In the review-in-progress, OnlySP concluded that, as a B-game, Darksiders III‘s primary strength is in the old school world design and exploration. Though that is certainly the most outstanding aspect, Darksiders III offers more questions as to whether prospective players should check out this venture. As one of their first new games since assuming the throne of THQ, Darksiders III represents a kind of mission statement from THQ Nordic—what it describes could be the shape of things to come.
WHAT IS A DARKSIDERS ANYWAY?
Three games in, the strengths of Darksiders’s developers are very clear: an old-school world design, a deep love of Zelda and the action-adventure genre, and a willingness to experiment within their house style. Whether or not players enjoy the series, or at least whether they should give their time to such a navel-gazing entry such as Darksiders III (more on that in a moment), depends on how much one can handle the series’s house style.
For this reviewer, the game does not offer a whole lot to latch onto. The Darksiders universe could charitably be described as a Saturday morning cartoon (indeed, writing duties fell to Ben 10‘s Man of Action Studios for this instalment) except that the most successful cartoons do not try so hard for the overly serious, grimdark aesthetic of Warhammer as Darksiders does. Thematic context is minimal and the dialogue mixes attempts at dry humour (most accomplished with Darksiders II‘s horseman, Death) with boring action-speak.
Of course, the value of a game is in its play, but aesthetics go a long way to enamour players, and the world of Darksiders III is lacking in both mystery and appeal. The story is content with being a filler chapter explaining what Fury was up to during the events of Darksiders and Darksiders II, leading to a certain ‘lexical laziness’ that pervades everything.
Throughout Fury’s adventure, boss characters will enter the scene, espouse the value of this concept or that place in the universe, and the game never demonstrates why the player should care. Additionally, for the third game in a row, the generic post-apocalyptic city (possibly New York?) and the humans of Earth are implied to be important for unclear reasons. No matter how deep the background lore is, what the game presents to players is occasionally beautiful but skin-deep. The entirety of creation hangs in the balance in the Darksiders universe, and yet the stakes are never established.
Much of the visuals of the world in Darksiders III can also be described as tiresome. After the Life After People inspired location of Haven, the game’s other levels fail to diverge from “gross”, “dark”, “smelly”, or a combination of all three. Again, the level design is wonderfully accomplished, but when the game’s traversal cribs liberally from Metroid Prime and other action-adventure games, presentation can make a lot of difference.
With music, for example, composer Cris Velasco declines to give the game the same sort of grandeur that Jesper Kyd brought to Darksiders II—as silly as it sounds, music is incredibly important in video games and can make or break the tone of a game world. Here and there Fury’s theme pops up to blare epically, but the rest of the score underwhelms.
On the whole, Darksiders II was also less dreary—taking place in the Norse-inspired Maker lands and beyond, with Death’s aforementioned dry snarkery adding some levity. Much like War in the original game, Fury has no sense of humour. Thanks to this and the meaninglessly cod-philosophical boss spiels, Darksiders III suffers from a distinct lack of charm, something that one hopes Gunfire Games can improve with the theoretical Darksiders IV.
BATTLES FROM GRAND TO BLAND
One aspect untouched upon so far is the nitty gritty of the combat, which puts this reviewer in mind of a beautiful table setting with meat of uneven quality and undercooked potatoes. Although combat is heavily inspired by Dark Souls, the game lacks loot and RPG mechanics; instead, Fury uses a magical hilt that changes from whip, to sword, to daggers, and more as she gains powers throughout the game.
The basic attack and combos (square button, or X on Xbox) always make use of her whip, a genuinely fantastic weapon for its reach and crowd control. Compared with the first game, players will face fewer enemies at a time—and can usually dodge out of the way when surrounded—but the great feeling of whipping multiple mooks in an instant never grows old. The other weapons depend on whichever power Fury has equipped (triangle button, or Y on Xbox) and though they lack the whip’s reach, they each come with their own elemental effects or exploration utilities such as smashing through special walls.
What hurts the general fun of the combat are the double-whammy of camera control and poor performance. Rather than the freer, Ocarina of Time-style camera of the original, Darksiders III‘s camera is stapled over Fury’s shoulders with only slight deviations when targeting enemies, again following the heavy Dark Souls influence. This works well for a slower paced RPG, but Darksiders‘s focus on combos and quick movement will have players quickly pining for the cinematic camera of the old God of War games, or even just one that is zoomed out farther.
As for performance, Darksiders III is still a bit of a mess. As the game was reviewed on PlayStation 4, the reviewer was unable to beta test the latest PC patch—a patch that is undoubtedly necessary, as frame-hitching and other graphical glitches are commonplace in the current version. An action game of this aspiration requires at the very least thirty solid frames a second, or better sixty frames. The final part of the puzzle is the evade and counter system, which relies on timing too much for these performance issues to be overlooked.
Evading works very differently to that in a Soulslike, with no apparent invincibility during the dodge animation (at the beginning). Instead, players have to watch for telegraphed attacks and evade at the instant before an attack lands—if successful, they will be treated to a slow-motion effect and opportunity to riposte, much like the parry mechanic of Dark Souls. Though sometimes creative, the game’s bosses rely too heavily on this evade mechanic and come off as fairly samey as a result.
The game either had to offer a more immediate hook, or present a more technically polished version of itself to reach a full recommendation, but thanks to talented designers, neither is it a malignant failure of basic, budget-game execution.
THQ’S BUDGET GAME BEGINS (AGAIN)
The throwback design of Darksiders III, as accomplished by Gunfire Games, is only one of the two forces acting on the game, the other being its budget production. OnlySP has eagerly awaited signs of what the new THQ Nordic’s gambit will produce, and as a first step, Darksiders III makes for an interesting statement of intent.
The game is clearly not polished to the standard expected of triple-A action games; but given the history of these games since Darksiders II, these sorts of action experiences are just not made at the triple-A level—with the exception of Bayonetta 3 as a first-party production at Nintendo, and Devil May Cry V, grandfathered-in by its brand royalty.
At the same time, Darksiders III, despite scaling back in virtually every way from its predecessor, is still obviously a Darksiders title and is unlikely to fail financially, thanks to its surprisingly popular name. The overwhelming majority of people who buy it—fans of the series and the uninitiated alike—will never read this.
Those who are reading this will find a low budget title that is defiantly free from microtransactions and other modern nonsense that is invading the bigger single-player games. Three entries deep into an ongoing series, however, it also carries the same limited appeal as, say, a movie tie-in game from the age to which its old-school design hearkens back.
But gamers also cannot necessarily be that disappointed with the game, which might never have happened thanks to the original THQ’s implosion. Players anxiously awaiting From Software’s Sekiro or even Metroid Prime 4 might get a decent kick out of another one of these sorts of action adventure games. On the other hand, its technical bugs and lack of depth keep it from being a highly recommended title, and a mixed start to THQ Nordic’s budget-game gambit.