A Woman Scorned
Darksiders III is a game that appears to have been made by people who really didn't know what the fuck they were doing. At times it can feel like a smart little action and adventure game, other times it's barely one step up from a movie tie-in, that uniquely awful genre about as welcome as someone pissing in your favourite shoes.
There's no denying that there is some species of talent at work here, but when you have to patch in an entirely different combat system from the one you spent years working on it does somewhat raise the question as to whether everyone was taking their medication when designing and testing it.
The idea is admirable; heaven knows action in games could do with a bit more challenge, a bit more tension, but where Dark Souls built itself around a very specific set of rules, Darksiders III tries to shoehorn in a random assortment of mechanics which do not work with the basic hack and slash gameplay the series has been using up till now.
For one the camera is much too low; being able to see the enemy and its attacks is absolutely vital when trying to dodge so when you're own shapely buttocks are hogging the screen in front of the creature needing to be slain it can actually be quite tricky to judge when they are trying to decline your gracious offer of a painful death.
The problem is then compounded by the aggression and general numbers in which the enemy attacks. You can have all the hit indicators in the world but when the animation priority is against you it can be remarkable easy to get stun-locked, with the camera taking a nice break to stare at a wall or some other piece of badly textured scenery.
Your only real defence is to dodge, but where Dark Souls had you able to block, parry or roll in pretty much any direction when unlocked from an opponent, Darksiders 3 decides that all you need is a jerky shuffe with a nice little bit of annoying recovery time to ram home the generosity.
Fortunately they did not decide to include a stamina bar so it still feels like a Darksiders game to an extent, but just far more frustrating than it needs to be with all encounters essentially reduced to a sticky game of dodge, counter, dodge, dodge, look out for attack from off screen, fail to dodge, die, come back, dodge, counter, dodge, finally kill enemy, rotate camera, die before camera rotates, eject disk, disk departs from window, sleep.
The other great whiff of brain flatulence is in the raw technical details. For a game that isn't even particularly detailed or juiced to the gills with particle effects it beggars belief that the frame rate is as appalling as it is. The game rarely runs smooth and will chug quite readily at even the merest hint of a graphical demand or meek suggestion. The load times are complete arse cake but during those long hours my thoughts countenance a brief moment of sympathy, that perhaps some development hell is to blame for all this garbage, but then I'm back in the game and return to loathing once more, chaffing at the apparent indifference Gunfire Games had with taking trouble to make the bloody thing run properly.
There are lesser sins, but sins nonetheless. The story is similarly arse cake, only in more easily digestible slices. Fury is tasked by the Charred Council to defeat the seven deadly sins in order to give balance to the world now ravaged by a premature apocalypse into which the forces of heaven and hell now fight over. But whilst Fury herself is pretty fun to be around (within 60 seconds she shows more personality and charisma than Lara Croft shows in an 3 entire games' worth) the story itself is largely gossamer thin excuse to check out some snazzy character designs (if I had an outfit as glorious as Pride's then I'd be pretty full of myself too). There's a nice twist late on and some funny moments but otherwise the writing varies too wildly to ever fully engage with.
There are vague attempts to invest you in the situation but like so much else it's depressingly half arsed. The beleaguered human survivors you are tasked to look out for are depicted mostly as objects of your charity rather than as actual people, and Fury's own character development is straight up stated rather than actually developed. Conversations will outright declare that she has changed without anything prior to indicate that such a change might have occurred. I suppose it is unrealistic to expect a Darksiders game to indulge in elegance or subtlety but I actually like Fury as a character, so to see her mucked about by the narrative equivalent of a disinterested Subway employee sneezing into my sandwich does nothing but incite a fury all my own.
The litany of fuck ups feels never-ending at times; the double jump is anaemic, the ledge grabbing is finicky and imprecise, the loading transitions are ugly and jarring as is the pop-in. Lips judder about like Gerry Anderson puppets and whenever the game tries to even get slightly complex with its mechanics you can feel the amateurishness cracking under the pressure. Yet there is no excuse for any of it; it's not an annualised series, there's no legally mandated need to put a game out to avoid losing the IP, it just reeks of both greed and sloth for which the only response is wrath.
I would not even have been so infuriated if the game was just 100% rotting carcass, but it isn't. There are too many good ideas to simply dismiss it out of hand, but it reinforces the feeling that somewhere into its development greatness and goodwill was happily squandered for the chance of a quick buck.
One of the positive consequences of making the game harder is that every advantage you can gain now becomes all the more valuable. Pretty much everything in Darksiders III has utility, even the most throwaway item can be traded for souls which in turn adds to your power. This lack of pointless collectibles is something of a master-stroke as it leaves out the needless and wearisome distraction of having to collect X of Y for no purpose other than filling a bar or raising an arbitrary number.
This is aided by there being no map or item tracker. Exploration as a consequence feels organic and immersive, with curiosity rewarded as the most valuable of items are usually off the beaten path. Without knowing what or how much is out there it removes the sense of obligation to collect everything and instead makes discovery a fun side activity rather than a tedious checklist much loved by your standard open world slog.
Be it a deliberate outcome of someone's sane decision or a happy accident this method of exploration is helped a great deal by some quite excellent world and level design. The metroidvania elements are by far the game's strongest aspects with an impressive number of hidden areas and deceptively circuitous paths connecting the great sprawl of locations. There is something far more rewarding about having to find things for yourself, so while you may not find everything, anything you do find feels all the more satisfying.
Outside of combat it’s the standard action adventure gameplay suite of traversal and light puzzling, both of which typically making use of your latest power to progress. It’s solid if unremarkable and aside from a couple of early puzzles usually quite easy. There’s nothing particularly elaborate but the weighting between combat and non-combat sections is such that I never found one part of the game to overstay its welcome. Outside of the narrative the game’s pacing is agreeably brisk.
In terms of items there isn’t the loot fest of the previous game; for the most part you collect souls to raise your level, consumable shards which add various buffs and weapon enhancements along with their associated upgrade materials. As mentioned it is all certainly useful if not particularly exciting, although the armour selection screen is a fat and dirty lie (I suspect it’s for DLC but that just makes the absence of any in-game armour rewards all the more stingy and disappointing). The loot offerings are not necessarily a negative but there was room here for a few more interesting items to uncover.
The art style is another positive, but for every arresting visual such as a giant tree weaving its lush branches through ruined skyscrapers you get about twelve brown and grey industrial buildings, surely the lowest rung of video game environments. You do get to venture into some otherworldly areas but by in large it’s a rather lacklustre depiction of a ravaged earth and an unimaginative landscape by the series own standards. Character designs are still fantastic however; everyone sporting outfits and armour that are at once ostentatious and chunky with Fury sporting some of the most fabulous hair in recent memory.
Once everything, or at least the most galling of issues are addressed you can probably add another star to this review but after remastering both previous games there ought to have been a determination to ensure that this latest iteration is as good as it can be both artistically and technically. Alas Gunfire Games have done little to suggest they are competent enough to manage either and it can only be hoped that it was simply time or budget that ultimately led to this disappointing state of affairs.
Meanwhile publisher Nordic Games can pretend to be THQ all they like, but wearing their dead skin as some sort of ghoulish mask does not hide the bargain bin level hackery of their output. Darksiders deserved better than this; it's world and art design ought to have the kind of love and affection that gives its over the top and stylistically overblown nonsense the scale and flair it needs. Darksiders III is by contrast a sloppy, shamefully limp and unimaginative outing, wasting yet more of the series potential in a misguided and vain attempt to plagiarise the trappings of a vastly superior series, a series that actually demonstrated precisely how to prevail within one's technical and monetary limitations.