We haven’t seen many games like Darksiders III in the past decade or so. It’s a third-person action game that isn’t afraid to grind your progress to a halt for an hour or more until you figure out how to beat a seemingly-impossible boss. It doesn’t seem to aspire to match the visual polish of this year’s biggest blockbusters, and its design philosophy completely disregards all the hand-holding and coddling that has become the norm outside of Dark Souls and its brethren. But the combat is satisfying – and, you know, maybe not every game needs to be a giant open world with a million things to collect and a never-ending supply of side quests. Darksiders III fits comfortably in that spot.
Your appreciation of the characters and stakes of this roughly 20-hour story will get a boost if you’ve played at least the first Darksiders. Each game puts you in control of a different Horseman of the Apocalypse in a unique and interesting setting: a ravaged Earth where a war between angels and demons has pretty much left humans extinct. Your Horseman this time around is Fury – the only female Horseman – but her debut isn’t especially memorable due to some cheesy dialogue and forgettable voice acting.
She’s sent out to hunt down the Seven Deadly Sins, and each of them serves as one of Darksiders III’s collection of varied major boss fights. None of the events of that story really stuck out to me, but fortunately, I don’t demand a gripping story to go along with my hacking and slashing. (If you do happen to be invested in the Darksiders lore you’ll be happy to hear the ending to Darksiders III indicates the team at Gunfire Games would like to make more.)
As for the graphics, while there have been games this year that have truly stunned me with their beauty, Darksiders III is not one of them. The stylized, cartoonish characters are plopped into a pretty generic-looking world that lacks detail. A couple of the Deadly Sin designs are cool, though: Sloth, for example, is a giant, beyond-morbidly obese slime bug who is carried around on a throne of slave beetles.
It’s in the hacking and slashing that Darksiders III really excels. This is no mindless beat ‘em up where you just run into a gang of monsters mashing your attack buttons. All manner of demons, skeletons, angels, giant insects, and trolls need to be cut down, and you won’t get very far without being observant of their behaviors. Wait for their attack, time your dodge at just the right time, and you’ll be able to return their unkindness with a vicious counterattack that is one of the most satisfying deeds I’ve performed in games this year. By the end, I felt I’d written a compendium in my mind of all the beasts and their subtle tells.
Fury’s ever-expanding arsenal includes lots of fun toys, and it’s up to you to decide which ones to power up and rely most on. I prefer the Chains of Scorn because they set my enemies on fire for extra damage over time. Along with her weapons, she gains new movement powers that give her access to new areas, and once you’ve unlocked them all it’s fun to switch between all her different forms to find the right tools for the various combat and obstacle jobs. Some forms are common video game stuff, like the ability to float over short distances provided by the Lance of Scorn. Others are less so, like the ability to transform into a magnetic ball that can roll around on walls and ceilings granted by the Mallet of Scorn (Fury is a very scorny woman). But Fury’s magnificent mane switches to a different shade of fabulous for each form, so they’re all at least worth playing with.
While the bad guys don’t reveal their level, there does seem to be some annoying level scaling happening. No matter how powerful Fury becomes, basic enemies can still kill her with just a few hits at any point. Level scaling is not a design choice I appreciate – it’s much better to feel like an all-powerful god after putting in all that time and effort and then use that power to fight new, stronger enemies to level the playing field.
The bosses in Darksiders III are not messing around. While the first couple might not pose much of a threat, eventually you’ll encounter one that doesn’t seem to respond to any trick or attack you’ve learned up to that point. Not to ruin any surprises, but don’t be shocked if a boss doesn’t go down as easily as it seems they will. It can be frustrating to suddenly have the tables turned on you, to be sure, but with persistence success eventually (mercifully) comes. In this way, Darksiders III feels like it’s of another time – a time when designers weren’t afraid of scaring you away with difficulty.
Boss checkpoints could have been tweaked to better respect our time, though. In one case, losing to a boss sends you all the way back to a checkpoint with all sorts of enemies blocking your path back to round two (and, if we’re being honest, for me it was rounds three and four and so on). In another, you’re sent back to an area that’s far away but with no enemies in your path, so you just have to spend a few minutes running back to the fight. The bosses here are tough enough that these inconveniences add up after a few failures.
Instead of open world, I’d describe Darksiders III as a connected-world game. It’s a series of smallish rooms connected by hallways and tunnels, and the nearest Deadly Sin is always marked with a skull on your radar at the top of the screen. So playing Darksiders III means running down hallways from room to room, keeping that skull centered, and fighting any monsters in your way.
That’s 90 percent of it, with environmental puzzles making up the remaining 10 percent. These puzzles are a nice break from the action, and one or two were tough enough to stump me for more than a few minutes.
That doesn’t leave much room for rewarding exploration, but I did enjoy hunting down the upgrade items that are hidden all over the place behind corners and just off the beaten path. There is a bit of backtracking to previous areas, and you’re bound to notice opportunities that weren’t previously available to you because you didn’t have the right ability yet. Those moments flesh Darksiders III out a bit and make it feel like more than just a simple action game.