Last year, I got my introduction to the Darksiders franchise thanks to TA Playlist. The other hosts and I took a deep dive into that game and came away with mixed impressions. Personally, I found a flawed game with shades of greatness waiting to be unlocked in a future installment. Apparently, so did the team at Gunfire Games as they've taken up the mantle of developing the series and their first entry is Darksiders III. The new team has taken inspiration from its predecessor and forged a new title that is not only worthy of being a part of the series, it improves upon it in nearly every way. It's been a long ride to get here, but the wait has been worth it.
Each Darksiders game has shared DNA, but they've also each taken on a slightly different genre. Darksiders was a Zelda game in all but name. Darksiders II was more of an RPG that some might argue was also a 3D Metroidvania title. On its face, Darksiders III has copied the recent trend of creating a Souls-like. After all, you lose your resources when you die and need to pick them up, enemies are far more vicious than ever before and the series' merchant NPC, Vulgrim, now functions as a bonfire. Looking at it in that vein, Darksiders III is undoubtedly a failure as these elements don't work as well as they do in Dark Souls. But that's the problem with trying to pin a game down as one specific thing — Darksiders III is something else entirely.
In some ways, it's a hack and slash action game. Nowadays, the gold standard in that genre is Bayonetta and this third game plays a lot like it. You'll always have access to a whip as your primary weapon and it works wonderfully, but as you play you'll gain access to four others you can swap among at will, each with a notably different playstyle. While I preferred the single target focus and range of the spear, others might prefer the heavy warhammer, the dual swords or the swinging blades. The only downside to this system is that the whip is assigned to one button and your other weapon to another, so the combos are absurdly simple and come down to timing and holding buttons. A bit more depth in this department would have gone a long way toward making the combat even more rewarding.
The Bayonetta influences don't end there. There's also a heavy emphasis on dodging, while weaving in your attacks, though Darksiders III rewards dodges with counter attacks instead of slow motion. These dodges need to be timed well as a misstep can leave you vulnerable at the tail end of the dodge if you move too early. This means combat requires skill, and the result is an intricate ballet of swinging blades on both sides that can be absolutely punishing if you simply try to button mash, but feels divine when everything clicks and you dodge every attack perfectly to annihilate a boss.
Speaking of bosses, you'll be tackling the Seven Deadly Sins in this game and each Sin feels unique and reasonably in tune with what the Sin represents, though some are a bit more out there than others. The combat design of these bosses is generally good, tasking you with executing the combat well and learning to dodge the bosses' telegraphed moves. But here even well-designed fights feel like missed opportunities as you're never using all of your utility abilities to their fullest or even at all. Fury, the game's protagonist, learns plenty of new tricks to get around throughout her journey and it would have been wonderful to see these come into play to mix up the boss fights.
That learned mobility is a symptom of another genre from which Darksiders III takes heavy inspiration: metroidvania. In fact, I firmly believe that if it were reskinned to be thematically appropriate, this title could easily pass itself off as a Castlevania game, and not just because you have a whip. The game does have a Dark Souls-style open world with shortcuts and the like, but it's really more akin to a metroidvania. As you progress, you'll get new abilities that let you jump higher, walk on fire or water, wall jump, etc. These abilities are then used to gain access to new areas and find secrets in old ones just as one would expect from the genre, and this isn't a token effort like Darksiders was. Instead, using new abilities to explore the world and open up new possibilities is a core function of the gameplay and world design. It's done fairly well here, and fans of the genre will feel right at home with this game though there aren't quite as many abilities to unlock as I might have hoped, with only five available.
Those abilities are also featured in the game's puzzles, which feel akin to a Zelda action-adventure game. There are no dungeons here like the first game or Zelda, but there are distinct zones that function the same way. You'll often need to use your new abilities to take advantage of the way each room is set up and continue progression. This requires surveying each new room to identify the puzzle and find the pieces. It's fun enough, but the flaw is that the puzzles are perhaps entirely too easy. I'm the type of player that normally avoids puzzles at all costs as I don't have the patience for them, but these I figured out so quickly I never got frustrated. While that might have improved my experience, I'd wager that means many will find them lacking in challenge, if not outright dull.
Whether you're a new player or a veteran, you're likely interested to hear how the story holds up. The answer is grim. New players will be immediately catapulted into the world and its characters without any context or introduction at all. I can only imagine how confused a new player might be here, but I'm quite certain it'd be confusing enough that they wouldn't feel particularly interested in the story. Returning players get to see the apocalypse from a new perspective, but it's almost entirely unconnected from the other Horsemen except for a tease for the fourth game at the end. Taken alone, Fury's story is still not a particularly good one. It feels extremely similar to the first game — an evil council sends you on a mission and it turns out everyone is lying about their motivations and such. Gunfire tried to spice this up by giving Fury a character arc, but it's very poorly developed and isn't even remotely believable or even realistic. The bottom line is that you shouldn't be playing Darksiders III for the story.
The achievements will take some effort. First, you'll need to be playing on the highest difficulty which can be a challenge. Then you'll need to flip open a guide as you're going to need to find just about every hidden treasure the game has to offer, and there is a heck of a lot of them. Then you'll be using all those items to level up Fury, upgrade her weapons, enhance her weapons and upgrade those enhancements. Finally, you'll also need to save some humans scattered throughout the world, fight every miniboss and make two "right" choices to earn a missable achievement. With all that done, you'll have the cherry on top: grinding out a huge number of kills.
SummaryDarksiders III is a worthy successor to Vigil Games' series. It combines elements from Dark Souls, Bayonetta, Castlevania and Zelda into a beautiful swirl that still manages to find its own identity. It excels in many ways from fast and challenging combat to well-designed boss fights and good level design. The only problem is that it feels like the "lite" version of all of its inspirations, offering a taste of a masterpiece instead of a new take on those archetypes. You'll get Dark Souls without the measured combat, Bayonetta without the intricate weaving of combos, Castlevania with far fewer utility abilities to learn, and Zelda with puzzles that are far too easy for most. Still, what's taken from each of those games is mostly good, which makes Darksiders III a successful comeback story.
- Souls-like elements spice up the gameplay enough to give combat a bit more excitement
- The flow of combat is quite good and is fairly challenging to pull off well
- World design works well for the Metroidvania elements
- Boss fights are well-designed and varied, though they don't make use of all your abilities
- Puzzles are a bit too easy
- Story isn't welcoming to new players and adds very little to the lore for returning players
- Fury's character arc is neither earned nor believable
EthicsThis reviewer spent approximately 12 hours killing, dodging and trying to puzzle out why the story was so stupid along the way to finishing the game. He earned 32 out of 50 achievements. The game was played on an Xbox One X. A review code was provided by the publisher.
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