Darksiders III is a hack 'n' slash adventure RPG by Gunfire Games, published by THQ Nordic. It's the third in an ever-changing series of games that follows the four horsemen of the apocalypse during an end-of-the-world event that has been incorrectly triggered by the first horseman War. The series initially began as a semi-linear punch 'em up, but over the last three installments, the recipe has been changed. The first game was quite linear with puzzles, the second game focused heavily on a massively open world slate with a ton of puzzles, and the third sits somewhere between the two, but with an extremely heavy focus on combat and a lot of focus taken away from itemization.
The best way to describe combat now is to move your expectations towards Metal Gear Solid: Revengeance. Gunfire Games has very much thrown out a lot of the systems introduced and altered in the first two games to then added what they thought were more efficient and streamlined implementations of the same thing. What they've produced is a brilliant game, but a brilliant game that has had its difficulty dialed up from three to about eight. It's still Darksiders, but only just. Those who loved the first two may love or hate what it has become, but I feel like it was a gamble Gunfire needed to take. I saw a few reviewers complaining about the graphics not improving, but frankly, that's irrelevant—I didn't have time to focus on the polygon count because my knuckles were white, strained from the constant and incredibly tense combat.
I also made a video review, see below:
StorylineThe third game in the series closely follows the previous two in terms of chronological events. Fury hears the call caused by War breaking the seventh seal and responds by meeting the Charred Council. They inform her that War has been locked up for breaking his vow, Death has gone missing, and Strife is busy "attending other business", which means the developers have purposefully left his story wide open in the event they get to make a fourth game as they can then make up the story as they please. The Charred Council tasks Fury with helping restore the balance between Order and Chaos. How? By killing all of the Seven Deadly Sins. Something I always find amusing about these games is that Chaos always seems to be more powerful than Order, and everybody's idea of balance basically means smashing Chaos in the face, which screams to me that perhaps things aren't quite so balanced in the first place. Regardless, Fury is hooked up with a watcher, like War and Death were in the previous games. It is then swiftly implied to Fury through a certain mercantile demon and an exceedingly large builder that she is a pawn. The Hollow One also makes an appearance and again tells Fury that she's a pawn in somebody's game, but Fury is too brash and shortsighted to see beyond her own face. One aspect I found most interesting is that it's implied that forces on both sides of the fight are tired of their eternal conflict, and some seek out the Hollow One to destroy their soul so they're not endlessly reborn to fight a never-ending fight. I always find it surprising that the Darksiders series has a reasonably compelling storyline, and Darksiders III continues that tradition nicely.
GameplayThings have changed, but whether that's a good thing is entirely subjective. Visually, we're looking at the same Darksiders game, but deep down, the recipe has been changed for a third and hopefully final time. If another game with Pestilence comes out, they need to stick with one of the three options and stop changing things or people are going to tire quite quickly. So what exactly has changed? Damn near everything to be quite honest.
First of all, the combat has been overhauled, largely for the better. No longer are you an all-powerful being with an ignorable health meter and chaotically large and devastating attacks. Instead, Fury is immensely fragile, and while her attacks range from up close and personal to wide-slashing whip attacks, the damage they deal can be quite erratic. The game isn't painting by the numbers in terms of enemy quantity, but, rather, focuses on individual, complex fights involving no small amount of dancing, where an awful lot is riding on the dodge and counter-attack system. Like Revengeance, the dodge counter system is essentially imperative to success. A simple dodge won't achieve much besides avoiding a third of your health being removed by a simple enemy, but a perfectly timed dodge will slow down time for a brief moment and allow for a high-powered counter attack or a low-powered but disrupting aerial attack. The latter is utterly useless against bosses, but frankly, they're all rather large, so I can't imagine Fury juggling a juggernaut with her little flame hollow. Another similarity to draw to this game is Kingdoms of Amalur. During combat, you can switch between hollows and mix your attacks between whip and hollow, which all feels rather nice if you ask me. As such, combat is extremely varied and challenging, and each small battle feels like an overwhelmingly large success, although it comes at the cost of the once casual nature of Darksiders.
Hollows are unlocked as you progress through the story and serve as your utility items for puzzles as well. For me, this was a much needed breath of fresh air, and instead of having an inventory full of largely pointless gadgets, your four hollows and throwing weapon are the tools used to solve the puzzles scattered about the not-quite-open world. The hollows are separated by their elemental links, and each one will have varying uses throughout the game. Each hollow feels distinctly interesting, and I found myself actually switching between them out of fun as opposed to belligerent necessity. All your weapons can be upgraded by having their base stats increased with adamantium, or being socketed with a rune. These runes can then be upgraded using either demon or angel shards for varying benefits. The runes themselves are all fairly simplistic in nature, usually offering more damage with a particular type of soul being dropped on an enemy's death depending on which weapon you used. It's a simple, but not too overly simplistic system of improvement and doesn't detract too much from the core gameplay, which solely focuses on the tight combat.
Souls are still the core currency for the game and used both to buy consumables and upgrades, as well as on leveling up your character. Consumables, aside from the permanent definitely-not-a-Hestus-flask, offer either health or an increased generation of the game's two usable combat resources I'll get to in a moment. Leveling up involves feeding the well-known Fulgrim your spare souls and requires more each time. You can either increase health, base damage, or arcane damage (arcane damage is the most useful since counter attacks do pure arcane damage). It's simple but works damn well, and again, doesn't detract too much from the core combat experience. Darksiders III is very much against giving the character any sense of having overpowered stats—the game is about agility and precision, not the brute force we saw in our tale with War. Combat resources are Havoc and Wrath. Wrath turns you into a gargantuan purple god for a short time, making you invulnerable and causing your whip to do significantly more damage, but not so much that you can clear an entire room. It's very much an "OH S****" function for ten seconds of relief. Havoc is a special ability that does damage based on what hollow you have equipped at the time. Lightning, for example, surrounds you in electric tornadoes that constantly stun and knock back your enemies. Both are useful, but Havoc is refilled significantly quicker than Wrath, and you'll use it a lot more heavily in tense combat situations.
Difficulty is obviously far more important to the nature of this game, and at times, it can be rather wonky. Overall, everything is harder, and yes, difficulty levels do rise throughout the game; however, the core combat system betrays itself and makes the game snap from "challenging but fair" to "downright ridiculous". Taking on more than three enemies is folly and can only be successful when using either Wrath or Havoc. The reason for this is that enemy attacks are all over the place, and dodging one attack can often mean moving into the path of another. Enemies track your movement even through dodging, so getting surrounded is essentially certain death. This is easily solved, however, by adding an invulnerability period after a successful perfect dodge-into-counter move and would by far remove almost any issue I have with the game's combat experience. The lack of this simple functionality can make certain levels exceedingly frustrating and time consuming. Aside from this, enemies are all entirely unique in their model, as well as their attack types and timings. With a wide range of timings to make note of for dodging and responses to being overwhelmingly beaten on, even basic monsters have a variety of attacks you have to learn—they can block and counter, too!
The world is obviously similar to the other games, but not as linear as the first and not as open as the second Darksiders. Instead, it's a simple mix between the two. Serpent holes are still a thing, so you can teleport between areas, and each area has plenty of room for discovering treasures and solving extra side puzzles for additional souls and consumables. I quite like the mixture between the two, and for me, it struck the perfect balance. Those who vastly prefer the second game's open world will be disappointed, but this particular game doesn't feel too constricted or empty. Bosses have their own enormous arenas and are just as threatening as they appear. It is entirely possible to "perfect" a boss if your timings are on points, and at no stage during the game did it feel like the boss was obscenely overpowered to the point of being unfair like, say, three gargoyles on a cathedral roof. At no stage did I feel like I had to run around and guzzle health like Tic Tacs in order to deal with a boss, but the entire time I was fighting them, my attention was steel, and my brain was wired. They're all exceptionally well done.
Is it the Darksiders we knew? Well no, but then Darksiders has changed so much over its different iterations, it's difficult to tell. The aesthetic is certainly the same, but the gameplay has changed so deeply, it's hard to decided whether this will be the game everybody holds as the pinnacle of the series, or just yet another direction it's been pulled. It's a very difficult game to judge because fundamentally, it's excellent, but what it provides may not be exactly what a Darksiders fan wants. If I were to hand the game out to six friends, I'm not entirely sure I could tell you what the verdict would be because it's such a different beast to what people would expect.
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