Note: I couldn’t find the screenshots I took for this piece when it was first published, so I’ve thrown in a few from the game’s Steam page to space things out a bit.

It’s been a pretty dry month around here in terms of content, partly because I’ve been a lot busier as school and work have picked up, but also partly because I had a really hard time trying to decide what I wanted to say about this game. 

Darksiders Genesis is a game that I didn’t expect was going to be very good – it was developed by a different team than the regular Darksiders folks, and the top-down perspective didn’t seem particularly promising. On the other hand, I’m always really into the Darksiders games on paper, so I decided to give it a try anyway. What I found was a game that first blew me away with how good it actually was, but later really started to grate on me with how many flaws and annoying little issues it has. It’s a uniquely frustrating situation that I don’t think I’ve experienced many times before, if at all. 

Before I go any further though, I want to dispel the common notion that this game is some kind of Diablo-like dungeon crawling + loot gathering thing. The top-down perspective seems to have caused Darksiders Genesis to be perceived that way, but the reality is that this is a straight up regular Darksiders game, with all that entails. You’ve got the council, the constant fighting between heaven and hell (and the infighting), the classic action combat, the dungeon exploration, and the puzzles scattered throughout the whole thing. The only three major differences here are that this game is level-based and not open world, that the game was designed around co-op, and that it takes place from a top-down perspective. 

Graphically and auditorily, Darksiders Genesis stands up fairly well. The voice acting is corny as ever, but the sound effects and visual fidelity are better than I expected. The textures look pretty good, but the particle effects, lighting, and shadows are where this game really shines. At the beginning it’s pretty tame, but late-game there’s explosions and flashy attacks going on all over the place, and it looks really good. 

The way the combat system works really depends on if you’re playing alone or with a friend, and what character you’re playing. War plays very similarly to how he does in the original Darksiders game, so if you’ve played that you know exactly what to expect – a hulking sword dude with fairly slow but powerful attacks and the ability to block and parry. On the other hand, the gunslinging horseman Strife makes his debut in this game, and he’s quite exciting to play. You can equip different ammo types for all kinds of different effects and situational uses, and mowing down enemies at range while dodging all over the place is incredibly satisfying to pull off. Both characters also of course have access to various special abilities to make things a bit more interesting. 

There’s also the creature core system – this basically takes the place of a skill tree in this game, except instead of levelling up and distributing points, you collect “creature cores”, which are special drops unique to each enemy in the game. There are quite a few of these things, and their effects are all over the place. You’ve got your standard boring upgrades like “1% increased attack damage”, of course, but there’s also a surprising number of interesting proc abilities and high risk/reward cores. For instance, I got a creature core relatively early on that gave a low chance for a lava trail to be left behind when I dashed (damaging enemies), and that’s a noticeable upgrade that feels really satisfying to see go off. 

The thing about the creature core system that really sucks is that you’re expected to grind out drops to use it effectively. Remember how I mentioned that each creature (rarely) drops a core unique to that specific kind of creature? Well, the way you upgrade a creature core to the next level is by collecting enough of them (usually 10 or 20. Each level also has different enemies on it. Putting all those pieces together means that upgrading your cores will usually require you to play a level multiple times (or grind it out in the challenge mode) to collect enough cores to level it up, and that’s really not an interesting thing to have to do. To be clear, I refused to participate in that aspect of the system, and I only had a single creature core upgraded to even the second level by the end of the game. You either grind it out or are stuck with the base level benefits, and that just feels really unwelcome. 

Unfortunately, that is far from the end of the annoying problems with this game. This is a game that was clearly put together on a relatively low budget, and that became heavily apparent the further I got. 

For one thing, there are a lot of fighting arenas in this game that are poorly designed. They look really nice, but they’re not functional. You’ll randomly get stuck on a corner or on a little piece of rubbish on the ground, go to dash out of the way of an attack, and end up dashing in place and taking unnecessary damage. The first few times this happened I wrote it off as an unlucky but uncommon occurrence, but it happened one too many times by about halfway through the game, and then another dozen times after that. It’s excruciatingly frustrating to take damage for something that isn’t really your fault, particularly with the really high damage enemies and bosses later in the game are dishing out. 

Secondly, the platforming in this game is really bad. It’s unnecessarily difficult to see where you are – the shadow below you isn’t visible enough, the perspective makes things confusing (I’m right on top of that coin, why am I not picking it up?), and the camera at times feels like it’s stubbornly refusing to cooperate. I don’t think it’d be that fun to deal with even if it worked properly, but it certainly isn’t fun as it is. 

Also, can we talk about how broken the quest system is? I experienced quest trackers not updating properly multiple times throughout the game which made things unnecessarily confusing. Even worse though, there were multiple times when I failed an optional quest before it even popped up telling me it existed and without even failing the condition! There’s one part of the game where you can try to avoid killing the hound enemies (kill less than 5) and go straight for the houndmaster, and you’re rewarded extra if you can pull it off. I killed a single hound before that quest even popped up on the screen and apparently failed the quest. Cool. A very similar bug happened later in the game as well, so it wasn’t just a one-off. Issues like that really pushed me away from caring about those kinds of optional objectives – why should I care if I’m not even being given a fair chance to take them on? 

Honestly, I could go on. There are also a multitude of annoying but non game breaking little bugs and flaws – disappearing wings as you glide, weird difficulty spikes, how boring the void paths are in the hub world, etc, but it’d take too long to lay them all out. Just don’t be surprised if you encounter a lot of weird bugginess if you end up playing this thing. 

At the end of the day, I don’t regret buying Darksiders Genesis, and I definitely don’t regret playing it. This is actually the first Darksiders game that I’ve ever played all the way through, and it was enjoyable at many points. I really like the foundation of this game, it’s just really frustrating at the same time because I see how good Darksiders Genesis could be if it’d just had a slightly larger budget and a few more months in the oven to iron out all the issues around the edges. If you want to pick this game up, it’s available on PC (GOG/Steam) and Stadia, but will also be available on PS4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch on February 14, 2020. On PC the price is $33.99CAD.

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