Darksiders 3 is an action-adventure game developed by Gunfire Games and published by THQ Nordic for PC, PS4 and Xbox One in 2018. Following the apocalyptic prologue of the first game, the Horseman Fury is sent by the Charred Council to the ruined Earth to hunt down the escaped Seven Deadly Sins before they can ruin it further. In return, she is promised to become the leader of the Four Horsemen. And just like her brother War, Fury is accompanied by a Watcher to keep tabs on her during the journey.
Much like another DS3 I know, Darksiders 3 is a retread of the first game in both setting and story, only to lesser effect. The framework of the two games are so similar that you could almost argue that Darksiders 3 is meant to replace Darksiders 1 entirely. You play as a Horseman exploring the same general area a few decades earlier (even running through new side areas of DS1 dungeons), joined by a snide Watcher as you hunt down the big monsters keeping you from just walking up to the final confrontation and on the way you learn about the series-wide story.
Where things differ is that War's motivation to prove his innocence tied into the major plot well, while Fury's initial lust for glory doesn't really amount to much, aside from a parallel to the final boss, which the game doesn't even utilize to its fullest. Not only that, but Fury's supposed arc is poorly handled. It's never a good sign when a story literally says that a character has changed and I immediately question it. Show, don't tell, you know?
Fury's interactions with the Sins are the catalyst for her arc from an uncaring angry lass into someone with empathy, but I think the game is missing some interactions with other characters to further explain her growth. The Sins only show her what happens to someone who indulges in sin completely, which naturally causes Fury to reassess her beliefs. But that should only take her to a "neutral" position. To make her truly good-natured, she'd need someone to give her a push after realizing her faults, which does happen at the end, but I don't think it's enough.
What I'm missing are more scenes throughout the game where Fury slowly starts to think about her role as a Horseman and what that means after the apocalypse has already happened. Instead, Fury and the Watcher mostly talk about the apocalypse during the game's various in-game dialogues, which can feel a bit random at times. Sometime's they're out-sassing eachother, sometimes they're discussing mankind's worth and sometimes Fury is just pissy.
As the scene between Fury and Lust shows, the devs are capable of well-directed scenes meant to develop Fury, so I wish they did more of that instead of relying on passing conversations. That way, it'd be clearer what events are causing Fury to change. Hell, just have Fury become interested in what some humans were doing before demons gobbled them up. Just give her some reason to be interested in the world that was and humanity as a whole.
Overall, the game feels like an excuse to make Fury playable for fans by providing some ultimately meaningless monsters to fight and to put her on the same page as War without giving the audience much in the way of new story material in preparation for the actual sequel to Darksiders 1 that everyone wants to see. Those feelings were only emboldened when the game decided to be cool for 20 minutes at the end and tease said sequel even more. While the first Darksiders teased as well, it was at least nice enough to provide a fulfilling story that explored the setting properly before doing so. Darksiders 3 on the other hand feels like it's missing a huge chunk of its third act. Of course, said chunk was never intended to be in this game, but with this being the second sequel refusing to move the story forward (with a third on its way), I can't help but wonder if the series will ever be able to give me the pay-off I'm waiting for.
The Darksiders-series identity issue is well-known, so it should come as no surprise that they'd go for some Dark Souls flavouring this time. It's a bit of an half-assed attempt at theft however, which I think might work in the game's favour, as they didn't over-extend themselves like many Souls-likes have done.
The core remains the same as in the other games, with only a few superficial things added to the mix for variety. Combat still revolves around some simple timing-based combos that let you integrate your main weapon (Fury's whip in this case) with your secondary weapon of choice. The Dark Souls influence comes in the form of the slightly more strict dodging and the refillable healing that takes a second or two to work. But besides that and the high damage values of a few enemies, it's pretty much in line with the other games. And even if this deviation is too harsh, you can pick the "Classic Combat" option, which makes it possible to cancel any attack with a dodge and makes healing instant. I didn't feel the need, since you can still dodge well and heal without much planning using "Standard Combat".
The one thing that really sets this game's combat apart from its brethren is the focus on dodge counters, which might be a thing they took from Bayonetta. Only, in this game, you aren't given free reign in slowed time, so the pace of combat doesn't halt whenever you pull off a dodge counter successfully. Instead, you cancel the enemy's combo and quickly get to do some damage before they try to attack again.
I like what's here, even if some fights can devolve into doing nothing but counters, but it's still fun. The majority of the bosses lack puzzle elements, so you can often just go wild with your favorite weapon (and its unique Wrath attack) until they fall. While I love the designs of the Sins, they aren't super interesting to fight, as their attacks are often beaten with a simple dodge counter, which is a shame when the game has a whole slew of elemental abilities that rarely get play outside of exploration.
With the removal of the map and addition of a lot more warp points, the Dark Souls influence becomes even clearer. But as I said before, it isn't full theft. You have a compass that tries its best to guide you to the nearest Sin and while you can't rest at a Serpent Hole to recover healing, you can't respawn the enemies around you either. So getting around usually isn't difficult, but I take issue with how confusing some places in the same area can be. I can only navigate through samey-looking caves so well before getting lost. Many areas are really lacking some good landmarks.
Some of the puzzles are confusing as well, as they aren't always clear on what they want you to accomplish. I take particular issue with the instakill tornado you have to dance around, especially since it can somehow kill a frikkin' Horseman by gently throwing Fury into a ceiling. Aside from that, exploring is pretty rewarding, even if about 90% of treasures you find are clusters of souls. That's still better than the mostly meaningless loot in 2, as you'll always want more souls for making purchases in Vulgrim's shop and to level up.
Going in, I was under the impression that you'd be able to hunt down the Sins in any order once you beat the first one, but this isn't the case. The game uses a metroidvania framework for its world, but there aren't any meaningful choices to make in progression. From what I understand, there is only one Sin you can freely skip until the end (because he doesn't give you a new ability) and another one you can postpone fighting a bit until you need his ability. Otherwise, you are fighting them in sequence, just like the bosses in the other games. There are mini-bosses to find and a lot of secret areas to stumble upon, but I'd have liked to see the actual progression be more open. That might be my fault for thinking that however, as I don't think the marketing pushed the ability to fight bosses in any order.
The actual powers you get are always a button press away and pretty fun to use, as they change the way you move across the environment slightly by giving you abilities beyond Fury's somewhat janky chain swing. While you can quickly change Fury's element, you can't really combine abilities fully, which I think is a shame. Alternating chain-swinging, boost-jumping and gliding feels like an obvious way to make the platforming more interesting, but it's mostly there as a way to get around to the next puzzle to solve or enemy to fight.
As if to stand between the two other games and uphold some manner of balance, the loot system is more complex than in Darksiders 1, but not as silly as in Darksiders 2. Each weapon can be upgraded (using a very familiar amount of uppgrade material, I might add) and slotted with an enchantment. There's really only enough material to fully upgrade 2-3 weapons and about as many enchantments, so you need to pick favorites before long.
What I like about the enchantments is that they all have an active and a passive effect, so even if you don't like a weapon, you can still use it for a new passive effect. You then get to choose if you want to upgrade the active or passive effect using demonic or angelic artifacts. Making that choice locks you out of the other path until you've maxed out the current one, at which point you can spend a bunch of the other path's artifacts to max out both the passive and active abilites.
Souls are only used to level up and to buy things, the latter of which I didn't do a lot of, as Vulgrim's shop is a little low on interesting things to buy. There aren't even new moves to get, which was surprising after the first two games let you buy them. Still not as lackluster as his selection in 2 however, as there are some decent upgrades on offer early on.
There isn't much to say about the leveling system, since you can only increase normal damage, arcane damage (counters, charge attacks, Wrath attacks and Havoc form) or health. It works, but I can't call it interesting, since you aren't making the game much different by focusing on one stat over the other, especially with diminishing returns being a thing. And since it seems like souls dropped upon death remain to be picked up whenever you want, getting underleveled shouldn't ever be an issue, unless you forget about the souls in your inventory.
The series doesn't have a good track record when it comes to performance (what with the remasters of 1 & 2 being unstable or having messed up cutscenes on PC), but I at least expected the PS4 Pro version of Darksiders 3 that I played to be on par with the original versions of 1 & 2. That isn't the case however, which tells me that a month or two of polish was skipped during development.
To the game's credit, it didn't put my console into "take-off mode", which is always reassuring. But with how shoddy the streamed loading is, maybe they should have. Not only does the game freeze to load if you move too fast or backtrack unexpectedly, it also has terrible pop-in if you spin the camera too fast in most locations. But unlike regular texture pop-in, you can actually see whole triangles of assets pop into white space around the edges of the camera.
The framerate is decent, but the loading screens present when warping or reloading a checkpoint are ardous. And to complete this typhoon of technical terror, they game also has the honor of being the first game to crash on my PS4. I sure hope the PC version handles better.