Title: Darksiders III
Developer: Gunfire Games
Publisher: THQ Nordic
Genre: Adventure, Action, Role Playing
Platform: Xbox One
Audience: PEGI 16
Release Date: 27/11/2018
Price: £44.99 – Rapid Reviews UK was very kindly provided with a review code for this game.
What the Developers say
Return to an apocalyptic Earth in Darksiders III, a hack-n-slash Action Adventure where players assume the role of FURY in her quest to hunt down and dispose of the Seven Deadly Sins. The most unpredictable and enigmatic of the Four Horsemen, FURY must succeed where many have failed – to bring balance to the forces that now ravage Earth. Darksiders III is the long-anticipated, third chapter in the critically-acclaimed Darksiders franchise.
• Play as FURY – a mage who must rely on her whip and magic to restore the balance between good and evil on Earth!
• Harness FURY’s magic to unleash her various forms – each granting her access to new weapons, moves and traversal abilities.
• Explore an open-ended, living, free-form game world in which FURY moves back and forth between environments to uncover secrets while advancing the story.
• Defeat the Seven Deadly Sins and their servants who range from mystical creatures to degenerated beings.
• Sit in awe of Darksiders signature art style – expansive post-apocalyptic environments that take the player from the heights of heaven to the depths of hell, dilapidated by war and decay and overrun by nature.
Darksiders III is the latest chapter in the Darksiders games series and the first to be developed by Gunfire Games. This entry adds to the story initially conceived by the oft-imitated comic book artist, Joe Madureira. It’s a convoluted retelling of the post-apocalyptic tale of the Four Horseman, known in this particular fictional realm as War, Death, Fury, and Strife. Darksiders III focuses on Fury’s storyline.
Looks and Sounds
(Note: I had initially written this review before the patch was released. I have since replayed the game with the patch and have updated my review where appropriate.)
A few caveats: I played this directly after finishing out Red Dead Redemption 2, where anything placed against its stunning vistas would look last gen – but, even with that said, the graphics are not where they should or could be. During cut-scenes, the hi-res textures are slow to load and fill in, and environments are static. Another sticking point, Fury’s hair is a large part of her characterisation but appears to be the area least concentrated on, coming across as choppy and polygonal. It looks out-of-place with the rest of her, especially as her armour is so detailed and smooth.
I had several graphical glitches crop up throughout the entire playthrough – this was still true even after the patch. In fact, I was able to glitch into a higher level without unlocking the needed Hollow Stone for progression by merely falling through the floor and making my way to a nearby save point.
Of the three in the series so far, this game looks the least Madureira-style influenced (although Fury in her electrical Hollow form undeniably draws parallels to his Marvel-era Storm). The cannon-fodder demons have no discernible features that separate them from each other, except the bigger ones are harder to take down and give you more souls, which you can use as currency. Oh, and sidenote: smash everything. Even the trash cans have souls in this world.
In contrast, the music and ambient sounds are downright gorgeous. The soundtrack injects a bit of emotion into an otherwise banal script, with swelling orchestral and choral music continuously rising and falling in the background. I would happily listen to the soundtrack as background music during my workday.
Gameplay and Replayability
If you take Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver, add a dash of Bayonetta, and a dollop of Dark Souls – you will get Darksiders III. Or at least you will see what Darksiders III was going for but missed by a poorly mistimed swing-jump.
After a scattered introduction that confuses more than explains, our feisty horseman without a horse, Fury, is dropped right into the action and confronted with the first boss almost immediately. This was more than a minor annoyance as I was just beginning to understand the button-smashing basics, which are flashed onscreen in blink-and-you-will-miss-it haste.
To be charitable, the battle itself was probably meant to be a tutorial but instead is overly tedious in its repetition. There is a point, halfway in the battle, where your opponent, Envy, takes to the air. To reach her, you must perform a ridiculous number of swing-jumps and flips onto progressively higher ledges and inexplicable appearing chain-logs. While you climb, your enemy floats patiently above as she shouts the same phrase about your death being easy over and over. Finally, when you get up to the tallest ledge, the air combo to bring her down flashes on-screen but, as I was reading it, she killed me with a wave attack.
It was so sudden that I actually thought the game had crashed. My demise was followed by a loading screen with a load-time so long that the excitement of battle had begun to wear off. Also, it should be noted, that I was started back at the beginning of the game instead of at the boss fight. So, back into battle I ran, and back to the air Envy took and back up the ledges I climbed, until I missed the last jump-swing, fell to the floor and had to go back up it all again. It was at this point that I was starting to understand why the lead protagonist is named Fury because I was definitely feeling it. By the time I had reached the top ledge again, I was low on health, so I pushed the button to replenish it, but before the restoration animation finished, Envy’s airwave knocked me out again. (Note: this was fixed in the update. There is no longer an animation, and you are now healed immediately.)
I would eventually defeat her, but as the game progressed, I was struck by the lack of story-logic within the Darksiders III world itself. If you go back to a play like Far Cry 3, Half-Life 2 or even the original Tomb Raider, you will see that, although far-fetched at times, the platforming puzzles had a sort of story-logic behind them. There were reasons that fallen logs or giant concrete blocks were found in the positions that they were. Not so in Darksiders III, where logic no longer exists in post-apocalyptic…New York, I think? You know, I don’t think they ever say where you are exactly.
Later in the game, there are elemental puzzles that only Fury (or someone special who just happens to have the special ‘Hollow Stones’ that were specially granted to her, primarily, by the Lord of Hollows) would be able to solve. All I could think was: why would the demons have even built them in the first place? How did they know about the Hollow elements? Why would they engineer their own demise?
Throughout the game, you are given several different weapons and powers that correlate to the Hollows as you receive them. Depending on your play style, you’ll probably never end up using any of the other weapons you’re granted. My style is distinctly ‘hack and slash’, so her default ‘Thorn Whip’ suited me just fine. There are several ‘Move Sets’ included with each weapon, whose button-combos are listed in a dizzying menu system. It wasn’t long before I found my groove with the ‘Flip Saw’ Move Set and pretty much used that the rest of the game. It was very effective, as was the “dodge, dodge, attack” rhythm I fell into. Fair warning, though, the whip is not precisely accurate. I found attacking enemies standing just slightly higher up on a platform quite literally ‘hit and miss’. But, all in all, when the whip did land, it was really satisfying.
Along with the multi-level menus, Darksiders III has a just as confusing amount of button pushing combos that are needed to solve puzzles. Because it’s an environmental puzzler whose main character has elemental powers that have to be frequently switched between, you are continually having to go through button-presses that never became second nature or fluid enough while you’re, let’s say, in the middle of a jump. Bearing in mind, as I mentioned before, I had just put aside Red Dead Redemption 2, where most people where punching their horses and shooting their neighbours accidentally but I had no such issues. Getting Fury to switch between Storm Hollow and Stasis Hollow, though? An exercise in frustration.
Towards the end of the game, Fury has an utterly unnecessary cutscene and a possible battle with the demon, Abraxis. I say possibly because in a game that is an inline, on-the-rails puzzle platformer – they threw in two completely arbitrary moral choices. OK, yes, your decision changes the ending scene. That’s…it, as far as I understand. (I chose the path of least resistance in both choices, and I’m pretty sure I got the good ending. At least everybody seemed happy. Meh, sometimes playing both sides of the fence has its advantages.)
That takes me to the writing. This game is terribly written. It’s ham-fisted in the way a fist would have ham on it. I still don’t know where this game fits within the timeline of the others, and I made myself sit through timeline videos on YouTube to catch up. Most of them seemed confused, too. If I had to guess, I think it takes place between Darksiders I & II. I guess…
Now, Fury, again the horseman who doesn’t actually have a horse because reasons, I like. It could be because there is a dearth of thicc strong female fighter characters in games, but I felt drawn to her, for the most part. Especially when I shouted at the game for being an idiot at around the same time, she shouted at her Watcher for being an idiot. The high-heeled boots were a bit much, but in a game where an old, giant dude is carrying a massive Ark of the Covenant on his back, the boots were the least physical improbability, so I let that slide.
It’s relatively apparent that the writers are never sure where Fury’s characterisation lies. They had her at points being arrogant and gunning for…the lead position of the Four Horseman? Yeah, I know. The first game was all about them being a team, and your heart swells at the end, blah blah blah – apparently Fury wasn’t a team player at first. Kind of. Sort of? OK, that’s never fully explained. Again, the timeline is confusing.
At other points, they try to…humanise…her by having A Really Sad ThingTM happen but it was done so poorly in one instance that I giggled instead of being rendered in twain with sadness. Around the middle, something very disjointed to the rest of the narrative happens: supposedly Fury undergoes some kind of emotional character growth but you only know because the Watcher declares it aloud: “M’lady, you’ve changed!” There literally was no change in Fury’s character but they shoehorn in weird, out-of-place declarations like that at several points. It’s like if you had an interpreter onscreen screaming at the player, “You’re supposed to be sad here!
Also, if you’ve played any of the previous Darksiders games, you’ll no doubt predict the “plot twist” after your first boss battle. I did and found myself disappointed by their lack of creativity. The plot-holes are many, with characters appearing at the beginning, disappearing for no known reason and reappearing inexplicably towards the end in a kind of “Ta-da! We totally fooled you!” way that a 5-year-old does a magic trick.
It’s not all bad. The voice acting is on point, with some well-known talent lending their pipes. My favourite being Phil LaMarr doing Vulgrim, the Capitalist Demon, who mans the fast-travel points and brokers in souls for upgrades.
Overall, I’m disappointed in Darksiders III. I wanted to like the game. I enjoyed Fury, I have always loved Madureira’s style, and I like post-apocalyptic lore. Unfortunately, it’s not enough to carry this game for me. The graphics are lacking, the controls are clunky, and the story contrived yet confusing. It was a never-ending frustration for me, with long load-times, poor writing and tedious puzzles that felt like they were being used to pad out an otherwise low-content game.