As a huge fan of the Darksiders franchise, I’ll admit I had a healthy amount of skepticism heading into Darksiders Genesis. Gameplay makes a radical shift to an isometric view, Strife gets paired up with War, and it’s developed by a different team than the mainline numbered games. But this prequel spin-off ended up surprising me, with gameplay that felt true to the series and a “buddy cop” dynamic between War and Strife that adds, rather than takes away. I still want a full-scale adventure as Strife (let my favorite horseman get his due!), but this holdover prequel experience by Airship Syndicate is a quality Darksiders adventure that earns its place in the canon, hinting at the immense possibilities for the franchise.
Darksiders Genesis formally introduces us to the fourth horseman, Strife, finally making the gunslinger playable for the first time in the series. We’ve seen him (or his guns) pop up in a few places before, but this is where we actually get to know the final horseman. Yet, it’s a bit unusual that Strife makes his debut in a non-numbered entry. War, Death, and Fury each starred in Darksiders 1, 2, and 3 respectively, telling each of their individual stories around the time of War’s 100-year imprisonment after he was framed for starting the apocalypse. The expectation, of course, was that Darksiders 4 would follow this format with Strife—and it still might. There’s a reason this game doesn’t bear the number 4.
Strife and War’s story is told through subtly animated comic-style art. Darksiders already has a history with comics filling in some of the gaps, and Genesis collides the worlds of games and comics with stunning art that gives the game’s story moments a lot of style. An opening CG cutscene (seen below) ahead of the game’s main menu shows the potential of a mainline Darksiders 4 featuring Strife, but the comic-style art is a high-quality production choice that never feels like it came at the sacrifice of fully rendered story scenes. It’s obvious that Genesis was never meant to be a proper Darksiders 4, but the quality feels on par with the rest of the series regardless.
Set before the events of the first three Darksiders, but after the fall of Eden and the Nephilim, Genesis is the story of the horsemen doing the Council’s bidding. In this case, Lucifer is up to something that threatens the balance, and Strife and War are dispatched to find out what that is and stop it. Fury and Death are off on some other assignment, which perfectly allows Strife and War to riff off of one another.
Darksiders Genesis Review – Strife and War
Strife is a carefree gunslinger. He’s clever, quick-witted, and thinks for himself. War is resolute, staunchly upholding his duty to the Council while just wanting to murder every demon in sight. The dynamic between the duo ends up enhancing both characters, even as I was worried at Strife having to share center stage. Turns out giving your protagonist a constant companion helps give both of them more life. As much as this story is about the events leading to the creation of the seven seals, it’s almost more a personal story that helps players understand War and Strife, and begins setting up for future dynamics among the four horsemen. Still, Strife deserves a proper solo outing to expand on where he was during War’s imprisonment.
Having two characters helps the gameplay too. At first, I was stubbornly only playing as Strife. If this was how they were going to introduce my boy, I’d make the most of my time with the character. But it turns out not only is War a great asset in combat, he’s required for a good majority of the puzzles in the game. If you’re playing solo, you can swap at will between the two characters. There’s a synergy to their abilities, Strife offering a more long-range twin-stick shooter style of gameplay while War gets up close and personal with his Chaoseater sword. War also has a number of returning abilities from the first game, though some (such as the Void Bomb) are given to Strife instead.
War and Strife fighting side by side also means this is the first time the Darksiders franchise has had cooperative play. While it’s entirely possible to get through the game as a solo player, it’s easy to have a second person drop into the party at almost any time using the multiplayer obelisks scattered throughout each level. Both online and split-screen are supported. It’s not quite the four-player cooperative adventure the series seems to be building up to, but it clearly shows the direction that THQ Nordic wants to take the franchise as a whole.
Darksiders Genesis Review – That Familiar Darksiders Feeling
Though the shift to an isometric view—a la Diablo—seems like a pretty radical shift, but in practice, Genesis is still a Darksiders game through and through. Anyone who’s played the other games will immediately feel the familiarity. Not as much has changed as a first glance might have suggested. In fact, while one might expect the change in view to invite other elements of Diablo, Darksiders 2 was far more of a loot-based game than Genesis is. There are still plenty of RPG aspects that allow players to customize the builds of War and Strife through “creature cores” and other upgrades purchased at the series’ demonic shopkeep, Vulgrim.
Instead of the relatively open and interconnected worlds of the mainline games, there are 16 total separate levels (technically 17 with a secret boss encounter against a familiar foe) that can be accessed from the Void, the game’s hub area—a space that sports an insane and distracting amount of echo and reverb on everything from dialog to footsteps). There are also a series of way-too-many arena fights to undertake.
Some of the levels are larger and more elaborate, while others feature relatively quick boss encounters in a single space. Some of the larger spaces can be a bit of a chore to navigate thanks to a terrible map that is rarely ever centered correctly and fails to display the location of your character. It’s easily one of the game’s most underdeveloped aspects, though there were a few bugs and gameplay hiccups in combat too, mostly in regards to chain attacks either not-chaining properly or attaching to already dead enemies.
All-in-all, Darksiders Genesis takes about 15 hours to work your way through. An unlocked apocalyptic difficulty offers some reasons to revisit the levels, but it doesn’t do anything perceptibly more than make the enemies tankier while turning your characters’ health bars into glass. With the limited RPG aspects, the prospect of replaying the entire game with a bunch of bullet sponges isn’t all that enticing, particularly some of the late-game boss encounters that can already tank a lot damage on normal. You can’t spec a character build that’s different enough to warrant undertaking these arduous challenges.
Darksiders Genesis is not Darksiders 4, but it’s still a worthwhile addition to the Darksiders saga. Isometric gameplay fits the Darksiders formula surprisingly well, and Strife is given a lot more character by having War by his side. Even War’s character was deepened through his buddy cop adventure with Strife, and it makes me excited for when the four horsemen’s paths all finally converge. Darksiders Genesis shows the potential the franchise has to explore different pieces of the timeline in different gameplay styles while hanging onto certain central threads. There are a couple sticking points Genesis fails to iron out, but coming from a place of initial skepticism, it serves its place in the canon well.
Darksiders Genesis review code provided by publisher. Reviewed on a launch PS4. For more information on scoring, please read our Review Policy.