Darksiders III Review - A Quest For Balance

Darksiders III

When I worked at GameStop as an assistant manager, the original Darksiders was one of those releases that caught my eye, so I decided to give it a shot. What I found was a unique take on biblical concepts like heaven, hell, and the four horsemen of the apocalypse. When people asked me about it, I would tell them it’s like an M-rated Zelda, and I loved it.

Now, that’s a little reductive, but the series has always paid homage to some of the greats in gaming, while also forging its own path forward. While the original developer is no more, Gunfire Games, composed of many original team members from Vigil Games, has resurrected the series with Darksiders III. Should you take up the mantle and ride once more? Let’s find out.

An Ever-Expanding Universe

For those who are new to the series, or those who would like a spoiler-free refresher, Darksiders is a series that places you in the shoes (boots?) of the four horsemen of the apocalypse. Now, in this universe that encompasses War, Death, Fury, and Strife.

Through a combination of different mediums, the Darksiders universe has built up a respectable and complex lore. The first game established the main premise: the apocalypse has begun early, and War has been framed for starting it.

Heaven and hell wage war across Earth, humanity is essentially wiped out in the conflict, and behind it all is a cosmic conspiracy that threatens all of existence. Between all of this is the Charred Council, an enigmatic group that was tasked with maintaining balance between the forces of heaven and hell.

The first game had some pretty astounding revelations before the credits rolled. In the second game, we played as Death. Now, instead of moving the story forward, the developers decided to created parallel stories starring the other horsemen.

In Death’s case, we see that he has sought out to prove War’s innocence. What’s interesting about this title was how he did this without the permission of the Charred Council, which the four horsemen are bound to obey.

With the closing of THQ and Vigil Games, it was assumed that we would never see a third game starring their sister, Fury, but miracles still happen fellow gamers.

From the ashes rose both THQ Nordic and Gunfire Games. This new developer is composed of many original team members, and they were given a smaller budget to bring the series back to life.

Now that we’ve had a little primer, let’s talk about Fury and her role in Darksiders III. After she is called to the Charred Council, Fury is informed that the apocalypse has begun early and her brother War is allegedly responsible.

The Council sends her out with a single task in mind: find and capture the physical embodiments of the seven deadly sins. They have been let loose upon the Earth and will cause untold destruction if left to their own devices.

Paired with a Watcher who is meant to keep Fury on task, she heads to Earth to begin her quest. Over the course of the game, Fury’s character is perhaps the most developed of all the horsemen.

While War remained stoic and badass throughout his adventure, most of his development was external. Death was similar, though he did show some growth when he was forced to face the sins of his past.

Fury, on the other hand, showcases a gradual transformation over the course of her journey. She begins as a loyal tool of the Council. Unwavering, unquestioning, and unequivocally bound to their will. This steadfast loyalty begins to show cracks as times goes on.

Even her personality changes over the course of the adventure. She may be impatient, angry, and quick to fighting at the game’s outset, but there’s this slow and organic shift that happens as the story goes on, influenced by her experiences and the revelations that are revealed to her.
No spoilers of course, but suffice to say, Fury is a different person by the game’s end. Her attitude, her outlook, everything is different. This kind of character development is new for the series, and honestly very refreshing.

One thing that I feel has gone largely unnoticed about Darksiders III is the respect that has gone into Fury’s character. There has long been a push for more diverse characters in gaming and less objectification of female protagonists, and now that we finally have an example of it, no one is talking about it.

While you could certainly point out certain aspects of her design if you really wanted to, Fury is one of the better female protagonists we’ve seen in recent years. She’s not overly sexualized, and she showcases real depth over the course of the narrative.

I don’t currently have any children, but if I had a daughter, I would more than happy if she looked up to Fury. A protagonist who has a fierce sense of loyalty, but isn’t above questioning her place in the universe and stopping for self-reflection when faced with an existential crisis? Yeah, those sound like good qualities to me.

I’ll get off the soapbox now, but let’s give credit to Gunfire Games where it’s due. Fury is a strong, deep, and respectable protagonist who is given just as much, if not more, attention to detail in her character than her contemporaries.

There’s also the topic of the seven deadly sins. These have been represented in all kinds of forms throughout human history, but Darksiders III actually finds a few ways to make them feel unique again. Sure, a good majority of them are exactly what you would expect, but some of them, like Lust, turn the concepts on their head and offer a fresh look at the concept.

At the very least, their designs are all excellent, offering some visual storytelling in how they act and carry themselves.

Now, if we step back and look at Darksiders III from a broad perspective, there are some pretty awesome revelations and fan service across the course of the story. That being said, the developments that move the overarching narrative forward are sparse. I really liked the ending itself, but I would have loved to see a little more.

I suppose that’s the point of these side stories. All of them are building towards the same endpoint established by the first game in the series. Honestly, that’s fine by me, but I need to see that ending at some point, because I’m dying to know what happens next.

Changing The Formula Once Again

Darksiders III

It’s time to talk gameplay. As I said before, Darksiders has always paid homage to other gaming classics. The first game took a lot of inspiration from Zelda (in a good way), and the second title borrowed elements of Diablo with deeper RPG mechanics and a lot of loot to go around.

Darksiders III takes inspiration from the recent wave of what I like to call “Hardcore RPGs.” Many people would simply compare it directly to From Software’s games, but I think there are enough titles in this subgenre to warrant a term that encompasses all of them.

So, what defines a “Hardcore RPG?” It’s a focus on less enemies who have more power, and plenty of bombastic boss fights. In many cases, it’s also about stern punishments when you fail. In many cases this involves dropping all of your current EXP, forcing you to come back, conquer your failure, and pick it back up.

Darksiders III pays homage to both the Hardcore RPG subgenre, and the Metroidvania genre in its gameplay. Unlike other titles in these genres, there are multiple difficulties here that make it far more inclusive than others in this genre.

For example, playing on a high difficulty will certainly give you that experience where three hits will kill you and one mistake will most certainly be your last. Conversely, turning the difficulty down will offer a slightly more relaxed experience. It’s by no means easy on any difficulty, but there is some flexibility here that you won’t find in other similar titles.

As someone who has trouble getting into games that require you to “git gud” as it were, this was perfect for me. I was able to tweak the experience to a point where I felt challenged, but I never got so frustrated that I had to walk away. Younger me wouldn’t have cared, but I’m older now, and I don’t have the free time to practice a boss fight for hours on end so I can progress.

That option is there, though, for those who want the extreme challenge. I also appreciated how Darksiders III streamlines the RPG mechanics to keep the pacing tight. Your currency here is souls (as it has been since the first game), and the demon Vulgrim makes his triumphant return to devour said souls in exchange for your upgrades.

As you gather souls, you’ll go to Vulgrim points as your checkpoint and use those souls to purchase items or bank them towards attribute points each time you level up. Once you do level up, you can point that point into health, strength, or arcane damage. For weapon upgrades, you can warp back to Ulthane and spend crafting items you find to power up your tools of destruction and upgrade enhancements that are socketed into your weapons.

The enhancements you find offer some nice buffs to health, wrath, and havoc generation. They even feature both angelic and demonic paths for upgrades to add some depth. You’ll start the game with your trusty barbed whip and a series of combos to play with, but over the course of the game you’ll obtain four transformations called “Hollows” that each come with additional weapons.

You can’t switch hollows mid-combo, but you can chain together combos between your whip and the hollow weapon (assigned to the triangle button). Combat itself is punchy, fast, and satisfying for the most part.

The dodging mechanic, which is your only way of avoiding attacks, can be a little finicky. A perfect dodge is hard to judge, though I eventually got better at it, and the number of invincible frames during a dodge is pretty slim, so it’s possible to get hit while trying to jump out of the way.

When you do get a perfect dodge, you can press the square or triangle button to issue an arcane counterattack. These are always epic and immensely satisfying when they connect. You also charge up a unique wrath attack for each hollow and a powerful havoc form when that meter is full.

Given the options between weapons and hollows, I felt like the combat in Darksiders III was the best the series has seen. The boss fights themselves also felt pretty unique, with a few standouts in the mix. The dodging took some getting used to, but the only real downside to the experience were the technical issues I ran into.

Unfortunately there were stretches of the game that suffered from very inconsistent frame rates. This turned the combat into a gamble as enemies filled the screen. Now, despite these problems on PS4 Pro, the developers have already said patches are on the way. With these issues ironed out, the smooth combat can really shine.

The world this time is one connected place, with plenty of winding tunnels and shortcuts to be found if you’re looking. The team decided to cut out a minimap, instead opting for a compass that constantly points to your next target.

This inevitably resulted in me getting lost a few times, but it also compelled me to explore more than I ever have, so the trade-off was interesting. Having finished the game, I don’t think I want a minimap, but perhaps having one after you finished the game once would be helpful for those looking to mop up any remaining secrets or optional bosses (of which there are several).

While the gameplay of Darksiders III has been divisive in the community, there’s no denying that Gunfire Games has once again taken the series in a bold new direction. Each game has given the horsemen a unique identity from a gameplay perspective, and while the technical issues here hold back the combat from greatness, I found myself enjoying it a lot from beginning to end.

A Flawed Masterpiece

Darksiders III

I’ve always loved Darksiders from an artistic perspective. The original character designs from Joe Madureira really shine through once again here. I was also very happy to return to Earth, as I vastly prefer the post-apocalyptic style over the fantasy worlds of Darksiders II.

The various areas you go through in Darksiders III have a nice variety in their visuals. From the verdant trees of the opening area, to the dark subway tunnels, to the lava-filled hollows, there’s a lot going visually.

The soundtrack this time around is also incredible. The composer, Cris Valesco, really outdid themselves. The big orchestral themes, haunting vocals, and powerful percussion all lend the game a suitably epic feel.

It feels a little like the God of War soundtrack, and I mean that in the best way possible. The same level of intensity and strong use of brass here lends the same type of bombastic feel to many of the game’s tracks.

The soundtrack also knows when to bring it down a notch and rely on subtle woodwinds for the quieter moments. It’s an excellent musical element that has a lot of range and adds a ton to the emotions in the game’s narrative.

As a gamer, I’ve been inundated recently with open worlds, hundreds of hours per game, and sprawling lists of side quests. It’s great to have such massive games in my library, but sometimes I just want a solid 12 hour experience that leaves me feeling satisfied and accomplished.

Darksiders III was exactly that for me. Fury’s journey really felt like a transformation for her as a character. As a fan of the series, I also felt like I finally got some of the progression I wanted, and it certainly left me wanting more.

I wish it would have launched without some of the technical issues like frame rates drops, long load times, and flickering textures in the environment, but none of these things ruined the experience for me. I’m also confident that Gunfire Games will iron out the issues in due time.

For fans of the series, this is a no-brainer. Even if the combat turns you off, try it on a lower difficulty until you get the feel for it. For those who are curious, to you I say, there’s never been a better time to start the apocalypse.

Final Score: 8.5/10

A copy of Darksiders III was provided to PS4 Experts for review purposes

Article by - Bradley Ramsey
Insert date - 12/1/18

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