Also On: PS4, Xbox One
Publisher: THQ Nordic
Developer: Gunfire Games
First, let?s talk about how exciting it is to have a new Darksiders game at all. After Vigil and THQ were shut down/sold off I had very little hope for a continuation of this niche but exciting series. The first Darksiders introduced War as the first of the four horsemen of the apocalypse, clearly setting the stage for at least a 4 game series. The Zelda-esque puzzles, dungeons and environments coupled with some over the top gratuitous violence and combat made for a truly unique and interesting game. The Biblical adjacent take on the apocalypse and use of the four horsemen only heightened the interest in seeing where this series went. Darksiders II came on the scene a few years later with a bang, taking the formula that made the first game successful and expanding on it with some great RPG and loot grabbing elements. Third person dungeon crawling with the satisfying combat of the first and upgradeable gear and in depth skill trees all worked to propel the second game far past the first. Death was a worthy and interesting protagonist, with more character than his dry and angry brother War. This series was going places, and once it was announced that Gunfire Games and the new THQ Nordic were continuing on and releasing III, I was beyond ecstatic.
Darksiders III introduces us to the third horseman (horsewoman?) Fury. She is the sister of the three others, War, Death and Strife, who had not yet been formally introduced. The game opens up with some comic book-esque cinematics touching on the horsemen and why they are around, but without a knowledge of the first two games, new players will find themselves understandably lost. Darksiders built this universe, Darksiders II greatly expanded it and Darksiders III expects you to already know what is going on. Once Fury is introduced, it is immediately apparent the writers played the first game, thought War was the greatest thing ever and decided to double down on Fury. She is drier, angrier and way more boring than her brother. I get it, her name is ?Fury?, so she should be mad or whatever, but she has the emotional range of a dead goldfish. I doubt that quote is going to make in on the box, but it holds out as my biggest complaint throughout the entire 13 or so hours it took me to beat the game. She goes through character changes and follows her own arc, but it just feels like there was a spectrum. On one side, there is ?Badass protagonist, slaying demons and getting things done? and on the other side there is ?Real character with believable dialogue and voice lines that help you relate to them? and Fury broke the meter shooting off the chart on the first side. Don?t get me wrong, a LOT of games can?t seem to master this, where they feel like a character has to be completely devoid of emotion or depth to be ?badass?. This is not true, Joel in The Last of Us, Dom in Gears of War, Aloy in Horizon Zero Dawn, all of these characters manage to find balance on that spectrum. Fury just has one setting all game, and horribly cheesy dialogue delivered with a mouthful of gravel does nothing to mitigate that.
Darksiders III also made some serious gameplay changes, namely in how you explore the world around you. There is no longer a map at all, no mini map, no objective marker beyond a skull on your compass directing you toward the next foe. The story has you hunting down the Seven Deadly Sins for the Charred Council (the underlying top dogs and kind of bad guys throughout the entire series so far). After each sin has fallen, a new skull pops up to lead you to the next one. This helps prevent you from stumbling into the wrong area too early, as you hunt each sin one by one, but it takes all of the exploration out of the world. There are areas that you can run off and search for upgrade materials here and there, but the game is incredibly linear. The world is all connected and just feels small compared to the other two games. It is very reminiscent of the first Dark Souls game, you will tread and retread the same areas several times throughout the game, unlocking shortcuts as you progress through the layered world. Unfortunately, unlike Dark Souls where you can find yourself in the catacombs getting handily massacred by skeletons and necromancers, Darksiders III doesn?t really give you freedom as much as it gives you the illusion of freedom.
In another unavoidable comparison to Dark Souls, combat is hard, with basic enemies able to kill you in 3 hits and large enemies killing you in two. If you rush in and get surrounded you are probably going to die. You collect currency not unlike souls from enemies as you progress, but upon death they are left at the spot where you fell, where you must then go recover them after you return. Die en route to recovery and they are gone. Bosses are also quite difficult, with the first few presenting a challenge and some of the later ones becoming so tough you may have to take a break and cool off. One boss in particular requires a certain technique to take down, and not knowing what to do will leave you dead and frustrated over and over. Dodging with perfect timing opens up a parry or counter attack move that does drastically increased damage, which ends up being almost a necessity for combat. These details make the combat in Darksiders III by far the most challenging and rewarding to date. Every enemy type has different attack speeds and animations, and learning them all is key to really feeling like a stud while playing. Level scaling makes it so that no matter how far in the game you are, all of the enemies can absolutely smoke you if you get too lazy.
Your unique abilities come in the form of Hollows that are collected throughout the story. The Flame Hollow comes very early on and ends up being the most useful in both combat and traversal. The three other Hollows, Storm, Force and Stasis each end up with their own uses in traversal, but Flame always sits at the heart of every puzzle and challenge. Your fighting style will dictate which of the Hollows you end up using the most, but you play with the Flame Hollow for SO long without others that you will naturally be used to using the flails it comes with, so changing up after that becomes a bit tedious.
In terms of the environmental puzzles, they are incredibly few and far between. The vast majority of Darksiders III is combat, with a very small part being set aside for puzzling. This change is not necessarily a good one, as I loved the puzzle and dungeon aspects of the first two games. In addition to the move away from puzzles, all of the RPG elements that Darksiders II introduced have been scrapped. Loot only comes in the form of level up materials and health/ability shards. When you level up you can put your points into either your health, your physical damage or your arcane damage. There are a few enchantments that can be added to your weapons and weapon upgrades are a thing, but it all just feels like an afterthought. You can do the whole game without ever paying any kind of attention to your stats or weapon additions. There are so few of them that even if you focus on it, you will end up at almost the same build when the game is over that every other high level player is. It all just feels weak, everything outside of the combat feels like an afterthought.
The story is the weakest of the three, with the failure to build Fury as a solid character sitting at the heart of the issue. The NPCs are pretty shallow as well, with fan favorite Vulgrim reduced to a few repeated voice lines, rendering him a glorified teleporter. All of his snark and development in the first two games is lost in Darksiders III. The Seven Deadly sins all have amazing and unique boss designs, but again, lack any real character. Pride and Envy and Lust end up getting a little bit of character treatment, but they still end up little more than an obstacle on your way to the end. A few important decisions present themselves throughout the story and these are the highlights, but most of it just ends up lost in the giant killfest. Nothing really MATTERS, with low stakes and weird pacing, things just end up feeling weak. 90% of the meaningful story happens in the last 1-2 hours of the game.
Visually, Darksiders III follows the same track as the previous two games. The comic style animation and cell shading is cool, but the facial animations and character interactions all feel like they were pulled straight from the Xbox 360 days. Luckily, since cutscenes and interaction is few and far between, most of your time will be spent watching combat animations which are outstanding. Scorn, the whip that Fury wields lends itself to some really cool combat and movesets, all of which are meticulously designed and executed throughout the entirety of the game. Each Hollow comes with a unique weapon as well, each with its own moveset and design that really make it worth your time to at least check them out.
It feels like I am being harsh here, and maybe I am, but every aspect of Darksiders III outside of the combat feels like a weak imitation, falling somewhere in between the first and second games. It fails to really hold an identity of its own, with a weak story, unlikeable and weak protagonist and failure to expand on supporting characters with any kind of real depth. With the length of the previous two games, I would normally take issue with the 13 hour completion time (and that is with a fair amount of trying to explore and see everything possible), but by the time I reached the end I was READY for it to be over. The entire game feels like a long prologue to Darksiders IV, which is very clearly set up at the end of this game. As I said before, Darksiders III introduces the final Horseman, Strife, and in the extremely brief time he was shown I managed to get more excited to see where the next game takes him than anything that had come before in Darksiders III. With the increase in quality seen from the first game to the second, I had very high hopes for Darksiders III, unfortunately it just was not able to really reach the potential it was set up for.
Note: THQ Nordic provided us with a Darksiders III PC code for review purposes.