Heaven and Hell have been providing the human race with reasons to be afraid for eons, but everlasting torture and divine judgement seem like minor inconveniences compared to the wrath of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Darksiders has chronicled their exploits for the last decade, bringing us tales of War, Death, and Fury across three mainline games, but after the lacklustre third entry the series has changed direction for the prequel, Darksiders Genesis.
Where the previous games shifted between third person open-world and more linear action adventure stylings, Darksiders Genesis pulls the camera out to become a top-down dungeon crawler a la Diablo or Torchlight, and it’s all the better for it. There’s still plenty of demon-crunching action, and alongside War and his lethal giant sword we’re also introduced to Strife; a quick to quip gun-wielding menace who brings ranged combat and acts as a comedic foil to War’s torturous classical drawl.
If you’ve played any of the previous entries, War handles much the same as he ever has, walloping demonic foes with powerful combos. Strife on the other hand adds twin stick shooting to the series, and he feels utterly different to his brethren, carving a path through each stage with gleeful abandon. It doesn’t end there for either of them, with a burgeoning set of different abilities opening up as you progress. With new combos, specials, and runes for War or different ammo types for Strife, your Horsemen become even more lethal than they are at the outset, with their growth feeling natural and well-earned.
The Darksiders series has always offered one of the most compelling and meaningfully constructed game worlds out there. The world of the Horsemen and the shadowy Council that control them in order to maintain ‘the balance’ benefits from a chunky, comic-book graphical style, and Genesis thankfully retains the same level of detail that previous entries did. Viewing everything from a set-back camera angle gives each area room to breathe, and Hell’s various levels look fantastic while providing plenty of opportunity for secret nooks and crannies for the designers to hide things in.
There’s plenty to seek out too, and though it doesn’t stray into the looter territory that the second game did, Darksiders Genesis’ loop for upgrading your characters manages to walk the line between dull grinding and handing things to you on a platter. Your demonic foes will merrily explode upon death, but rather than leaving a trail of devilish gore behind there’s a bunch of useful pick-ups and souls that allow you to upgrade various stats and abilities at Vulgrim’s hub.
Besides ammo, health and the like, Genesis will occasionally drop you a Creature Core, which you can then add to your upgrade board. This is your main means of improving Strife and War’s abilities, but each Creature Core not only improves things like Attack, Wrath or Health, they also bring their own inherent abilities as well.
Adding a fun wrinkle – well ‘fun’ if you’re the sort of gamer who likes messing with stats all day – each slot on your character upgrade tree also has a creature type, and if this matches the core you drop into it then you get a further bonus. What this amounts to is hours of switching cores in and out of the board in an attempt to min-max your stats, moving things well beyond your average hack and slash dungeon crawler.
Alongside the hacking and shooting, Darksiders Genesis likes to throw in the odd environmental puzzle, with your growing repertoire of skills being put to use solving them. From tried and tested classics like throwing bombs at switches, to more inventive things like opening portals that shoot you or your inventory across the map, they’re all nicely presented, if nothing you haven’t seen before. There’s a good spot of platforming too, tasking you with speedily moving across the map, traversing the landscape and rewarding you for exploring. It all feels like Darksiders, even with the change in perspective.
There’s the occasional issue with Genesis being very particular about where you jump, though, and the puzzles slow the game down at times, leaving you to meander around maps searching for the next element to unlock. It never became laborious, and part of that comes down to the characters being such great company. Switching between Strife’s twin-stick shooting and War’s powerful sword swings remains as fun at the beginning as it does at the end, and this is a game, much like the first two Darksiders titles, that I can see myself returning to time and again. Thanks to the unlocking of Apocalyptic difficulty after your first run-through, and the ability to play the whole game in two player co-op, it’s a worthwhile endeavour too.
It’s helped along by wonderful production values. Besides the chunky 3D characters and landscapes, the story is told via brilliant comic-art stills and talking heads, which carry the narrative along with style despite not moving. The voice acting ties everything together, and whether it’s War and Strife or the nefarious supporting cast, the characterisation and standard of performance are top-notch.
That could be because Liam O’Brien and Phil LaMarr have been voicing War and Vulgrim for over a decade, or because newcomer Chris Jai Alex nails Strife’s witty retorts. It could also be that they’ve been surrounded with fellow voice acting nobility like Troy Baker. In this case, all are true, and the development team have aced this aspect of bringing the world of Darksiders to vigorous life.
The soundtrack from Ori and the Blind Forest composer Gareth Coker ably helps things along too, emphasising the mystical and mysterious elements of the game’s setting. Dark, atmospheric, and plaintive one moment and all out mayhem the next, there’s some incredible instrumentation at work here that further adds to the delight your ears can experience – despite them being equally filled with the sounds of demon’s guts exploding.