders game…but does it do enough to keep the hope of a 4th chapter in the Horseman story alive?
Darksiders Genesis is an interesting departure from the three main series games starting with the very obvious one, the change in style. Genesis is very much in the style of isometric games like Diablo which next to a 3rd person action adventure game with RPG and hack n slash elements like the first three Darksiders Horsemen games…feels rather odd. The next is that it is also a game that has fundamentally been designed from the ground up to be a fully co-operative gaming experience where you grab a friend and you each take the roles of either War or Strife, the new and 4th Horseman introduced fully with Genesis.
But let’s start with the latter and begin with the pairing of Strife with War. Genesis is a prequel story to the first game where the Four Horsemen have, on the orders of the Charred Council, lain waste to their own people the Nephilim. Fresh from that destruction, War and Strife are summoned back to the council and given new orders, to go into Hell itself and investigate what Lucifer has been planning with the Council believing it is a threat to the ‘Balance’. Sounds relatively simple for two Horsemen who just helped destroy their own people.
I really like Strife as a character, modelled after a cocky gunslinger, Strife is wise cracking and arrogant and questions the reason behind their orders and missions whilst accepting his role as a Horsemen, he is not shy to ask why the Council has set them on this course or in doing whatever it takes to complete the mission, even if it means running errands for others if it will aid their goal. This is the very opposite of War who is dogmatic in his belief in duty of protecting the Balance for the Council and believes the Horsemen are absolute in their work. He is stoic and determined and is often annoyed by the charismatic Strife and his seemingly jokey attitude to completing the mission. This pairing is a fascinating and fun way to introduce Strife and during the conversation scenes between the two throughout the story, you can see War almost lighten up at points and persuaded by Strife to follow a course of action rather than do what he does best, threaten and destroy an obstacle with his big sword. This relationship is just adorable like a buddy cop film.
Having two very different in personality Horsemen also means two very different styles in combat. Strife is a mid to long range fighter, using his dual pistols ‘Redemption and Mercy’ to tackle enemies but also has melee abilities for close quarter fighting. War has his “Chaoseater” sword and is the close-range tank damage dealer he was in the first Darksiders game. In fact, I was surprised that even with the almost top down isometric style, War feels like War, having his same attacks and special moves which are instantly recognisable to fans and honestly, as someone who knows the first game very well, playing as War even in this new setting felt familiar and at the same time refreshing as well. Strife felt like a good twin stick shooter kind of character and was great at keeping distance from enemies with his range attacks and not too squishy up close and personal with his melee abilities.
Which is where the new co-op style of gameplay comes to life as you and a friend get to control either of the Horsemen and combining their playstyles to take down enemies, explore the map solving puzzles and fighting the big boss characters you will come across as you progress through the world and the many dungeons in the game. Seeing both Horsemen riding their iconic horses as well with Strife riding Mayhem and War on Ruin is a sight to behold for any fan of the series itching to see them all unite on screen in the same game. Once both players are locked in combat, it really is thrilling to see them working together and the fact that the visual keep the same comic book dark art style to world really makes the game just pop out of your screen.
That said, the game is also fully playable as a solo experience with the ability to just hot switch between the two Horsemen at any time. The game offers solutions for the clearly designed to be solved by two players type of puzzles by having a method of allowing for example, the use of a bomb to activate one switch whilst the solo player activates the other if a gate or path has a ‘two switches at the same time’ lock method. Dotted in strategic places through each map are Player Monoliths, these can be used to invite another player into your game to make it co-op even if you started off solo and you can set the game to be invite only or to allow anyone on your friends list with the game to just join you. The only downside I would say to the solo experience is that it is always obvious that this is a game and a world built upon the foundation of being played by two players, playing solo does make the boss fights and large enemy battles an overwhelming challenge at times, one you know would be easier and perhaps more fun with two players instead of just one. But the gameplay manages to keep the flow going even if you do play this solo but I would recommend playing with a friend for the full experience.
I did find some of the RPG elements to be a bit of a hit and miss however. Like other Darksiders games, you can collect souls and Boatmen coins in order to purchase upgrades and new abilities from series regular Vulgrim and newcomer Dis. There is also an attribute tree where you can use the Creature Cores collected from dead enemies and bosses to grant buffs to your horsemen abilities such as boosting damage, giving more health and even the ability to someone a beast to serve as your ally in combat. The more of these cores you collect, the more that Creature Core effect can be boosted by increasing its level. Now I just threw this these into the tree randomly and still managed to have the advantages of this but no doubt diehard players can finetune their own.
I did have some niggles with the new style of play though with the camera often feeling too high up and missing a lot of the up close detail of the characters and the action and whilst I absolutely loved exploring every inch of the level maps looking for every chest an collectible, I often found that the attempt to make it 3D by having high scenery block the camera leaving you as an shadowed outline moving on the other side which during a fight can be very annoying. Also I found it too easy to get caught on scenery and trying to judge precise jumping was a little off due to the camera meaning I suffered some very clumsy and noob looking falls into pits.
But overall I really enjoyed this spin off title and whilst I do hope and expect a possible Darksiders 4 to return to the traditional game style, it was a fun way to introduce a new Horsemen with a prequel story that sheds more like on the Horsemen as a group before the events of the first game which changed everything. Definitely worth checking out if you are a fan of Darksiders, it manages to use enough of Diablo style games whilst never trying to go full into that style and retains enough of Darksiders to keep it familiar for fans.
The story can feel drawn out towards the end but I had and am having a really good time with this game now I have a co-op partner to replay the game with.