November 28, 2018
There’s something to be said for completely changing a franchise mid-trilogy – or in the case of Darksiders and its Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, mid-tetralogy – but with everything that went on with Vigil and publisher THQ, if there was ever a good time to do it, it's now. I am of course talking about the franchise’s shift to a more 'Dark Souls-like' mould, in its approach to levelling up and losing of Souls, risk and reward combat, and the fact that the game loves to punish mistakes; a move that actually seems to fit the game quite well.
That’s easy for me to say as a bit of a Souls fan, but it’s a move that might be hard to stomach if Souls-like games aren’t your bag. Darksiders III though, is probably a more accessible and cinematic version of the popular Japanese genre – yes, Soulsborne is effectively its own genre these days – and that’s not a bad thing, by any stretch of the imagination.
Darksiders III throws you into the shoes of third Horseman, Fury, a badass, whip-wielding titan who is literally rage personified. In the 15-20 hour campaign players will journey around a sprawling and at times confusing linear/open-world of sorts, chasing down the Seven Deadly Sins and putting an end to their tyranny to restore balance to the piggy in the middle, Earth and its pesky little humans. I know what you’re thinking, "How can a world be open-world and linear at the same time? You’re an idiot, Webb!" Well, you’re wrong… about the first bit, not the second bit, I’ve never claimed to be otherwise. The game-world is exactly like that of a Dark Souls, Bloodborne or The Surge, with plenty of alleyways, multiple routes, small hidden secrets, large open-world environments and lots of shortcut unlocking. That’s how it can be both!
At this point you might be raising an eyebrow at the many comparisons to Dark Souls. Well, there’s a reason for that: the changes made to Darksiders III effectively make the game a Souls-like now. The list of Souls-like features in Darksiders III pretty much confirm what I’ve been saying: you spend Souls to level up; you can only level up at Vulgrim by feeding him Souls, which is effectively like a bonfire now; if you die you lose your Souls unless you collect them before your next death; combat is far more timing-based and strategic now, meaning you can be punished quite easily for making mistakes; and you unlock shortcuts as you traipse around the world. They are the very essence of what makes a Souls-like and they’re all present and correct in Darksiders III.
Anybody not expecting a straight up Souls-like game, though, and is disappointed by these changes, you’ll be glad to hear that unlike a Souls game Darksiders III has a strong story with interesting characters and some pretty epic cut-scenes – ooohhh burn! It’s a pretty spectacular looking game on the high-end consoles too, with some decent voice-acting and an epic orchestral score to boot.
It’s very Darksiders in other elements as well, with puzzles and a Metroidvania-esque world to explore – meaning you can’t access certain environments until you have the relevant powers. For the RPG nut out there, there’s even a little RPG in there for you too, continuing the tradition from the previous games. That said, there is a greater emphasis on combat in Darksiders III than possibly ever before – especially with the greater penalties you can suffer from dying – which ranges from relatively simple to actually being deceptively deep. Yes, you can probably button-mash on the lower difficulties, definitely not on the harder difficulties though, you’ll have to learn them combos and master that timed dodge!
In terms of difficulty, the talk of Dark Souls is usually enough to put off some suitors, but fear not, that shouldn’t be the case with Darksiders III. Yes, it is harder than Darksiders II, but the game isn’t terribly hard, especially on the normal and easier difficulties. If you want a true Dark Souls challenge, then there's the Apocalyptic difficulty to try out, but those who want to enjoy the story, you can do so without the difficulty playing much of a part… and that is what we meant by being a more accessible Dark Souls game.
I should at this point mention that I very much enjoyed my time with Darksiders III, a really well-made game that plays up to the Dark Souls crowd – a la, me – but also offering something to the action-adventure fan if they're so inclined. It does let the player down at times with its shoddy compass and the fact that it doesn’t really explain some things in the game at all. And that’s new mechanics we’re talking about here, not something ridiculously obvious. There’s no hand-holding.
As is always the case in games like this, the camera can be a little finnicky at times too, especially when combat takes place in the tightest corridors imaginable. For a game that has its fair share of platforming as well, it can be a little woeful to say the least. Whether you’re talking about the double jump which is pitiful, Fury’s ability to grab onto ledges or the grappling mechanic which has a mind of its own half the bloody time.
Technically, Darksiders III is a little all over the place. When shit is going off, the frame-rate has a tendency to drop, which in a game all about timing your dodges and managing groups is ridiculously frustrating. Then there’s the load screens, no, not the ones that you see when you load up the game or fast-travel – which are stupidly long – we’re talking about the brief ones that pop-up from time-to-time and really ruin the fluidity of the experience. The game is prone to crashes too with weird bugs that saw the game collapse every time I died during a specific boss battle. When it works, though, it really works, which unfortunately isn’t all the time. The frame-rate issues specifically can be a real immersion killer and many times led to my demise.
On the whole, though, Darksiders III in its new shiny Dark Soulsy wrapper is actually a really exhilarating experience. The emphasis on combat and the whole risk vs. reward mechanics complement the Metroidvania-style puzzling and Zelda-like traversal. Sure, there are a few issues mechanically like with the world navigation, the camera, and some horrible technical issues at times, but that shouldn’t stop you from giving Darksiders III a chance.
Wonderful orchestral score and some really great voice-acting, it’s a treat on the ol’ earholes this one!
Darksiders III is actually a really gorgeous game, let down only by its frankly shocking-at-times frame-rate.
Combat-wise Darksiders III is a pleasure. It’s just a shame that some of the traversal controls are a little shoddy. That, and the camera can become an enemy on the odd occasion!
A wonderful and diverse handcrafted world with some hugely creative bosses and set-pieces, marred only slightly by its confusing compass navigation system.
Rather boring and by-the-numbers, in truth. A lot of grinding is required as well, far more than you should really have to!
Darksiders III’s shift to a more Dark-Soulsy experience seems to fit perfectly within the Darksiders universe. The third outing in the franchise is a solid effort by Gunfire Games – one of my favourite gaming experiences of the year, in fact – let down only by some shaky traversal mechanics, a dodgy compass and some downright unpleasant frame-rate issues.