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Darksiders Genesis looks like a spinoff, but it has the series’ soul

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The isometric Darksiders game is the sequel I’ve wanted for a decade

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Darksiders Genesis gear Airship Syndicate/THQ Nordic via Polygon

Darksiders Genesis looked like another bizarre evolution of an already near-perfect game — like Darksiders 2 and 3 before it. Darksiders 2 expanded the franchise with an open world, but lost the tight progression of the first game. Darksiders 3 tried to take the series in a more modern direction with Dark Souls-like mechanics, which weren’t a great fit.

To my delight, Darksiders Genesis takes the franchise back to its roots, despite the top-down view making it look like the largest departure yet for the franchise. But, ironically, the sequels that looked the most like the first game were a letdown, while the game that looks the most unique ends up with so much of the soul of the original.

Here’s the secret that fans know but rarely say anymore, because it sounds so heretical in 2019: the original Darksiders was one of the best Legend of Zelda games I’ve ever played, despite having nothing to do with Nintendo series outside of its borrowed structure and mechanics. Darksiders Genesis isn’t trying to make a similar play to be a stealth sequel to a Diablo game, even though that’s how it appears. It’s actually the Darksiders I remember from 2010, with an interesting visual take on the adventure, and it rules.

The character stands near the middle of a large red room and attacks a large, monstrous enemy in Darksiders Genesis
Strife and War fight a giant demon in an arena
Airship Syndicate/THQ Nordic

I play as either War or Strife in Darksiders Genesis — two of the four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. It’s Strife’s first time as a playable character, but War is the series’ oldest protagonist. I can switch between the brothers in single-player mode, or play them simultaneously in co-op. Either way, the heroes control like they would in any Darksiders game, with precision and power — just with the camera floating high above the action instead of behind the shoulder of each character.

Which is the real reason I find Genesis to be so refreshing. So many developers and publishers reinvent franchises or mix in more contemporary ideas in order to feel modern, with mixed results. Call of Duty may add a battle royale mode, for instance, or a Star Wars game may mix in environmental puzzles and intricate traversal to avoid becoming a game just about lightsabers. But after playing the first level of Genesis, I was ecstatic to see how much the development team trusted the design and ideas behind the original Darksiders, and returned to them with a new visual upgrade, and no potentially out-of-place rehashed gameplay ideas.

From the first swing of Chaoseater, War’s giant sword, I can tell what I’m in for. This is more Darksiders as I’ve always wanted it. I jump off my horse and combo my way through legions of small demons. I mix in different rhythms of attacks, and switch between light and heavy combos. When one of my foes is near death, I end their life with a single button press and a fancy animation.

I climb up various bluffs, leaping into the air, and using air vents to boost me higher. Off the beaten path, I find demons shirking their duty, or heart containers to boost my health. When I reach an arena of baddies, a familiar red eye blocks the path forward until all the enemies are gone. I switch to Strife and use his long-range guns to clean up enemies from a safe distance.

Creature Cores Darksiders Genesis
The Creature Core tree, one of the welcome new additions in Genesis
Airship Syndicate/THQ Nordic via Polygon

The combat is that perfect mix of mashy and methodical I remember from the original Darksiders. This isn’t some two-button game with simple combat; failure is possible, and the battles all remind me of some of the harder sections toward the end of the original game. Precision isn’t always necessary, but being thoughtless in my approach will end in my death. It’s a balance that Darksiders introduced to great effect, and Genesis continues.

Darksiders Genesis is shocking as an isometric game, but in a good way. It feels the classical Darksiders, just with a new camera. The Zelda-like sense of wonder with a dark, gothic twist that fans like me love and missed from Darksiders 2 and 3 is here. The combat I’ve always enjoyed is here. Does it do anything new with those ideas? Well … kinda? But that’s not the point. It’s a delight to revisit the world of Darksiders again in 2019, and have it deliver what I want out of Darksiders, despite my mixed feelings on Darksiders 3.

Darksiders Genesis looks nothing like the other Darksiders games, it’s only $29.99, and for now it’s only available on PC and Google Stadia, with console versions coming early next year. These details make it easy to underestimate Genesis, or dismiss it completely as a sub-par spin off, but it’s anything but. If you’ve always wanted a sequel to the first Darksiders, and you may not have, that’s fair too, this is a release you’ll want to pick up. It feels like coming home, even if I may not have immediately recognized my old house from the street.

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