I wanted to love Darksiders 3. The art style, the power fantasy and the lore revolving around the four horsemen is something to behold with strong characters duking it out with the movers and shakers of heaven and hell, all the while trying to uncover a conspiracy. For a long while it looked like Darksiders would never go beyond the second entry, leaving the story incomplete. When THQ filed for bankruptcy, it seemed all over for the horsemen, but the IP was saved. However, all the ups and downs appear to have left a mark on the game in several ways, leaving Darksiders 3 as the poorest outing of the lot.
Once again to the Charred Council
The Darksiders games all happen at roughly the same time, with all the horsemen learning in their own time that something is not as it seems here. As a result of this, the story feels slow to start, covering known territory again before eventually moving into new things. Even if you are invested in the lore, the start comes across as slow and heavy-handed, before letting you go about your way, despite Fury being annoyed by all the talking, it appears she has to listen to a lot of people who love the sound of their own voice before she can go on her quest to defeat the Seven Deadly Sins.
The Seven Deadly are probably the most interesting characters you will meet on your journey through a ravaged Earth. Each one embodies a deadly sin completely, from the massive beetle Sloth that has a throne on the back of his slaves, his body moving so little that he has slowly become a part of his own throne, to the near Angelic looking Pride, who throws insult after insult in Fury’s teeth, hiding behind what seems to be an impenetrable barrier. Sadly despite their designs being fun and interesting, fighting most of them is really boring. Almost every enemy is just a sponge that requires you to pummel them again and again and again as they repeat the same two or three attacks until you eventually whittle their health to zero, at which point the fall over. Gone are the mighty feats of strength of War, or the cold, calculated reaping of Death, complete with flashy attacks. Fury’s fights end up feeling rather samey and boring, with no weight behind her attacks, no big killing moves or transitions to other phases when fighting a boss. Instead, it is a bit of a mad dance, because your health pool is tiny compared to everyone else. Even against normal enemies and with level-up points in vitality, Fury feels like wet tissue paper. To compensate for this you have more healing items and if you die, you revive at Vulgrim and can go get the souls you dropped back from where you met your end.
After the full RPG route of Darksiders II, Darksiders 3 took a big step back, simplifying things. Sadly they simplified far too much, which makes levelling up feel boring. You can get a small boost to health or damage, and you can upgrade your weapons with bits of metal you collect in the world, giving them a small boost in damage. Every weapon uses the same metals, so you will have to pick your favourites and leave the others behind. Fury ends up with six weapons: a ranged attack, her primary whip, and a weapon for each hollow you acquire. While the various weapons all look interesting, I felt that they were just too similar in damage. Even though Fury mentions how powerful the massive two-handed hammer is once she acquires it, it does the same damage per hit as much faster, lighter weapons. Some variation of damage between the weapons, or more play on their elements to fight enemies would have been appreciated and gone a long way, but more often than not I would just pick the one I had upgraded the most and try to do as much damage as quickly as possible to avoid dying.
Speaking of the hollows, it feels like they are dished out in a rush to you, with some of them not even having an interaction in the world for puzzles. The first one feels the most fleshed out: the flame hollow gives you twin flails that can set opponents on fire, your wrath attack makes anything near you for the next while taking fire damage, you get access to a triple jump to reach platforms, you can walk safely in lava and can burn away indestructible webs. By comparison, the lightning hollow gives you a spear, a slowfall and you can float up air eddies, which are few and far between. You hardly use that hollow before the game throws another in your face, along with some cryptic wisdom from your new benefactor.
A dated feeling
Darksiders 3 comes across as feeling a few years old despite being a 2018 release. The graphics look like they belong to an older game, without some of the more spectacular graphics we have become used to in the last year or two. This can be overlooked, but the frequent slowdowns, the abrupt loading freezes, even when just travelling the critical path, and the far too common texture pop slowly erodes the enjoyment of the game. Controlling a character that is so fragile, then getting hit because of graphical slowdown or unresponsive controls will leave you fuming as you watch a load screen before trying to head back to where you died. In-game cutscenes lose so much impact because every time the camera moves between characters, you watch as their model and armour slowly pops back to higher detail textures. It detracts from the story and robs it of impact, and the freezing loads will make moving around and exploring a chore. There is one section that I nearly threw my controller, something I have yet to actually do, out of frustration. You jump onto a new piece of land and get warned to run away from an unnatural whirlwind called the Tempest. In the distance, you can see a subway entrance tunnel. As you sprint, the game hits a loading freeze, and when it ends your character is no longer sprinting towards the tunnel. Instead, she comes to a halt, meaning you lose enough time that the Tempest catches you and kills you. It took a dozen attempts before I got the running, loading, button presses, the position of Tempest and luck on my side to get to the subway tunnel without dying and each time I had to do something with the damn instakill whirlwind, I got anxious and agitated. If you thought the stealth sections of Castlevania 2 were a right pain, the whirlwind related sections of Darksiders 3 belong in a trash fire in the lowest circle of Hell.
If you thought the stealth sections of Castlevania 2 were a right pain, the whirlwind related sections of Darksiders 3 belong in a trash fire in the lowest circle of Hell.
The problems continue with issues like poor camera angles when you are locked on an enemy, or only being able to lock onto an enemy if they are in the background of the scene. Getting stuck in a corner and the camera clipping into a wall will kill you, as will the camera on some big monsters not really letting you see the short tells before attacks. All of the issues just pile up higher and higher and the few redeeming qualities of the game just get stifled by them. Yes, I like Fury, yes her watcher is well written. But this isn’t what I wanted Darksiders 3 to be. The game has been simplified far too much, losing the clever level design and dungeons, losing the inventory and gear to look forward to and get stronger and losing those cinematic, epic moments in fights in favour of just flailing a whip around weigh the game down before the glitches, camera issues and loading foibles deliver a fatal blow. It would be unfair to compare the game to God of War, despite them both releasing in 2018, but even if just looking at Darksiders games in a vacuum, this third outing is by far the poorest and the least polished. I want to love the game, but it feels like it is trying to make me hate it.