Darksiders: Genesis is an Isometric Action RPG, and I love a good Isometric Action RPG.
It’s a genre that suits many settings. Some of my all time favourite games fall neatly into this category. Alienation, the Diablo series, Dark Alliance (PS2), Zombieland. Even Warhammer 40k Inquisitor gets an underdog look in and I know one day I will find that long lost WWII game by Black Isle on PS2.
Having not played the Darksiders games until now I am at a loss when it comes to the canon. Luckily its not hard to pick up, staying with the story might be harder. This episode centres around War and Strife, mythical versions of the Horsemen of the Apocalypse. All well and good, apart from the mid-west American chatter they spill out. The game itself is mooted as a Strife focused prequel in the Darksiders timeline. It’s all about some McGuffins and Lucifer and stuff.
That’s the preamble, how about the game?
Out of the traps there are a couple of things that hold you back, the initial pedestrian pace and the zoomed out camera. In fact the camera, rather lack of controllable camera is a pain. Pace wise the level design can be deceiving, because the worlds are big and there is a fair bit of walking between skirmishes. This is relieved by adding a horse to the horseman, a quick tap of L1 and R1 will set you on your ghostly way. Riding gives you faster travel along with a few other options for combat and to be honest I barely used it. This kind of game lives for toe-to-toe action and walking many leagues, slowly.
The camera just doesn’t ever feel quite right, mainly you can’t swing it around. An essential addition to any good Isometric Action RPG is the ability to swing the view around. Even when there are secrets and collectibles tucked away, part of the challenge is getting a decent view. Not easy given the amount of verticality on offer. Yes, collectibles are often floating up in the sky. Where you’ll never work out how to reach them, until you skill up and replay a mission for the thrill of a chest.
What does Darksiders: Genesis have under the hood?
Minor issues aside, once the game gets going and you start to see the options available the plate spinning begins. In co-op the game is a tour-de-force of destruction. Especially explosive once War and Strife are levelled up and throwing down combos. The dungeon mobs do not stand a chance as you wade through them. While online co-op is satisfying with or without friends, sitting on the couch is where its at. Darksiders: Genesis is also perfectly playable solo where you are encouraged to swap the characters often. Both to perfect their play styles and make the most of their growing list of abilities.
There is a learning curve that starts soft, allowing the player room to learn the basics and explore some combos. Then that curve takes a steep upwards turn, laying combos. a buff system, ammo types, special moves and puzzle saving special items. Typically of this generation the game features multiple currencies, earned as hunted collectibles or the souls of the despatched. No surprises there and the real grind is milking these currencies to upgrade the characters, in fact there is a point where ambling through the game will leave you underpowered and struggling.
In a good way the levels can be replayed, the completionists might be upset that their hunting and gathering has to be done again. The alternate is the Arena mode, a sequence of unlocked stages where you can survive a ten level horde. The Arena mode is actually a lot of fun, helping you sharpen up on the complex combos and finesse your strategies. The main Bosses will always end up being a bullet sponge encounter, but there are decent prizes on offer.
A sense of identity.
Darksiders: Genesis may be true to series form. However the comic-book cutscenes and the Asgardian look of War versus the Destiny styling of Strife never really feel settled with me. The general scenery is great and apart from the overbearing echoes in the Hub level, the sound does its job well. There is plenty of detail on offer and as expected plenty of chests, barrels and boxes to smash. The best in game levels are the internal ones, tight spaces leading to caverns controlled by fiendish puzzles. The outdoor levels on the other hand often feel too spread out and spartan.
The differences between War and Strife run deeper than melee and ranged combat. They both have a set of skills, which low and behold suit particular puzzles and circumstances in the levels. The spirit like ‘sticky hand’ that can grab swing rings or enemies could be silly if you thought about it. War’s Vorpal Blade is handy, not only for lighting fire puzzles, but also for softening up groups of bad guys. His other skill is a rather handy power glove that can be turned on the beasties, but is also perfect for triggering jump platforms and smashing certain crystals. Cue the inevitable return to earlier levels for the sake of completion. Strife is similar, sporting the ‘Sticky Hand’ and a frustrating portal grenade. Which would be great if you could use it anywhere, not just on the designated walls.
Skills and Monstrous Transformation for kills.
Both characters can be augmented with purchased skills, combos and buffs. What starts out slowly and feeling limited soon becomes a smorgasbord of options, frankly an overwhelming selection. In the heat of battle you often rely on the same ammo type or familiar combos, this list will grow, with experience.
It genuinely feels too busy and the game design forces the solo player to make the most of both characters. All well and good, but you can solo Diablo with whoever you choose.
What you can’t do in Diablo is morph into a monstrous fifteen foot tall version of yourself. Yes, fill your combo meter and just in time for a Boss Fight you will become an unstoppable Goliath for a short while. Nice.
However, I do rather like Darksiders: Genesis.
Not to be misleading, the game is a lot of fun and there is plenty of “switch off and enjoy” mayhem to be had. Grinding the Arena levels is mildly addictive and pushes me on with the story purely to unlock more.
Collecting Creature Cores and tinkering with the skill tree is a novel take which helps you scale your character. The combat can be as deep as you like, even in the face of multiple button combos. It’s an enjoyable romp, and as usual skipping past the cutscenes makes the game better for me.
We’re not spoil for choice in this genre, so a quality welcome addition is a good thing. Darksiders: Genesis – is this the beginning of a reboot that’s going places?