Monday, August 20, 2018
Not that long ago, it looked like the Darksiders series was forever doomed. THQ going belly-up cutting the epic story short before it had a proper chance to really gain momentum. It appeared that War and Death would spell the beginning and the end for Vigil Games' ambitious saga featuring the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, until Nordic Games threw the series a lifeline.
Now, under the THQ Nordic label, Gunfire Games – a studio comprising much of the original Darksiders team – has been hard at work developing Darksiders III, an entirely new entry in the series more than six years since the last game first launched. And this time, it's taking the Dark Souls template as a gameplay touchstone, pitting flame-haired protagonist Fury against a plethora of monsters and the ever-looming threat of death sending you back to fight said monsters all over again.
But where Dark Souls and its ilk allow you to rest at bonfires (or whatever) checkpoints are fairly arbitrary (and much too far apart) in Darksiders III, meaning you're never quite sure how far you'll be flung back whenever you end up biting the dust. Upon running your way back to where you came from, you'll be able to retrieve the souls you lost when you died (sound familiar?) and then hopefully make further progress next time. Souls act as your currency, enabling you to purchase items from Vulgrim, or you can feed them to him for an attribute point that can be spent on levelling up your abilities.
A formidable suite of skills that Fury has in her arsenal too, her whip (think SoulCalibur's Ivy) enabling her to swing across chasms, thrash enemies and parry attacks with aplomb. Initially, there's not a huge amount of versatility to Fury's move set, but as you obtain Hollows, like the Flame Hollow we're granted during our hands-on with the game, her range of abilities expand. For instance, a fireball leap that boosts your jumping height significantly unlocks access to new areas, while a charged attack imbues Fury with a devastating ground pound that erupts in a flurry of fireballs.
Apparently, there will be three other Hollows that you'll acquire during your journey through Darksiders III's fantastical realm, which retains the series' Zelda-like framework, but eschews the previous games' core structure in favour of something more akin to, yes, Dark Souls. Fundamentally, Fury's outing still looks and plays like a Darksiders game, however, so anyone who has come this far into the apocalyptic saga shouldn't feel too alienated by this new approach.
Our hands-on also consisted of two different builds of Darksiders III, one with an excitable camera that drunkenly swayed from side-to-side, and a fairly unresponsive dodge manoeuvre, the second (the demo set to be shown at Gamescom), a far tighter, polished version that plays beautifully. Obviously, it’s this second, more advanced build that provides a better indication of how the final product should handle, and the steadying of the camera and the addition of a subtle slow-motion Bayonetta-style evasion move – when you time Fury's dodge correctly – has worked wonders.
Combat feels immediate, gratifying, and smooth in this latter build, but exists at the more hardcore end of the spectrum. Newbies to the hack and slash genre could potentially feel a little out of their depth; Darksiders III isn't exactly the most accessible action game we've played, but it certainly feels rewarding, especially once you get your mitts on the Flame Hollow.
Traversal puzzles also remain part and parcel of the Darksiders formula, our demo requiring giant beetles be fed orange gunk that causes the creature's abdomen to swell, transforming it into an explosive time bomb. When hurled at impassible webbing, the incendiary insects open up the pathway ahead, which is about as basic as puzzles get in Darksiders III. Expect more complex conundrums as you venture deeper into the game's dark depths.
Darksiders III is looking very promising indeed, then, despite the decision to ape the Dark Souls template, it seems like a change of pace that could work well for the series. Personally, I preferred the structure of Wrath of War and Darksiders II, but for anyone with even a passing fancy for FromSoftware's series, Darksiders III is going to seem like an even more enticing prospect. That said, Souls-alike titles, like Code Vein, The Surge and countless others are becoming increasingly prevalent, which could leave Fury's Darksiders outing feeling a tad stale.
Based on what we've played so far, there's certainly room for improvement in Darksiders III, but with combat mechanics that feel robust, detailed, evocative environments, some light puzzling and all of the usual elements you'd expect from a Darksiders game, it looks like Fury's adventure is on the right track. With months to go until the game launches, Darksiders III ought to be the kick-ass return for the series that fans have been patiently waiting for. Otherwise, we'll be Fury-ous.
Darksiders III launches for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC on 27th November 2018.
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