[Review] Darksiders Genesis – Nintendo Switch

Written by Richard Strachan
  • Developer: Airship Syndicate
  • Publisher: THQ Nordic
  • Release date: 14/2/2020
  • Price: £34.99/$39.99
  • Review code provided by THQ Nordic

Introducing: Darksiders Genesis Switch Review

Confession time, prior to playing Darksiders Genesis, I had spent the sum total of about thirty minutes with the series. I received a past Darksiders title as part of the Humble Bundle that was released with a load of games for 3DS and Wii U. As I have a habit of doing when I have too many games at once, I didn’t give it much attention. Having had the pleasure of playing Darksiders Genesis, I’ll definitely be properly digging into the series’ back catalogue. Enough about those old games, though, you came here to find out about Darksiders Genesis!

Tale as old as time

The events of Darksiders Genesis takes place prior to the original trilogy and follow the exploits of War and Strife, two of the Four Horsemen. War is the bulky protagonist from the first Darksiders game whilst Strife gets his first playable outing and offers a wise-cracking counterpoint to War’s stoic nature.

The world of Darksiders is home to warring factions of angels and demons. The Charred Council is an almighty group of overseers who task the Horsemen with maintaining the balance in their universe. The Council becomes aware that Lucifer has plans to upset the balance in an attempt to gain power. The Horsemen are dispatched on a quest to thwart Lucifer’s plans and restore the balance. The story is fairly forgettable stuff, but offers a big daft yarn that gives the gameplay some direction. In all honesty, the story isn’t where this game shines, but the gameplay more than makes up for it!

A fresh perspective on an old friend

Darksiders Genesis takes the series traditional gameplay and puts a spin on it, showing the action from an isometric perspective similar to the Diablo games. Despite the perspective change, it actually plays very similarly to its predecessors. The game has a unique gameplay twist in that it focuses on controlling both Horsemen, either simultaneously in coop or by alternating between them when playing solo. The good news is, both modes work equally well. This is a rare thing in co-op focused games, where playing in solo can often feel like a compromise.

The gameplay takes place across sixteen chapters and a range of gloomy locales, ranging from snowy mountains to the depths of hell. Levels tend to be very open-ended affairs with a range of objectives to complete including some side objectives. You can choose what order to approach these objectives in and can even forgo some of them altogether should you wish.

The moment to moment gameplay is absolutely brilliant, with each of the characters offering a slightly different play style. Strife is the more acrobatic of the two and uses twin pistols as well as twin blades to smite his enemies. Success hinges around keeping your distance and peppering enemies with your ranged weapons, using your blades only when necessary. Strife is a little squishy, though, so keeping some distance between enemies is key. 

War, on the other hand, is much more of a slow-moving, tanky character who uses his ridiculously oversized sword, Chaoseater, to smash groups of enemies. War’s moveset is extremely weighty and satisfying and makes it easier to inflict some serious damage in a short span of time when facing some of the bigger enemies. War can block and counter attacks as an alternative to Strife’s ranged attacks.

Both characters have light and heavy melee attacks and a range of combos that can be unlocked and upgraded. They also have access to Wrath attacks, which are a range of special moves with various effects. War’s tend to be big, high impact attacks whilst Strife can drop caltrops or decoys to play with enemies and allow you to gain the upper hand. When enemies are critically weakened they can be finished off with a press of the A button, which unleashed a flashy and very violent finisher. Despite the repetition of these moves, I still found them super satisfying right up until the very last. Some of the larger enemies in particular have lengthy executions with dismemberments and all sorts of gory stuff going on!

Each character eventually unlocks an ultimate form (Chaos form for War and Anarchy for Strife) which allows them to transform into an oversized monster with ridiculous screen clearing attacks. These are great fun and can really help turn the tide of some of the more difficult fights in the game.

Throughout the game, each character unlocks a range of different items and skills which improve how they can traverse the levels and also allow the player to progress past different obstacles, much in the same vein as the Zelda or Metroid games. These items can be used to clear paths in areas that were previously unpassable in earlier levels. But, because of the way the story progresses, there is very little reason to replay an earlier level unless you want to try and find previously unreachable items using your new abilities. The beauty of a true Metroidvania or Zelda game is that these games organically funnel you back through areas allowing you to use your newly earned powers. In that respect Darksiders Genesis is a little lacking.

Gotta Catch ‘Em All

The game has a nice range of collectibles which feed nicely into the gameplay loop. You gain souls by killing enemies and can find Boatman’s Coins which are tucked away in hidden corners or sometimes dangled temptingly in front of you at the end of a series of tricky obstacles. Souls and Coins can be traded with two demon-like traders to unlock new moves, power up existing ones and upgrade your health and wrath meters.

Darksiders Genesis has a basic loot system, whereby enemies will randomly drop cores. Cores contain the essence of that enemy and have set passive abilities which they offer such as increased health or damage. Other, more elaborate effects include your character leaving behind a flaming trail with each dodge. Core drops generally adhere to RNG rules, so there is a degree of luck in whether you will gain any cores from a given enemy. Cores can be levelled up by collecting multiples of the same core, boosting the effects offered. The only exception to the RNG are bosses, which drop their core every time.

Cores are equipped using a tree system, whereby you have a blank skill tree where each slot has one of three elemental properties assigned. Each core has its own property and by matching these when equipping them into the slots you can boost the effect and gain some additional benefits. The tree system allows for some pretty deep customisation and requires a bit of thought in how you build your characters to ensure you have the best chance of survival in any battle. On more than one occasion, I found myself stumped by a particular battle and was only able to pass once I had a good rework of my core tree. I found this system a lot of fun and enjoyed trying different builds.

In addition to the main story quest, you also have access to an Arena mode, which pits you against different groups of enemies – with 21 levels to complete and an unlockable Endless mode. The rewards gained in the Arena persist over to the main storyline and can be a good way to level up your cores or grind some extra Souls to get the edge in battle. The combat is so fluid and fun that I found myself spending time here even after I had completed the main storyline.

The core gameplay of Darksiders Genesis is a perfect mix of combat, platforming, exploration and light puzzling. I really enjoyed how everything merged together and found it was a perfect translation of the gameplay loop found in the mainline games. For anyone thinking the switch to a top-down perspective represents a dumbing down of the series, it most definitely does not. The perspective change makes everything feel like a dinky little toybox you are playing around in, albeit a violent and hellish toybox!

I should note that the co-op elements can be played online or using an ad-hoc local connection. I was able to test the online co-op during my playthrough and found it was perfectly smooth even when playing with a fellow Nintendad colleague from the US (I’m in the UK). I did find the options to join a friend pretty limited, though, as I could only find them using the public browser to see the list of all hosted games. Whether this is a limitation of Nintendo’s network or the game itself I do not know, but it was less than ideal.

The Devil’s in the detail

Darksiders Genesis was always going to have amazing artistry given that Joe Madureira heads up Airship Syndicate. For anyone unfamiliar, Madureira paid his dues working for Marvel on the Deadpool and X-Men comics (among other things) before moving to Vigil, the company responsible for the first two Darksiders games. Vigil was eventually shuttered, with Airship Syndicate rising from the ashes.

Darksiders Genesis clearly benefits from the strong background of the artists involved. Character and enemy designs are great and manage to be quite unique with a very chunky, comic book aesthetic. Much of the story is told by hand drawn artwork much like a comic, with the odd animated element for dramatic effect. The hand drawn art looks absolutely brilliant and helps bring the universe to life. The main demons in the game look huge and absolutely ferocious.

The in-game artwork has a painterly look to it also, similar to that of Diablo 3. Environments convey a lot of atmosphere and manage to draw you in, with a nice range of locales.

The soundtrack is also absolutely brilliant, with many bombastic orchestral pieces. The game manages to switch seamlessly from atmospheric, ambient pieces whilst exploring, to dramatic, orchestral battle themes when the action kicks off. 

The hellish bits

The game holds up really well when docked, but the resolution takes a bit of a hit in handheld mode. It can lead to environments and enemies being a little blurry and a lot of detail being lost, but the game stays nice and smooth to play. Despite the sacrifices to get the game running in handheld, I still spent a lot of my time undocked and had a great time.

I did encounter a few glitches during my time, one of which required a full restart of a level. I found my character fell through the floor to his death on a few occasions and suffered a hard lock of the game at one point. In the second last level I also hit a game breaking bug where I had to kill a group of enemies to unlock a door, but the enemies never spawned. I loaded the last checkpoint and continued to hit the same issue. It was only resolved when I restarted the level completely, which was pretty frustrating.

I also noticed an issue when going from handheld to docked where the pause menu wouldn’t resize. If I paused the game after docking the console half the menu would be missing, including, unfortunately, the option to save and quit. I was able to navigate and select the option blindly, but it was a bit concerning.

Despite the issues I still really enjoyed the game and would highly recommend it!

Final Thoughts

Darksiders Genesis is a brilliant game let down slightly by a few small issues. The issues weren’t serious enough to detract from the highs, but do prevent me from being able to recommend the game wholeheartedly. The issues themselves (aside from the performance in handheld) don’t seem to be things that are constrained by the power of the Switch, so they should be able to be fixed should Airship have the time or inclination to do so.

The mixture of combat, platforming and exploration combined with the perfect drip feed of new mechanics keeps the game engaging all the way to the end. I was able to see the final credits in about twenty hours and had a great time the whole way. The game includes an unlockable difficulty level titled Apocalyptic, so there’s still a lot for me to work through between that and the Arena mode.

Pros

  • Brilliant combat
  • Experimenting with core system is great fun
  • A huge amount to do

Cons

  • A bit glitchy at times
  • Handheld visuals are a little muddy

Verdict

A brilliant, bloodthirsty adventure that combines elements of Zelda and God of War to keep action and adventure fans equally happy.

4.5/5

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