Review - 'Darksiders 3'
From the ashes of THQ’s demise, a lot was in question regarding the liquidation of its remaining IPs, among which was the Darksiders license. Created by comic book artist Joe Madureira and developed by Vigil Games, Darksiders was a linear Zelda-like disguised as a simple Hack-and-Slash action game which has since gained a cult following. The sequel was more ambitious, including large open sandbox areas, a brand new loot system, a fleshed out script with incredible voice acting talent, and media tie-ins such as comics and books. Unfortunately, by the time Darksiders 2 released, THQ was already going under and sadly, they took Vigil and Darksiders along with them.
That was, until Nordic Games, an Austrian game publisher, picked up the Darksiders IP and began work immediately on a third follow-up with the remnants of Vigil combined into Gunfire Games, a studio based right here in Austin, Texas. Though Darksiders 3 is scaled back compared to 2 with a more limited budget, it’s a comparable entry next to its predecessors with a protagonist worthy of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.
Darksiders 3’s story is convoluted, per the course of the series, yet easily the most streamlined it’s been since the first game. Taking place before War’s quest to uncover who started the apocalypse and during (it’s not really made clear) Death’s infinite fetch quest to prove War’s innocence, it’s Fury’s turn to find her place in the larger story of the Darksiders universe. Isolated on some world, Fury is called upon by the powers-that-be known as the Charred Council to hunt down the Seven Deadly Sins after they were released by the apocalypse. As Fury works to complete her task, a larger mystery unfolds and Fury comes to learn that there are greater cosmic consequences for her actions.
Though the journey is to stop ultimate evil from taking over Earth and the universe, it’s also about self-discovery. Fury is brash and cocky compared to her brothers, overly arrogant and will do anything to come out on top, even if it means belittling everyone around her. Fury’s character immediately makes her a fun successor to her brothers and a breath of fresh air compared to the stoic War and the compassionate Death. As the game progresses, there’s a growing duplicity to Fury as a world she holds no compassion for slowly starts to win her over, due to humanity’s constant perseverance to overcome great tragedies. Cissy Jones as Fury puts in a wonderful nuanced performance. She hams it up in the beginning as she should with Fury’s more wrathful side but there’s a slow building sympathy and compassion that boils over the course of the game, making Fury’s plight one that you want to see through to the end.
There are other returning characters of the Darksiders lore such as War, Vulgrim, and even Ulthane. The standouts of Darksiders 3, however, are the Seven Deadly Sins whose character designs and personalities are truly inspired. For example, modern pop culture is so used to the personification of Lust being a more sexually driven Sin with large breasts and little clothes so Gunfire Games instead approached the character as more of a lust for unattainable dreams and desires. Even the character design is so much better than any scantily-clad interpretation before it with Lust’s gender being wholly undefined as the character is voiced by a man, wears high heels, and refers to themselves in the third person, and looks like a Mortal Kombat character. Honestly, Lust is easily the coolest sin, but the others are no slouches either. Envy reflects an old crow witch, Avarice looks like the demonic offspring of Krampus and the Joker, Pride looks like the I-need-to-speak-with-a-manager in Angelic form, and Gluttony’s a large tentacled monster consuming everything in its path, and so on. The unique interpretations of each Sin made the game that much more engaging even though its environmental design and gameplay left a lot to be desired.
I think saying Darksiders 3’s combat to be a direct ripoff of Dark Souls is a tad pretentious. Yes, it does ape a lot of its mechanics but each entry in this series has its inspirations. Darksiders is the best not-Zelda Zelda game with the same combat design and exploration, meanwhile Darksiders 2 builds upon that with Diablo’s loot system so let’s not try to uphold Darksiders’ honor when it’s always wore its inspirations on its sleeve. With that out of the way, I enjoyed 3’s combat for the most part. Fury’s main weapon is her whip, making both close range enemies and long range a lot of fun to engage with but the combos are limited and nothing really beat the initial two or three you’ll memorize. She does collect four secondary weapons as the story progresses called Hollows, which can be changed out for one of the three others at any time. The loot system from Darksiders 2 is nowhere to be found so the weapons collected during the story are what you’re stuck with along with different environmental powers included with each. My favorite, the Force Hollow, is applied as a large lumbering hammer capable of decimating enemies and allowing Fury to become a ball of pure energy to traverse paths along walls and ceilings. Each Hollow is inviting, with their own movesets and combos but once you find a favorite, it’s probably what you’ll stick with it for the remainder of the game. Each weapon has a socket for Enchantments, which grant combat buffs and are extremely helpful.
Difficulty is ramped up this time, even on the normal setting to not-so-subtly match the roguelike mechanics of Dark Souls. In order to become stronger to match even stronger enemies, Fury must collect souls and present them to the in-game merchant, Vulgrim, who will then give the player a skill point that can be applied to Health (overall HP), Strength (Attack Damage), and Arcane (Dodge Attack Damager), each with their own caveats but pretty straight forward in their description. I finished the game around level 50, pouring most of mine into Health and Strength. Arcane is used specifically for damage implemented during a slow-mo last second dodge maneuver that Fury uses in combat, making engagement stylish and cool (though not as cool as Bayonetta). I used the dodge mechanic quite often but I never felt it necessary to pour as many souls into it as Strength since I’m more of an offensive player than defensive.
Outside of soul collecting and item buffs, you’ll also be collecting metals known as Adamantine, which can be given to Ulthane to upgrade weapons and enchantments for those weapons, making Fury an even more formidable opponent outside of her attribute build. At one point, around the fifty or sixty percent mark, I went ahead and dumped all of my collected Adamantine into my whip and holy moly, I just tore through the last act of the game without much resistance outside the boss fights.
Oh my god, the boss fights are easily the best of the Darksiders franchise. I’ve already gushed about the Sins but fighting them is just as much fun. While some are incredibly easy requiring little effort or thought, there are one or two that stick out in my mind that really hammered home what the Darksiders franchise has been truly missing: memorable bosses. Even the easiest bosses in this game are more memorable than any bosses of the two previous games and that’s really saying something.
Where the game truly falls flat though is in its puzzle and environment design. The Hollows you collect allow Fury to access earlier areas that were blocked off but little effort was put into enticing the player to explore each new area, and every puzzle is more of a rule-of-three item fetch quest that can easily be completed. The industrial environments that the game takes place in are extremely bland and often time downright ugly. The claustrophobic factory corridors offer little variety in terms of design and color compared to the open world fantasy of Darksiders 2, where each new area felt like a fantasy novel or comic book come to life. Darksiders 3 isn’t without its bright spots however. Areas such as The Scar and The Depths are absolutely breathtaking, especially the Depths which is a bio-luminescent underwater kingdom with a beautiful color pallet. Unfortunately, it’s an area that can be completed in less than thirty minutes, making it just a pit stop along a long road through a bland desert.
Easily my biggest gripe and probably why I’ll never revisit this game is the performance. I know it was made on a much smaller budget and Gunfire Games did what they could with what little they had, but even on the latest update on a PS4 Pro, the game just doesn’t run well. People have joked about Anthem’s load times but I thought this game’s were just as egregious and most of the game transpires in tight corridors instead of an open world. Here’s how a typical play session goes in Darksiders 3: You spend a minute on the initial black loading screen. At some point twenty minutes into playing, Fury will need to crawl through a vent which is used to hide additional loading times, after which she’ll run into a larger open area and a loading icon will appear in the bottom right corner of the screen, making the game appear frozen, then finally you can progress...until you have to crawl through another vent. At first I didn’t mind it because I was giving the developers the benefit of the doubt but when the game crashed several times during sequences like this, I got a little impatient and started to see through the cracks. Even worse, the framerate drops when too many enemies are on screen and in a heavy action game that’s dependent on attack timing, it’s really unacceptable for it to be dipping so harshly.
Darksiders 3 is an all right action game, made worse by its bland environments and poor performance. It’s not the best of the bunch, but most certainly not the worst. There is passion and commitment behind this entry in a series that I love, which leads me to hope the next game will be even better. Fury is a great addition to the horsemen but without her or the Seven Deadly Sins, there’s nothing really special about Darksiders 3.