Gunfire Games once told me that they can’t believe they’re getting the chance to make Darksiders 3. The arrival of THQ Nordic provided the studio with one final chance to bring their ambitious series back into the spotlight, albeit with noticeably smaller production values.
The third instalment is definitely a victim of this ambition, trying so much and stumbling like a devilish infant in the process. It tries to combine elements of the past generation’s most beloved trends while desperately clinging to the iconic aesthetic it helped cement over ten years ago.
Sadly, the experience is fraught with noticeable flaws, but it’s such an obvious labour of love that I can’t help but commend what Gunfire Games has achieved here. I just wish it wasn’t so hopelessly rough around the edges.
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Taking place parallel to the happenings of previous games, Darksiders 3 has you playing as yet another Horseman of the Apocalypse. Except, this time, you’re a Horselady. Fury is a rebellious figure sent by greater powers to eliminate The Seven Deadly Sins who have made themselves known on the ruined husk of Planet Earth.
She’s a pawn in hopes to restore the balance between Heaven and Hell torn apart in previous games. However, greater schemes are at work that she’ll soon gain knowledge of. The plot of Darksiders 3 is perfectly serviceable, dealing out a memorable cast of characters that never quite reach their full potential.
Fury is fantastic, offering a powerful performance that steals every scene she inhabits, lending your control of her an extra dose of power. The Seven Deadly Sins you’re tasked with eliminating are equally compelling but are gone as quickly as they arrive.
Their sporadic nature is one of Darksiders 3’s biggest flaws. Instead of having dungeons themed around these larger-than-life enemies, they’re just stuffed inside ruined skyscrapers and abandoned museums like any other foe. This dull streak is felt throughout most of the game world, which rarely deals out anything we haven’t seen before.
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Prior to release, the world of Darksiders 3 was described to me as completely open, meaning you could tackle The Seven Deadly Sins in any order you wished. This simply isn’t true, with progress being gated by special abilities gained by defeating said bosses. That isn’t to say Darksiders 3 doesn’t present an enjoyable post-apocalyptic hellscape to explore, as it definitely does.
The ruined buildings and infested caverns are ripe with secrets to discover, many of which encourage you to return with better powers to unlock paths previously inaccessible. I felt a desire to see everything it had to offer. It’s fun to scour, yet frequently hindered by how evidently lifeless it feels at times. When compared to its contemporaries, Darksiders 3 feels oddly confined, environments betraying the epic quest you’ve been entrusted with.
This is made magnitudes worse by some frankly unforgivable performance problems on PS4 Pro. Upon entering new areas the seams quite literally begin to show as they struggle to load in, tanking the frame rate in the process. It’s a temporary struggle, yet it happened frequently enough to be an obvious distraction.
Issues like this are unusual because I never had problems in combat encounters, even when I was up against goliaths that take up the entire screen. This points to a lack of optimisation, although I can’t speak for the clarity of other platforms in this regard. Darksiders 3 isn’t the greatest looking game on the world, so problems like this become increasingly difficult to justify after a dozen hours of play.
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Someone at Gunfire Games played a lot of Dark Souls, as the majority of systems in Darksiders 3 seem to deliberately ape the iconic RPG. Whether it’s moment-to-moment combat, exploration, or using the souls of enemies to upgrade your character, Darksiders 3 is taking clear influence from Soulsborne, and I’m in two minds as to if this is a good thing or not.
The act of combat is very simple, achieved with a single button to swing Fury’s whip in all directions, striking down all enemies in her vicinity. Your heavy attack, as it were, is given to a variety of secondary weapons you’ll unlock as things progress. Fire, Thunder and Gravity are just a few of the elements you’ll come to adopt.
Despite its simplicity, combat is satisfying and visually spectacular, never feeling like a chore as I retreaded my steps and stumbled upon familiar enemies. Although, it is a little too easy at times, with me defeating a few of The Deadly Sins on my first attempt with no trouble at all. I might’ve been overpowered but I wasn’t going out of my way to grind or seek out every collectable I could possibly find.
If this is a problem for you there’s always the option to crank up the difficulty but this only serves to highlight how inconsistent combat can become. You’ll frequently be rushed off screen or spammed with attacks you’re powerless to avoid. Dodging perfectly will slow down time for a spell, opening up enemies for a lethal counter-attack.
You’ll soon find a worthwhile rhythm, but if Darksiders 3 hopes to follow in the footsteps of Dark Souls or Devil May Cry it needs to be just as precise. In a nutshell, it’s a competent homage at best.
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The elemental powers I mentioned earlier lend exploration an extra layer of complexity that I adore, especially since it let me return to districts I once thought desolate. One later power allows Fury to morph into a ball and cling to nearby walls, moving upward and along ceilings before stumbling across hidden areas. Another allows you to burst into a ball of fire after a double jump, once again acting as a way to reach higher platforms.
Upgrades adopt the approachable nature of combat as Serpent Holes across the world allow you to contribute Souls in order to increase your level. Talismans and Augmentations can also be applied to weapons at a Smithy, while rescuing humans hiding amongst the city might unlock some special, hugely beneficial upgrades.
All of these systems work in tandem with one another but never reach the levels of depth and customisation I’d want to see from a fully-fledged RPG. Instead, Darksiders 3 feels unusually undercooked and suffers as a result. The survivability of Fury also comes into question at times.
Our heroine is surprisingly vulnerable, capable of being ambushed and killed in a matter of seconds if you aren’t careful. This is a bit of nuisance when Serpent Holes, the game’s equivalent of Dark Souls’ Bonfires, are spread so far apart. Trawling through bland corridors filled with generic monsters happy to throw themselves at you is frustrating when you’ve got somewhere to be.
As the great Paul Hollywood once said, this one could’ve used a little more time in the oven.
Gunfire Games has done its best, and at times, succeeds in making Darksiders 3 a worthwhile successor to the previous two entries.
Combat is fun and accessible while exploration is nuanced enough to remain engaging. But there isn’t enough off the beaten path or outside of the fairly predictable story to really help this stand out.
Ridiculous performance problems that I experienced only help compound a package that is enjoyable yet ultimately underwhelming.