America - Front
America - Back
By Ben Dye 21st Dec 2019 | 3,184 views
I’m a little stunned by what I just experienced. Darksiders II was one of the most enjoyable games I’ve ever played; it was filled with The Legend of Zelda-esque progression, fluid combat, and deep lore. The art style - dark and yet at the same time somehow still explosively colorful - was eye-popping as well. That is why, all these years later, I’m just in shock and awe that THQ has taken that established IP and created a prequel game that plants it feet firmly in a totally different genre of gaming, and does so with surprising success.
In terms of genre, the game that kept coming to mind for me was 2017's Mr. Shifty, albeit set in an apocalyptic world rather than amongst skyscrapers. Let’s just call it a dungeon crawling, hack 'n slash RPG/action-adventure game. Simple enough? Good, let’s move on.
The narrative has you playing as Strife and War (the main hero, if we can call him that, of the original game). Seeing these two evolve their relationship from bantering back and forth to finally being on the same page at the end is quite satisfying. It’s amazing, when pressed together trying to save the cosmos, how even the most sarcastic and serious of beings can become allies, friends, and dare I say it brothers in arms. The story's progression has them meeting somewhat in the middle, with Strife becoming more serious about preventing the major villain from getting away with his evil scheme, and with War becoming a bit more lighthearted about the balance and instead adopting a more “let’s just slaughter demons and annihilate Lucifer and his commanders because I’m annoyed” kind of attitude.
It's a rare case of natural character development in video games. I often feel like developers in general don’t really flush out their main characters in a way that has them changing to events in a reactionary kind of way. And even when they do it often feels forced. Darksiders Genesis’ attempts to do this feel a lot more natural than I’ve come to expect. In no small way this is enabled by absolutely wonderful voice acting, especially on the part of Strife, War, Samael, and a particularly creepy character at the end of the game.
Lucifer’s plan, which doesn’t become clear until the very end of the game, is more of a “let’s rock the boat and see what happens” than an “I will control the universe with an iron fist” concept. Still, what he does is critical for the next few games and really establishes how he becomes as powerful as he does in the mainline series.
The combat is incredibly fluid, with you fighting while moving, even in midair. It's a game filled with non-stop slayings of hordes of enemies and yet the variety of enemies thrown your way prevents the term “repetitive” from creeping into your mind. Maybe if it was ten hours longer it would begin to feel repetitive, but it seems to me that the developers perfectly timed the campaign so as to avoid such criticisms (it took me just under 20 hours to complete). As you slay demons and angels you collect souls and creature cores that allow you to chain build - via a tree - your attributes. Because of this, you can craft your character into the type of killing machine you wish, rather than the one the developer wishes to force upon you. Mine became very focused on killing from range and producing plenty of healing for example.
The one major omission, and it's a big one, is the side quest system. The Diablo and Torchlight series have amazing, character-developing side quests that really allow you to learn who you are as a central figure in the story, better establish the setting(s), and delve into what's going on in the world. Darksiders Genesis’ version of side quests are some chambers you can unlock (simply for collecting upgrades) and achievements you can complete (which give you more upgrades). There are no story-based side missions or mysteries to unravel. There are items for you to collect and add to your journal which give you a few more tidbits on this front, but they're not much to shout about.
Turning back to Genesis' strengths, the visuals demonstrate how a title in this genre can have a non-realistic looking art style and yet still be beautiful. Diablo and Torchlight have both demonstrated how ARPG titles like this can either look too grissly and brooding or too cartoony, while Darksiders Genesis shows that there can be a good blending of the two styles.
Levels are nicely designed, to an extent, for vertical progression. As you unlock new abilities you're able to explore additional parts of levels in order to obtain greater power and more souls. These souls can be used, along with Boatman coins, to buy upgraded skills, abilities, and creature cores, which range in power and rarity. These creature cores will, upon the collection of more of the same type of (from the endless slaughtering enemies) core, level said cores up to tiers 2 and 3, further improving your stats.
One of the most enjoyable parts of Darksiders Genesis is the arena, where you can face ten rounds (per level) of enemies you've been fighting in the campaign. More of these levels unlock as you progress through the campaign and they're incredibly fun to complete.
Every few levels you'll also encounter one of the bigger demons/angels, or their machines, and they present unique challenges to overcome. One of my biggest problems with Diablo and Torchlight is that all you need is raw strength to beat bosses - run away and keep pointing and clicking, easy. Darksiders Genesis’ boss fights are more engaging; you have to dodge unique attacks from the air, from the water, and from the elements that are otherwise not present in the game. Because of this, there's a great sense of satisfaction from defeating bosses.
Finally, cooperative multiplayer allows you to team up with a buddy as either of the two characters. It's a pretty straightforward (and expected) feature, allowing you to avoid the annoyance of having to switch back and forth between the two characters in order to perform certain moves for fighting and exploration purposes.
Darksiders Genesis, when it is all summed up, is the best experience I have ever had in this genre. The fluid combat, great storytelling, superb voice-acting, fun single and multiplayer action, darkly colorful art style, and smooth gameplay makes this one of the most enjoyable games of the generation for me. THQ has just declared open warfare on the likes of Blizzard, Runic Games, and the other ARPG big dogs, and I suspect there will be many souls reaped in the coming years.