The road to Darksiders III has been a long one. Just when you think developer Vigil Games was getting into the groove with its hack and slash franchise, which pits the four horsemen of the apocalypse against the forces of heaven and hell, series publisher THQ went bankrupt in 2012, leaving the future of the remaining two entries for this planned quadrilogy uncertain. A few IP acquisitions later, however, and the epic tale thankfully rages on – this time with Fury, sister to earlier protagonists War and Death, ready to wreak havoc. A few technical hitches aside, Darksiders III is a thrilling action romp through the end of the world.
Much like the first sequel, the story of Darksiders III runs parallel to that of the original game. War is facing judgement for his alleged attempt to pre-emptively start the apocalypse, Death has embarked on a personal mission to prove his brother’s innocence, meaning it falls to you as Fury to hunt down and rid Earth of the seven deadly sins. Doing so consists of regular bouts of glorious hack and slash combat, varied puzzle-solving, along with a healthy number of platforming challenges. All three of which have a slightly new flavour to them this time around thanks to Darksiders III’s addition of a new central weapon: the blade whip.
Technically known in-universe as Barbs of the Scorn, Fury’s whip makes it immensely satisfying to unleash pain unto the hordes of demons that consistently cross your path. Whereas in previous games combat encounters like this would be gated, active movement and dodges are now better made use of thanks to the labyrinthine spaces you get to fight through. It’s no longer a matter of explore, fight, rinse, and repeat. Instead, Darksiders III frees you up to gain a better angle on enemies, improved even more thanks to the whip’s various upgradable forms and broadened range compared to, say, War’s mega-sword from the first game.
Maybe we should have seen this coming given how similar the series names are, but the influence of Dark Souls can certainly be felt in this third iteration. Outside of the ability to lock on to opponents and dodge their attacks (allowing you to retort with a vicious counter), should Fury die in battle the souls that act as your currency will stay there rather than accompany you at respawn. As with most games that utilise this mechanic, this adds a little extra conservative risk to how forceful you might act in fights; you’re always asking yourself: “Should I attack carelessly and risk dying, or take a calmer approach and guarantee the soul rewards?”
The temptation is almost always to do the former, thanks to the excess of upgradable weapon forms and customisable special attacks Darksiders III presents you with. The best example of this are what’s known as ‘Hollows’: elemental powers that can be actively switched between during combat to gain the upper-hand over enemies and bosses. Fire is the first of these you acquire, to use an example, letting you light up those who get close to you. It also plays into the game’s many platforming sections, thanks to its second function to provide a boost jump. Darksiders III is full of these abilities that serve multiple purposes – they’re the game’s chief way of keeping you surprised.
Speaking of surprise, and Darksiders III is yet again no slouch when it comes to the puzzles. The previous game’s affinity for seeing you get a glowing ball into the socket of a Rube Goldberg machine is thankfully done away with, replaced with a variety of tasks such as setting alight webs in the right order, and tracking down swords needing to be slotted into the correct place. Most won’t have you scratching your head for too long, but all serve as a nice break from what would otherwise be an endless onslaught of action that could soon grow tiresome. Traversal is equally functional if a little uninspired, with at least a diverse set of environments to rush and swing through.
The 20 hours it takes to complete Fury’s journey of bringing balance back to a ravaged Earth are fun, yes, but marred ever so slightly by a few technical hiccups indicative of that old-school scrappiness we used to see when mid-tier game releases were far more affluent. All this is to say that Darksiders III remains totally playable for the most part, but isn’t as polished as, say, this year’s God of War or even Shadow of the Tomb Raider, with constant framerate dips and lengthy load times holding the game back from true greatness.
In a way it’s quite charming, and to a certain degree expected, given how small Vigil Games successor studio Gunfire Games actually is. But when taken as a whole, these little irksome instances soon add up and can lead to frustration. It never got so bad that it took us out of the experience, but slowdown is most noticeable during moments when small areas become packed with more enemies than Darksiders III can comfortably handle. At its worst, it made us apprehensive to deploy a screen-demolishing special move for fear of experiencing a crash and losing progress.
Another quibble comes as a result of the seven deadly sins, who act as the game’s bosses that are sporadically placed throughout Fury’s adventure. Each one looks distinct, is well-voiced, and generally as imaginatively realised as the rest of Darksiders’ lore, but beating them almost always boils down to just wailing on them with the same set of attacks repeatedly. This works well in terms of how creatively you can choose to approach them, but it would have been nice for every personified sin to work more as puzzles that can cinematically be taken down.
Overall, Darksiders III does a lot right to put the cult fantasy series back on track following a long absence, making the act of embodying one of the four horsemen as thrilling and as action-packed as ever. It’s an experience that could be greatly improved should those few technical oversights get ironed out with the release of a patch. Fury’s pursuit of the seven deadly sins is a great addition to this multifaceted story, one that we will hopefully see the conclusion of when Strife takes centre stage next time.
Darksiders III launches on 27 November on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC