I won’t get into yet another long spiel about my history with the Darksiders series (I’ve done enough of that in my reviews of the other games and other articles on this site), but suffice it to say that I’m a pretty big fan of the series, having played both the first Darksiders and Darksiders II multiple times each. For a period of about six years, namely since the original release of Darksiders II on previous gen consoles in 2012, I was pretty sure we’d never see another entry in the series after THQ went under and the Darksiders IP was bought out by Nordic Games, now THQ Nordic. But when Darksiders III was finally announced earlier this year, I was ecstatic. It was finally coming at long last! And better yet, Gunfire Games, made up of former members of Vigil Games, the development team behind the first two Darksiders games, were developing this sequel; I was concerned an entirely different developer would take the reins in developing this sequel, but thankfully the true creators of the series would get to continue their great work rather than having their legacy sullied by another team who likely wouldn’t have been able to do the Darksiders series justice. So how does Darksiders III compare to its predecessors? Pretty damn well, actually, though it’s not perfect.
Darksiders III opens with Fury, the third Horseman of the Apocalypse, being summoned by her masters, The Charred Council, and witnessing her brother and fellow Horseman War enchained before the council for allegedly bringing about the Apocalypse on Earth (which we all know by now is bullshit). The council command Fury to go to Earth in order to deal with the physical embodiments of the Seven Deadly Sins whom have been released from their prisons and are running amok. Clearly the more impatient and hostile of the Horsemen, Fury all too eagerly agrees to undertake this task and meteors down to Earth to make some heads roll. As simple as this setup sounds, the story for Darksiders III takes some interesting and surprising turns as you progress, and the initially rather prickly and arrogant protagonist does show some growth as she suffers through many physical and emotional challenges. Fury may come across as rather unlikable to some in the beginning, but I felt that was a good direction to go since War and Death, the protagonists of the previous games, had a lot in common and didn’t stand out as much (though they were still good characters), so making Fury too similar to them would have been way too much of a retread. Besides, was anyone expecting someone named “Fury” to not be at least a bit of a hot-head?
Ahead of Darksiders III’s release, Gunfire Games informed us that the game, in a sense, would be taking a step back from the huge and open framework of Darksiders II. That game was huge and had large maps with multiple dungeons to explore, as well as plenty of side missions to complete and a literal f@$kton of collectibles to find. From a gameplay perspective, Darksiders II just had more to offer than the first Darksiders, although the story definitely took a hit and was inferior to that of the first game’s. Darksiders III, as mentioned before, takes a step back from the huge (and at times empty) world of Darksiders II and gives us something closer to the smaller and more interconnected world of the first Darksiders, as well as FromSoftware’s Souls series. Basically, once you reach the main hub area of Haven, Fury can follow one of several skull icons on the HUD that lead her to any of the Sins that she will be able to reach (although several can only be reached after certain points in the story). Soon enough you will see that the environments in Darksiders III are mostly contained and linear like in the first Darksiders and not so unnecessarily open like in Darksiders II. As such, there are basically no collectibles to find in this game aside from surviving humans who are hiding out in all but one of the different regions. They’re not all that tough to find, though a way to keep track of how many you’ve found and how many are still left in each region would have been nice (getting a trophy/achievement for every 5 humans you find doesn’t quite cut it, and that will only work on a first playthrough). There are other items and resources (not to mention optional bosses) to find out in the world, and while they’re not collectibles in the strictest sense, they are worth finding since they allow you to upgrade and enhance your weapons.
Speaking of, Fury gains access to different weapons and abilities as the story progresses. Starting out with her main whip weapon, the Barbs of Scorn, Fury eventually gains four abilities known as “Hollows” that give her access to weapons with elemental properties tied to each of them, namely flails for the Flame Hollow, a spear for the Storm (lightning) Hollow, a hammer for the Force (gravity/energy) Hollow, and a broadsword for the Stasis (ice) Hollow. These weapons open up Fury’s repertoire of attacks, and the elemental properties tied to them let her reach certain areas and secrets that cannot normally be accessed. The Force Hollow, for example, lets Fury walk underwater, magnetize herself to certain crystallized surfaces that lead to different areas, and use the hammer to destroy certain barriers and obstacles. Another example would be the Flame Hollow allowing Fury to shoot upwards like a fireball to reach higher ledges, use the flails to burn through walls of webbing barring her progress, and even walk through normally deadly pools of liquid hot MAG-MA (a free cookie goes to whoever can guess that reference). Oh, and Fury also eventually gains a new crossblade weapon very much like the one War used in the first game, which comes in handy in certain battles and can also let Fury find more items and resources.
Furthermore, Fury’s Hollow weapons, as well as her whip and crossblade, can be upgraded by gathering the previously mentioned resources scattered all over the different regions and bringing them to returning character Ulthane the Maker. Enhancements that can be found in certain areas can be attached to any of the weapons to offer them extra perks, like draining health from enemies, providing attack damage bonuses, and increasing Wrath (magic energy) generation per hit, to name a few, and these enhancements can also be upgraded by Ulthane.
As for Fury herself, her stats can be upgraded by feeding souls taken from fallen enemies to other returning character Vulgrim like in the first Darksiders (no more of that “gilt” currency from Darksiders II). Give Vulgrim enough souls, and you’ll gain an attribute point to spend on any of Fury’s three main stats: health, physical attack damage, and arcane attack damage. This is a far simpler setup than the more RPG-heavy stat management introduced in Darksiders II, but it works just fine for this game and leaves you looking at a menu screen for a much shorter period of time. I will say though that an option to respec your stats, while not necessary, would have been welcomed. You can also use souls to buy health items, support items (items that temporarily increase attack damage, defense, etc.), and certain resources, or you can sell unneeded items to Vulgrim for more souls. And if that wasn’t enough, Vulgrim’s Serpent Holes (which are rather generously scattered around the world) can be used to fast travel between the different regions very much like in the first game. The last Serpent Hole you used will also be where Fury will respawn should an enemy manage to kill her, similarly to how bonfires function in the Souls games (or the shrines in Nioh; I only bring that game up since I have played that game but none of the Souls games…sue me).
That’s not the only Souls-like feature in Darksiders III. If a boss or regular enemy should kill you, you must return to the site of your death to reclaim any souls you may have collected beforehand. Should you get killed again in the same area by the same enemies, those souls will be lost forever. Apparently though, if an enemy kills you in one area, and you don’t return until much later to fight that enemy again, the souls you left behind will still be there, even if you died in other areas (I only experienced this moment once with an optional boss). As could probably be assumed at this point in the review, the combat is less “hacky-slashy” than in the previous games. Don’t get me wrong, you will be hacking and slashing enemies with your weapons, but unlike in the first two games, you won’t be able to fight off large numbers of enemies simultaneously without getting killed or at least using up most or all of your health items. Just like in the Souls games (and Nioh), it is best to lure enemies away from one another so you can fight them one-on-one since fighting multiple enemies at once is not ideal unless they’re the weaker ones. Fury is comparatively more delicate than War and Death, especially in the earlier parts of the game, so she can’t tank hits the way her brothers can…at least not until late game after she’s leveled up sufficiently and can kill most regular enemies with ease (with the exception of the Sins and other bosses). Transforming into her Havoc Form, which resembles a demonic creature with double whip-like claws, grants her with increased attack power and invincibility, much like War’s Chaos Form and Death’s Reaper Form; this form can at least provide Fury with fleeting moments where she can go nuts on enemies and bosses without worrying about dying in mere seconds.
For the most part though, the combat in this game is more about finding openings and attacking enemies when they are vulnerable, as well as dodging right before they hit you (“perfect dodging”) so you can strike back with a powerful counterattack (like her brother Death, Fury can only dodge enemy attacks and cannot block them). There are many enemy types, like fire demons, insect demons, skeletons, angels, etc., and figuring out how to properly dodge and counterattack each enemy type will take some getting used to, but it can be done. Going the old hack-and-slash route against multiple enemies like in the previous games will simply get you killed in this game over and over, which happened to me early on. The initial learning curve for Darksiders III’s combat is strong, and I admittedly grew rather frustrated at times, but don’t let that discourage you since the game becomes noticeably more manageable when you get used to the combat and level yourself up.
Aside from the combat and exploration, there’s not much more to this game, really. There are a handful of puzzles, mostly in the early and then final regions, and most of them were quite challenging, requiring you to think outside the box in order to solve them. One of the late game puzzles, however, was just ridiculously vague and gave you basically no indication on how to solve it; the only reason I solved it was because I got outrageously and uncharacteristically lucky, pure and simple. Nevertheless, the puzzles, pretty much all of them being environmental puzzles involving pressing switches and using Hollows to remove obstacles, were certainly engaging in their own ways.
There are a few consistent issues with Darksiders III, mostly on the technical side of things. The frame rate can dip noticeably at times, mostly in the larger and more open areas, and this can have a negative impact on the combat given that timing is everything when it comes to avoiding enemy attacks. This doesn’t happen all too often though in most of the game’s more confined environments, thankfully. Given the high number of more confined environments, however, Fury can’t ride her horse, Rampage, in this game at all, which I must admit is rather disappointing (there’s another story-related reason why she can’t ride her horse, but I won’t spoil it here). There is also noticeable texture pop-in, both during gameplay and cutscenes, which does put a small damper on the otherwise nice looking graphics (the designs of the main characters and bosses are the highlights). Furthermore, pretty much any time you go from one region to the next, the game will pause for a few seconds as it loads the next region; this is the most persistent issue with this game, but fortunately it’s not too major, just annoying. Despite these issues, Darksiders III has no game-breaking glitches that make it unplayable or that can prevent you from progressing, which is more than I can say for the random glitches that plagued Darksiders II when it first released (and that still plague one of its DLCs in the Deathinitive Edition). It should also be noted that Fury’s dodging had a slight delay to it when the game first released, but this issue was, thankfully, quickly patched out, so now Fury responds more quickly and fluidly when you press the dodge button.
All things considered, Darksiders III ended up being a flawed but still great sequel to the first two games and was a breath of fresh air given that its combat is more focused and has less of that hack-and-slash quality to it, which makes it stand out from the combat featured in its predecessors. The story, while initially rather straightforward and lacking, really picks up after the halfway point and pulls you in as Fury finds out more about the forces at work against her and realizes how shortsighted and impulsive she has been. And after seeing the ending, I am quite psyched to find out what happens in the upcoming story-based DLC announced before the game released, but I’m way more hyped and hopeful that we get a Darksiders IV that will wrap up the many still unresolved story threads that are still up in the air and that will close out the saga of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse up to the point where they all converge in the ending of the first Darksiders.
Developer: Gunfire Games
Publisher: THQ Nordic
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, PC
Release Date: 27th November 2018