Platforms: Xbox One, PS4, PC
Reviewed On: Xbox One X
Developer: Gunfire Games
Publisher: THQ Nordic
The tale of the Darksiders franchise is one fraught in peril. The first game drew many comparisons to the likes of Zelda but still managed to carve out its own niche thanks to the intriguing world and story which saw War, one of the four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, accused of starting the end of the world before its proper time. The sequel followed War’s brother Death and introduced a host of new mechanics that included mountains of loot, a horse and wide, open areas and I adored it. But then tragedy hit as publisher THQ went under and the Darksiders franchise was seemingly lost. Salvation appeared, though, as the Darksiders name was bought alongside a bunch of other IPs by Nordic Games who then gathered up a bunch of the original Darksider’s developers and with them forged Gunfire Studios, and so after many years and a lot of doubt we finally get the sequel we’ve all been waiting for. But was it worth the wait? Read on to find out, dear folk. *dun dun DUN!*
In this third game we get to pull on the spiky armor and high-heels of Fury, the only female Horsemen and man does she live up to her moniker. She’s angry, more than a little pissed off when it comes to her brothers and totally ready to rip through whatever gets in her way. In this case the story takes place in tandem with Darksiders 2 with War currently in chains, Death off on his own quest and Strife off doing…whatever Strife is doing. Fury gets dispatched to Earth to deal with the Seven Deadly Sins by Charred Council and thus we have our basic game structure; seven bosses, even big fights.
From there the story follows Fury as she deals with the Sins, uncovers more of the overall Darksiders story and goes through her own character arc. Like her brothers before her Fury is a badass with an attitude that makes her come across as arrogant, overconfident and entirely uncaring about the poor humans who have gotten caught in the middle of a war between the forces of heaven and hell. Fury never does step over the line into annoying, though, and I genuinely found that I liked her.
Actual story is kind of rare with long periods passing between any interesting developments outside of conversations Fury has with her Watcher which is when most of her character development takes place. Considering the vast world and lore the Darksiders franchise has managed to build I kept wishing to see and hear more.
The basic structure is familiar stuff as you trudge around Earth in pursuit of your targets. Level design itself is something of a mixed bag. Darksiders 3 is basically one big dungeon with some annoying loading sections that break it up, bringing the game to a brief halt while everything is loaded in. There’s a Metroidvania flavor to the world as new weapons that you earn typically let you access areas or open up shortcuts so that you can get around a little easier. In this regard there’s nothing wrong with the giant dungeon that Gunfire have created and backtracking to reach the next boss or just to gather up souls for leveling up is a lot of fun. It’s the visual style where I have a problem. Without a map backtracking to collect more Souls and crafting materials can be troublesome so you naturally rely on the terrain to guide you, but much of the world is visually dull and unmemorable. Making things worse is how the fast travel points are merely names with a small picture of the surrounding landscape, again making it difficult to remember where certain fast travel points are in. There are some cool looking areas but you spend far too long trudging through sewers, boring concrete buildings, caves and other various other dull locales. I’m playing as a Horselady of the apocalypse battling the 7 Deadly Sins, so do I really want to spend time ambling through a subway station? No, not really.
There are environmental puzzles practically everywhere, demanding that you stop to blow up a wall using an insect or use a lever to open something. The problem is that Gunfire have opted for quantity over quality and so almost every puzzle requires no brainpower at all, instead you just have to go through the motions over and over again. Only a couple of the puzzles manage to be interesting and fun to solve, while all the rest blur together into a forgettable blob that fail to make good use of your special abilities or platforming.
Combat is where the game shines, the emphasis on precise dodging before diving in for a few choice attacks providing quite a bit of challenge. Fury’s main weapon are her whips, though the range is surprisingly short, and those are complimented by a few secondary weapons that you unlock along the way such as a chunky hammer. Combos are all handled via timing of button presses and while the amount on offer isn’t huge it ultimately doesn’t need to be because nailing the timing of dodges before launching your own counter offensive feels great. If you manage to execute one at the perfect moment you’re rewarded with a splash of slow-motion and a change to launch an Arcane Counter attack for some big damage.
I’ve read a few reviews written by people that seem to believe Darksiders 3 is a hard game, and indeed quite a few of them have dropped comparisons to the Dark Souls franchise so I think we need to clear things up: this isn’t Dark Souls, and it isn’t as punishing. It’s just challenging due to the amount of enemies and the varied timing they all have when it comes to dodging before slinking in for a few sneaky hits. You need to be careful, learn your timing and don’t get greedy. That’s it. It isn’t a deep system, either, and the secondary weapons barely alter your combat style, but despite that it’s still satisfying, fun and ultimately rewarding when you start to sync up with the way fights play out.
With that said there are a few things I didn’t enjoy about the combat, namely facing off against large groups. Against just a couple of enemies it feels great, but with a high number of foes in the screen things can become tricky, the various hit effects and other visual elements making it hard to discern when an attacking is incoming, especially since enemies love to strike from off-screen and the indicators are a light grey and thus easily missed in the mayhem. Finally, there’s no collision detection on enemies so they often end up standing inside each other.
That brings us to the boss fights against the Seven Deadly Sins, each of which is fairly standard stuff from a gameplay point of view but carries on Darksiders 3 level of challenge. I don’t mind admitting that a few of them took me a couple of shots, and in some cases I abandoned by quest in order to hoover up some extra souls and materials for upgrading my weapons before heading back to deliver an ass-whoooooooooping. There are a few duff bosses, like Gluttony, but for the most part I had a lot of fun fighting the Sins. I just wish they were given more screen time prior to the fight, especially since their visual designs are so cool. It would have been nice to get each of them built up more before confronting them.
Returning to the Dark Souls idea for a moment, while Darksiders 3 may not be as difficult and demanding as the infamous series there are a couple of design choices that indicate Gunfire Games took some notes from Dark Souls. Apart from the fact that you’re collecting Souls which must be retrieved from the place you died if the worst should happen, you also get a healing item with limited uses which can only be replenished by killing enemies, forcing you to go on the offensive to stay alive. The way the world frequently circles back into itself to form shortcuts and new paths is also very reminiscent of Dark Souls design.
Another possible touch of Dark Souls is the handling of checkpoints which are sometimes quite far apart and may leave you have to retread a lot of ground should you happen to screw up. Sometimes the placement of these checkpoints feels spot on, but other times I found them forcing me to redo a sizable chunk of boring level before getting back to the boss that managed to squash me. However, this does serve to make failure feel like more of a blow.
The loot system and skill trees of Darksiders 2 have been ditched in favor of a more streamlined system, something which displeased my loot addiction greatly. By collecting souls from downed enemies you can hand them over to the returning character of Vulgrim in order to level up and earn attribute points that you can sink into health, strength or arcane, the final one there being responsible for counter attacks and the damage output of a few abilities. On top of that you can collect special trinkets that can be applied to your weapons in order to give them a stat boost, and these trinkets can be further upgraded by finding a few different types of resource hidden away in the many nooks and crannies of the world.
It’s a very straightforward way of handling leveling up, but one thing I did appreciate was how each attribute point and weapon upgrade felt like it was making a genuine difference, especially while backtracking as you can suddenly rip through enemies that were once a challenge to take down.
As you work through the storyline you’ll encounter the Lord of Hollows who grants you four Hollows of your own, each bestowing you with a new secondary weapon and some bonus powers that will open up new traversal options in the world. One of my favorites is the Force Hollow that comes with a chunky hammer and lets you walk around under water, which is also where some of the game’s best looking moments come from. Swapping between Hollows is a doddle, which means you can mix them into the combat a little more, even if each weapon type doesn’t change things up as much as I’d like.
Outside of the combat you’ll spend a fair bit of your time leaping around the world. Compared to her brother Death, Fury isn’t much of a platforming master with her move set restricted to jumps and being able to swing on very specific points using her whips. What mixes it up are the Hollows that you acquire along the way, each new one bringing a variation on Fury’s jump. The Flame Hollow, for example, lets you perform a much higher jump while the Story Hollow lets you glide long distances. Meanwhile the Stasis Hollow later on lets you walk on water, whereas the Flame Hollow gives Fury the power to wade through lava unharmed. It’s a fun set of modifiers, but none of them help the platforming from feeling stale and at times awkward. I can’t count how many times Fury didn’t grab onto ledges or failed to swing. It never feels smooth, either, as Fury’s jumps feel heavy and the physics behind them never seem right.
Performance issues sadly plague the game with the first and most prominent being frequent framerate drops, at least on the Xbox One X which I played it on. While the FPS never tanks completely the drops were consistent and big enough to annoy me, and would often appear during fights as well and thus would make a perfect dodge much harder to achieve. On top of that I had issues with textures being replaced by gaping black voids, a few crashes, enemies standing still so that you can pummel them with ranged attacks and more.
I’ve seen a lot of negativity from the press about Darksiders 3 that I feel is undeserved. Sure, it isn’t a particularly amazing game – which as a fan of the series is disappointing, especially as I’d like to see a fourth game starring Strife – but it is a pretty solid hack and slash adventure with some cool character designs and a general feeling that it wants to give players a genuine challenge. It just gets held back by the poor environments, dull puzzles and iffy platforming.
If initial sales are anything to go by Darksiders 3 isn’t doing well and to be honest I can see why as the full triple-A price tag is arguably too high for a game like this which feels mid-tier in terms of its development budget. But I honestly think this is worth picking up if you love hack and slashers and games that don’t hold your hand too much, and another part of me wants you to support it simple so we get a Darksiders 4 and then hopefully a Darksiders 5 that finally brings the Horsemen of the Apocalypse together and wraps up the epic tale of Darksiders.