If the action-adventure genre were a record label, the first two Darksiders games would be ‘Greatest Hits’ albums. Vigil Games seemingly collected all their favorite mechanics from games they loved, and then wove an epic saga with The Horsemen of The Apocalypse around these ideas. Their games were like the definition of flattery through imitation.
Now we have finally reached the third installment of this well-beloved franchise with a new adventure, a new post-apocalyptic world to explore, and a new horse… erm woman, named Fury, in the lead. True to its name, Darksiders III once again brings back this I.P.’s distinctive blend of environmental puzzle solving and melee combat mechanics, wrapped in the iconic visuals designed by the creator of the series, Joe Madureira.
Overall, I must disagree with some of the new directions that the Gunfire Games have steered the series into, in particular with raising the difficulty level of the combat and making the hit detection a little too finicky. While these changes certainly do not ruin the game, they feel rather unnecessary since the first two entries felt close to perfecting the unmistakable hack-‘n-slash style that only a Darksiders game could provide.
The tail of the horsemen… and a horsewoman
In the Darksiders mythos, The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse are Nephilim – basically what you get when angels and demons Netflix and chill. Moreover, they are the enforcers of a sacred balance between earth, heaven and hell. It is the duty of the Horsemen to ensure that, when judgment day befalls these three realms, they should all be on equal footing for the final war that will obliterate the universe.
There is just one teeny problem: Something started the Apocalypse before mankind was ready, which meant the earth was decimated in the conflict between angels and demons. The bringer of the Apocalypse is the horseman War, so The Charred Council holds him accountable for this major boo-boo. Both Darksiders II and III play out in parallel during the century of War’s imprisonment for his alleged crime.
In Darksiders III you play as the magenta-haired femme fatale named Fury. The Charred Council have tasked her with tracking down the seven deadly sins that have somehow escaped to Earth during the chaos of the premature Apocalypse. Your job is to put them back into the holes they came from in exchange for being proclaimed as the queen over the Four Horsemen.
Fury thus sets off to Earth where an army of demons, angels and monsters stand between her and her prey. If it wasn’t enough that the sins have built their lairs in truly dank locations of an abandoned metropolis, Fury is in for other surprises during her quest. With each sin she captures, Fury gets a little closer to the truth behind this ‘accidental’ Apocalypse.
I did find it a little strange that the game makes so little effort to explain the back-story I summarized above. I understand that not many people would just jump in at a game’s third installment (and that Wiki archives exist). However, anyone familiar with these games know that they take pride in building a dense and complex lore around them. Newcomers beware: You might not have a clue what is going on without some extra reading.
The making of a horseman
Tomb Raider, we need to talk because I think I am in love; Fury is an absolutely fantastic protagonist. At full risk of descending into hyperbole, she may be my new, most favourite female character lead ever. She actually reminded me of the old Lara Croft before Squeenix made her so somber and serious. Maybe I just miss Lara…
Anyhow, it was a refreshing change to play as a horseman that has been given a more intimate character arc because the first games seemed overly preoccupied with building up the Darksiders lore. The narrative puts considerable effort into portraying Fury not just as a total badass, but also as a character that experiences personal growth throughout the length of the campaign.
When players first meet her, she comes across as an aloof and cocky anti-hero just waiting for a chance to prove herself. Yet, as the plot develops, Fury gradually lets this façade crumble as she experiences moments of loss and despair. Through her transition into a more sympathetic and deeper character, she became, in my view, the most relatable and likable of the horsemen thus far.
The game world is Unreal
Gunfire Games have wisely chosen Unreal Engine 4 to give Darksiders its renaissance on modern platforms. In Darksiders III, the engine’s capability of handling particles, lighting effects and texture detail collectively turn Fury’s adventure into nothing short of a visual feast.
Fury herself really pops off the screen, and the added bonus of great voice acting imbues a palpable sense of life into her character (one or two lines of cheesy dialogue and all). Lesser enemies also never looked better in this series, but I must say the bosses take the cake. An incredible amount of thought has been put into how they personify the deadly sins.
Sloth is a repulsive, colossal bug, and the subways leading to his hideout are full of sticky eggs plastered on the ceiling and walls. Greed/Avarice on the other hand is a horned fiend inhabiting a lair built from all the treasures he has hoarded. It was certainly pretty cool how the different areas that you get to explore reflect the personalities of the abominations that lurk within.
The developers have also ditched the open worlds of the second game, and have steered Darksiderss III back to the more linear environmental design ideals of the first game. This is definitely not a bad thing as I felt all of that open space in Darksiders II sometimes gave the game a strangely sterile and empty feeling.
Fury will ultimately make her way through five sub-areas which range from underwater plateaus covered in bio-luminescent corals, to toxic, industrial wastelands swarming with zombie angels. The detail packed into these worlds makes them appear beautifully distinct from one another, and exploring for collectibles was generally a pleasure.
Each sin is tackled sequentially, which means the player will always have one primary heading on the in-game compass. As someone who habitually gets lost in games, this actually made things much easier. I could simply resume following the skull marker on the top of my screen whenever I got tired of exploring.
Still, a proper map always manages to give a sense of place like nothing else, and it would have been nice here. Not a serious problem, but something that I would have liked to see in the game.
On chains and whips (and it is not Fifty Shades of Grey)
Darksiders III is definitely the most combat-heavy of all three games so far, and sadly, the melee action represents the crux of my uneasiness with this game.
To squash the elephant in the room, this game plays almost nothing like Dark Souls, and it is beyond me why the comparison has been making its rounds. Small little aspects, like the ability to reclaim the souls you dropped after you died, or the emphasis on difficulty, show that certain subtle influences are clearly perceptible. Nevertheless, they collectively represent very light touches and you would be disappointed to look for a Souls experience here.
In exchange for a sword, Fury has a bladed whip as a primary weapon that she can use in variations of different combos with four ‘hollows’ that grant her a secondary, heavy attack. The aforementioned powers are bestowed upon her by an important character in the plot named Lord of the Hollows.
You will always know what hollow is active judging by the colour that glows from her hair, which is an enchanting alternative to a UI icon. Aside from granting her combat powers, Fury’s hollows also have a metroidvania effect in that they allow her to access certain areas, but the also form part of her puzzle-solving abilities.
Some issues though…
Generally speaking, the combat provides a good package and it is far from broken, but some infuriating problems are impossible to ignore. The first worth mentioning is how Fury’s whip targets enemies.
Imagine fighting with a bladed whip for just a moment. I’ll bet you’re thinking of a weapon that strikes in sweeping, circular motions around you, right? This is after all the advantage of a weapon that can flex and several games have taken capitalised on this idea (e.g. Castlevania).
In Darksiders III, Fury only really seems to strike enemies positioned right in front of her. If you are fighting one on one, this is hardly a problem (such as during most boss battles). When being swarmed by enemies on the other hand, it makes Fury’s terrifying whip seems pathetically ineffectual when the lashes seem to pass right through them.
Another major let down is how damage is given and received. While the animations of Fury herself suggest she is wielding a weighty, dangerous weapon, enemies barely seem to feel its impact. In fact, they often just complete their own hit animation ending with Fury taking damage anyway.
I also noticed that Fury’s flinch animation lasts far too long when she takes a hit. Even light attacks from smaller enemies will make her recoil with a resounding “AAAARRGH!!!” giving the combat a very unlikable and stop-start experience at times. The effect is that it makes Fury seem overly fragile and weak, and lies at the root of that excessive difficulty curve I mentioned earlier.
Thankfully, this is somewhat alleviated by a dodging mechanic that really started to grow on me after some practice. When your dodge is timed juuuuuuuust right, Fury has the option to deliver an ‘Arcane Counter.’ This is just a fancy way of saying she executes an extremely potent counterattack with high damage. I highly recommend getting good at this especially if you are playing on anything aside from easy difficulty.
Last, but unfortunately not least, this game has some asinine checkpoints. The developers thought it wise to let the game make autosaves only when you walk past Vulgrim’s (in-game merchant) serpent holes, but the truth is that they are spaced too damn far apart. I actually stopped playing during one session because I was not willing to trek halfway across the game again for the umpteenth time.
A tentative recommendation
Despite a highly undesirable save system, and a missed opportunity to come up with a more intuitive combat mechanics, I would happily recommend giving Darksiders III a go. I am well aware of the less than stellar reception it has been getting, and to tell you the truth this seems ridiculously unfair. Certain games have been judged far less harshly that I found to be much, MUCH worse.
Darksiders III is one of those games that you mustn’t fight with if you want to enjoy it, and I think this is why so many reviewers were put off. This game is admittedly much harder than the first two as most enemies can often kill you in three or four hits. For a Darksiders game to host combat of this difficulty just feels out of touch with its core strengths.
Yet, the more I grew intimate with what Darksiders III was trying to do, the more complex and engaging its combat system became. Fury’s fighting becomes a delightfully acrobatic affair once I consistently aced those arcane counters. The four hollows also add several interesting outcomes to your encounters with enemies making them significantly easier to defeat later in the game.
The good news is that the developers have heard our concerns, and with patch after patch, Darksiders III is beginning to move back to what fans really want from this game. About halfway through my playthrough, the first patch was released and the difference between how the game played after I installed it was like night and day.
If you are a thoroughbred fan of this franchise, this game will take some getting used to. Despite some of the more unwelcome innovations introduced here, rest assured that Fury’s story remains extremely committed to the Darksiders lore and ideals, which leaves a pretty good chance that it will eventually win fans over. For newbies, this might even be a pretty enjoyable hack-‘n-slash adventure, especially if this game serves as an introduction to the rest of the series.
- Lovely protagonist
- Excellent visual design
- Old-school hack-‘n-slash
- Boss fights
- Very good sound design
- Too difficult for this series
- Horrible save points
- Occasional camera issues
- Combat hit detection
- No chance to ride a horse??
Playtime: 23 hours total. For single player campaign with a substantial amount of time spent looking for collectibles
Computer Specs: Windows 10 64-bit computer using GTX 1070, i5 4690K, 16GB RAM