written by Joshua Bouie
Over the last couple of hours I have spent with Darksiders III, I’ve been very torn on what direction I wanted to take this review. I have had a very wide variety of emotions playing this third entry as a huge fan of the series. I’ve gone from disappointment to anger and finally acceptance. Disappointment that developer Gunfire Games has failed to do anything new, instead of just borrowing from masterpieces such as Dark Souls and Bloodborne, that of which it has no hope of replicating. Anger and frustration due to the games dreadful navigation system and downright cheesy difficulty spikes. Finally, acceptance that this is not the sequel that I had hoped for.
What Gunfire Games has given us is a Darksiders attempt at replicating the Dark Souls formula – This third entry drops the large scope of its predecessor, which featured horseback riding and complex puzzle-platforming, in favor of a much more focused and difficult combat system. It is an interesting side step, and one that I think eventually shines. Unfortunately the opening hours of the game feels like a huge step backwards. It is only when Darksiders III pulls from it’s origins that the game starts to shine and feels like a Darksiders experience.
The game stars Fury, one of the four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, tasked to hunt down personifications of the seven deadly sins. Her promised reward is leadership of the Horsemen. The third game takes place after the apocalypse that Fury’s brother War is accused of starting prematurely has occurred, which in turn looses the seven deadly sins upon the earth in physical forms. Fury is given the task of hunting down each sin and restoring them to their ethereal state by defeating each.
Darksiders stories are always well told with excellent voice acting. Fury is a thoroughly enjoyable protagonist, cutting trough heaven and hell like a knife, always oozing confidence and violent potential. The banter between her and her watcher companion was quite entertaining as you traverse your way to the next sin on your list.
This is actually the games only positives in the opening hours as the presentation really carries the game. Like the original Darksiders, Fury is a horseman without a horse, many other features seen in Darksiders 2, such as loot and customizable armor, have been removed.
Instead you spend the early hours of the game running through large, boxy environments, trying to get a feel for the surprisingly very difficult combat. Fury’s weapon of choice is a long, serrated whip which she uses to crowd control her enemies. She can’t block enemy attacks, and most opponents can kill you very quickly. Combat is mainly an exercise of perfectly timed dodging, while looking for countering opportunities.
Initially, it was difficult to embrace this combat system as a fan, in fact I despised it as the dodge felt too shot, and every enemy in the game can stagger you. If this happens in a crowd you’re most certainly dead. Fury simply cannot take as much punishment as her brothers. You really need to take the time to learn the maneuvering patterns of each enemy and avoid taking as much damage as possible. Gone is the regenerating health from previous games in the series or the numerous ways to heal from gear and other abilities. This time around you have Nephilim’s Respite which Fury activates to heal, these function exactly like Estus flasks from Dark Souls. These have a limited number of charges that must be replenished by defeating enemies or dying. Fury also earns souls by killing enemies, these souls in turn are a source of currency allowing Fury to purchase consumables or increase Fury’s health, physical damage or arcane damage.
When you die you lose all carried souls and must fight your way back to the area of your death to reclaim them, and yes you must fight your way back as all enemies respawn upon your death. The world is highly interconnected, with lots of different pathways that gradually unlock as you progress.
Many of these pathways only become usable later in the game. Some may find navigation a bit frustrating as there is no map this time nor does the game point you in any certain direction, it gives you a radar with the general area of a skull which is one of the sins on your list and it is up to the player to find their way there.
The opening hours left a lot to be desired, and then what I was hoping for happened. The game made a turn for the better and started to come to life; I unlocked my second hollow and the game began to feel like the Darksiders I know and love.
Hollows are Darksiders central combat mechanics, and they completely saved the game for me. These four abilities allow Fury to evolve into different forms, which gifts her with new weapons and abilities. Hollows also provide new ways of traversal and puzzle solving and ways to interact with the world. The fire hollow allows Fury to engulf herself in flames adding to her damage and damaging anyone that gets to close, while also providing a boost to her jump, it also allows you to walk through lava untouched. The force hollow allows you to run around under water and magnetize to certain walls.
As you begin to unlock more hollows the game becomes a refreshed affair and stops being a terrible Dark Souls clone and starts feeling like the Darksiders sequel we all hoped for. The levels become more ambitious, the puzzles are elevated from mundane to interesting, and the combat opens to a system that is both visceral and spectacular. The hollow combat powers are hugely satisfying, so I do not wish to name more than the two previously mentioned, as this could can be considered spoilers.
Darksiders III really shines once all hollows are unlocked, it becomes a proper Darksiders game with entertaining puzzles and vicious combat. The boss battles are the highlight of the game, each very well designed in their own right. The game also begins to ratchet up the pace and momentum as you near the end.
The game does suffer from technical difficulties as the frame rate tends to dip quite a bit during intense combat, the game also suffered several hard crashes, as well as long load times. These are issues that Gunfire Games are aware of and hopefully iron out quickly.
If you’re a fan of the series there is fan service here and lots of it, and some tried and true Darksiders goodness. But as a fan you might also notice some of the design changes and they might not sit well with you. I think that for most of us we are going to be split right down the middle: those of us that loved the intricate design of the past games dungeons and locations, and those of us that want a more open environment. With releases in 2018 such as God of War and Marvel’s Spider-Man showing off outstanding world design and superb combat, it is going to be very difficult for Darksiders to survive with Gunfire Games continuing to leach ideas from other well-received title.
Darksiders III is the sequel that fans have been waiting for, but this is also it’s strength and it’s weakness. It feels like the previous two titles with much better combat and some fantastic encounters. On the other hand it’s trying too many things at once and comes off as having an identity crisis and never steps out of the shadows of juggernauts as its own beast.