Last night I finsihed Darksiders III and instead of whooping and feeling excited across the playthrough, as I did with its predecessors, I could only ask myself: What the hell happened?
When I first saw the game, many moons ago, I felt excited, I wanted to play as Fury and meet another fun Horseman of the Apocalypse. I had enjoyed my time with War, watching him grow as a person, becoming wiser. I loved Death’s crusade to restore the souls of humanity and his fight against the corruption born from his own race, the Nephilim.
And then I met Fury and said, for the first time, “what the hell happened?” Where did the compelling characterisation go? Where did the humanity of these creatures vanish to? Fury is profoundly unlikable, and she kicks things off in a bad way by being a complete ass to a chained War. She’s arrogant, proud and pretty much embodies each one of the Deadly Sins she’s pursuing, but instead of weaving that into the game’s story and progress, the writers decided she would have an epiphany near the end of the game where she turns her personality, motives and goals around completely, so she becomes a better person, just not one with a defined personality.
There are glimpses of personal growth throughout the journey, but the writing is so inconsistent that she goes from contemplative and wondering about personality changes to reverting to the same traits she’s supposedly left only a few minutes later in a boss cutscene.
It’s wasted potential in storytelling. With every Sin forcing her to view her own desires and vices and confronting them, you could have had Fury become progressively more introspective and even weary, losing her namesake fury along the way or diminishing it, as she begins figuring out who she is and what she’s supposed to do, and perhaps the relationship with her brothers. It would have made that epiphany at the end at least a bit believable.
But Darksiders 3 wastes too much time on the Charred Council and Apocalypse conspiracy from the first game, a conspiracy we know all about and the game’s writers failed at giving us anything new about it. There aren’t any new revelations, something we hadn’t considered or even greater implications. It’s a complete re-tread. In trying to play it safe, I suppose, the writers failed to give us anything compelling in the plot. And of course, there’s a twist with the final boss but it falls flat because it’s something you expect to happen the moment you meet the character in question.
But my bewilderment with what the hell they did with Darksiders III extends beyond the narrative and characterisation into the gameplay.
Darksiders has always been a series that proudly wears its inspirations and even the most blatant adaptation is paid careful homage and used in a way that fits the game, gives it a unique spin and most importantly, feels amazing, engaging and fun. It’s why the first Darksiders mashed together Devil May Cry styled gameplay and The Legend of Zelda and gave us a portal gun without feeling like a complete ripoff, because it pulled the strange combination off so brilliantly that it became a completely new identity, something original despite the obvious sources of inspiration. Darksiders II continued the trend and even brought in loot systems and RPG levelling and talent trees to the mix to add gameplay variety.
Darksiders III’s two predecessors also opened the world to you. Darksiders II in particular features sprawling locales. This release, however, keeps the claustrophobic hallway infested places. Tunnels, caverns, underground crypts, etc. All enclosed, all quite short and severely lacking in the awe department, with the Maker Tree being the only thing even remotely astonishing. Worse still is how many times you go back to the same locales and fight the same enemies. Also, no horse, sacrificed for the sake of the plot. A wasted sacrifice, if there ever was one.
Speaking of enemies, combat can become a hassle. Most enemies are punishment sponges, the camera is a mess, even the lock-on is spotty, losing its target with surprising frequency. Darksiders III is a game where you’ll spend most of the time fighting against things you can’t see, from enemies attacking you just outside the camera’s range. Meaning that dodging attacks is often a matter of educated guesswork, especially when the arrows that notify you of enemy presence and attacks only tell you of the attack after the enemy has already carved their name on your back.
When you’re one-on-one, it’s not that bad, and it’s where the combat shines, as much as it can, really. But add more than one enemy to the mix, as this game loves to do, and it becomes a slog. And boss fights are all identical and uninspired. You versus a dude with a weapon. Nothing creative like the Darksiders 1 and 2 bosses. Where are the giant bats, the sand worms? Nothing.
I mentioned before that the Darksiders series had a knack for reusing and polishing other series’ core mechanics and for some reason, Gunfire Games decided it was time for Darksiders to become Dark Souls. You lose your collected souls when you die, pick them up from where you left them, and bank them at the reserved checkpoint spot for levels and the ability to improve on attributes. Only in this case, Vulgrim becomes the bonfire and you have three highly ineffectual attributes: Physical damage, Arcane Damage and Health. Even at high levels of each of these attributes I never felt stronger. It was only when I maxed out the weapon using the watered-down version of Dark Souls Titanite that I felt something change.
It also means that when you die, you go back to Vulgrim, forcing you to trek through the same area again and again if you die, which is fairly often when you consider the above combat issues and the worst offender of all, the fact that the dodge and counter mechanic is super finicky and dodging has no invincibility frames. I dodged out of a boss’s attack and then lost health because another creature’s attack hit me while I was in the dodge’s slow-motion animation.
The weapon enhancements you find, to socket into items are far too few in number, too damn hard to get and upgrading them is a thorough pain in the rear for very little gain. Also, what the hell happened to the Chaos Form? In the other games it was a devastating move but here it’s wildly ineffectual and barely deals any damage! And who decided that Wrath powers costing the entire bar was a good idea? especially with how slowly it builds up and how rare Wrath-recharging souls are. Also, if you don’t have a Stamina bar, a dedicate sprint button is unnecessary. Just enable it by default, anything else is poor design.
For a game that goes on and on about balance, Gunfire Games has no idea what the concept means. I spent most of the game playing on Challenging until I reached a spot so thoroughly unbalanced, where enemies I couldn’t see stun-locked me and took out chunks of my health and bosses one-shot me with attacks that happen right after a cutscene—which is another issue, too many cutscenes mid-boss—that I had to bring the difficulty down to the standard one, here called “Balanced.”
In essence, Darksiders III tries to do the Souls-like thing without an understanding of what makes those games work properly. So instead of taking those concepts and making them its own and creating a new identity for them as the predecessors did, Darksiders III feels like a bad ripoff, one so astonishingly poor that it reminds me of the first game I played in the Souls-like genre, Lords of the Fallen, which also missed the mark.
I wanted to like Darksiders III, I wanted this to be the game I’ve been waiting for ages on, but it has so many issues—including crashes—and faulty design choices and some intensely frustrating gameplay that just drained the fun out of me. Hell, the game doesn’t even have fun things to unlock like the Abyssal armour, only humans to find for a rather flimsy reward. And the small world means it’s a rather short game.
The only thing I got out of Darksiders III that I found worthwhile was Strife, the last Horseman, who makes a small appearance and makes me hope there might be a game with him. I only wish they would give the reigns back to Joe Mad and his people. At least they knew what the hell they were doing!
Also, nit-picking point, but Fury’s design doesn’t quite match the one we saw in the Darksiders comic from when the first game released and her character model makes her look plastic, literally.
Now excuse me while I go play Darksiders II as a palate cleanser.