Platforms: PS4 (reviewed), Xbox One, and PC
Darksiders III is an exciting, often exhilarating, and sometimes needlessly frustrating, action-adventure game from Gunfire Games and THQ Nordic. It carries on the legacy and story from the past two Darksiders titles, this time focusing on Fury, the whip-wielding horsemen of the apocalypse. After the original’s focus on War and the sequel’s exploration of Death, that leaves only Strife as the last horseman without a game to call his own.
After whipping, slashing, and smashing my way through Fury’s 15-hour or so long rampage, I’m satisfied with where the series is headed. By the end of it all lots of my questions had been answered, but there are now more lingering questions after a tantalizing cliffhanger.
The Four Horsemen
In Darksiders III you play as Fury, the only female horsemen of the apocalypse in the franchise’s lore. At the start of the game you learn about the apocalypse being set off prematurely, just as it was in the first Darksiders, and as a result the Seven Deadly Sins have all escaped. The Charred Council, a governing body tasked with maintaining balance between the forces of Heaven, Hell, and humanity, task you with tracking down, defeating, and capturing all seven of the deadly sins.
The best thing about this premise is that each of the main villains and primary characters in the story have a tremendous amount of personality. Whereas War was a dry and often boring warrior, and Death was so indifferent to everything, Fury seems to teem with life. She’s witty, persuasive, and full of energy -- to be expected, given her name. She’s by far the most interesting and dynamic of the horsemen we’ve played as thus far, and serves as an excellent leading character.
That focus on personality carries through to the seven primary boss enemies as well. Wrath, for example, is a fiery demon beast full of pure rage that tries to incite your anger and make you fight with more passion, egging you on at every opportunity. Sloth forces his slave creatures to carry him around during the battle, and Gluttony is an enormous behemoth of a creature that’s seen devouring all manner of creatures and things, yet never being satisfied. The personification of each sin is extremely well-done in a way that doesn’t feel too heavy-handed.
The same can’t be said for the writing in general, though. Boss fights are bookended by cutscenes that usually start or end with some sort of quippy one-liner from either the enemy or Fury herself. A few of them were cringe worthy. But during exploration and travel sequences when Fury and her Watcher companion are out in the world adventuring, their back-and-forth dialogue often brought a smile to my face. It still pales in comparison to Mark Hamill’s work as the original Watcher from the first Darksiders, but it’s still nice to see that sort of relationship restored here.
While Darksiders II was a much larger, more ambitious project that dramatically expanded the game world, multiplied the length and amount of content by several magnitudes, and introduced a slew of new mechanics like a loot and gear system, not all of those changes worked out for the better. In the end, it felt more muddled and aimless than the mostly linear predecessor that borrowed heavily from The Legend of Zelda series in its design. Comparatively, Darksiders III is the most purely hack-and-slash the franchise has ever been, for better and for worse.
The good thing about this type of world design is that it all feels extremely cohesive and fluid. I didn’t find myself fast-traveling all that much because the game did a good job of funneling me towards the next encounter in relatively quick succession. However, there were moments in which I wish the game had just told me I could have fast-traveled to save time rather than asking me to backtrack through multiple zones to get to the next set piece.
Combat is also extremely streamlined this time around. As soon as you unlock a new form for Fury, known as Hollows, they each come along with their own weapons. Her base weapon is the chain, and each of the four other forms can be activated at any time, which allows you to get pretty creative with combos and mixing things up. For example, the Flame Hollow dishes out damage quickly and gives you a triple-jump-esque flame boost power, whereas the Storm Hollow lets you hover through the air and call down a lightning bolt when counter-attacking. By the end of the adventure you’ll be switching in and out of Hollow forms mid-combo and mid-puzzle to complete sections and it all comes together pretty well.
But that’s about all there is to the entire game. You don’t really find any gadgets along the way like in the first game, or have a steady stream of new gear like in the second. Instead, Darksiders III relies on a heavy dosage of old-school challenge to keep you on your toes.
And by old-school challenge I mean random packs of trash-tier enemies can easily swarm, surround, and stun-lock you to death with little issue. Some of the larger mini boss enemies out in the world hit harder than actual boss fights, too. This normally wouldn’t be a huge problem, but Darksiders III’s archaic saving system amplifies the frustration. The game will only save your progress at designated stations that function as fast travel nodes, merchants, and level up points. These are the only ways to save your game. This means if you are searching for where to go next, spend 30+ minutes fighting enemies, exploring, solving puzzles, and finding your way through the ruins of the world, then die, you respawn all the way back at that last station.
Since some sections of the game are so infuriatingly difficult with the number of hard-hitting enemies it pits you against, it gets frustrating very quickly. I don’t know why there isn’t a better auto saving function or a way to manually quick save. Being forced to literally replay sections of a game isn’t a satisfying form of difficulty, and is an issue that could have been easily addressed.
End of the World
The issue with saving was amplified by technical shortcomings as well. During one section in the first third or so of the game, the game continually crashed, and spit out the same multi-character error message around the same spot seven times. I spent the better part of an entire afternoon replaying the same 15-20 minute section of the game over and over and over. No dice. The next day I tried again and it magically worked when I just literally sprinted past all of the enemies and skipped those rooms entirely. Luckily, I was able to do that here, because some regions lock doors until you finish killing bad guys.
Other technical concerns include constant framerate drops, sometimes so bad that the game just freezes entirely for a couple of seconds. If I ran through an area too quickly, and the game would force me to stop and wait while it loaded the next area. Some zones that I visited often, such as the forge where you upgrade gear, had a massive framerate chug every single time I walked through the entrance, without fail. This doesn’t even count the slew of texture pop-ins I noticed or the inexplicable flashes of white during some cutscenes or even completely missing textures in the environment if I spun the camera around too quickly.
It’s a damn shame. Most of these issues don’t prevent the game from being playable (I did finish it after all) but a new game that’s third entry in a series releasing in 2018 shouldn’t have these concerns. Period. Hopefully these issues will be patched out, but it’s a rough start.
Also, this trailer is misleading. I won’t spoil anything directly about what happens to Fury’s horse, but you never actually ride Rampage at all in this game.