The Darksiders franchise clearly has an identity crisis. On one hand, I find it refreshing that THQ wants to take each installment and do something different with it. On the other, you get a sense that the folks behind this weirdly enjoyable series spend more time chasing trends than honing a specific genre. The original Darksiders remains my favorite of the entries to date, followed closely by the second. Darksiders III, an attempt at a Dark Souls-esque adventure, missed the mark by a long shot. It also suggested that perhaps the team behind Darksiders should perhaps find a genre that suits the stories they want to tell and commit to it for the long haul. Again, kudos to all involved for at least trying something different. That’s awesome.
Because we have a Darksiders game, the latest installment of the series, Darksiders Genesis, has opted for yet a different genre to tell its story about the End of Days and the men and women who play a role in it. However, instead of a behind-the-shoulder third-person adventure game of differing complexity and difficulty, THQ and developer Airship Syndicate have opted for an isometric action-adventure that has more in line with popular action-RPGs like Diablo and Torchlight than their previous endeavors. And while Genesis definitely works as a very basic action-RPG, it doesn’t offer anything that would lure newcomers to the Darksiders franchise. It’s about as basic and straightforward as they come, and that’s kind of disappointing.
First, let me say that being a Darksiders fan helps round off Genesis’ rougher edges; when Strife or War — the characters you can switch between during your 10- to 15-hour adventure — found themselves stuck behind a rock or trapped in geometry, I appreciated the fact that I live in a world where people continue to make Darksiders games. And when mountains, pillars, and various structures obscured my view of the action (and ultimately got me killed), I’d smile, shake my head, and say, “Oh, Darksiders. At least I have yet another tale in a sweeping epic that only a few odd individuals on this planet seem to care about.” Because I do genuinely enjoy the Darksiders saga, so much so that I hope Strife ends up with his very one mainline Darksiders entry. He’s got that Deadpool swagger that deserves a proper entry, though I have a feeling that’s wishful thinking on my part.
Speaking of our heroes, War and Strife’s story feels like a buddy-cop comedy from the 80s and 90s: While War doesn’t mess around and remains grimly serious about completing their quests, Strife tends to take a more laid-back approach to the missions, cracking wise and goofing around every chance he gets. The dynamic has its charms, for sure, though it definitely borrows heavily from the aforementioned buddy-cop playbook we’ve read countless times before. Instead of using this dynamic to try something a little different — I am, however, aware of the inherent limitations of the buddy-cop formula, but I digress — the developers of Darksiders Genesis opt to the take the path of least resistance. The jokes, while amusing, don’t move very far beyond the “Strife is edgy and cool, War is serious and humorless” variety, though fortunately, you won’t have to spend a lot of time with character development and exposition. No, Genesis wants you to wreck stuff.
Almost mercifully, this Darksiders prequel focuses strictly on running, gunning, and slicing. Sure, you’ll pause between levels for a bit of idle banter that pushes the story forward, but for the most part, you’ll spend the majority of the game destroying demons and doing some mild platforming/puzzle solving (read: pulling levers and using bombs to blow up obstacles) as you navigate the adventure’s 16 chapters. None of them feel particularly long or challenging; in fact, if you’re at all familiar with isometric action-RPGs from the past decade, you’ll have no trouble jumping in and tearing through the levels. Even those who haven’t played an action-RPG before shouldn’t have much trouble here. Outside of maybe one or two boss fights, Genesis doesn’t provide much of a challenge. I wouldn’t call it a casual game by any stretch, but hardcore action-RPG fans might feel a little slighted by the simple levels and milquetoast enemies. In fact, I realized I hadn’t touched the game’s creature core/mod system until I’d almost finished chapter five, and I started to wonder if it would add anything to the experience. My exploration stemmed from curiosity, not a necessity.
Turns out, creature cores just make the game even easier. And in addition to these modifications, which will boost your attack, health, and wrath, you can also upgrade other aspects of War and Strife to make their journey through this frequently hellish (and occasionally chilly) landscape less stressful. Then again, if you understand the basics of crowd control and know how to dance around the map, you won’t need very many of these upgrades. You can spend as much time with this aspect of Darksiders Genesis as you want; for the sake of this review, I didn’t feel the need to grind for souls (the game’s in-game currency) to unlock every aspect of my heroes. If for some reason, I felt the need to take each character to the very peak of their abilities, I could easily transform them into full-blown demon-destroying horsemen in just a few short sessions. Of course, that doesn’t sound the least bit appealing, since I feel I’ve already seen everything Genesis has to offer.
Although I don’t like to mention price when I’m reviewing a game — because, in my humble opinion, it’s difficult to assign a specific amount to a piece of interactive entertainment, and it’s not really my place to do so — it’s nice that THQ hasn’t assigned the same price point to Genesis than it did to the previous installments. That’s because this prequel, while enjoyable in its own right, feels a little short on content. Unless you want to replay the same levels over and over again to grind out your character, the replay value isn’t particularly high. While the other Darksiders game felt like complete experiences, this often feels like a nifty idea albeit incomplete idea. Since the game sports tight controls, good gameplay, and more of that patented Darksiders tomfoolery, I ultimately wanted more. If you’re expecting a full-course dinner instead of a snack in-between proper meals, pay attention to that price. It’ll tell you everything you need to know.
Unfortunately, Darksiders Genesis’ greatest sin is that it’s a just good game — and that’s it, nothing more. As fun as it is at times, Genesis doesn’t do nearly enough to set itself apart from other, more engaging action-RPGs that are vying for your attention these days. Unless you’re a hardcore Darksiders fan or you’re just looking for something to do while you’re in-between longer, more in-depth games, Genesis doesn’t have much to offer. While I did enjoy my time blasting through hordes of demons, listening to Strife crack wise with War, and experimenting with the creature core system, it ultimately didn’t stick to my ribs. I wanted it to have the depth of Grim Dawn, but alas, that’s a problem that seems to plague the entire Darksiders franchise. All of the games provide serviceable albeit forgettable experiences that you can find in better titles. In essence, you enjoy a Darksiders game while you’re playing it, but as soon as the experience comes to an end, it immediately disappears from your mind. Genesis, unfortunately, is just more of the same.
This review is based on the PC version of the game. A code was provided by THQ.
Darksiders Genesis provides a short burst of demon-crunching carnage for hardcore fans of the franchise, but the overall experience is easily eclipsed by other, deeper, more engaging action-RPGs.