Darksiders III is stuck halfway between so many different influences that it comes out not really knowing what it wants to be. It harkens back to the first game in the series with its more focused level design, but it doesn’t really capture that game’s Zelda-style puzzle-solving magic that helped kick off the franchise. On the other hand, it isn’t as expansive and focused on adventure as the second game. Instead, Darksiders III seems obsessed with combat over everything else, which starts off stylish and intense before it becomes frustrating and, finally (and perhaps fittingly), soul-crushing.
Right off the bat, it’s important to note that fans of the series will be happy that Darksiders is back. Even though it’s impossible to take its story seriously, there’s something incredibly charming about Joe Mad’s Todd-McFarlane-meets-Saturday-morning-cartoon art style and its epic, ever-evolving tale of Heaven versus Hell and the mystical beings trapped in the middle. Just like the recent Hitman 2, the fact that Darksiders III even exists is a small miracle, given that the series was on the edge of development oblivion, and it doesn’t miss a beat in picking up where the first two games left off.
One of the most interesting things about the Darksiders series is that each game follows one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse in parallel storylines. Where the first followed War, who was framed with starting the apocalypse too soon, and the second followed Death’s attempts at exonerating his brother, Darksiders III is all about the Horsesister of the Apocalypse, Fury, and her journey across the recently annihilated Earth after the Charred Council tasks her with hunting down and capturing the Seven Deadly Sins.
If you found War and Death likable, then chances are you’ll like Fury. Starting off as an arrogant, entitled brat, Fury matures and changes over the course of her battles against the Seven Deadly Sins (not to mention demons, angels, and all types of bug-themed monsters). Dedicated fans will notice some repeated story beats between the first game and the third, especially when it comes to Fury’s relationship to her Watcher, but I found myself surprisingly invested in the third Horseman’s journey—once I finally gave in and played in Story mode.
And that’s the trick to enjoying Darksiders III: just play it in Story mode, which is ostensibly “easy” mode. Instead of following the formula of the first two games, Darksiders III focuses way more on combat and less on puzzle-solving and world-exploring, at least if you’re playing on Balanced (i.e. “normal”) mode or higher. It apes the Dark Souls series in pretty much every way it can, most notably when it comes to its version of currency. If you die, and you will die, you’ll go back to the last Vulgarim shop you visited and drop the souls you farmed from enemies, forcing you to retrieve them. Souls are spent on both leveling up Fury’s three main attributes and on items that will help you get through the game. Level design favors opening up shortcuts more than solving puzzles, and most significantly, combat can be punishingly difficult.
Unlike Dark Souls, however, the combat isn’t fair. Kiting isn’t a defensive option in Darksiders III, because enemies will lock onto you no matter where you are, and there is no blocking mechanic. That leaves you with dodging as your only defensive option, but its effectiveness is inconsistent at best. If you miss the split-second window where dodging actually nets you a counter attack, prepare to be ganged up on by a gaggle of demons as they stun-lock you into oblivion. On the “balanced” difficulty level, this wasn’t just a one-time occurrence. This describes almost every time that I died in the game. It doesn’t help that even the most basic enemies will often take away nearly half your health bar with one measly swipe. I very rarely give up on games, especially when I’m reviewing them. Darksiders III nearly brought me to tears with how frustrating its combat was, and that’s coming from someone who managed to stomach The Surge’s unreasonable enemies and nearly game-breaking glitches.
I spent the first 10 hours in a constant fit of rage. I was alternatively screaming at my TV like a lunatic and rolling myself up in the fetal position, wishing for death and cursing the fateful consequences that led me to reviewing video games in the first place. For a brief moment of insanity, I considered giving up my material life and becoming a monk, just so I’d never have to play video games like Darksiders III again. That’s when I remembered I could just lower the difficulty, and lo and behold, I discovered that there’s a fun game hidden here.
Playing Darksiders III in “Story” mode makes the enemies less punishing, the dodging more forgiving, and combat just a little more mindless. Instead of focusing so much on wanting to die, I instead found the freedom to focus on the visually interesting world, the subtle exploration, the intricate level design. What felt like a bad Dark Souls clone suddenly reminded me of the third-person action-adventure games I enjoyed as a kid. Instead of a hinderance, Fury’s whip became one of the most fun weapons I’ve ever used in a third-person action game, and her single-button combos became suddenly more expansive and inventive. It definitely felt more like the original Darksiders. It was a revelation, but it almost cost me everything to get to that point.
That’s not to say that Darksiders III doesn’t have its problems, even in “Story” mode. The framerate is regularly abysmal, especially when a ton of enemies are on the screen, creating yet another barrier to enjoying the combat. The graphics are underwhelming, looking more like the remastered versions of the first two Darksiders than an actual current-gen game. The game crashed several times over the course of my 13-hour playthrough, once right after I had defeated a boss that took me at least 10 times to beat and erasing my progress. Textures pop in all the time, and weird bars of color would sometimes border the bottom of my screen. The game’s programming feels like it’s being held together by the coding version of duct tape. It’s a complete and utter mess, but it doesn’t go so far as to be entirely game-breaking.
Half of me wants to say that that’s part of Darksiders III’s charms. It’s coming from a small studio of developers who probably thought all hope of completing their epic tale of biblically inspired superheroes was lost forever, and the passion for the world is evident. But if you aren’t already a fan of the series, I would behoove you to start with the first two games and then see how you feel before jumping into Darksiders III. I don’t want to feel responsible for any more broken controllers.
Darksiders III is a frustrating, awkward sequel to a series that’s charmingly stupid, but there’s a lot of fun to be had if you give up on getting good. Do yourself a favor and tone down the difficulty level so that you can enjoy the crazy character designs and ridiculous fantasy world that Gunfire Games has built. Fans will be glad that this underdog of a series at least got a third chapter, but if you’re new to Darksiders, you might want to start at the beginning.
M – Mature
|Darksiders III is available on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC. Primary version reviewed was for Xbox One. Review code was provided by THQ Nordic for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of one to five stars.|
Michael Goroff has been gaming for almost three decades. He’s a lover of all games and systems, but he mostly plays Xbox. That being said, if he’s a fanboy, he’s a fanboy for the game industry as a whole. Spit white-hot fanboy hate at him, trash talk his Gold II rank on Rocket League, or maybe just send him a cordial hello on Twitter.