Darksiders III cribs, unapologetically, from another dark and soul-collecting franchise of its era, Dark Souls. Enemies hit very hard, many of them are undead or demonic, and the character improves their statistics by channelling souls into checkpoints dotted about a massive, interconnected game world. Most of all, when players perish—rather than face a game over screen—they return to their most recent checkpoint and must trek back to the place of their death to recover the souls they were carrying.
Darksiders III, at release, is a buggy, framerate-hitching, geometry-glitching mess—with patchy voice performances and a promising premise squandered by pointless lore.
And yet, exploring the ruined Earth of Darksiders III is a heck of a lot of fun.
This is a B-game through and through, of the sort that was more numerous during past console generations—before endless open worlds and online services. Without the RPG progression and deep mythology of Dark Souls, only a very specific group of gamers will find true enjoyment in this old school world design, and then even they might stumble at the many technical failings and irritating story.
Players control Fury, whose mission is to defeat the Seven Deadly Sins, a sort of evil cadre who works against the Charred Council, as the Four Horsemen work for it. If that means nothing to you, do not fear. The universe of Darksiders is often deliberately childish and sometimes just plain dumb, serving as no more than a reason for why super-powered beings must fight hellish abominations on a ruined planet. Besides, much better story recaps exist on YouTube, made by fans who care about that.
In any case, like the original Darksiders, the game is not interested in a deep cinematic experience with carefully crafted characters or meaningful story. Many of the presentation quirks that would dog “triple-A” games, from the nonsensical plot to its relatively less-detailed graphics, are just not part of what makes Darksiders III fun.
Rather, the game’s fun comes from a drip feed of labyrinthine pathways over and through a variety of distinct environments. Strange doors and blocked passages abound, unlocked through abilities that are gated by progression—though not in the first game’s linear dungeon-to-dungeon fashion so inspired by The Legend of Zelda.
This, of course, invokes the dreaded term “metroidvania,” where the entire taxonomy of action-adventure games breaks down and should stay in rubble on the floor. Yes, Darksiders III‘s world is like a thrift-store Lordran split into a collection of zones reminiscent of Super Metroid—but heck, Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver and Banjo-Kazooie have about as much in common with Darksiders III as this game does with either the ‘metroid’ or the ‘vania’.
The return to this style of game, after the sprawling, empty and loot-focused second game will either delight or frustrate players that are already familiar with the series.
Fans of the first Darksiders will find plenty of similarities between War’s journey in the first and Fury’s return now (though, like II, this game actually takes place during the timeframe of the original). Indeed, the reported team and budget of the first and the latest entries are comparable, though the spiral corridors and unique locations of III are slightly more interesting than the first’s boxy dungeons with repetitive combat rooms.
In this way, Darksiders III is a marked improvement on the first. Still, the numerous separate dungeons, RPG-style progression, and wide open spaces of the second title are gone, and this loss will likely disappoint series fans—but developer Gunfire Games and publisher THQ Nordic have little to no interest in the vocal minority who will find issue with this change. Darksiders 3 hopes instead to be a fresh start for the series by appealing to the larger contingent of gamers who are desperate for more Souls-like dark fantasy adventure.
Herein lies the reviewer’s conundrum: if players come to Darksiders III for any of Dark Souls‘ appeals beyond difficulty and world design, they are likely to leave wanting. If they were hoping to enjoy the laughing-stock of a story, they will find it is disappointingly po-faced and mired in mid-2000s grimdark cliches (although the game has one fascinatingly silly boss strangely reminiscent of The Great Mighty Poo from Conker’s Bad Fur Day).
On the other hand, if players are desperate for more Metroidvania exploration in a 3D action game—and Lords of the Fallen was just too clunky and linear—they could do a lot worse than check out Darksiders III. One can only hope for the patch soon that will clear up those performance quirks.