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Darksiders III Review — Truly Middle-Tier Gaming

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Darksiders Pic

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.

Next year’s Biomutant combines some of the same old school appeal but with a new IP.

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.

OnlySP Review Score 2 Pass

Mitchell is a writer from Currawang, Australia, where his metaphorical sword-pen cleaves fiction from reality daily. When he's not writing, he plays video games and watches movies. While thinking about writing.

Review

Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night Review — A Symphony for the Fans

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Bloodstained Ritual of the Night

For a long while, the industry had yet to see a return to a true-to-form Castlevania title, leading many fans to speculate if Konami had abandoned the formula all together. Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is ArtPlay’s response to this absence, with the legendary Castlevania-veteran Koji Igarashi at its helm. Although Bloodstained may not have certainty that it will continue the legacy of Castlevania, the title delivers on its promise as a game for fans, by the fans, and exceeds most expectations. Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is a true Castlevania experience in every way except the title. 

In Ritual of the Night, players take control of a Sharbinder named Miriam, an individual who can harness the power of magical shards crystallized by the souls of the enemies she kills. As the core mechanic, the ability to absorb shards and utilize their new skills is required for player progression and success. The fact that Miriam is a Shardbinder further reinforces the narrative of Bloodstained, since their existence often lead to negative events. The story contained within Ritual of the Night is similar to most Castlevania titles, except this time, Dracula is replaced in favor of Gebel, a more skilled Sharbinder and Miriam’s old friend and mentor. 

Bloodstained Castle

Most of the game takes place inside a castle, but long-time Castlevania veterans will expect that the castle is only an external facade, with caverns and caves hiding beneath. Remaining true to its Metroidvania roots, Bloodstained contains a sprawling map full of hidden rooms and secrets. Exploration is encouraged by the ever-present possibility of better items and power-ups in the following rooms. Bloodstained finds a perfect difficulty balance by spacing out save rooms to encourage caution. Every time death was close, the curiosity of what could be behind the next door drove the desire for further exploration.

The map present in Bloodstained is truly expansive and worthy of a Metroidvania title. Each new area provides an extension onto the already dense castle setting, never requiring players to travel to a new location to progress. All additional areas remain connected to the central castle, providing an experience that is continuous and believable. Similarly to Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, players can unlock an “Inverse” ability that will flip the playable map upside down and allow for new experiences in an already explored area. Just as he did with Symphony of the Night, Igarashi-san crafted a beautiful setting that retains its appeal even when explored upside down.  

The desire to progress deeper into the castle is fueled in part by the Shard system and the potential of discovering new ones along the way. In Bloodstained: RotN, enemies have the potential to drop shards that provide enhanced abilities and passive stats. Players can equip multiple shards at once, each enhancing different areas of play. For instance, one shard can provide Miriam with an ability drawn from the creature that dropped it, while another can summon a familiar to accompany Miriam throughout her journey. 

Bloodstained Shard

As the game progresses, players are required to backtrack and utilize newly gathered shards to enter areas that were not accessible early on. In this regard, the title maintains its genuine Metroidvania, or Igavania, genre as some fans are hailing it. Killing a random sea creature might net Miriam the ability to create a directional aquatic blast, but use that ability near deep waters and players might be surprised by what they can do. 

Since every enemy in Ritual of the Night is capable of rewarding Miriam with a shard ability, players will quickly find themselves host to multiple of the same kind. To counter this, players are encouraged to sell unwanted shards for coins at the local merchant, where they can also purchase crafting items. The crafting system allows players to utilize recipes found throughout their journey and create food that provides a temporary boost to Miriam’s stats. Additionally, players can use materials gathered to enhance the shards they have amassed to alter its capabilities and damage output. 

Although Bloodstained deserves to be showered with praise, the game is not immune to technical issues that can hinder the experience. During the preparation of this review, the game was subject to continuous frame issues, where too much action would result in stuttering. Additionally, optimization issues plague the console port, with registration lag featured every time Miriam would absorb a shard or with the occasional room entry. ArtPlay has responded to these issues ensuring fans that optimization is a high priority for the company, and it will be addressing these problems within the next few patches.  

Despite a few technical setbacks, Bloodstained is truly an experience for first-timers and longtime Castlevania fans alike. Igarashi-san and ArtPlay built this game out of their love for the genre and that is evident in every aspect of the game. The preservation of a traditional Castlevania game along with the advancements made towards propelling the genre further help Bloodstained stand out amongst other Metroidvania titles of recent years. Although an argument could be made that the title leans too much on its Symphony of the Night influences, Ritual of the Night succeeds in providing fans of the genre with an experience that has been absent for years. 

Given that Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is a crowdfunded game, the amount of love and attention evident in its production comes as no surprise. The level of quality that is present in this package is truly astounding, and the appreciation grows even more when considering the free content promised for the coming months. Perfection should not be expected from Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night. However, the result is exactly what was promised by the developers, and fans could not ask for more. Throughout its development, Igarashi-san provided continual assurance that he desired to make the game a product of its fans. By listening to criticism and acting on it, he fulfilled his promise with Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night

OnlySP Review Score 5 High Distinction

Reviewed on PlayStation 4 Pro. Also available on Nintendo Switch, PC, and Xbox One.

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