Look, there’s no getting away from it. Darksiders III was a bit of a disappointment.
It had enjoyable moments with its epic battles, vast cinematics, and open-world exploration, but the balancing continually faltered and the pacing goes completely off the boil. It lost sight of what it wanted to be.
I didn’t hate it, but I didn’t love it as much as I really wanted to and that hit home harder than expected. Considering how long of a wait there was between games, the poor sales and critical reception made me wonder whether that might be the end of the Horsemen.
But then THQ Nordic did something really strange and came out of left field with a new Darksiders game that seemed to borrow from…Diablo?
I mean, hey, if it lets me play Strife, I’m all for it. I wasn’t sure that’d ever be a thing. But I must confess, I never expected this and I absorbed the Genesis news with low expectations and the slightest frustration it’s not another mainline game.
I’m over the moon to say I was so very wrong and Airship Syndicate have got this so very right!
Apart from making one of the best Darksiders games yet, Airship Syndicate may have even given Stadia a bit of a life-line considering the several month’s exclusivity. Because, frankly, this is one of the best games this year!
In case you’re wondering why that Airship Syndicate name is familiar, this Texas studio worked on the superb Battle Chasers: Nightwar, a game we’ve gushed over many times here at Expansive. They were also just announced to be working on a story-based League of Legends spin-off.
And it looks like they may have just saved the Darksiders series from being forgotten to the annals of history because not only is Genesis a reinvigoration of a failing franchise, they’ve found a new formula that fits it like a glove.
So, the first big change is that it’s an isometric, top-down dungeon crawler and everything is mission-based. To explore, you can jump on board horseback as either War or Strife and swing swords or shoot guns at lots of damned souls to collect the familiar franchise currency of souls.
The cool thing about Genesis is that you can alternate between Strife and War seamlessly – sadly, Death and Fury are conspicuous by their absence. It’s quite important to use both Horsemen’s abilities in a pinch as obviously War is a much better close-combat fighter than the rootin’ tootin’ shootin’ Strife.
Speaking of Strife, the wise-cracking gunslinger is exactly the injection of charisma and smack-talking the Darksiders series has needed. His energy helps add a healthy dose of fun to the frantic action and he bounces beautifully off his sometimes far too serious brother, War.
The two complement each other so well and are a natural fit in a game environment focused on hacking, slashing and looting. Each has different move types with War able to drag enemies towards him and Strife using a charged auto rifle attack that eats through health bars.
Both are also needed for different kinds of puzzle solving, like opening portals to other parts of a room and sending a frisbee-type weapon to set fire to braziers and open up new areas.
Genesis has a series of optional and mandatory journal objectives which, once complete, give you cool extras that can be used to purchase key items and upgrade both characters. How do you do that, you ask? By visiting Vulgrim’s Shop of course. Who else would they visit?
Upgrades are activated by using ‘Creature Cores’ which come in Minor or Major forms and these can alter health, war, and attack slots. The new level up system invites some interesting customisation possibilities and you can actually slot these cores into any slot you like – irrespective of whether the core is a different property to the slot – which affects both War and Strife’s power in unique ways.
It’s possible to make one Horsemen stronger than the other, though this can eventually cause problems as you’ll notice one character is much ‘glassier’ than the other when in combat, so it’s always best to try and invest with as much balance as you can. The option for customisable building isn’t as enhanced and fleshed out as a mainline Darksiders game, but there’s plenty to play around with here to get the most out of your Horsemen.
There’s also, of course, mainline cores that can be used for specific purposes, such as new ammo types and final forms to really make you a force to be reckoned with. And naturally, you can pick up all kinds of neat new gear throughout that levels up specific properties for each character. This again works towards the idea that one horsemen can be stronger than the other, if you want them to be.
There’s some nice replayability here as well with wave-based arenas to fight through to earn rare collectibles and more currency to max out your upgrades. Changing the difficulty on each mission also makes things considerably more challenging and can keep you coming back.
And it’d be remiss not to talk about the local co-op possibilities, as well as being able to play online with one person taking a Horsemen each. This works really well and offers another refreshing dynamic for the Darksiders series, bringing us ever closer to having a fully playable quartet.
But we’re not quite there yet. As mentioned, neither Fury or Death are playable, which does seem a bit of a shame – though speculation does seem to point to them being DLC down the road. I don’t fully know why this isn’t opened up for four-player multiplayer – it does seem to be a narrative reason as both characters are mentioned – but a full sequel with all four horsemen would make far too much sense not to do.
Because, honestly, the setting suits Darksiders so well, almost so well at times that you’ll wonder if this shouldn’t be its permanent home from now on. Though the camera angles can be a bit awkward – frustratingly unmovable – and enemy balancing can be a little questionable, particularly if you’re flying solo. Some missions do also ever so slightly tread onto overly familiar ground, and the game seems to lack the major boss battle action a game like Diablo thrives upon.
But the game’s familiar use of expert cut-scenes, witty back and forth dialogue, along with a surprisingly gripping plot, really makes this an enjoyable romp that feels like a Darksiders game and one you’ll want to see through to the end. And the game is always trying to find ways to stay relevant, regularly making you think about how you approach each mission which is, at times, in stark contrast to the occasional mindless mashing a Diablo can encourage.
What’s more, it works for both newcomers and veterans to Darksiders alike, which sort of lends itself to the idea that this is something of a franchise reset before we, hopefully, get that mainline Strife game to complete the saga.
Although, I’d be just as happy with more DLC or a full-blown spin-off sequel. Because, honestly, Darksiders Genesis might be the most fun I’ve had with the series since the original. Something I never thought I’d be saying when the announcement dropped earlier this year.
Fan of the games, or not, you need to play this!
Darksiders Genesis is now available on PC and Google Stadia. It releases on Xbox One, PS4, and Switch on February 14 2020
Reviewed on PC, supplied by THQ Nordic