When it comes to moment to moment combat of hack and slash RPG games, Darksiders 3 excels at delivering a fast-paced fluid gameplay experience that few titles can match in its genre. It doesn’t shy away from feeling familiar if you’ve played the previous installments, despite the new overhead publisher, yet its moment to moment gameplay remains some of the strongest in the genre. At the same time, however, this supposed revival of the series plays it much too safe in delivering little innovation, and further stripping down the things Darksiders 2 attempted to experiment with, leaving few things to engage in outside of combat. The series was never known for complex game design or deep storytelling in the first place, but Darksiders 3 clearly shows some wasted potential in its flawed execution. You won’t get the worst action RPG experience, and it’s moment to moment gameplay feels engaging enough to enjoy parts of it, but the simplistic execution ultimately leaves Darksiders 3 unable to break the ceiling of mediocrity.
Developer: Gunfire Games; Publisher: THQ Nordic
Released: November 27, 2018; Reviewed on: PC
Testing specs: Core i5 6500 3.2 GHz, 16GB RAM, GeForce GTX 1070
While the superb combat and distinctive lore of the franchise ultimately kept me going throughout the game’s roughly 20 hour campaign, Darksiders 3 shows a lot of flaws throughout its design execution. In trying to mimic Dark Souls through tough combat, the limited checkpoint system can be outright frustrating, considering even the basic enemies can kill Fury in just a couple of hits. Death is frequent, and forces you to replay certain sections of the game far more often than I’d prefer from a fairly straightforward hack and slash RPG, reducing an otherwise exciting gameplay experience to repetitive grind. It seems the difficulty was part of the intended game design from the start, yet its execution fails considerably at retaining player interest. Having to retry various portions of the game over and over made me rage quit on numerous occasions, and ruins an otherwise excellent, though simplistic, action RPG experience. The difficulty further appears to be unbalanced, where some bosses can prove extremely easy to take down once you see their attack patterns, yet getting caught in a group of basic enemies can get you killed rather easily, which tends to make for a lot of unnecessary backtracking. Pair it with an unreliable camera and imprecise dodging, and some moments can be extremely infuriating, where death happens regardless of your effort. This doesn’t make for the most satisfying combat in action RPGs, although Darksiders 3 consistently delivers enough spectacle to keep players going.
Combat is augmented by four distinct ‘hollows’, which alter Fury’s abilities to match the different elements on Earth. The flame burns enemies when activated, and can also be used to break down barriers in the game’s basic puzzle sections, making it most versatile of all as it also enables jumping much higher than usual. The storm hollow is also used for movement, as well as projectile attacks that bounce between target. Acquiring the force hollow makes it much easier to traverse environments by breaking down walls, and ice stasis naturally freezes enemy targets. These elements provide a nice addition to basic attacks, injecting some much needed variety into the experience, though yet again just barely engages above ground level in its lack of progression systems. Darksiders 3 won’t let you advance these powers in any meaningful way, which makes using them rather irrelevant outside of the environment puzzle sections.
To further note, despite the mostly enjoyable experience of its moment to moment gameplay, Darksiders 3 can often be too simplistic for its own good, and consequently, highly repetitive. In an effort to maintain the traditional approach of the series and remove the vast amounts of systems comprising modern triple A titles, Gunfire Games have gone too far in reducing the layers of gameplay systems behind the title’s combat. Attack combinations still rival the most intricate fighting games, but the rest of it feels extremely shallow. Darksiders 3 completely removes any RPG elements its predecessor attempted to experiment with, including a diverse system of skills and character equipment, leaving the combat to follow a simple routine of mashing attack keys. While I can appreciate a more streamlined approach of Darksiders 3 to many of the games in 2018, I’ve also quite enjoyed the loot systems and open world design of Darksiders 2, with neither present this time around. The game’s campaign is an entirely linear experience, filled with combat segments and light puzzle solving that get you between the main objectives of the plot. Its premise is fairly simple, and Darksiders 3 doesn’t fill the space with intricate story details or heavy exposition, which in turn leave the flawed gameplay design to show throughout the course of the campaign. While simplicity is not a frequent thing in modern gaming these days and can be nice to have, the extremely light approach taken by Darksiders 3 unfortunately leaves much to be desired if you were looking for an in-depth RPG experience. The game remains enjoyable on many accounts, but keep this in mind when looking to pick it up.
What limited systems Darksiders 3 does have are a simple take on character and weapon upgrade systems that incrementally increase player attributes. Character stats are improved between Health, Physical Damage and Magic Damage, with each new level simply increasing the percentage of each category. With no weapon upgrades to speak of, and lack of an arsenal, this leaves the experience outside of combat feeling extensively shallow, and further removes any enjoyment in upgrading your character. Darksiders 3 feels notably old-fashioned in this regard, essentially replicating the basic experience of the first game released in 2010. This straightforward approach can at times feel welcome in the increasingly vast and complex modern games, yet the complete lack of secondary features in its gameplay leaves Darksiders 3 feeling far too simplistic to warrant any further replayability. The Diablo-esque systems of Darksiders 2 never caught on with the fans either, but their complete absence from the sequel leave much to be desired when comparing to most games of 2018.
Darksiders 3 maintains the series’ dark fantasy visual style, which always distinctively set it apart from the titles it draws inspiration from, and remains one of the strongest points in the game. It takes players back to the ruined Earth, and in a way retreads much of the familiar ground set out in the first title, although it’s hard to notice unless you’ve repeatedly kept up with the series in recent years. The experience is mostly set throughout linear areas and the way forward generally remains simple and clear, though certain levels can have inaccessible portions until you’ve learned an appropriate power. It is surprising then that Darksiders 3 is also one of those games that could really use a mini-map to guide players, and while it isn’t that hard to find direction, the linear HUD at the top of the screen doesn’t work that well in giving directions. Its tendency to rotate the next objective’s direction can often be disorienting, although the game’s areas aren’t that expansive to get entirely lost in. It may force some retreading, but Darksiders 3 is yet again too simplistic in this regard: follow the HUD to the nearest deadly sin, defeat the target, repeat. And while I can appreciate the straightforward approach intended, it leaves the game feeling just a bit too shallow for most players to pick up on.
While I do recommend the game in the end, Darksiders 3 further leaves much to be desired in its visual department, especially compared to most triple A game releases we’ve seen this year. That’s not to say the game looks ugly, or that graphics even contribute to the overall enjoyment of the game, but I can in no way recommend grabbing the game at full price despite the enjoyment I’ve had during my playthrough. It doesn’t feel cheaply designed either, but at the same time, THQ Nordic’s revival of the franchise doesn’t take many risks to truly innovate in all of its areas. While Darksiders 3 looks marginally better to its predecessors, you won’t notice any major innovation in visual design from way back in 2012. The game’s environments are still a highlight, and the distinctive dark fantasy visual style of Darksiders brings out the best across the diverse environments Fury’s journey takes her on. From ruined skyscrapers, to vast underground cave networks and dark swamps, the campaign’s distinct locations look spectacular despite the outdated visuals, with boss arenas especially remaining memorable after you finish the game. On the overall note, while many will find the dated visuals to be a major flaw, that ultimately won’t detract from the gameplay experience to a significant extent, although makes the $80 Canadian retail price a bit too steep for the quality on offer.
Despite the many drawbacks I’ve discussed, there’s something about Darksiders 3 that I’ve immensely enjoyed, which makes me recommend it in contrary to the frustrations I’ve had with its gameplay experience. It may be the straightforward approach to its set-pieces or the spectacular action that makes up the biggest part of the game, but Darksiders 3 is a blast to play through once you’ve nailed it’s dodging and combat systems in full. Fury’s arsenal and abilities may not be as diverse as Death’s in Darksiders 2, but it offers just enough flexibility to pull off the best combos on hand, and keeps the experience engaging despite some repetition. Its simplistic execution although, leaves much to be desired from an RPG in 2018, feeling shallow throughout many aspects surrounding it’s otherwise stellar combat. If you like the old-fashioned approach to hack and slash RPGs, Darksiders 3 offers enough spectacle for me to recommend it, although I’d hold out until a further discount to pick it up. The game has lots of exciting spectacle, but the shallowness of its progression can simultaneously leave much to be desired.