Game name: Darksiders III
Release date: November 27, 2018
Price: US$ 59.99
Genre: Third person action
Developer: Gunfire Games
Publisher: THQ Nordic
Playing Darksiders III just after immersing myself in Assassin’s Creed Odyssey‘s representation of Ancient Greece served as a great way of highlighting how different games were back in the beginning of this decade. Both are open world action titles, but Gunfire Games‘ latest feels like the product of a different generation, an action game focused on a single storyline, with no intentions of offering branching paths or a map filled to the brim with question marks that must be unveiled lest we think that we are missing out in the all important “content” that defines today’s big budget releases. Interestingly, Darksiders III‘s approach felt more refreshing than Ubisoft’s, despite being the same approach countless game developers used when creating jewels of generations past. This is not an attack on the “Ubisoft open world design school” or anything of the sort, as I loved Odyssey (and Origins, to a certain extent). It’s more like a reflection on how things we once took for granted have been slowly phased out in favor of more popular ideas.
The basic setup for the game is very simple: Fury, our protagonist, must hunt down the seven Deadly Sins, released from their prison by the apocalyptic conflict unleashed during the first game’s events. Her motives aren’t exactly noble, but the Horseman (Horsewoman, Horseperson?) will always have this objective in mind while traversing the ruins of our once mighty planet. With a few exceptions, we can actually get to the Deadly Sins (which act as challenging bosses) in any order we choose. As a character, Fury initially feels very flat and almost unlikable, but she has a quite well done arc which quickly establishes her as not only a bonafide bad-ass, but also a nice person under all the rage and barely contained violence. Players who haven’t acquainted themselves with the previous games might have some trouble following the story, as it references characters from both Darksiders I and II, but otherwise it’s simple and effective.
At a glance, we could say the same thing about Darksiders III‘s gameplay, as it starts with a relatively straightforward mix of attacks, coupled with a generous jump, and a dash move that doubles as dodge button. This couldn’t be further from the truth, however, since the game offers a nice amount of combos that can be chained together from the two main attacks at our disposal, plus the movement abilities. Our heroine isn’t as sturdy as Death or War were, and must rely on the dodge maneuver in order to outwit her opponents and close in for the kill. Of course, a perfect evasion will grant us the chance to hit back at our enemies with our full might, as expected from a game of this type, and there will be even more options at our disposal as we advance through the story.
There is a catch, however, which is the camera system during fights, as it will manage to kill the player more times than even the most dangerous bosses. Sadly, it would seem that the otherwise incredibly talented individuals working at Gunfire Games didn’t think we would have too much trouble fighting many enemies at once with the nimble yet vulnerable Fury, and thus, they situated the camera very close to our heroine’s body. This works just fine during one on one encounters, and actually serves as a great way of showcasing the excellent animations and detailed models found on both enemies and our own character, but once we face more than two or three foes at once, things will go south FAST. Small white arrows serve as indicators for off-screen attacks, but in my experience even with that visual help enabled, crowded battles were always a chore and by far the worst part of the game for me. A serviceable lock-on mechanic works wonders during smaller scale fights (or boss encounters), but once again, it doesn’t help when the game decides to make us face a horde of smaller creatures.
With that (fairly major) criticism out of the way, let’s talk about the progression system, which is actually quite good. Instead of just doling out new weapons, progressing through Darksiders III‘s plot will reward us with special forms (called Hollows) that not only let Fury unleash her rage with new tools, but also allow us to traverse the world in different ways, opening up pathways that were previously closed, and accessing new story areas or hidden resource caches. The former will be easy to identify, as we have a sort of tracker for the Deadly Sins, in the form of a skull icon that changes color as we approach our targets, and the latter will be very useful if we intend to keep our character in shape for the dangers that lurk ahead. What does this mean? Well, there are a few upgrade systems that let us trade in the souls of our enemies for more health, stronger attack power, etc, and we can also use special resources found in the world to power up our weaponry at a special forge manned by the always useful Makers. Weapon upgrades vary from simple damage boosts to more interesting enhancements that can be swapped out and inserted into other tools of war in our possession, and thanks to those, we can have stuff like life-steal, for instance (very useful as our character is squishy, and the health replenishment options at hand are not plentiful).
Should we fall in battle, we’ll respawn at the last Vulgrim gate we visited (Vulgrim is a demonic entity from the previous games, who serves as shopkeeper, upgrade menu, fast travel master and checkpoint all in one character) with all our souls gone. Of course, this isn’t the end for these pesky floating upgrade points, as we can go seek out the place where we died and recover them, provided we survive this time around. Aside from using souls as ways of getting upgrade points, we can also exchange them for different items that can help us in combat, though their price increases as we purchase more and more of them.
The world of Darksiders III is actually quite vast, and all of its sectors are interconnected, with new ones unlocking as we obtain Hollows. This encourages exploration, and there’s also a light puzzle solving aspect that will be present at all times as we traverse this post-apocalyptic Earth. Of course, anyone expecting to find the next Myst here will be sorely disappointed, but compared to recent action games, Fury’s adventure through the ruins of our world features a surprising amount of clever (yet relatively straightforward) puzzles.
Moving on to the tech side, Darksiders III features an exaggerated art style that eschews realism in exchange for majestic scale, just like the two previous games in the series. The texture work isn’t always up to the standards one would expect in 2018, but to be honest, I’d have a hard time calling the game ugly or dated, as the mix of lighting effects and striking art style works wonders. Performance-wise, I encountered a few areas where both my test systems had stuttering issues at launch, but the latest patch has alleviated my concerns as I didn’t encounter the same problems upon revisiting the problematic sectors. Cris Velasco’s music was also a highlight of the experience for me, though it doesn’t reach the highs of the Darksiders II soundtrack (which was crafted by the always masterful Jesper Kyd). The real surprise on the audio front comes from the voice work, however. Every single character feels believable thanks to the artists working on their voices, with Cissy Jones taking the crown with her fiery performance as Fury.
Wrapping up, Darksiders III is a welcome surprise in today’s gaming landscape. Its focus on tight action gameplay and excellent world design over massive maps or branching narrative paths feels refreshing, and were it not for some annoying camera issues, Fury’s tale could easily be the best in the series. As it stands, it’s still worthy of standing shoulder to shoulder with its predecessors, and I can’t wait for the inevitable fourth entry in the franchise.
8.5/10 – Great.