When THQ filed for bankruptcy in 2013, the future of its many game series were in doubt, with the future of cult favourite Darksiders one of those suddenly on the line. Fortunately, Nordic Games came to the rescue, building themselves up around a core of former THQ franchises and even rebranding themselves as THQ Nordic in the process. Six years on from THQ’s collapse, we now get to return to the war-torn post-apocalyptic Earth in Darksiders III.
Set all alongside the events of the first two Darksiders, you take control of Fury as she seeks to kill the seven deadly sins at the request of the Charred Council – an entity tasked with keeping balance between heaven and hell. Fury – along with her three brothers – belongs to an ancient race called the Nephili. Nearing extinction, the four remaining Nephilim struck a deal with the council to uphold the order of balance, in return acquiring the strength and power that makes them near god-like.
Right off the bat, one of the biggest changes in Darksiders III is the shift in combat. The previous two titles put an emphasis on fighting large crowds of enemies at a time, but Darksiders III features fewer enemies that have more health and hit a lot harder. This creates more of a one-on-one combat system in which you have to be much more deliberate with attacks. Correctly timed evasions enables Fury to return a counter-attack for extra damage.
Using her whip, Fury can chain together a number of attacks between the ground and the air. As the game progresses, you’ll unlock a number of extra weapons and abilities that can be utilised in battle. Each weapon has a corresponding element, which can cause extra damage during fights. There are four elements overall, starting with fire and lightning, each of which has a special ability that can be used during fights for extra damage, debuffs or invincibility. Fury also has a overdrive ability in which she turns into a demon, making her invincible and dishing out far more damage.
Those elements are also linked to a number of platforming abilities which open up exploration around the world. Similar to many Metroidvania titles, players are able to go back to previously explored areas in order to find places that were previously locked away. Unfortunately, returning to past areas often results in nothing more than finding items or collectibles.
The world of Darksiders III is spread across a war-torn Earth, with heaven and hell battling for control of the universe. As Fury, you will travel to a number of locations including a subway tube, a natural history museum and even a large scale construction site that has been repurposed by demons. While I enjoyed the variety of the environments, the level design and linearity of the world feels unimaginative. Darksiders II was a sprawling, open world adventure that felt grandiose throughout its narrative, but this game feels flat and monotonous. Players are always chasing the next objective and there’s rarely anything in between, which leaves the world feeling empty.
Fortunately, Fury is a likeable character that provides more than enough entertainment through her various musings with The Watcher – an entity tasked with following Fury on her quest. It certainly is cheesy at times, but Fury’s sarcasm and dry humour make her the most likeable out of the horsemen we’ve met so far. Her overarching narrative progression and development is very predictable, but it is one that fits with the series.
I’m also a big fan of her visual design; the aforementioned elements all produce a different hair colour for Fury, which can also act differently depending on her surroundings. One of my favourite examples of this was how her hair behaved around water when the fire element was equipped. It’s a small touch that adds a lot to her character.
There are also some returning characters in Darksiders III, with Vulgrim the Merchant and The Makers being the most notable. War does make a brief appearance, although I was disappointed to see that the other two brothers didn’t play a bigger role in Fury’s journey. Ulthane – also known as ‘The Black Hammer’ – from Darksiders also returns and provides Fury the ability to upgrade her weapons.
Each weapon can be upgraded to improve its stats and each weapon can be imbued with a modifier – these can also be upgraded via Ulthane. A levelling system enables players to improve Fury’s stats in three different areas; defence, attack and arcane. These are levelled up by collecting souls from enemies and banking them with the merchant Vulgrim. Players will lose their collected souls on death and must return to the spot they were killed to collect them. This is similar to the system seen in the first Darksiders, but it actually feels more at home here given the new shift in combat.
The real highlights in Darksiders III are the boss fights, as Fury must fight each one of the seven deadly sins. Well-written and well performed, the fights are standout encounters and highlight one of my favourite aspects on the Darksiders series, which is the developer’s ability to draw on real world concepts. Each one of the sins feels unique and their boss battles reflect that. Some of the boss fights can feel a bit frustrating at times, but these moments were few and far between.
While it is easy to forget that the Darksiders series is not produced by Triple-A developer, I do feel that it shows more than ever before in Darksiders 3. I played my review copy on PC with a more than capable GTX 1070 GPU, but found myself regularly struggling with frame drops and stuttering. What made this more frustrating was that Darksiders III isn’t a graphically intensive game. It is colourful in places and there are some great particle effects, but the environments are typically quite brown and the areas are never too expansive. Hopefully this can be improved soon after release, but as of writing I’m struggling to get stable performance.
The narrative conclusion of Darksiders III, while not surprising, was a lot of fun and an ending I think fans of the series will be happy. I can see what the developers are aiming for in potential sequels and it’s something I think the fanbase are probably going to enjoy. I was however disappointed by the lack of endgame content on offer, as I’ve spent the best part of 16 hours building a character that I am no longer able to use, unless I want to repeat the last fight again.
Darksiders III, while more limited in scope than its predecessor, provides a tighter, more deliberate experience that elaborates on the lore we’ve seen so far. The smaller world of Darksiders 3 may disappoint some fans of the previous game, but this feels like a reboot of the series. Poor PC performance, a lack of side-objectives and some unimaginative world-design point to a game with ambitions bigger than its budget, but Darksiders III is a fun and challenging experience that kept me engaged across the length of its story.
Version tested: PC
Also available for PS4, Xbox One