By Drew D. / January 7th, 2019
|Release Date||November 27th, 2018|
|Platform||PC, PS4, XBox One|
|Age Rating||M for Mature|
The return of the Darksiders franchise could be considered a victory all on its own. Originally owned by THQ and developed by Vigil Games, the Darksiders franchise saw both a strong effort and favorable reception in its titular first game. With the makings of a successful series on their hands, Darksiders II was released with similar favor, yet fewer than expected sales. THQ would then go on to declare bankruptcy, dissolving Vigil Games and breaking many a hope for the continuation of the Darksiders series. Fans of the franchise, myself included, could only think of the shame this was as we struggled with our disappointment and loss. Fast forward several years and we see the acquisition of the Darksiders trademark by Nordic Games, now THQ Nordic, the passing of the series onto developers Gunfire Games, and, finally, six years later, a brand new installment in our treasured series. In Darksiders III, we see the return of legendary heroes, a vast story full of deceit and tragedy, and unfortunately, many imperfections and shortcomings that plague what could have been an exceptional experience.
Darksiders III, similar to Darksiders II, takes place many years after the beginning of the Apocalypse, but decades before the Darksiders I storyline. War, answering the call of the Four Horsemen, stands accused of prematurely triggering this Apocalypse, which serves as a final showdown between angel and demon, heaven versus hell. With the near complete annihilation of humanity in the process, he now awaits judgment by the Charred Council, a group of powerful beings whose purpose is to maintain balance in creation. Fury, our heroine for this game, returns to the Charred Council and is tasked with the recapture of the Seven Deadly Sins, individuals with immense power who seek to establish their own rule in the now dilapidated creation. With their very existence a threat to the balance, Fury sets off to hunt them down, unraveling a story full of lies and treachery, but with glimmers of self-growth and hope.
Similar to Darksiders I, Darksiders III possesses a straightforward story with a few twists and turns along the way. The overarching mission, the hunting and defeat of the Seven Deadly, takes us across the scoured earth where we will meet many new faces and a few familiar ones on all sides of this timeless, apocalyptic war. Throughout her journey, the narrative begins revealing several of the secrets of the previous games, as well as their present influences. If you played the first game, you will already know what happens in the future, so seeing how certain acts and events affect this moment in the story is intriguing. And of course, being a prequel, many new facets are added to bulk up the overall series plot. This is actually handled fairly well, as the story for this chapter was entertaining enough to keep me engaged until the end. One added element that stands out is humanity, in that there are living humans in this game. After playing the first two games, I thought humanity ended and awaited some form of rebirth or recreation, but, apparently, there are survivors. However, they are ultimately just a device to build Fury’s character. Humans and humanity, despite being built up as a major element to the entire series, are in actuality just terms thrown around and NPCs that don’t do much. They didn’t get the depth to make that implied importance resonate. The rest of the plot plays out somewhat predictably and can get a bit dry at times, but, again, there’s enough mystery and curiosity, as well as a truly surprising twist or two, to keep me going.
What surprises me the most narratively in Darksiders III is its character development. Although subtle and exclusive to Fury, it’s something we didn’t see in the first two games. War and Death are two concrete personalities with little to no growth throughout their campaigns. Fury, however, sees an appreciable evolution. As she discovers more about the events and people around her, she discovers herself too. I think it’s my favorite element of the entire game, in that it’s a new addition to the series and it connects me to Fury in a way I never did with War or Death. Fury, starting off as an arrogant, self-centered fighter who craves battle and couldn’t be bothered with anything not relating to herself, slowly transforms into a strong, dependable character who finds a genuine purpose for her existence and, along with it, a new strength born of compassion. Even if her growth and character depth are lacking compared to other characters from other franchises, it’s noticeable in this series, as it’s something new and unexpected.
Unfortunately, that’s all we get. Other characters, whether they are new or returning, don’t see any valid depth or growth. While they all may be relevant to this story and it’s nice to see what returning characters are up to before the time skip to the first game, none receive any real development. They are introduced and we just have to take them for what they are. For example, the Lord of the Hollows serves as a guide and mentor to Fury, yet his character is incredibly vague. We know he’s knowledgeable, powerful, and disillusioned towards the Charred Council, but that’s it. He seems really important, but we never get that depth or impact to establish him as a series-changing character he was perhaps meant to be. Ulthane, a returning character, is the same sarcastic, good-humored Maker from the first game. And again, I appreciate seeing him in this game with a new role during this time, but again, other than his current purpose, we don’t learn anything new about him, nor does he show any different sides to himself beyond his care for humanity. It’s not even legitimately hinted that he acts out of remorse after what’s revealed in the first game. Finally, there is the Watcher, who aids in Fury’s development as someone Fury can speak and self-reflect with. However, as she serves as a way for Fury to verbally demonstrate her growth, the Watcher herself hardly changes from what she’s meant to be plot-wise. Overall, there was a ton of potential for more character growth by multiple characters, but only Fury receives any memorable development.
Moving onto gameplay, Darksiders III plays similarly to the previous games, in that combat is the focal point. Whether it’s clearing small mobs, taking down multiple strong enemies, or an epic one-on-one fight, combat is a familiar experience. In similar Darksiders fashion, there is a basic combo system in place, in which Fury can pull off various moves. What I especially like is that as the game progresses, Fury will obtain Hollows, allowing her different elemental affinities and new weapons. The variance in weaponry is something I liked in Darksiders II, so seeing a version of that here is appreciated.
Several other mechanics influence gameplay, ranging from platforming, to puzzle solving, to a leveling system. Platforming in this game is a bit dull, as Fury herself isn’t the most mobile or acrobatic character. As you gain Hollows, you’ll be able to propel higher, float, and carve out new paths. Really though, this all adds up to your typical item barrier mechanic that the Zelda or Metroid series are known for. Puzzle solving is also a fairly straightforward endeavor; the only real challenge being the sheer size of some of the rooms that need to be explored beforehand. With huge rooms full of multiple doors and corridors, getting turned around and lost can be an issue. The puzzles themselves aren’t all that difficult or creative and once the right path is found or the right item used, it becomes a routine chore. Finally, related to combat, is a leveling system. As you acquire blue lurchers, the currency for the game, you can give them to Vulgrim to gain attribute points. These points can increase your HP, power, or arcane power, which is the attack power specific to counter and wrath attacks.
The issues I have with gameplay are more than I would have liked, especially after a six year hiatus and the successes of the previous games. In addition to my complaints above, I am upset that this game is painfully linear. There is generally a main path to take with hardly any exploration. Even though some areas are massive rooms with plenty to hide, the general formula of big areas connected by hallways and single paths doesn’t change much. Exploration, which is really just item hunting, happens within these huge spaces. However, open spaces do not equal open world, and in the case of Darksiders III, this is terribly evident. This is an exercise in going from points A to B.
Combat, the major aspect of the game, is also flawed. The basic combo system is just that, basic. Ultimately, many players may end up settling for mashing the attack button. Nothing’s lost from mashing, as the combos themselves aren’t very inspired. Also, combat is almost always a close-quarters affair. Despite using a whip, Fury’s reach and combos are meant for up-close combat. It’s here where we should have seen combos and range play off one another. The only times I really enjoyed combat was against the Seven Deadly. Those battles felt as dangerous and epic as they are meant to be and the only time I was genuinely satisfied. I looked forward to those few battles because outside of those, combat is an uninspired, repetitive process, barely saved by the few great battles and variance in weaponry.
Another issue I have is the difficulty scaling. Although this is not the level scaling seen in The Elder Scrolls games, the increase in enemy attributes and difficulty are irritatingly implemented. Naturally, enemies will become tougher as you progress through each area and to stay capable of surviving, you need to raise your attributes. My issue here is that the extent in which enemy difficulty is raised belittles your efforts of leveling, as well as improving your arms and armor. Unless you flat out grind, it will feel like the same amount of, or sometimes even more, work is needed to defeat enemies and clear areas, despite all of your supposed progress. I wish improvements to attributes, arms, and armor all had more impact and substance to them. Instead, it feels like you’re not making any significant progress in growth and development. It still takes effort to kill minor enemies and they can still kill you in the same, average 5-10 hits, even fewer for stronger and boss enemies. It degrades the attribute system and any means of improvement. I felt Darksiders I did it right; even though later mobs were tough, War could take plenty of hits and still dish out heavy damage. Fury’s potential and improvements are just as soon cancelled out, so it leaves me feeling dissatisfied. If you don’t level up or improve your gear, however, you will suffer from it, so it’s a necessity, yet it still fails to add senses of achievement or growth. It’s not broken in any sense, but it definitely feels cheap rather than feeling like proper challenge.
The last few issues I have with gameplay are in regards to build and implementation. During my play, I noticed several framerate drops. For me, this occurred while I was in more open areas with many textures rendered and several enemy mobs attacking. In my playthrough, this happened equally during the beginning and latter half of the game and even though it wasn’t often, it was enough for me to comment on it. My biggest gripe, though, is the camera. The camera will do you zero favors in this game. If you’re near a wall or in corner, the camera loves to zoom in, preventing you from seeing anything else but Fury’s torso. The camera also doesn’t let you manually zoom out and this is especially annoying when surrounded by enemies. The majority of times you take minor damage, it will be due to enemies behind you and the camera. There is a lock-on system in combat, but other enemies will continue attacking, breaking combos or getting several cheap hits on you before you can ever swing your whip in retaliation. Now I’m not against having multiple enemies attacking, as this in of itself can provide more challenge. Yet, I think I prefer the combat style of Darksiders I, as when you’re locked-on an enemy, the others tend to hold back more. However, that style matched that game’s preference of fewer, but more engaging fights, versus here where there are just a few too many minor hordes that require a bit too much effort to clear. It’s tough to enjoy a good battle if you’re constantly looking over your shoulder and wrestling the camera to make sure you can fight properly. Simply put, the implementation needed to be stronger. Overall, the few gameplay strengths are cancelled out by its flaws, providing a study in pure mediocrity.
Mediocrity seems to be the magic word, as they reflect my feelings for Darksiders III’s aesthetics too. Visually, Darksiders III is exactly how you would imagine it. Backgrounds and environmental aesthetics are what you would expect from an apocalyptic dystopia. We’ve seen this for three games now and yes, the visuals are form fitting, yet they fail to offer anything new, unique, or outstanding. The graphics quality is fairly strong, so it feels like a wasted chance to utilize strong graphics to build up a more appealing effort. Having said that, I am very impressed with all of the character models. Fury looks awesome. She’s perfectly depicted as the capable, violent badass we come to know. I love her base design and I appreciate her appearance changes via the Hollows. Even the subtle details, like the accents on her armor, the color and lighting changes via the Hollows, or the acquired items that hang from her waist, I am thoroughly impressed with Fury’s looks. I am equally impressed with the bigger enemies, especially the Seven Deadly. From huge and grotesque to sleek and regal, the designs of the bosses are fantastic. They easily fit the sins they represent and just by their looks I was pumped to fight them. I wish that level of effort for character designs and intricate details was the same for the world designs, as it would have propelled this game’s overall visuals immensely.
Audibly, again, there are pros and cons. The voice acting is solid, as Cissy Jones gives dimension to Fury that matches well with her development arc. Jones does an excellent job of bring to life Fury’s multiple sides and vast array of feelings that War and Death lacked. But beyond Fury, it’s all lackluster. The Seven Deadly typically give cliché lines that don’t add anything to the mood. The NPCs suffer the curse of recycled, overused, generic lines that are as bothersome as an arrow to the knee. The voice actors themselves are great, but could and should have been better utilized. Musically, there is not a single memorable song in its soundtrack. Overuse of “artistic” silence and tunes that fail to catch your attention, the soundtrack might as well not have been implemented in the first place. That’s all I can really say about it; it’s that uninspiring. Strong pros muddled by too many cons make Darksiders III’s aesthetic appeal sorely average.
So yes, we got another Darksiders and perhaps that in itself is a victory. I only wish the experience was stronger in its entirety instead of feeling like a first effort. The first Darksiders, a true first effort, was a stronger production overall, which only makes this game’s flaws more evident. There is still plenty of enjoyment to be had and long-term fans will most definitely find and appreciate it. Truly though, I had high expectations for Darksiders III and can only hope this is just a one-time exception in what will hopefully be a longer-lasting series.
Review Copy Purchased by Author
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