It's like the other Darksiders games but... more flat.
I first started playing the original Darksiders game because it was pitched to me as essentially a 3D Zelda game. Turns out that was an accurate description, and I quickly became a fan. From the original’s fairly straightforward hack-and-slash-style combat slapped on the Ocarina of Time formula, to the sequel’s dungeon crawler-inspired loot system, and the third’s introduction of a roguelite progression system, I’ve loved every entry. When Darksiders Genesis was first revealed I initially wrote it off as a Diablo-inspired spinoff. What I found however is exactly what I should have expected. While Darksiders Genesis may at first look like Diablo or Baldur's Gate, what I found was a Darksiders game that swapped out its 3D Zelda inspiration for a 2D one.
Now to be clear, Darksiders Genesis isn’t a 2D Zelda game. Much like the other games in the franchise it takes elements of that progression system and gameplay and ties them into new ideas. Darksiders Genesis can be played single-player or cooperatively. Luckily it handles this better than Nintendo’s own attempts to introduce multiplayer into Zelda. When playing solo you’ll take control of both War and Strife and can instantly swap between them. It is an odd comparison but it works a bit like the Lego games. Despite making the jump from 3D to 2D, or at least 2.5D, War manages to control pretty much exactly like he did in the original Darksiders. For longtime fans playing as War will be like riding a bike. War uses an oversized broadsword and his controls feel similar to something like Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 with lots of hacking, slashing, dodging, and blocking. Strife on the other hand is a ranged character. As a result playing as Strife feels a bit like playing a twin-stick shooter, with the right stick assigned to his firing direction. Both characters feel wildly different to play and have their own unique strengths and weaknesses. While I initially expected to favor Strife, I found myself constantly switching back and forth based on the scenario.
Progression is seperated up into a linear set of levels. Early on a lot of them feel pretty straightforward, fight-to-the-end stages. However as you progress levels start to feel a bit more like dungeons. Challenges begin to rely less on combat (though it is still present of course) and much more on puzzle solving and platforming. The puzzles of course draw inspiration from Zelda while the platforming is arguably pure Darksiders. Darksiders has always had a better platforming and traversal system than any of its sources of inspiration, and it is surprising how well it holds up in a more 2D perspective. The entire move set of running, jumping, climbing, and parkour has translated excellently. The puzzles, while initially simple, can get downright devious as Darksiders Genesis progresses. Early on you’ll see lots of simple floor switches but you’ll quickly unlock unique items and abilities for each character. War’s signature boomerang makes a return allowing him to transfer elements like fire from point to point. Strife can create portals which he and War can pass through or toss items like bombs through. Darksiders Genesis is the type of game that just gets better and better the farther you get. The more abilities you gain the more interesting the environments get to solve.
Further adding to the Zelda comparisons is the relative absence of RPG elements one might expect from games like Diablo or Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3. Abilities are largely gated by progression through the world rather than earning them via skill trees. In fact there are even some light Metroidvania elements in the ability to revisit old levels with new abilities to complete optional side objectives. Between levels, you do have the ability to do some light upgrades to your characters but most of these apply more to your abilities in combat than anything else and are ultimately non-essential.
As someone who struggled to get into games like Diablo, Darksiders Genesis feels like the perfect midpoint between that style of game and the Zelda games I love. The Darksiders franchise’s ability to introduce new concepts via the engrossing formula of Zelda was what initially drew me to the series, and that idea persists here. As an added bonus Darksiders Genesis is also a prequel to the rest of the series, meaning that even if you’ve never played a Darksiders game before, you can go into Genesis with no foreknowledge and still have a great time. While I’ve been playing the PC release, the Switch seems like the perfect platform for this co-operative adventure. Like the rest of the series, Darksiders Genesis is a game that ought to be on the radar of pretty much every Nintendo fan.