Darksiders III Review
On one hand, in Darksiders III, you have a solid hack-and-slash platform game with a meaty backstory and some really fantastic design choices and artstyle. But on the other hand you have yet another hack-and-slash style platform game with meaty backstory only if you’ve played the last two games and more of the same design choices and style copy and pasted from said previous games. The result is a perfectly serviceable installment for the Darksiders franchise, but overall it’s one lacking in any real punch and individual charm.
Forget the mechanics and game design for a moment because the fundamental issue, I believe, is that someone at Gunfire Games thought it would be a brilliant idea to not actually recap the previous two Darksiders in any decent way — which wouldn’t be a problem if Darksiders 2 wasn’t six years old and the original Darksiders (which this game actually runs parallel to) wasn’t eight. Both of which, by the by, were last-gen offerings — which I did play through, but, cannot for the life of me remember any important story beats. I know in one game I had a big sword and was grumpy, and in the other had a big scythe and was hench as all hell (heh - pun); apart from that? Nope. It was too long ago. So the idea of the Darksiders franchise being an epic saga (which it clearly wants to be) without even bothering to have any real exposition is just a head-scratching narrative choice. Essentially the story boiled down is that you are Fury, another one of the four horsemen (not to be confused with same horsemen of biblical origin), you have an attitude problem and you like smacking things with chain whips. Also there are other things going on, somewhere, that you may or may not remember from that game you played all those years back.
Which is a crying shame because there is so much cool stuff both stylistically and artistically in this series. There’s so much character dripping from creature design, even if some of it is a little on the nose in its mimicry (c’mon, are we not supposed to notice that the little imps are carbon copies of Gollum from the Lord of the Rings trilogy?). The seven deadly sins you are sent to capture are superbly (and often grotesquely) realised. I only wish this flair went beyond the creature department, because barring these exceptions, everything else is rather bland.
There is an undeniably strong whiff of last-gen in Darksiders III — and I have pondered if it was actually designed and built in part during the development of the previous two games. Environments have clear ‘fog of war’ in the distance and there is some very poor object and movement mapping within the level design. This hampers the feeling of playing within a semi-open-world setting. Essentially, you can travel anywhere at any time — though in practice, you open up areas as you level up and obtain new skill sets. Bizarrely, I felt myself comparing Darksiders III to the remake of Spyro The Dragon in that regard, but without without the snap and pop of a fully realized landscape, I felt no desire to explore outside the confines of my hunting the seven deadly sins, barring coming across little caves to find some extra loot to upgrade my gear and stats.
Given that the core mechanic is hacking and slashing, it’s unfortunate to state that neither hacking nor slashing are terribly impactful or exciting. They’re okay. The small variety of weapons you collect over the story have some nice little variances, but ultimately feel relatively similar to one another. There is an element of favoured choice with regards which items and weapons to upgrade because the materials needed to power them up are finite — but ultimately they all boil down to either mashing ‘X’ (standard attack) or mashing ‘Y’ (heavy attack). It only gets really exciting when you build up your special attack and slaughter your foes before you with fire and maniacal laughter.
I’m just going to sidestep quickly here and point out that this special attack transforms you into a rage demon which seems to cause Fury a great deal of pain — resulting in the only convincing bit of voice acting for her in the entire game. It really feels like it hurts! However, when a scream is the vocal highlight for the main character of a twenty-hour campaign, that’s going to illicit a raised eyebrow or two. Especially in contrast to the delightful scenery-chewing villains and side-characters that pepper the entirety of the campaign.
Right, back to the fighting! In between all this whip-play (your main weapon in the game) Darksiders III gifts you with an enemy AI with the damage output of Mjolnir — which is to say, it is absolutely hellish (pun!) even on standard difficulty. To remedy this, Fury has a standard dodge ability. Which is absolutely awful.
Not only is it terrible at actually dodging enemy attacks, developers Gunfire Games actually have the gumption to allow Fury to just happily dive through enemies as a way of showing she is getting out of danger. The result is a sloppy mess of guesswork often resulting in you dying a lot for no real reason that you can see. Which means going back to a checkpoint miles away (no autosave in this game) devoid of all the souls in which you have claimed for trade for powerups. This is incredibly frustrating when it comes to the boss battles (and the load times really do not help). In a game relying on reaction times and quick thinking, leaving your key mechanic ultimately up to chance is, frankly, poor form.
And therein lays the overall problem with Darksiders III — it seems somewhat unsure about its place in the world and just kind of meanders by. Back when the first Darksiders first came out it, it felt punchy and fresh, but now in 2018 there is a myriad of games that just do it all with a little bit more focus and skill and Darksiders III simply hasn’t done enough to distinguish itself from the pack.
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