The fact that Darksiders III exists at all is something of a miracle. When THQ (the original publisher of Darksiders I and II) went under, it seemed that the light at the end of the apocalypse was flickering out. When Nordic Games (now THQ Nordic) bought the rights to the franchise, excitement was immediately renewed. THQ Nordic remastered the first two titles, forged a new studio made up of many original developers from Vigil Games, and set to work on bringing the end of the world back to life.
Darksiders tells the story of the apocalypse from the perspective of the four horsemen of the, well, you know, apocalypse. The first game told an impassioned and interesting story about War, wrongly accused of breaking the seventh seal and instigating the end of creation. Death took center stage in the second, with the game’s timeline running parallel to the first. And following suit, Darksiders III tails Fury, the horsemen’s female sibling, during that same time. Fury is tasked by the Charred Council with taking down the Seven Deadly Sins who have escaped and are roaming about the Earth.
Fury’s story does get quite a bit more interesting than the synopsis might betray. One worries about how to retell the same story from three different perspectives. Telling Fury’s part comes down to her own fiery personality and bond with her horse. She’s in this for no one but herself, but when she gets pulled into the celestial deception that framed her brother and ended the world, all bets are off the table. There’s a little bit more depth to this character, even if it does take some digging to get there. The voice acting and character design are all classic Darksiders. There are some great moments, whether it’s between Fury and her Watcher, or the horseman and the stunningly designed bosses that she encounters.
Making Death Mean Something
Too often in games, death means very little, and I’m not talking about the horseman. If Darksiders had a Legend of Zelda feel and Darksiders II leaned more on the loot aspects of games like Diablo, then Darksiders III pulls heavily from Dark Souls. It’s a cliche comparison, but one that Darksider’s III earns in full. Fights are designed to be tough and the world unforgiving. Don’t expect any obvious tells or HUD indicators for when you need to dodge. Trial and error can make quick work of a boss that initially seems unbeatable. Bad timing and even direction can mean a very quick death. Learning enemies’ attacks is key to winning any battle, even against the simplest of foes. Collected souls are Fury’s way of leveling up, but if she falls, those souls are lost. Return to where you died, and you can pick them up again, but the challenges between respawn and those souls wait once more.
Gunfire Games completely rethought the “hub and spoke” design of the world that made up the first two games. While those felt a lot more like The Legend of Zelda in terms of world design, Darksiders III takes the approach of a dungeon crawler. There is no central hub location where each of the areas extends out from. The entire sprawling world is a twisted maze, looping back around on itself in creative ways that I didn’t see coming. It was an interesting treat to arrive in a boss room and realize that I had been staring at it 30 minutes earlier from a different perspective. Various abilities unlock new passages, shortcuts, and make the world feel like a big interconnected hive of tunnels, with payoff coming later in the game as you unlock more ways to traverse it.
Discovery in the world may beget challenges too powerful at that moment. Completionists who scour every corner and every path will find that they need to return at a later time. Without a map, it’s tough to remember exactly where some of these challenges were, but taking away the map also leads to more moments of discovery in the looping dungeon. I loved not relying on a map and the surprises that came along with it. A compass will at least guide you in the right direction, so if you’re purely intent on getting to the next Sin to defeat it, you can eschew discovery and follow the golden path.
From a purely maze-design perspective, Darksiders III’s world is brilliantly realized. Aesthetically, however, it’s a bit less inspired. While there are some amazing set-pieces to encounter, such as a massive skyscraper that had fallen into a cavern or a dinosaur skeleton in a museum, most areas were simply pulled from the “visual guide to the apocalypse.” There are enough iconic locations that navigating the maze can rely on those landmarks, but the tunnels in between are often little more than craggy caverns that don’t retain visual interest.
Loading the Apocalypse
If it’s not enough that Darksiders III is fighting an uphill battle wavering between dated designs and holding players’ interest, it’s fraught with technical hiccups and issues. Some areas experience extreme slowdown and frame dips, creating impossible scenarios where near frame-perfect timing is required for combat. Loading times between areas are poorly optimized. I would find myself hitting freeze points where the game would struggle to load the assets for the next area I was entering for between five and ten seconds. With the maze-like design of the world, this can sometimes occur multiple times in a short period. In some areas, if I spun the camera too fast, there was some severe pop-in for textures and objects, enough that I could get glimpses of the skybox behind the environment for a split second. It’s still playable, but these are issues that players will definitely notice. Hopefully a patch can come along and optimize some of these problems, putting the focus back on the game itself.
Darksiders III is a game for fans, but it will struggle to find lasting appeal outside of that audience. It has a slow start that won’t do much to sway anyone that’s not invested. If you’re willing to dig deep and stick with it, Darksiders III can be an extremely rewarding experience that has a lot to offer. It diverges from the first two games enough to feel interesting, but retains a distinct look and feel that fans of the series will instantly be familiar with. Technical issues drag the experience down, but underneath them is a game that people have been clamoring for. While not my favorite of the series, it’s good to be back in this world in yet another horseman’s shoes. I can only hope that we get to finish out the four with Darksiders IV and Strife.
Darksiders III review code provided by publisher. Version 1.01 reviewed on a standard PS4. For more information on scoring, please see our Review Policy