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Darksiders Genesis – PS4

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Darksiders: Genesis is an action/adventure that tears its way through hordes of demons, angels, and everything in-between on its way to Hell and back with guns blazing and swords swinging. Genesis gives players their first look at the world of Darksiders before the events of the original game, as well as introduces the Horseman Strife.
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Awards

Rating

  • Graphics
  • Multiplayer
  • Story (Career Mode)
  • Originality

You Might Like

  • Fresh new gameplay style for the series
  • The Fourth Horseman in all his glory
  • Surprising replayability and collectibles

Might Not Like

  • Simpler story barely linked to previous entries
  • A few too many bugs and glitches
  • Feels a little half-baked due to studio switch
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Description

Darksiders: Genesis is an action/adventure that tears its way through hordes of demons, angels, and everything in-between on its way to Hell and back with guns blazing and swords swinging. Genesis gives players their first look at the world of Darksiders before the events of the original game, as well as introduces the Horseman Strife.

Apocalypse Now

“War is declared. Death lives. Fury reigns. But what of the fourth horseman? Where is your brother, Strife?”

The latest entry in the bestselling and critically-acclaimed Darksiders universe – a semi-open world hack-and-slash series set in and around the biblical Judgement Day war between angels and demons – the aptly-named Darksiders Genesis is a prequel which follows two horsemen, War and Strife, as they hunt Moloch, a lesser Master of Hell who seeks to upset the delicate balance between the warring kingdoms. But can this spin-off departure from the franchise’s established gameplay norms live up to the apocalyptic impact of its brethren?

The Horsemen Ride Again

The previous game, Darksiders III, proved that returning to a franchise’s roots can sometimes just mean a step backwards. Though the series’ new handlers, Gunfire Games and THQ Nordic, were happy with its sales, the more linear design and stripped-down RPG elements felt decidedly dated in the modern gaming climate. Genesis, then, passing to yet another developer, Airship Syndicate, switched up the formula once more, providing a top-down outing a la the likes of Diablo (and comparisons between both titles’ devilish subject matter were certainly made upon release).

But for diehard fans of the Darksiders brand, the long-awaited introduction of the fourth horseman, Strife, in playable form was the definitive highlight. Wielding two hand cannons, Mercy and Redemption, his long-range combat and slick style made him a subject of speculation during his fleeting appearances in the previous three games. Though a fully-realised Darksiders IV focusing on this gun-toting rider’s first outing was both high on fans’ lists of expectations and too good a thematic opportunity to miss, Genesis would have to suffice.

And, truly, despite my reservations, suffice it does. Immediately, the top-down landscapes – rendered in the franchise’s signature style drawn from the art of Joe Madureira – allow backdrops of mighty sieges and clashing armies where previous games felt decidedly unpopulated, even within the post-apocalyptic setting. Likely, the next thing that will hit you – or, rather, your foes – are the rounds from Strife’s revolvers. His ranged combat style is a new angle for the series, even if we’ve seen both pistols already featured in previous games as puzzle-solving tools (just not in his hands), and opens up a surplus of new strategies. I think I speak for all fans of the series when I say our trigger fingers have been itching since this protagonist’s fleeting introduction in an endgame cutscene, and you’ll find various ammo types throughout your journey to scratch that itch, including but not limited to chain lightning, lava bombs and lasers. But along with this weapons stash, you will also be backed up by the ability, marking another first for the series, to instantly switch between Strife and his younger, angrier brother: War.

Brotherly Love

For a series based on four duty-bound siblings, there’s been surprisingly little interaction, if any, between them all outside of a few doppelgangers, hallucinations and static-image flashbacks. Genesis remedies that with a surprisingly wholesome and well-written dynamic between War and Strife, offsetting War’s grim determination and adherence to his superiors’ decrees with Strife’s constant stream of glib remarks. Despite being confined to (admittedly excellently) voice-acted text boxes, the brotherly bond flows remarkably well; some particularly poignant moments see the flames of War’s fiery exterior (“Embrace the desolation”) gradually extinguished as his brother’s outspoken cynicism causes him to question his own undying loyalty. Contrastingly, Strife’s juvenile detachment from world-ending events (“My treasure sense is tingling”) masks regret for the sins of a dark past. If you’re surprised that I’m putting so much emphasis on the characterisation in a Darksiders game, that’s all the evidence you need for its unexpected level of quality.

After initially assuming War would bog down Strife’s quickdraw gameplay, I quickly found that the two complement each other fantastically; having a thematic tether to the other games makes this one feel more in keeping with the series’ overall direction. There are enough familiar elements here to appease the nostalgia of long-time fans like myself, including the return of series side-character staples like Samael and Vulgrim, iconic locations such as Eden, and even the Legend of Zelda-style jingle when a puzzle is solved. War, too, controls almost identically to his iteration in the first game, merely shrunk down to be placed on the sprawling battlefields and arenas to be found in Genesis. In true Horseman fashion, you can even ride alongside a friend and play as both heroes at once in split-screen co-op.

Fallen Angel

If the narrative design is heavenly, there are unfortunately a couple of hellish gameplay problems that need mentioning. Some decidedly janky interactions crop up with ledges, making platforming a chore, and the Aether Spark, a sort of marble run crossed with Operation – touching the sides of these electrified tracks means instant death – that produces some of the most egregious puzzles in the game.

Worst of all, I experienced more than one bug of the dreaded game-breaking variety as my Xbox ground to a halt and completely crashed under the strain of the hordes found in the ‘Endless’ mode of the Arena, a wave-based minigame which has you chasing high scores for rewards and the coveted Golden Armour. As progress wasn’t saved, I had wasted two hours of my life for no reward. This happened not once, but twice; it soured my entire playthrough, and that bloody stain on my opinion of this game has never really faded.

But, overall, quality of life additions abound here, which countless AAA titles have historically failed to replicate in the years since Genesis was released. Checkpoints where you can access the hub’s upgrade shop from within a level to adapt your strategy on the fly instead of having to complete a mission, upgrade, then replay that same mission to utilise it, is a big one. The user interface, too, is as slick and sharp as the edge of a demon-cleaving blade. And, speaking of replayability, there is a wealth to be found here, literally.

Revisiting previous locations in an almost Metroidvania manner (in which obtained equipment is used to unlock previously inaccessible areas you’ve already passed) becomes a treasure hunt to find healthstone shards, farm creature cores to boost your stats, and even piece together the mythical Abyssal Armour to bolster your resilience. Plus, a plethora of side quests keep you changing up your strategy to be rewarded with the in-game currencies of boatman coins and harvested souls. It’s both a technical and tactful achievement that all the interlocking elements of the game’s item collection and exploration overlap neatly like the feathers of an angel’s wings.

Sign Of Four

Unlike the Seven Seals which summon the Four Horsemen: if it ain’t broke, as the saying goes, don’t fix it. But perhaps Genesis marks the time that veterans like myself admit to ourselves that the Darksiders brand was faltering precisely because of its adherence to repetitive, dated gameplay loops. To compare Genesis to the previous games would be to compare angels to demons; they are fundamentally different beasts.

Standing on its own, through its hauntingly beautiful main menu theme, to its definitive art style, punishing but fair gameplay loop, and the well-spun yarn of its narrative, with Genesis a new foundation for the series is born. One can tantalisingly picture the character quick-change precedent being experimented with in another entry or two before culminating in a final outing with all four playable characters in one charge against Lucifer. The Lord of Hell, like Thanos in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, has been constantly teased as the inevitable big bad with whom our four riders will engage in climactic battle, and without spoiling too much, Genesis does even more to fan those flames. Let’s hope this isn’t our last descent into the inferno.

Zatu Score

Rating

  • Graphics
  • Multiplayer
  • Story (Career Mode)
  • Originality

You might like

  • Fresh new gameplay style for the series
  • The Fourth Horseman in all his glory
  • Surprising replayability and collectibles

Might not like

  • Simpler story barely linked to previous entries
  • A few too many bugs and glitches
  • Feels a little half-baked due to studio switch