I have been a longtime fan of the Darksiders series ever since the first entry was introduced to me through PlayStation Plus in 2013. It’s combination of God of War-esque combat and weapon upgrades and Zelda-like level design and puzzles were exactly what 18-year-old Emmett was looking for. However, while I dug the exaggerated art-style and the exciting ending, the narrative was always something I didn’t care for. It was never outright bad, it just always just felt like a collection of proper nouns that I never cared to engage with long enough to understand. Furthermore, it was never the most polished of its ilk, as some of the puzzles and platforming challenges felt obtuse or unfair. But otherwise, it’s positives were more than enough to make it a gem of last generation.
Now, 8 years after the original, and 6 since the last entry, we have yet another Darksiders game. But despite the vastly different landscape of the modern gaming industry, Darksiders III has somehow been influenced very little by the shift in standards, and that is both the game’s biggest strength and weakness.
After following War in the first game, and Death in the second, Darksiders III follows Fury, a Horseman (Horsewoman?) of the Apocalypse who’s commanded by the Charred Council to capture the 7 deadly sins. These sins manifest themselves as appropriately themed boss battles that take place across a recently destroyed Earth. The narrative is perfectly serviceable, but it fails the admittedly difficult task of standing up to any of the standout gaming narratives of this generation, let alone this year. It does have a few interesting final twists and, as with Darksiders II, Fury does show a satisfying bit of character development by the end. But ultimately, the narrative is little more than justification to get your hack and slash on. But since the story only took 15 hours to complete, even with some sidetracking, I was glad to play a game that respected my time so much when compared to the many open world epics and online games of this generation.
Speaking of hacking and slashing, that is what you’ll be doing for most of the game, and I’m glad to report if feels great. Combat has always been the strongest suit of the series and that is still the case. Familiar elements like the slow building Havoc form and Zelda like lock-on return, but there are many changes. Because Fury’s whip is used for medium range combat and the four alternate weapons are meant for close range, both complement each other nicely. Fury’s whip can be used to close the gap on enemies, and then a follow up combo using the Mallet of Scorn. The whip is the most obvious departure from the combat of the prior games, as, much like the original God of War games, it also has traversal abilities and has a distinctive look that matches the style of Fury. There’s also an immensely satisfying dodge counter system, not unlike the ones in Platinum games, that you’ll come to rely on as it is often you most high-damage attack.
Each of Fury’s alternate weapons are gained through Hollows, elemental-like forms that she can switch between on the fly, giving her a new traversal ability, Wrath ability, and, of course, alternate weapon. For example, the Force Hollow gives you the Mallet of Scorn, which repels enemies with hard hits, a Wrath ability that pushes back any enemies that are swarming Fury, and the ability to roll up specific surfaces in a Force ball, as well as walk underwater. Each of these serve as an ability loadout, because while Fury’s basic move set will stay mostly the same throughout, you’ll need to use her Fire Hollow to long jump, her Storm Hollow to glide after jumps, and her Stasis Hallow to wall jump up shafts. Knowing which Hollow to equip isn’t difficult, as enemies don’t require specific Hollows to defeat, so you’ll mostly be switching for puzzle purposes.
This all makes for a combat system that is fun, though only as varied (or stagnant) as you want it to be. It remained satisfying throughout, but there are some quirks that, now, can be easily avoided. As of Dec. 21, 2018, a patch has been released that allows you to choose between Classic combat (which plays more like Darksiders 1-2) or Default (a more methodical combat system that originally shipped with the game). In Default, the only mode available when I beat the game, using healing or other items requires a 2 second animation to play, during which you are completely vulnerable to attacks. Even more brutal, you are unable to dodge to cancel out these animations, so a poorly timed melee combo or item use is enough to get half of your health knocked off. And since this game, even on the medium difficulty, can take you from full health to dead in 5 for fewer strikes, those precious seconds lost to animations are immensely frustrating. I say all this to stress how important it is to enable Classic combat upon launching the game. You can use items instantly and dodge-cancel any animation. After trying it out for a few hours, it puts the control that felt lost in the other mode back into your hands. With this new addition, I even feel confident enough to consider replaying on the hardest difficulty, despite a few of the bosses frustrating me to no end in my original playthrough.
But one of the things that made the challenge easier to swallow was the many upgrade systems in the game. Souls, gained by defeating enemies, destroying objects in the environment, or finding secret caches, is the primary currency in the game and is used not only to level up Fury, but also to purchase consumable items and socketable weapon enhancements, and components for weapon upgrades. All souls (except for caches) are dropped upon death (yes, like Dark Souls), which makes using any of Vulgrim’s shops an even more precious moment. As for those weapons upgrades, you won’t be adding new moves to any of your weapons. You start with a very extensive move list for each weapon as soon as you acquire it, and any further upgrades are purely just damage boosts. However, there is some variety with the enhancements, and each of them give a subtle boost to your weapons, such as life steal upon damaging an enemy or giving a larger invincibility window while dodging. Outside of these Enhancements, upgrading is very linear in Darksiders III, which is a notable, though accepted, change from the skill tree of the second game.
But enough about combat and upgrades, there are also many environmental puzzles to solve, and while there seem to be less of them then previous games (Darksiders II especially), they are a great change of pace from the breakneck combat. Once you figure out the end goal, most of the puzzles in the game are straight forward and take advantage of each of your Hollow abilities. But there are 2-3 of them that are annoyingly obtuse. In these cases, I correctly guessed the method to completing the puzzle, but I just missed a timing window. The game doesn’t often make clear if you’re failing a puzzle due to not finding the solution or due to timing, and when that confusion rises after several attempts, I felt the only alternative was walkthroughs online. This is a minor complaint, but one none the less.
Also, with the deemphasis of puzzles also comes significantly fewer platforming challenges. While the previous games had extended platforming segments that felt inspired by moments in older Ratchet and Clank games, this game lacks any of that, as platforming now only serves as a brief change from straight up walking. Not that it was missed, but alongside the other games, it is another notable change.
Level design is a big step up for the series. There’s a distinctive look to each environment in the game, and they remain ascetically pleasing thanks to Gunfire Games not being afraid to embrace the entire color pallet. But the stand out feature of the level design is how nearly every playable space in the game is connected to each other, much like, again, Dark Souls. You could walk from the first area of the game all the way to the last area, and it makes the game feel less like the open world of the last game and more like one gigantic and intricate dungeon. It’s a really great design idea, and despite the Half Life 2-esque loading that happens when entering some larger areas, it’s does help to make the word feel more cohesive, especially when revisiting locations to use new abilities to find secrets. Though, when finding these secrets, there is no in-game map or UI elements to make backtracking easier.
All these elements come together to make a game that I thoroughly enjoyed. The combat was visceral, and the combat patch removed my biggest frustrations with the system. Art and level design was a standout and seeing how twisted the design of each Deadly Sin was gave the game a lot of personality. Despite the fewer puzzles and platforming sections, the ones that were there rarely frustrated me. The new upgrading system, while more linear, was fun to climb, and the narrative, while it took a backseat to the gameplay, kept me engaged throughout.
However, despite the praise I have for Darksiders III, I just can’t shake the fact that this gave feels like nothing else on the market. This game teleported me back to the early years of adulthood on my PS3, where mid-tier games like Darksiders, Singularity, and Saints Row defined my time on the system. Games like these aren’t the most polished, or unique, but they were always fun and had a core concept that was undeniably great. And despite coming out in the same year as God of War’s reboot, Red Dead Redemption 2, and Florence, Darksiders feels like it’s stuck in the past. Other than the inspirations form the Souls-Borne games, it doesn’t feel like Darksiders III has taken much inspiration from more modern games. It lacks the more cinematic nature and impeccable polish of games like Uncharted and God of War, nor does it have the massive glut of content found in open worlds like Assassin’s Creed Odyssey and Red Dead Redemption 2.
This may make for a game that makes for a less compelling case for your $60 purchase (an issue I didn’t face, as I snagged the game for $25 at launch thanks to a Facebook Marketplace deal). But for me, this was perfect, as I’ve slowly become annoyed with the trend of overly expansive games. While I love coming back to online games like Black Ops 4 and Destiny 2, the constant updates they receive make me feel behind if I’m not coming back (and sometimes, buying DLC) almost weekly. I adore open world games, but God of War and Red Dead Redemption 2 nearly over stayed their welcome to me, despite both being some of my favorites of the year.
Darksiders III is the opposite of those, so despite the problematic aspects of the game, it’s positives not only satisfied me, but did so for not a moment longer than I wanted to. And at this time in my gaming life, it’s exactly what I wanted.