Darksiders Genesis is a top-down view action RPG published by THQ Nordic and developed by Airship Syndicate. The false Apocalypse triggered at the beginning of the original Darksiders has yet to occur and the Horseman War yet stands in the good graces of the Charred Council. He, along with his fellow Horseman Strife, is sent out to stop the actions of Lucifer, who seeks to upset the balance the Council so jealously preserves. Before their mission is fulfilled these Horsemen will confront enemies old and new while coming face to face with the darkest days of their pasts.
Ever since the first Darksiders game introduced the world to War, first Horseman of the Apocalypse, it was revealed in the deep lore it’s built up for its semi-biblically inspired world. Darksiders Genesis provides the deepest dive yet into the Horsemen and their history. Being situated as a prequel to the original game, this story has a lot more freedom to move through the various planes of existence. As the apocalypse hasn’t been called, nor has War been blamed for it.
The biggest reveal this game provides has to be the final of the Four Horsemen. Strife makes his introduction to the universe here. Unfortunately, from a narrative standpoint at least, he is also the weakest aspect of the game. Strife rides into the story with plenty of snark, and attempted wisecracks. While I see what Airship Syndicate was going for, pairing the irreverent Strife with the all too serious War, the attempt at an “odd couple” vibe never fully lands. Strife just tends to come across as annoying. The story of Darksiders Genesis is a solid bit of world-building. While on their quest to preserve the balance of creation the two horsemen will trek through many realms filled with demonic entities. Everyone from biblical characters like Lucifer to Lovecraftian creations like Dagon will find themselves in the sights of our protagonists.
The best part of the story is when it delves into the history of the horsemen themselves. It was established in earlier Darksiders games that the Horsemen were commanded to slay the rest of the Nephilim in one of their earliest missions. This battle was the climax of a war that raged in Eden itself, leading to the sealing off of the garden. Before the story wraps the Horsemen find themselves brought face to face with their darkest day.
Fort the bulk of the game the narrative proved entertaining and enjoyable. While not always the deepest story, it more than provided the motivation to keep going, to a point. Eventually, however, the game stalls out its story to a frustrating degree. Long after the natural feeling conclusion should have arrived the game continues to introduce new minions for the Horsemen to track down and slay. There is always a thinly veiled excuse for why you can’t just go confront the final boss instead of dispatching this guy first. But with each passing excuse, it just feels more and more like filler. While I appreciate the struggle of wanting to give a game a long enough campaign to make the player feel like their money is well spent, this isn’t how you do it.
Even as the story of Darksiders Genesis begins to struggle the combat proved to be fun and engaging. War and Strife provide significantly different styles of play. War, wielding his monstrous sword, prefers to wade into his enemies. In contrast, Strife does best when he stands off at a distance, blazing away with his twin pistols. When played with a partner both horsemen are present on the map coordinating their attacks. When experienced as a single player, you can swap between which horseman is present at any time. I found this single-player approach surprisingly interesting. As some of the more intense moments forced me to bounce between both characters as situations changed.
As enemies are slain they leave souls behind, which, like previous games in the series, act as currency. This currency can be used to acquire things like health upgrades, new combos to utilize, and special attacks. All these purchasable upgrades, combined with collectible “cores” that can be slotted into a grid to provide the horsemen with a number of passive buffs, give the impression that the combat is going to be deep and intricate. However, it never proves to be.
While all these various options are present they never seem to really matter. As I gained cores I slotted them into spots on the grid, with little concern or thought. I bought health upgrades, additional potions, and only the most basic attacks. As new powers were discovered I more often than not went with whatever was newest, and I managed to pass the challenges the game threw at me without too much difficulty. I completely forgot there was a block button for the first two-thirds of the game. And once remembered, seeing as how I’d managed without it, I didn’t bother to try to work it into my fighting style. While simplicity isn’t a bad thing in and of itself, it doesn’t help a game that already feels like its stretching its narrative too thin. There are some moment to moment challenges within the combat, but well-timed dodging, along with being mindful of when you need to back off and fire with Strife, or wade in for big damage with War, will usually see you through.
Exploring the world of Darksiders Genesis is a bit more engaging than the standard top-down action RPG tends to be. With some solid terrain navigation, coupled with fun, but mostly simple, puzzle-solving the game keeps a measure of freshness throughout it’s run time. This is also helped by the parceling out of navigation abilities between the two characters forcing swap-outs to continue through the world.
The visual style is exactly what you would expect of a Darksiders game. Continuing to use the designs originally created by comic artist Joe Madureira, the various worlds and characters are made to fit seamlessly into that comic book-inspired style. The cutscenes are mostly all still panels, with voice work, further pushing the comic book comparison. The game further incorporates this art style into a highly effective in-game visual presentation. Enemies’ designs are always varied, making it easy to track what I was attacking, and I rarely lost the place of my character. This helped the fun fast-paced combat immensely.
When all is said and done I found Darksiders Genesis a fun, if somewhat shallow game experience. Holding onto its narrative for a bit too long, there is still a lot to enjoy in this exploration of the origins of Darksiders Horsemen of the Apocalypse.
Darksiders Genesis is available on PC, Stadia, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and Nintendo Switch.
When all is said and done I found Darksiders Genesis a fun, if somewhat shallow game experience.