I really wanted to love Darksiders III. As a fan of the previous two installments in the franchise, with a special fondness for the surprise hit that the first one was, a project helmed by famed comic book artist Joe Madureira, known for Battlechasers and a number of other titles, I couldn’t help but be have high expectations for a proposed follow up so many years later. That’s especially so considering all the drama that went on during THQ’s closure and the diaspora of franchises that happened alongside it. It seemed that a Darksiders games never going to come out, and that incredible ending to the first game would never follow through. After all, it was not the first videogame series to die on a cliffhanger, as sad as that can be. Unfortunately, for as much as it has going for it, Darksiders III never really pays off. It touches on so many different elements and never quite nails any of them. It’s incredibly derivative and not a whole lot of fun to play.
Darksiders III is a direct follow up to the original Darksiders and it introduces another one of the horsemen as a playable lead — Fury, the hot-headed sister to previous protagonists’ Death and War. War has been imprisoned by the Charred Council after the chaotic events of the first game that led to the Apocalypse, and keeping in mind that Darksiders 2 took place concurrently to it, Death is nowhere to be found. Fury is tasked with ridding Earth of the seven deadly sins, who in Darksiders’ world are incorporated by a group of monsters that prey of men’s ills. That’s all so they can find out what War’s motives for doing what he did. Or at least that’s what I could gather back when I was trying to keep up with the series’ convoluted story. Safe to say, everyone looks like they’re about to tear into each other in cartoonishly violent fashion, and hell, that’s a good look for a videogame, let me tell you.
The first Darksiders played a lot like The Legend of Zelda, as it unashamedly borrowed from Nintendo’s playbook, and for that, it played extremely well. The studio behind it knew how to limit themselves and train their focus on making playing it feel fantastic. To all accounts, Darksiders is one of the best Zelda-like games I’ve ever played. Darksiders 2 went a different route, and made loot rarity an integral part of its core design. That game has its die-hard fans, and while I wouldn’t consider myself one of them, I quite enjoyed it back when it was released, for as buggy as its PC port was. Darksiders III strays from the more focused scope of the original. Developer Gunfire Games (a new team comprised from former Vigil Games devs who worked on the original game) opted to try and emulate elements from a variety of different sources, namely the genre-that-should-go-unnamed that’s heavily inspired by Symphony of the Night and Metroid, God of War, and why not, Dark Souls. Sadly, they weren’t quite able to capture what makes those franchises so good, so the result is a hodgepodge of a game that looks like the Darksiders you might love as much as I do, but just isn’t enjoyable to keeping playing for long.
The main and most egregious of Darksiders III’s many faults is its terrible camera. 3D polygonal games have mostly nailed that part in the years that followed Super Mario 64, so it’s inexcusable to see a new release coming out in 2018 with a camera as bad as Darksiders III’s. It’s incredibly easy to lose control of it during fights since it’s way too finicky for its own good, and the lock-on doesn’t help things, it manages to make it even worse, since it’s easy to get caught behind environmental elements and enemies, obscuring your view of the action. I can’t even count the number of times I frantically had to hit dodge in order to escape a gang up of enemies just so I could see what the hell was going on. The combat in Darksiders III could otherwise be considered challenging and relatively skill based if it weren’t for the camera that conspires on making things even tougher. If you’ve played a character action game from the past fifteen years, you’ll feel familiar with how Darksiders III plays. It emphasises dodging at just the right time and countering in order to deal extra damage, which works fine on the outset, but eventually turns into Fury playing the role of a flea, jumping all around just trying to keep breathing. It’s really easy to die in this game, and since enemies love to attack all at once, you better get used to getting stunned all the time unless you keep dodging all the time.
Dying is way more of a punishment this time around as it’s ever been in any of the previous Darksiders. That’s because III forces you to make corpse runs every time you die, with checkpoints that are physical seals on the ground that double as trading posts for series’ sales-demon Vulgrim, who makes use of the souls you pick up fighting in order to level you up. You lose that currency every time you die, but you can get them back if you make it back to the spot that you died, but those tend to be so far from the checkpoint that more often than not, I cut my losses and just gave up going for the pickup. You also grab consumables that grant you a number of souls among a host of other items along the way, so you can save those for a pinch too, which turned out to be my main course of leveling up the further I got into the game.
Along with corpse runs, unlocking shortcuts is also another borrowed element from From Software’s successful formula. Darksiders III loves trying to make you go “oh, so that’s where I’m doubling back to, wow”, but instead of having a world that feels connected and contiguous, it all just seems stitched together. Its world lacks any sense of cohesion, something that’s natural to any of the games that have inspired this part of Darksiders III’s environmental design. From’s games are so well put together that you never feel like you need a map or an on-screen marker telling you where to go next. Darksiders III begs for both. Although you get one, a compass that points you towards the nearest boss fight, it’s stupidly unreliable and takes you in circles all throughout the game. An obvious solution to this would be having a simple world map, but no, that would be too much of a good thing to have. So instead, you’re forced to follow the fidgety marker and hope you’re not wasting your time going for a boss before you have the needed powers up to help you traverse the world.
Yes, like Darksiders proper you also pick up powers and tools along the way to help you get through obstacles and also put them to use during fights. That’s one of the cooler things going for Darksiders III, how Fury changes her look in order to match the elemental power she has equipped. The first one you’ll pick up is fire, which makes her hair go ablaze and gives her a close range chain to go alongside her even longer chain whip main weapon. The fire can also be used to burn away cobwebs that block progress, and the same goes for the remainder of the different colors that Fury can go with during her journey, such as the purple one that serves as a pretty powerful hammer in battle, while during traversal turns Fury into a ball that can cling to special wall and ceiling surfaces, much like Samus’ spider ball upgrade from Metroid Prime.
Fury can make use of two different meters during combat: one is her, well, fury meter that slowly builds up and allows her to use special attacks depending on with elemental form she’s in when activated, like a more powerful fire form, or orbs of lightning, as well as an even slower one that’s represented by a red spiral which allows her to assume her havoc form that heals her with each attack that lands, turning her into a giant that can smash smaller enemies quite easily for a limited amount of time. These make for some good comeback chances during fights and feel extremely rewarding to pull off, but unless you’re sure you can beat, say, a boss with them, you might want to avoid putting them to use in their fights. That’s because even though you revive at checkpoints when you die, these meters have to be built back up after every attempt, making each one feel like a slightly longer slog in case you get stuck on a particularly bad streak of losses.
The same goes for consumables, but those can also be bought from Vulgrim if you’re desperate enough, even though he raises their price with each successive purchase, which makes buying from him a big sink for your vital supply of souls. And since you can only level up by spending those, it’s a much better call not to go all out on them unless you’re sure you can finish the fight that you’re on. It’s things like this that make me such an elixir hoarder in RPGs, and it’s annoying to see it happen in an action game like Darksiders III, even more so since it’s so easy to die and often so timely to get back to where you stopped last.
Still, there are things I like in Darksiders III. Fury’s exchanges with her Watcher companion are really dry and hilarious, making for some of the better writing in the game. It also sports the distinctive art style and presentation that made the previous two entries so unique, coupled with excellent voice acting and a decent score. The nods to the previous games are really cool, and catching glimpses of the other horsemen made this game feel connected to the universe in a much stronger way than its gameplay. I would’ve loved to see a more stable port of the game on PC, though — during the twelve hours or so that I spent playing, I ran into a number of crashes and hiccups.
It’s a bummer to think that this is the Darksiders I waited to play for so long. I really want to love it simply because it picks up from where the original left off after waiting so long, but it’s hard to overlook its faults. Darksiders III is yet another example of a game that tries to do too much, but fails to be adept at anything except frustrating you. I really hope that if there’s ever a fourth entry featuring Strife as a playable horseman, it turns out better than this. Darksiders deserves better.