by Joel France
reviewed on PC
SEVEN DEADLY SINS
Darksiders III begins with a cinematic exposition sequence to get everybody up to speed — at least until interrupted by a disdainful voice imploring the narration to ‘get on with it’. This serves as a succinct introduction to the Horseman we’ll be playing this time around, Fury — whose character motivations seem driven, unsurprisingly, by rage, anger, and a myriad other shades of fiery emotion. Fury is tasked with hunting down and capturing the Seven Deadly Sins who are scattered across the remnants of civilization on Earth, with only her trusty whip to help her.
Once you’ve landed amongst the ruined buildings of Earth (and right next to your first target, Envy — what luck!) you’re introduced to the massive tree that houses Darksiders III’s central hub; Haven. This is where you’ll be upgrading your weaponry, as well as sending any human survivors you find throughout your travels. The lower level of this hub area has spokes leading in a variety of directions, though in true metroidvania fashion, it’s only once you start gaining some extra abilities that you’re able to pick and choose which path to follow. For example, after gaining the Fire Hollow — an upgrade that turns Fury’s whip into two blazing flails and adds a spicy charge jump to your vertical mobility — I was able to make short work of some thick webbing that blocked my path, as well as power over high walls that were previously inaccessible.
With the game allowing you a fair amount of choice as to what order you tackle the Sins, it’s hard for the narrative to convey any kind of cohesive story or character arcs other than the broadest of strokes. The majority of cut-scenes play out just prior to a fight with one of the Seven, and so Fury’s growth throughout the game, whilst hinted at, is never really explored effectively. It does seem like Gunfire Games had a redemption story of sorts up their sleeve, but sadly it is not given the opportunity to shine. The visual design of the Sins, however, is pleasingly wacky and serves to effectively convey their character traits. In fact, the aesthetic of the game as a whole is managed tastefully — whilst the graphical fidelity is not going to drop any jaws, the art design of the stages, particularly the early areas, is still beautiful. Wandering through a dilapidated city, strewn with rusting vehicles and overgrown with grass, feels reminiscent of the sprawling shots from I Am Legend or The Last Of Us, where nature is calmly reclaiming itself from humanity’s designs.
THE SINCEREST FORM OF FLATTERY
Darksiders III wears its influences proudly — a fusion of Zelda classics and Dark Souls, though leaning heavily on the latter — the approach to world design is intensely familiar to anyone who has experienced that series. But it’s not just the broad strokes of an interconnected world with verticality, and the lack of a map. Extensive borrowing of Souls staples runs deep through the design: the different stages of upgrade materials, the unified currency for vendors and leveling up, dropping said currency upon death. There’s even a boss fight which is an unmistakable re-imagining of the infamous Ornstein & Smough, right down to the big guy wielding an oversized hammer. The issue permeating Darksiders III is that many of these elements appear to have been added wholesale, without careful tuning to make sure it fits within the design.
Take combat, for example. The animation of Fury’s attacks, combined with oh-so-satisfying sound design (particularly for the later upgrades) makes encounters feel weighty yet responsive. The quick weapon combos, when paired with dodges that rely on perfect timing to deliver powerful counter blows, encourage a fast-paced, reactive play-style, with Fury dancing about with her enemies at whips-length. However, the mid-fight healing mechanics throw this out the window — Fury holds her arm high and lazily gestures to invoke the Nephilim’s Respite (this games’ version of Dark Souls’ Estus flask). The time taken to perform this action safely means you’ll need to awkwardly retreat from battle; not an easy task when enemies match your movement speed, prowl in large numbers, and are exceedingly aggressive. The insertion of this risk/reward healing, a core tenet of the Souls series, feels at odds with the rest of the combat design. Perhaps a more elegant solution could have been found — maybe to only allow healing after executing a perfect dodge, further helping players to engage with the combat as designed. Look at 2016’s Doom for inspiration, a game that felt best with you pushing consistently forward into the demon horde — forcing you to get up close and personal with your targets in order to spawn any healing drops.
HELL HATH NO FURY
After getting my first couple of extensive upgrades, I could feel the world and its myriad routes opening up, that giddy thrill of having free reign to get lost and stumble across something important. It was not long after this point, though, that the game threw its toys out of the pram — the toys in this metaphor being my save file. I had previously been experiencing some minor graphical hitches, but nothing too serious — I chalked it up to my modest graphics card showing its age. However in this instance, upon exiting a cut-scene (in which half the assets had not managed to load), I was left perpetually hanging on a loading screen. Upon restarting, I was repeatedly booted back to the main menu no matter what I tried — my file was toast, and that was that. With no option to roll back to an earlier point, I had to simply start the game from the very beginning. Whilst I was able to get back up to speed in less than half my original time, this would provide little comfort had I been nearing the end of the game. The small silver lining was that replaying the early segments highlighted the extent to which Darksiders III’s level design had taught me to navigate through its vertically stacked environment — within minutes of restarting I could see the area where my previous save had met its untimely end, and I knew exactly what path I would need to take to get there.
Whilst Darksiders III does not feel insincere, even with the heavy borrowing from its design influences, it does feel inelegant. Many decisions seemingly were made on the basis of ‘How Dark Souls Would Do It’, rather than considering how those design choices would affect the experience in their own game. It comes together to form a game that feels earnest yet ultimately unsatisfying, and with the issues of stability that seem to plague the game, it’s difficult to recommend. The narrative attempts to hit all the emotional beats, but the execution is fumbled as a result of not being able to control for non-linearity. Series veterans may appreciate the added lore this game brings, but don’t expect much in the way of a satisfying resolution. It’s great to see Gunfire Games refreshing the Darksiders formula — they just haven’t quite nailed the dismount on this one.
Some beautiful art & sound design, tongue-in-cheek dialogue.
Worrying performance issues, reliant on mechanics lifted from other titles, narrative is poorly executed.