Darksiders III Review
Sony PlayStation 4Also available on PC and Microsoft Xbox One
It’s well-known that the Darksiders series borrows heavily from some of the best in the industry, be that the exploration and puzzles from The Legend of Zelda, or the hack-and-slash gameplay made famous by God of War. However, the series has always managed to take the best elements from these franchises and build upon them, creating fresh, intriguing, experiences. I was pleasantly surprised with the original Darksiders in 2010, and loved the follow up in 2012. Despite a six year hiatus, Darksiders III continues in the same vein, although this time, the experience wasn’t anywhere near as fresh or exciting, in fact, at some points it was downright frustrating.
Darksiders III is set in parallel to the events of the first, just as War is bound and chained by the Charred Council for unleashing the apocalypse on Earth. Here you take the reigns of Fury, one of the other three members of the Horsemen of the Apocalypse, tasked with saving the post-apocalyptic, war-torn Earth, from the Seven Deadly Sins. For the most part, the story is well paced and pleasantly enjoyable, despite its rather simplistic nature. It’s pushed along nicely by Fury, who is is easily one of the most charismatic of the Horsemen. Fury is considered to be the most unpredictable of the Four, and this really shows throughout. I really enjoyed her sarcastic one liners with her Watcher and other NPCs, and it was both surprising and intriguing watching her regularly shift from a cold, emotionless hunter to a compassionate and warm hero-like protagonist throughout the journey.
While the traditional hack-and-slash combat that the series is famed for is retained, it’s been revamped slightly. Fury is much lighter and faster than her brothers, and whereas War and Death both wielded rather heavy swords and scythes, Fury wields both magic and a blade whip. The whip feels a lot like the Chains of Olympus from the earlier God of War titles, and allows you to hit multiple enemies at once, although the whip doesn’t feel quite as powerful as it should given the nature of wielder. Throughout the journey, Fury also picks up a range of Hollows that give her elemental powers such as fire and electricity. These Hollows also bestow on you new variations of weapons, such as spears and mallets, which provide much-need variety during the journey.
THQ and Gunfire Games both revealed before the launch that the combat in Darksiders III would be noticeably more challenging that in the previous two entries, and they weren’t kidding. Even on balanced difficulty I found myself dying after just a few hits. Here, you’re encouraged to wait for your enemy to attack and dodge using the R1 button at just the right time and reply with a more powerful counter. Get it right and the combat can deliver unmeasurable pride, but sadly, the dodge is clumsy at best, and if you dodge before an attack, you’re left wide open for not just one, but a chain of hits that easily drain your entire health bar. Combat is also made far more tedious as the camera is just awful; the lock-on feature never auto adjusts to a new enemy, the free camera often had a mind of its own, while the arrow highlighting an incoming attack from behind might as well have be invisible. This coupled with a dreadful checkpoint system made the game feel more like a chore near its finale. Enemies re-spawn after a death, but all the health and strength shards I had gathered for a boss fight don’t, so the next installment was made far more infuriating right off the bat - the whole learn by dying system in place here feels like a complete Dark Souls copy, but sadly, without the finesse.
Thankfully, despite their brutality, the majority of the Seven Deadly Sins offer an enjoyable boss fight where you’ll need to think before hacking away - some come at you with swords, others use magic and trickery, but all are intriguing and kept me coming back for more, even on my third or fourth try. However, the same can’t be said for the majority of the standard enemies found throughout. By the end of my journey I was tired of killing the same beasts, and while there’s a nice mixture of new and returning adversaries, I wish there was more of a variety. The same goes for puzzles. Darksiders and Darksiders II had some challenging and varied puzzles, but here, once again, the developers have played it safe. Puzzles aren’t particularly difficult to solve, and I’m sure some are lifted straight from the previous entries. Given how influential puzzle solving was in the previous titles, I was sad to discover just how little a influence they had here.
As with many titles that use the Dark Souls combat style of learn by dying, Darksiders III felt as if it progressively got easier the longer I played. This is because I got better at dodging attacks, and because I could farm souls to enhance my attributes and weapons. Throughout the journey, you will collect souls which can be spent on attribute points, allowing you to upgrade elements such as your health and attack power. You will also pick up rare materials which can be used to increase the attack power of weapons. You can also equip weapons with enhancements that provide additional powers such as health re-gen or increased soul acquisition. Darksiders III’s upgrade system feels more like Darksiders, rather than the RPG structure found in Darksiders II.
What I found to be the biggest disappointment with Darksiders III though was the level design and visuals. The game looks fine, and again solid enough, but it’s not a huge step up on the visuals in the Darksiders: Warmastered Edition remaster. The game is set in the same post-apocalyptic Earth as the first, but I felt that, at times, the level design was a near copy. There were a few caves, lava plumes and bug-infested tube networks that really stood out, but given the level that recent releases such as Red Dead Redemption II, God of War or even Spyro have achieved, Darksiders III looks outdated, and nothing more than an early PS4 title.
It’s also safe to say that the game doesn’t push the console to its limit, which makes the number of technical glitches I came across rather dumbfounding. The total number of enemies on screen has been reduced to compensate for the more challenging gameplay, and yet I often experienced terrible framerate drops and even crashes. These would occasionally force me to perform a restart to solve, and on two occasions the game just broke my 5.1 surround sound completely, leaving everything muffled, as if I was submerged in water! The most annoying glitch was the loading screens that would appear at random, and without warning. In some cases these loading screens lasted nearly three minutes, and occasionally textures and areas wouldn’t load properly afterwards, leaving vital arteries unpassable.
Darksiders III isn’t a bad game by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s hardly the upgrade many fans were anticipating. Thankfully, Fury is easily the most compelling and intriguing of the Horsemen, and the hunt for the Seven Deadly Sins was, for the most part, enjoyable thanks to a solid script, excellent voice acting and unique character designs. Sadly though, dull visuals, technical glitches and a brutal difficulty mean Darksiders III is a solid, if unspectacular entry into the Darksiders series.