"At some point, this series is going to move things forward, isn't it?"
After playing the first three games in the Darksiders series, with all taking place during the same general span of time — only with me controlling a different member of the Four Horsemen in each — I was more than ready to see what came next.
I'd seen War fight through demons and a treasonous angel to clear his name. I'd helped Death work to help War in proving his innocence, while also attempting to dispel the cause of a powerful, corrupting force. I'd worked with Fury as she tackled personifications of the Seven Deadly Sins attempting to take advantage of all the chaos to seize power. All the while, Lucifer was making complex plans and powerful forces were at work treating lesser beings as mere pawns in schemes that had yet to even be disclosed. As far as I was concerned, it was time to stop building things up and to start knocking them down.
And then I realized the fourth title in this series of action-RPGs is named Darksiders Genesis. You know, like the first book of the Bible. In a series loosely based on stuff mentioned in the Book of Revelations. I'm not trying to toss out spoilers or anything, but you shouldn't expect any series-long questions answered here. You know, his name might not be listed in the credits as a concept creator or story writer, but I'm now convinced George R.R. Martin has to be in charge of this thing…
So, what is this game doing as opposed to attempting to solve the "Meereenese Knot" that apparently has kept the plot stuck in neutral game after game? Well, the fourth Horseman of the Darksiders world finally gets thrown into the mix. While Strife had played a small NPC role in the third entry, this is the first time players can take control of him, as he joins forces with War for a prequel buddy flick.
Seems a few lesser devils have suddenly gained greater power — sufficient enough to greatly inconvenience legit diabolical powerhouse Samael. The bosses of the Horsemen, the Charred Council, look at this as sufficient to disturb the Balance they're always talking about maintaining, so our Horseman pair get to work. This necessitates an alliance with Samael, who is pretty much the same character as he's been throughout the series. He's an outwardly friendly and helpful chap, but said help comes in a way that benefits him the most and said friendliness starts looking like a brittle facade about the exact moment one refuses to do his bidding.
War, Strife and Samael just sort of camp out in the purgatory-like Void, where Samael enlists the assistance of Vulgrim — that lovable scamp of a soul-devouring demon salesman who's been a series staple — in order to procure artifacts necessary to find all the devils involved in Lucifer's plotting.
Is there more plot than that? Sure, but it's not overly necessary. You'll just go from the Void to other lands via a portal and do stuff in each of those places. Instead of an open world setting, this game contains a bunch of large self-contained levels and a few smaller ones serving as boss arenas for the important confrontations. In another change, unlike the previous three games, this one is viewed from an isometric angle that's zoomed pretty far out, much like Diablo. Also: A general lack of cinema, with those important scenes being illustrated with portraits reminding me a bit of comic book artistry. I'm going to go out on a limb and guess this game had a smaller budget than its predecessors.
But a lower budget doesn't mean less fun, does it? Well, not as a rule…but I felt this to be the least and least essential of the four in this series. I mean, on the surface, things are cool. Much like the first Darksiders, you don't gain levels — improving your characters via collecting items hidden throughout the levels instead. There are a wide variety of places to explore and you'll regularly gain new tools that allow you to both collect new goodies where you're at, as well as give you a reason to backtrack to cleared stages to pick up stuff you couldn't access previously.
There's also a good dynamic between War and Strife, with the former being overly-serious and dedicated to the Council's will and the latter being more sarcastic, but also more willing to question what is happening and why they should be obedient lapdogs. I also liked a couple of the game's mechanics that were original to the series. By defeating enemies, you can obtain orbs that can be placed on a sub-screen to obtain a number of passive skills for your characters and additional benefits to the various skills they can obtain. The more of each type of orb you pick up, the better their boosts will be, which gives a person a reason to keep fighting foes in a game where experience points and levels gained aren't a thing.
Sadly, there also are a number of annoyances that made this one feel more disposable than the rest. As per the norm with this series, platforming is including amongst the challenges, with your characters having to do a lot of jumping — often via climbing one pole and leaping to another. In a game with an isometric viewpoint where you often have to look for your shadow to make sure you're landing on actual land. If you ever wondered why the average Diablo focuses far more on monster-slaying and loot-collecting than jumping and platforming, this game might hold the answer!
Also, Darksiders Genesis sure makes it annoying to backtrack in order to get items you couldn't initially reach. In short, whenever you return to a previously-played level, the only difference between this time and the first time is that all the items you collected are no longer available. I can understand bringing back the previously killed monsters in order to give players the chance to get more orbs, but also having the same dialogue and having to re-do puzzles you previously solved? That both makes backtracking a serious pain and feels like poor programming.
I mean, I had a fair amount of fun with this game, but it just never captivated me. Darksiders Genesis has a few flaws that kept it from being considered at the level of the rest of the series. The isometric angle doesn't necessarily work with the style of play these games have and it's pretty annoying to have to re-do every aspect of a level in order to get treasures you weren't equipped to snag the first time through. With how no new ground in the series' plot is being broken here, this one falls into that awkward space where it's a decent game, but tricky to recommend to anyone who isn't obsessed with all things Darksiders.
Staff review by Rob Hamilton (December 16, 2022)
Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.
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