The Darksiders series is getting a spin-off title with a Diablo-esque design. How well does Airship Syndicate's Darksiders Genesis tie into the franchise?
The Darksiders series has been through plenty in its closing-in-on ten-year lifespan. Vigil Games, the developer behind the first two games, shut down shortly after Darksiders 2's release as a result of major publisher THQ going defunct. Later, Nordic Games (now THQ Nordic) grabbed the publishing rights, and then Gunfire Games picked up the series where it left off late last year with the Fury-headlined Darksiders 3. Now, just over a year later, the series is getting the addition of a spin-off title by Airship Syndicate called Darksiders Genesis.
We've followed the journeys of horsemen War, Death and Fury prior - next up Strife joins the fight in Darksiders Genesis, battling alongside his kin War, the protagonist of the original game. The game is set prior to the first game and after the battle on Eden, where the horsemen (led astray by the Council, then-assumed to be working towards restoring the order of the world) annihilated their own kind until only the four remained. The objective in Darksiders Genesis is to find, get to and ultimately take down the powerful demon king Lucifer, who has been disturbing the balance by bestowing various demons in hell with immense power.
As opposed to the rest of the titles in the series, Darksiders Genesis isn't a traditional third-person game. Instead, the developer has opted for a top-down dungeon crawler-style similar to Blizzard's Diablo series. The upgradeability and the RPG elements are still very much present, however, as is the exploration aspect.
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The game is set up in an interesting way, as you take control of the protagonist duo of War and Strife. Only one of the two can be controlled at any one time and they display different fighting styles and abilities one can use to go up against the angels and demons standing in the way of the duo's quest. War is a close-combat brute with more of a hack 'n' slash-type move-set (he does, however, have some ranged attacks at his disposal although we only really used these to solve puzzles) and we switched to him for close-combat encounters. Meanwhile Strife is a ranged character with a charge-shot and a handgun. The duo's attacks are amplified as you kill enemies and they both have character-specific special abilities that can be upgraded either by finding a power-up in a chest out in the multi map-based world or by buying it directly from Vulgrim.
The charge attacks require ammunition to fire while the basic attacks are unlimited. What's more, there are plenty of special weapons and ammunition types to find on your journey (and then toggle while in the weapon/ability wheel). for example, you can light braziers by standing by a flame and slinging your throwing-blade over it, hitting the brazier with the lit blades or even flipping wall switches with it, which is required to proceed in some areas.
Most of the time, you'll be fighting various demon minions that come at you in hordes as you make your way through both devilish dungeons and vast open areas, but the game also offers plenty of boss fights as well, also similar to those in Diablo. These are well-designed and, while challenging, there are never too many mechanics to keep track of at any time. You'll be able to annihilate most brutes with skilful dodging and well-timed attacks, all the while grabbing health-globes and ammunition from the minions on the battlefield to keep you well-stocked. Should you die, however, you'll switch to the other horseman in the duo until the battle concludes and you (hopefully) stand tall as the victor. This brings us to an important element of Genesis: the co-operative play.
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While the game can be played solo, you can also choose to play with a friend, which we would assume would be the "correct" way to play. You'll frequently find pillars where you can summon Vulgrim to browse his wares and start a co-op session, which to us made it feel as though the game wanted to prompt us to switch from single-player to multiplayer and it would make sense. Instead of having to switch between characters and being forcibly changed to the one left alive, a pair could stroll around as both of the characters at once, exploring different areas to save time and reviving each other as they fall. At its core, Darksiders Genesis is based on the co-operative element and thus, it doesn't really feel complete when playing alone (just don't try playing it on a mouse and keyboard if you get a friend around, the game is borderline unplayable without a controller and we'd recommend you heed the developer's warning).
Despite offering great voice acting, crisp graphics and atmospheric lighting effects, the game is a bit buggy. It's worth noting that after going back in after a pre-release patch hit, things ran more smoothly, but there are still some things to fix before it can be called bug free, such as crashing issues and cutscenes that freeze.
Apart from this, the tone feels a bit scattered, like the developer didn't know whether to make a game with a comedic tone or a gloomy, dark atmosphere and this dissonance messes with the immersion at times. It's not a major issue, however, and the game is still very much enjoyable as the gameplay really does shine, especially during the high-intensity moments. Facing a group of tougher enemies and managing a perfect flurry of attacks while steering clear of incoming projectiles as everything's exploding all around you is as satisfying as can be.
Darksiders Genesis is a welcome addition to a beloved franchise and the new perspective complements it well. The story is decent, the voice acting is great, the characters are well-written and the option to play it through with a friend is lovely. We'd like to see some issues fixed, but overall, the game runs smoothly, it looks great and it's a joy to play.
7 / 10
Fun gameplay, co-op option is great, good characters, nice prequel-setting, great voice acting, story is decent.
A bit buggy, tone of the game seems scattered, incredibly difficult to play with a keyboard and mouse, some crashing.