UPDATE 28/11/2018: Shortly after publishing this review, the 1.03 patch for Darksiders 3 was released. This patch addresses many of the technical issues mentioned in this review. The frame rate is now stable in areas they previously stuttered or dropped in, with negligable frame rate dips remaining. Also, after 4 hours of play, the game had not blue screen crashed or frozen. Finally, the glitches and bugs mentioned below appear to have been fixed and could not be replicated post the 1.03v patch. This is now the sequel all Darksiders fans were waiting for.
ORIGINAL REVIEW BASED ON THE 1.00v OF DARKSIDERS 3:
Being a fan of the Darksiders franchise has been a rollercoaster ride over the past 8 years. Darksiders and its sequel are undoubtedly two of my all-time favourite games, the combination of schlocky but deep faux-religious lore, tightly written stories, 90’s comic book inspired visuals and Zelda-esque game design earning them well deserved plaudits. Then the unimaginable happened and the original publisher THQ folded, leaving the future of the series in doubt. For 3 years, it looked as if the stories of the last 2 horseman – Fury and Strife – might be left untold. Then THQ Nordic threw fans a lifeline picking up the rights to the series, remastering the first 2 games for modern day consoles and announcing the sequel we’d all been waiting for – Darksiders 3. It’s with a heavy heart then that I report that this latest entry isn’t the series relaunch we were hoping for, at least in its current state. There’s been a number of changes to the formula for the threequel that have varying degrees of success but it’s the technical aspects of this title that threaten to undo all of its work elsewhere.
Darksiders 3 occurs over the same time period as the first 2 titles. The seventh seal has been broken, the Apocalypse has come to pass, all-out war rages on Earth between angels and demons and humanity is caught in the crossfire. War, the first horseman introduced in Darksiders, stands accused by the Charred Council of breaking the seal, upsetting the balance of good and evil and starting the Apocalypse. Death, the second horseman, is attempting to prove his brothers innocence. This brings us to Fury, the third horseman, and the protagonist of this game. Brought before the Charred Council shortly before War’s judgement, Fury is tasked with capturing the Seven Deadly Sins, 7 Nephilim that embody the capital vices that they’re named after, that have escaped their prison and are loose on Earth. Joined by a Watcher, a wispy minion of the council, Fury agrees to the task so long as she is granted leadership of the Horseman upon its completion. And so, off the angriest member of the horseman goes, whip in hand, ready to capture some Sins. Of course, this being a Darksiders game and knowing what happens with both War and Death, you know that everything isn’t quite as it seems…
Fury is the most complex horseman in this series to date, bought to visceral life by a tour de force performance by voice actor Cissy Jones. At the start of Darksiders 3, she’s petulant and disrespectful, showing no regard for the authority that granted her the powers she wields, the Charred Council. She’s disrespectful to her brother War, vainglorious in her victories and self-centred with her aims. She holds no value in human life, saying “Do I have to touch them?” upon first meeting one, and is no more respectful to the Maker (a face fans of the series will know well) who offers her assistance. Through the game though, and with each bout against the Sin’s she endures, Fury reflects upon who she is and begins to alter her course, questioning her aims and the manipulation of those who’ve granted her power. There’s nuance to the story in Darksiders 3, mostly portrayed through conversations with Fury’s ever-present Watcher and in cut scenes, with a twist in the tail that, despite being expected, is eloquently laid out.
As for game play, Darksiders 3 is a much more compact and abrasive experience than its predecessors. Rather than being laid out with a hub with dungeon spokes, this game is one big dungeon with connections weaved between each of the games distinct zones like a web. New powers though, and the paths they unlock, are handed to Fury regularly, each corresponding to a new set of combat moves and a means to manipulate the environment. Puzzles are still prevalent throughout, often requiring logical thinking, a bit of platforming and a deep understanding of the powers & what they can do to solve. These puzzles are a particular highlight of the game, always located in a space that has already allowed you to explore the use of Fury’s abilities but often tasking you to use them in a new way. It’s old school level design at its most refined but with the benefit of modern day execution.
Combat in Darksiders 3 will either make or break your experience with it, offering the biggest change from the first 2 titles. Fury has been made to feel more fragile that her brothers, resulting in far more tense encounters. Just a handful enemies with a few lucky blows can send Fury back to her last Vulgrim checkpoint (yes, he’s back) so to balance this out, Fury doesn’t face off against many hordes or arena waves. Instead, she’s pitted against small groups or solo enemies. The inspirations of Darksouls on the play are obvious here, making for a much more impenetrable experience on the Apocalyptic through Normal difficulties (which effects how much damage an enemy does to you and how much health they have) but thanks to a “story mode”, which drastically reduces the threat of even the bosses, means there’s a level of difficulty for everyone.
The art style from the series, a Tolkien-styled fantasy meets religious iconography, ran through the head of a heavy metal obsessed comic book artist, returns here with vengeance. The angels and demons you face off against all drip with menace (quite literally in some cases), each offering up their own challenge and lore based tie to their respective zone and boss battle. Some beasts are more tooth than they are anything else and there’s an area filled with undead angels that is inspired. The environments themselves are packed to the gills (again, quite literally in places) with the wreckage of humanity, offering up a fantastical wrecked Earth in order to whip around in. The bosses, the Sin’s and otherwise, are where the art style really shines. Some of them are hellish in design, stopping just short of venturing into the horror genre while still offering up plenty of nightmare fuel. This is all brought to life in glorious visuals, at least when standing still anyway…
It’s such a shame then that all of this positivity is undone at almost every turn by technical faults, bugs and glitches. The frame rate of Darksiders 3 slows down dramatically when entering a wide open area with a far off backdrop. It drops even lower when even a small group of demons engages you in combat there. The audio completely cut out in one 20 minute section of the game and required a Quit/Restart to resolve. The game freezes up regularly for 4 to 7 seconds at a time when loading – which wouldn’t be so much of an issue if it wasn’t every 10 or so steps during one section of the game. Darksiders 3 has blue screen crashed on my standard PS4 at least 10 times during my time with it, 3 times within one half an hour session. The game has failed to load from the dashboard, hard crashing my PS4 in the process, making the console entirely unresponsive while leaving me with a totally black screen. Using one of Vulgrim’s serpent holes (the fast travel for the game) left me with a totally black screen while the game still seemed to be operational according to the audio. A restart resolved the issue but it was still an annoyance. Lastly, returning to an area I’d already been through, I found a mash up of two zones overlaid on one another. Rock formations and lava waterfalls appeared in an area where they weren’t previously but had no physical presence, meaning I could walk through them. It has been a slog ploughing through this myriad of issues to find those moments of brilliance hidden beneath in Darksiders 3.
The narrative, voice acting and art style, in keeping with the first 2 titles, are pitched perfectly, as is the old school boss fights, puzzles and level design. The combat, the biggest departure from the series norms, might alienate some fans but once you get to grips with it, is a whipping good time. This game even has the least irritating water level I’ve ever experienced in a video game. If Gunfire Games fix the technical issues with Darksiders 3 – and I sincerely hope they get that chance – this will then be the sequel that the series deserves. As of right now though, this game is showing far too many frayed edges, bugs and glitches that’ll be enough to make you Furious.
Darksiders 3 is available now on PS4 (reviewed on a standard PS4), Xbox One and PC.
Developer: Gunfire Games
Publisher: THQ Nordic
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a review copy of the gams. Please see our review policy for more information. This review was based on the 1.00 – 1.02 version of the game.