|System: PS4, Xbox One, PC|
|Dev: Gunfire Games|
|Pub: THQ Nordic|
|Release: November 26, 2018|
|Players: 1 Player|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p||Violence, Blood and Gore|
by Lucas White
Darksiders III is a game that almost wasn’t, which is a sentiment you’ll likely see in most writing about it. One of the more ambitious series out of THQ, Darksiders was, like many others, an unfortunate victim of the uDraw tablet. But then Nordic happened, and despite the original Darksiders team scattering to multiple development houses, many series veterans were able to return and make a third game happen. Darksiders III, in the situation it’s in, doesn’t have that same kind of THQ money the previous games did, but it does its best and ends up being a fun romp, despite some glaring jankiness. But it’s never more than a romp, and some serious fundamental issues with its core combat mechanics keep it from shining alongside its obvious influences.
The Darksiders series is perhaps best known for blatantly, shamelessly ripping off elements from other, more popular games, doing it so earnestly that it endeared itself and garnered a fanbase. The original game infamously even included a Portal gun. This time around, Darksiders III opts to not lean so blatantly on properties like Portal or The Legend of Zelda, and it instead aims to be a more accessible cribbing of the Dark Souls formula.
By accessible, I mean Darksiders III is a weird mix between the more loosey-goosey, pre-reboot God of War style of the first game and the more hardcore, timing-based Dark Souls style. The result is a kind of sloppy mess standing atop a house of cards foundation, that is unfortunately exposed every time the game accidentally throws the player for a mundane loop. What does that mean? Well, it’s time to get nerdy for a second.
Darksiders III should feel familiar to anyone who has played a “character action” game since the PlayStation 2 era. Protagonist Fury has, generally, two weapons. Her primary attacks are mapped to the X button (I played on Xbox One X) and secondary to Y. The two don’t interact, so combos are based on variations of a single button, from mashing, to delays, to combinations using the dodge button. This stuff feels fine and “correct,” but remember: Darksiders III also wants to be Dark Souls.
More important than ever before is the dodge, which manifests differently based on what you’re doing with the analog stick when you press it. But it doesn’t cancel attack animations, which are all designed around being fast, flashy, and elaborate. You have two opposing forces: fast, loose, and cancel-friendly attacks, with an unfriendly dodge that wants you to be careful. So do the enemies, who care not for Fury creatively lashing her whip.
Enemies will attack quickly, often with little telegraphing and regardless of whether or not you’re hitting them. This would be fine in a faster sort of game that lets you react and cancel into a dodge or a slower, more methodical game that leans heavily into each press of a button. But when you have both kind of competing, taking cheap hits is inevitable. Unless you’re already playing with the idea that you’re almost never going to use the full extent of the command list and not just conservatively, but always anticipating a need to dodge.
I know that sounds like I’m being whiny about having to have skills, instead of mashing attack. But now add onto the formula a camera that’s zoomed in quite a bit and enemy encounters that often involve three or more at once. You can and will get hit from off-screen, stun-locked to death, and often just eat damage you know you probably wouldn’t if you were playing a game more aware of its rules and limitations. When you die, you get to watch a sluggish death animation, load back up, lose your experience (unless you track it back down), and have to return from a faraway checkpoint with all the enemies you beat respawned. But unlike Dark Souls, the placement of these enemies doesn’t feel like a big part of the overall game design. Beating them again doesn’t feel like an intense rush or part of the “puzzle.” It’s a chore.
There are times, when you come to accept the fundamental problems of Darksiders III, where it can be fun. This is often in one-on-one encounters, when you can really zero in and focus on what your opponent is doing. There are also enemies designed more with telegraphing in mind, which don’t just swipe at you out of nowhere too quickly to react to the game as it wants you to. The actual boss fights, the meat and potatoes of Darksiders III, do a great job giving you more tools you need to be successful within these competing systems. So it’s not all a wash, and the seams really only burst when you’re running through an area and more than two enemies come after you. Otherwise, especially if you crank the difficulty down, you can still have a good time without struggling too much.
If you’re a fan of Darksiders in general, you’ll want to soldier through. Everything that isn’t bogged down by the combat or technical issues in Darksiders III is really neat. Sure, it’s low budget, Heaven vs. Hell schlock, but it’s on the more earnest, thoughtful end of low budget, Heaven vs. Hell schlock. I was into it, for sure. Fury is a great character, with her cartoonishly cynical attitude, and clashes with her more optimistic Watcher (which is kind of a fun inversion of the first game’s scenario). The story, which takes place parallel to the first game, goes to some interesting places, using the Seven Deadly Sins as a collection of framing devices.
Finally, the world itself of Darksiders III is awesome. While a bit on the generic side, the post-apocalyptic city, with its subway systems, churches, and forests corrupted by the Christian apocalypse (or some version thereof), is full of character, thanks to Metroidvania-like design sense. The environments intersect and loop around each other, with “finishing” one area often leading to a return to another, but from a new perspective. There are many times at which you’ll see something you can’t get to, wonder how it’s possible after giving up, then realizing you naturally came to it a few hours later. There’s a really satisfying sense of progression tied to the overall design, and it makes getting new powers feel that much more meaningful. While largely linear, the act of “exploring” the world of Darksiders III is easily the best part.
We can’t close things out here without talking about the technical issues. THQ Nordic did issue a patch that helped a bit, but Darksiders III still suffers from problems. Sometimes, it’s just some frame rate stuttering, but other times the game will crash, freeze in place, and buzz loudly at you. Other times, the game will stop and need to load in the middle of action. It can also be really finicky about basic things, like Fury grabbing onto ledges. It’s not ideal, but for the most part, it runs well enough to forget about the times when things go super poorly.
Overall, Darksiders III is a troubled game that wants to be a fan-favorite underdog, but stumbles in ways that will prevent it from making the same impact as the games that came before it. It takes place on a much smaller-scale, in terms of things to do outside of the critical path, and obviously it’s marred by technical issues (that will hopefully be ironed out over time). Ultimately, while the setting, characters, and storytelling feel right at home, Darksiders III swings for the fences with its combat ambitions and only just barely manages to get on base. It gets points for trying something new, but the end result is a muddled set of ideas that clash with each other, with nothing in place to soften that collision.
Writing Team Lead