Darksiders Genesis Review – PlayStation 4

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I’m a super-fan of the Darksiders franchise; well at least the first two games. I bounced hard off Darksiders III with its Dark Souls-style gameplay and major shift in design, but I played the first two games at least twice each including the various remasters, so I was excited for Darksiders Genesis; not only because it was introducing the fourth and final horseman, Strife, but also adding some unique elements to the gameplay. First and foremost, Genesis was shifting from a traditional 3D hack-n-slash to a top-down hack-n-slash, Diablo-style, and it was also introducing co-op gameplay to the franchise with the addition of War from the first game and having him team up with Strife in this epic prequel.

The game kicks off with a fantastic cutscene that sets up the story and the overall cavalier attitude of our two horsemen. To sum up the story, Lucifer has been granting special powers to certain master demons and War and Strife need to traverse 17 levels of Hell, slaying these demons and thousands of their minions until they reach the “big bad” himself. It’s the perfect setup for some incredible level design, awesome monsters, and some of the most rewarding combat ever, using a slick combination of weapons and powers.

The two characters offer completely different styles of gameplay with War remaining the brute-force warrior we all remember from the original game, ready to get up close and personal while Strife prefers to hang back and make use of his twin guns with all sorts of crazy upgrades and ammo modifiers to tackle just about any situation, but he can still mix it up with some melee when needed. The combination of melee and ranged combat in the two-player co-op is nicely balanced, as the game adjusts the number and strength of the enemy forces, while playing alone offers its own set of challenges. Solo gamers can play as either character but must swap between the two, so with no AI playing the other horseman you miss out on that cool mix of guns and swords. This makes it all too easy to simply settle on one character and stick with him, only changing when required by a certain situation or ability-driven puzzle. Obviously, Strife is new and his gameplay turns a typical brawler into a twin-stick shooter, so War often takes a backseat until he needs to bust out his boomerang blade.

Darksiders Genesis is clearly designed around co-op play but its execution is so poor you really have to force yourself to share the experience. In my particular situation the co-op was so bad I am actually lowering the score of the review. Your situation may differ or you may not care about the things that bother me so feel free to adjust the score to your liking. The first major issue with co-op play is that you just can’t partner up. The game has these Summoning Stones scattered about the maps and the host player must be at one of these stones to invite another player into their game. This is stupid and awkward. So if both players are starting a new game the host player needs to start the game, watch the opening movie, watch the opening in-game content, and then ride north about a minute or two to the first Summoning Stone. The invited player will appear at the stone missing all of the movies and context for the game, so basically both players need to start their own games, watch all the content separately then ride to the stone before hooking up. At least party chat will keep you connected until then.

Things get even more confusing from there. The only stuff that is shared between co-op players is your level progress. Your collectibles, weapons, power-ups, and character stats are all unique to your profile, so after ten hours of play my versions of Strife and War are totally different than my partner’s. During the course of the game you can buy all sorts of gear and upgrades for both characters. In my review sessions I was playing as Strife nearly every minute, but was buying things for War, but only my copy of War. You can’t buy stuff for your partner’s character, so the only way to enjoy those items is to switch characters, which is easily done within the game but often counterproductive once you have an established groove with your favorite horsemen.

But the worst offense in this lame co-op system reared its head in Level 5. There was a puzzle with six stones that War had to hit in a certain order to advance the game. One of the stones was glitched and couldn’t be activated, so on a hunch I had my partner kick me from the game and when the world “reset” for a single-player experience the stone worked immediately, the exit opened and I rejoined the game. What we didn’t realize was that by doing this I lost my progress (not my collectibles – just chapter recognition) for the entire level, so when we returned to the Void (hub level) my game locked up trying to load in the level. After resetting my PS4 I rejoined the game and finally got back into the Void, but now with me in the game neither of us could talk to Samael to advance to the next chapter. I once again dropped out of the game and my partner got to trigger Samael, watch the cutscene and then move on to chapter six, but when I tried to join him in the next chapter it denied me, saying our level progress didn’t match.   Looking at his save file info it says he is ready for Lv6 while my save file shows I am only ready for Lv5. Bottom line – I am going to have to replay the ENTIRE chapter five (one of the longest chapters by the way – nearly 2 hours) before I am allowed to join my partner for the next level. And even worse, it won’t let my partner play chapter six alone – he is forced to wait for me.  Co-op play should not be this frustrating in 2020.

I usually like to finish games before I review them but honestly nothing has changed from the first hour to the eleventh. Sure, I am getting cool new ammo that turns my pistol into a shotgun or a laser or even an arcing electrical bolt, and I did find a cool creature core upgrade that might summon a Hellhound 2% of the time, but Darksiders Genesis has the same gameplay loop as every other RPG looter shooter that’s out there. Plus, at the 11-hour mark I have already purchased every item, upgrade, creature core, and fighting ability from both of the in-game shops, so unless some new inventory opens up in later chapters, I feel I have seen everything there is to be seen.

There is a wealth of skills, gear, and upgrades to be purchased and looted. Dis has a shop that will sell you moves and combos for both War and Strife that boost your attack power and damage while Vulgrim sells items, upgrades, and creature cores. Creature cores are the cool new system in Genesis that can be slotted into this elaborate skill tree. Both the cores and the sockets have certain attributes and if you can match the core to the socket you get bonuses. As each core is placed it powers any adjoining core sockets, all leading to major creature sockets that bestow you with the best abilities, some active and some passive. It’s a fun system to experiment with and figure out the best combinations for the best power rating, and as you find new minor and major cores it’s good to go back and change things up.

The controls are excellent considering the elaborate set of complex commands required to play this game. Movement is handled with the left stick and aiming with the right. Ranged weapons are fired with the trigger while buttons handle the melee, jumping/gliding, and finishing moves on stunned enemies. You can also bring up special Wrath moves unique to each character. My favorite for Strife is laying down a spread of mines then stepping back and daring the enemy to cross the minefield. War has a cool ability to shoot crystal shards from the ground impaling foes.

Gameplay is a nice balance of combat and exploration with some light puzzle-solving, mostly designed around War having to lock-on and hit various glowing gems with his boomerang blade to activate platforms or open doors. By design, Darksiders Genesis demands you play most levels more than once, especially if you are a completionist as numerous collectibles won’t be available to you until you have acquired skills and gear from later in the game. There are items in chapter two that you can’t get until collect something in chapter seven. For that reason it is often best to stick to the mission path on your first trip through the game and save the thorough recon for end-game cleanup when you have access to all areas of a level.

The levels are huge and for the most part unique; at least in textures that create contrasting ice and snow levels with desert canyons, and then there are all these awesome underground lairs and dungeons that showcase excellent color, lighting, and shadow. The combat comes alive with color and animations turning each encounter into a fireworks extravaganza, often making it hard to track your own character. The fixed camera angle works for the most part with a default distance that shows enough of your surroundings, but it would have been cool if the camera occasionally zoomed in for a close-up of those finishing moves. Sometimes the camera pulls way out for great scale and dramatic effect.

The audio is outstanding with awesome music starting right from the main menu and carrying over into the gameplay and cutscenes. The voice work is also excellent with great performances for Strife, War, and the rest of the cast.   Many actors have returned to voice their parts; Vulgrim is as awesome as ever. There is great banter between our heroes throughout most of the game; at least during the quieter non-combat parts of the game. The only audio issue I had was with the super-annoying ECHO…echo…echo… of the Void that had me ripping my headphones off before permanent damage set in. Who thought that sound effect was a good idea?

Darksiders Genesis is a tough recommendation for me. I was totally loving the game and prepared to give it a 4.5 after the first 6-7 hours, but after that stone puzzle glitch in chapter five and the subsequent misalignment of our two character’s save files I’ve totally lost my momentum with the game. And even if that puzzle glitch was a one-time occurrence it still cascaded into a series of game-breaking events due to poor co-op design. There were other issues like the subtitles that didn’t match the dialogue or appear and vanish before the words were even spoken. If a character dies and isn’t resurrected by the other player (or if you are playing alone) you will respawn a great distance from where you died. The in-game map (that you must first find) is worthless because it doesn’t show your location in the world or allow placing waypoints.  And I’ll say it again; the Summoning Stone is so stupid. Just let me team-up from the main menu.

If you are planning to play Darksiders Genesis alone then just know that you’ll either be swapping characters a lot or sticking with your favorite and missing out on a lot of content. The game does a good job of adjusting the difficulty between solo and co-op as well as changing up a few things like puzzles and chests that require both characters. If playing co-op, either split-screen or online, know that you can only join the host when they are already in a game and at a specific spawn point and only if your current save file shows chapter progress equal to or greater than the chapter you are trying to join.

There is certainly room for some quality-of-life improvements for Darksiders Genesis, but even in its current frustrating state the game is still a blast to play with tons of content and plenty of systems to explore and tinker with. When you’re ready to tackle the spawns of hell it doesn’t get much better than this.

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