Darksiders III [3] (PS4) Review

Darksiders is a franchise which everyone has heard of yet a lot of people haven’t really taken the time to try out yet, which is a shame as it’s an interesting set of games. Not only were Darksiders I and II released on the previous gen, but they were also both fully remastered on current gen systems along with new resolution bumps for the mid-gen consoles. The originals were created by Vigil Games, which was owned by THQ back in the day until they went bust, at which point most of the staff moved over to Gunfire Games, a new studio set up by one of Vigil Games’ founders.

Gunfire Games were the team behind the impressive, yet technically flawed, Darksiders II: Deathinitive Edition this generation – a game riddled with bugs, glitches, game-breaking moments and even save corruptions at one point. Why am I bringing this up? Because Darksiders III is also buggy, contains glitches, has some rather unusual visual issues and performance problems. But is it fun? I’ve played the game for over 40 hours and beaten it last night, so let’s find out…

Darksiders III 1

True

Darksiders III has you take control of Fury, one of the Four Horsemen (as previous iterations have seen us play as both Death and War). Despite the title, Fury is a badass female who’ll stop at nothing to achieve her goal, even if it means slicing up giant creatures and multitudes of fallen angels! You’ve been sent to Earth in the wake of her brother’s previous visits in an attempt to defeat and capture all seven of the Deadly Sins for ‘The Council’ as a vague possibility to restore peace and order to the world. Following a structure more akin to Darksiders II over Darksiders I, you’ll be faced with epic battles, lots of environmental puzzles, and some exploration within this Metroidvania-style 3D Action-Adventure game.

However, fans of the initial two games may get a little shock at how Darksiders III plays in terms of its mechanics. It’s made a shift from full-on slice and dice combat, such as the old God of War games, and opted for a more strategic and precise combat which we’ve seen in games like Vampyr – which clearly got inspiration from the Dark Souls games. That’s right, the rumours were true – Darksiders III feels a bit like you’re playing a Dark Souls game in terms of its combat, especially in the beginning 5-10 hours where everything will take you down with a few hits. Fortunately, as you progress further into the game and begin to upgrade your arsenal, things change and the game becomes more accessible and balanced. 

So, let’s take a detailed look at Darksiders III and see if it’s worth your time…

Darksiders III 2

Ohhh, it’s not that easy…

First things first, the controls. As stated above, Darksiders III has taken a different approach to the franchise and tried to spin it a little to deliver a more strategic and time-based combat system over button bashing the attack over and over again and hoping for a kill. You can still do this, but the enemies block, they’ll counter-attack, they will call on buddies to come behind you and then eventually slaughter you with a very small number of impactful attacks. How do you counter this? Simple, with a counter-attack. R1 has you dashing and dodging, pushing it just before receiving a hit will put you in slow-motion as you shimmy to the side or backward, just like we saw in Star Ocean: The Last Hope. If you attack as soon as you’ve performed this, you’ll jump in and hit your foe with unblockable critical hits, until they recover a few seconds later.

We also say goodbye to the multitude of weapons you can pick up and buy from the dealer. Darksiders III has six weapons in the whole game. You have a ‘Barbs of Scorn’ which is your standard attack as you whip your enemies to death, as well as one secondary attack for each of Fury’s four ‘modes’ and also a throwing ‘Crossblade’ which is very similar to the weapon used in Dark Sector last gen. Instead of obtaining new weapons with varying stats, you can upgrade each weapon ten times, using items you find throughout the world, as well as attach various ‘enhancements’ which can also be upgraded five times each. 

So, even though we have a lack of variety within the weapon department, we do still have a decent amount of customisation and progression which is seen through its use of the enhancements as well as Fury’s various ‘modes’. 

Darksiders III 3

I am the fire starter…

On top of your standard Square and secondary Triangle attacks, you also have the ability to utilise five special attacks based on your Havok and Wrath gauges, which are refilled with items or by killing things. Once your Havok meter is full, pressing both L1 and R2 at the same time will have you transform into an eight-foot-tall demon which rips anything it sees to shreds! The developers have made this ‘form’ not very effective against bosses, for obvious reasons, yet your standard enemies don’t stand a chance against your super-saiyan form. Your Wrath meter is used by pressing L1 and R1 and delivers a different attack or ability based upon which mode Fury is currently within.

The two final attacks come in the form of a charged attack and the throwing weapon which you get quite late into the game. The charged attack is different based on your ‘mode’ you are in and is performed by holding Triangle. Most of these are just more powerful attacks but some moves, like the hammer smash, will allow you to push objects when solving puzzles. The throwing disc is a strange one, not in concept but in its mechanics. You have to enter ‘behind the shoulder’ mode by pressing R3, then you aim with L2 as you scan up to four targets, then press R2 to throw. If you hold R2 then the weapon is charged with the ‘mode’ Fury is currently in, allowing you to burn, freeze, smash or blow things upon impact.

Personally, I found a lot of the attacks and their chosen button prompts a little fiddly at times and having R3 as the alternative view mode, rather than a camera reset option (which I’ll come to soon) was both an annoyance and an inconvenience. However, once you get to grips with the various mechanics, you’ve unlocked all of Fury’s modes, and you’ve mastered the art of counter-attacks (as that’s the most important mechanic in the whole game), then the game feels like a hybrid of an Action-Adventure game with a hint of Dark Souls, rather than Dark Souls with a hint of Action-Adventure.

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I’m having a bad hair day!

I’m washing my hair…
I’ve talked about the various ‘modes’ Fury can use in the above section of my review, let’s talk about that a bit more. As you defeat certain  Deadly Sins, you’ll be granted new abilities from The Council, these come in the form of Fire, Storm, Force, and Stasis. Not only does each mode change your hair from magenta to red, white, purple, or blue, but it also grants you unique abilities, attacks and weapons. 

The many modes of Fury - click to see them

Fire [L1 and Circle]: The Fire Hollow allows Fury to perform a double jump by jumping and then holding jump so she can create a cloud of fire and thrust herself up even higher than usual. You can also use the flames to burn open spiderwebs, set fire to enemies, and charge the throwing blade with a deadly fire attack. The secondary attack simply burns anything it touches, granting gradual health reduction to your foes.

Storm [L1 and Triangle]: The Storm Hollow allows Fury to glide eloquently through the air for about 10 seconds by jumping and then holding the jump button. Later on, when exploring the world, this is used in conjunction with various wind segments so you can access new areas or shortcuts. The secondary attack shocks all opponents and temporarily immobilises them.

Force [L1 and Cross]: The Force Hollow allows Fury to walk underwater as if she isn’t even wet and stay grounded in windy areas – think the Iron Boots in Zelda. This is probably one of the most useful modes, other than the Flame one, as the secondary attack is a powerful hammer which can move around large objects and knock away enemies shields. Also, if you jump and hold the button, you turn into a giant Samus Morphball and stick to certain walls – which gives you access to new areas. The throwing blade is charged purple to destroy all purple things as well, just like in Bart vs. The Space Mutants! 

Stasis [L1 and Square]: The Stasis Hollow allows Fury to walk on water as if she’s Jesus Christ of Nazareth! It also allows her to perform wall jumps and access new areas in certain places. Charging up your throwing blade with this will freeze whatever it touches from enemies to machinery. 

So, what do all of the above have in common with each other if you look for a common factor? Metroidvania exploration. That’s right – the game is full of places you’ll pass by because you don’t have the right ability yet to move an object, burn an obstruction, scale a wall, or fly across. However, if you return once you have all four abilities later on in the game, you’re able to explore more and uncover all the hidden objects and humans. 

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Look around at the chaos…

Big open world?
One of the things I loved about Darksiders II was the big open spaces which were filled with environmental puzzles and various NPCs you could talk to along your journey. Darksiders III, however… There are a few big open areas but the majority of the game will see you in smaller rooms connected by corridors and hallways. Also, other than the various humans you’ll be ‘saving’ along the way, there isn’t really anyone you’ll talk to outside of the Marker Forge, who helps you upgrade your gear and enhancements. Gone are the ‘Legend of Zelda’ style moments where you ride on horseback from location to location as you scout out the various bosses to take down in order to complete your quest, as it’s been replaced with a maze with unlockable shortcuts and teleportation. 

Don’t get me wrong though, some of the locations are great such as the firey lava-infested caverns, the underwater depths, and the deserted ruins of the city. It’s just that they aren’t as varied as you would have hoped for and exploration is quite limited due to the size of them. However, last night I went on a trek through places I’ve been before and I found a load of new secret passages and hidden humans, so there is a lot of secrets to find, it’s just that a lot of them are simply a hidden room or passage. 

The actual level design of the various locations is decent enough, but I did have a few issues and end up ‘fudging’ a solution at times though. For example, at one point I have to cross a big gap to get to the Angels base. No ability let me do it, no matter how many times I tried (about 2 hours worth). So, I found a tiny ledge I could just about stand on and did the flame jump off that – I grabbed the other side and pulled myself up. However, I doubt that’s the way you’re supposed to do it. Also, at one point you have to run through a gate before a tornado lifts a stone off the switch. This had me stumped for almost three hours! It was a case of being as fast as you can but the time is so unforgiving – you begin to think if you’re doing it right or not due to how many times it’s not worked. 

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Convenient machinery!

The Dark Souls of Darksiders?
Okay, so I have to talk about the elephant in the room and address a few concerns I had and what people will most likely have about the game. The difficulty of Darksiders III, even on normal difficulty, is ramped up compared to previous games in the franchise. Is this a bad thing? Yes and no. I personally enjoyed the challenge, just like I did in Vampyr, but I understand that people buying the game thinking it will be just like the previous hack-and-slash titles may get put off by the new mechanics. What I’d say is stick with it and try to adapt to the new controls – also, remember to upgrade your weapon and enhancements at the Forge! 

Just like in Souls games, as you defeat enemies you’ll find ‘souls’ which is basically the currency of the game. If… When you die, you’ll drop every single soul you’ve collected and respawn at the last checkpoint you encountered (the checkpoints are the dealers). So, if you’ve not seen a dealer in a while, or you’ve not walked up to one and ‘activated’ the checkpoint, then dying could send you quite far back. Not only that, dying causes all of the enemies, bar mini and main bosses, to respawn. However, if you do make it back to your point of death, you’ll find a floating skull which will return all your souls if you smash it in the face.

One thing to note, upon dying you’re also fully restocked on Nephilim’s Respite – this is a potion which restores your health. As you progress, you’ll unlock the ability to carry more of these (I’m at 5), so sometimes it’s worth purposely killing yourself to get a free refill! However, due to the respawning of all the enemies, sometimes having yourself die won’t help as you have to go back through the waves of enemies in order to return to where you just were! The best thing is to soldier on until you find the next checkpoint. At one point, near the beginning, I kept dying and returning about 15-20 mins away from where I died. After about two hours, I realised that there was a new checkpoint just around the corner from where I was dying so I ran past everyone and activated that before trying to fight them. 

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Technical issues, or Waste Treatment as I call it.

Technical issues [bad]
This is the part I usually praise the games for their technical enhancements or overall quality. However, Darksiders III is going to get a bit of a telling off and sent to the naughty corner I’m afraid.

First up we have the performance. I’m playing on a PS4 Pro with SuperSampling enabled via a 1080p TV. The framerate is really, really bad at times. The majority of the time I would say it’s 30fps, maybe with some frame pacing issues as there doesn’t appear to be frame drops but it does feel sluggish, but when the combat ramps up, if you spin the camera too fast, or if you jump out of the water (which makes Fury instantly re-light her hair), then dips occur. I’ve played a lot of games on the 360, PS3 and Wii U, so a little frame dropping doesn’t bother me as long as it doesn’t impact the gameplay and turns a battle into a one-sided event as the enemy slaughters me. However, I also know that for a game on current gen in 2018, with enhancements for the mid-gen consoles, it’s not really acceptable to have spikes of frame drops in a game like this.

Another thing which I don’t find acceptable is the visibility of Fury – maybe she should go to Specsavers? In quite a few areas, as you pan the camera around, you’ll see white objects at the sides of the screen which are there for a fraction of a second. Sometimes they’re so fast you’ll question if you actually saw them. I presume these are items which weren’t in Fury’s vision so as you pan the camera, they are being drawn in – to save rendering them when you can’t technically see them. This gets rather annoying the more you begin to notice them popping up all over the place. It doesn’t impact gameplay, it’s just something which shouldn’t happen.

Upon completing the game, as this never happened before, I started experiencing long loading times. I know what you’re thinking – a bit of extra loading won’t matter. Well, it does. Up until this point, it was a seamless world apart from when you teleport. However, it’s started pausing me upon walking into a new area for about 20 seconds as it loads in the textures – Fury is frozen on the spot as if the game has frozen. The game also legitimately froze after I beat the end boss, which meant I had to re-do the final fight. This wasn’t an issue for me up until this point, but now it’s happening all the time – both when installed internally and on an external USB 3.0 HDD.

As previously touched upon, the camera in Darksiders III is a pain in the arse. Technically it works, but it’s annoying. You can lock on with L2 but only if you have the enemy in front of you – as in on-screen – if Fury is facing them but they are off-screen, you can’t lock onto them. Also, there is no button to put the camera behind you, as that would usually be R3 in most games. As such, it’s hard to press Square to attack whilst moving the Left Stick as well as moving the Right Stick to pan the camera. Another pet peeve is if you lock onto an enemy and kill them, it doesn’t auto lock onto another enemy, the lock just goes away. This means you have to line up another enemy to place a new lock on them.

Some people have reported losing sounds within the game until a reboot or reload – I’ve not had that issue though, so I can’t comment on it. Also, some people say key items won’t spawn to allow them to progress but I’ve also not had that issue. I did ‘fudge’ a few solutions because I couldn’t work out what I was supposed to do, but that may be because of me not understanding the environmental puzzle rather than the game itself

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Nothing like going face-first into hot lava!

Technical [good]
Let’s balance it out a little. I’ve seen people saying that the game looks like a last gen game and complain about the textures. I think the game looks pretty decent. Fury, with her neon hair, looks great and well detailed, the various textures around the world are of high enough quality, and the variety of the locations is there as well. I love how the hair blows in the wind and looks like it’s made out of a luminescent firey glow. If I’m being honest, I would think maybe the hair is causing the slowdown, just like Lara Crofts did in the Tomb Raider reboot. 

The overall sound effects and music are great – there is a lot of ambient sounds, subtle music which gets you in the mood, and the voice acting is great. The story of Darksiders III is also quite interesting and the dialogue given to the characters is witty and funny at times. One issue I would have with the story though is that it’s a little confusing. I don’t want to say why, as it’s a major spoiler – even the trophy relating to it is very mysterious and vague – but I got confused as I drew closer to the end of the game.

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Gotta catch ’em all!

Personal Opinion:
Darksiders III was a tricky game to both play and critique. On one hand, I really enjoyed playing the game, the locations were interesting, the dialogue is good, and I was rather addicted to playing the game right through to the end and beyond. On the other hand, the game is a bit of a technical mess at the moment with its framerate issues, texture draw-in, glitches, and difficulty spikes. However, other than the one time the game froze, none of the technical issues have actually affected the game and caused me to reboot or reload, they just serve as an inconvenience to the gameplay.

I love the fact the game has decided to go down a 3D Metroidvania-syle Action-Adventure route with its gameplay mechanics. It adds a lot of replayability and urges the player to explore and discover things for themselves as, other than the Deadly Sins, there is no in-game map or guidance on what to do next or where to go. I also really enjoyed the various ‘forms’ Fury can jump into, each with their own weapons, active and passive abilities, purpose, and strengths against enemies. I think I spent about 25-30 hours both exploring and working my way through the main story, with another 10 hours or so just running around looking for new things I’ve missed along the way. 

I also wasn’t the biggest fan of the ‘Dark Souls’ style combat at first, but after playing for a few hours and really concentrating on what I was doing, I started to enjoy it more and more to the point where I was counter-attacking everyone naturally and breezing through all the enemies. If Gunfire Games can fix the technical issues within the game then it would make Darksiders III much more accessible to both fans of the franchise as well as those who like the combat style of Vampyr or Dark Souls, but maybe a bit more simple in terms of customisation and weapon types. 

Official Trailer:

Final Conclusion:
Darksiders III [3] delivers a different set of core mechanics over the previous games, both for better and worse. The combat feels heavier and more precise as it takes on a more strategic approach over the button-mashing prequels, however, it comes at the expense of ramping up the difficulty in order to fit the mould. I found the game to be both frustrating and confusing, in terms of its combat and puzzles, to the point where I actually appreciate the fact the developers are making us think about what we’re doing as we take our time in order to progress. 

Will Darksiders III be for everyone? Probably not. As of release, the game is buggy, contains glitches, employs the new combat style, and prefers small areas over big open-world ones. However, despite these points, I was captivated once I got to grips with the controls and found myself hooked onto both the story and the outcome of Fury’s adventure down on Earth.

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A copy of the game was kindly provided for review purposes

Darksiders III

£44.99
8.5

Final Score

8.5/10

The Good:

  • Interesting story and characters
  • Cool Metroidvania-style gameplay with lots of secret areas to find
  • I love the four forms Fury can take and how they visually change her
  • The game is a decent length and kept me hooked right until the end
  • The combat is satisfying and weighty (once you get used to it)

The Bad:

  • There are lots of frame rate slowdown issues within the game as of today (pre-launch)
  • Visually, some items had their white textures replaced for real ones as you spin the camera - plus no auto reset for the camera!
  • The combat takes a while to get used to
  • Akin to Dark Souls in terms of losing everything if you die, which may make it seem more difficult than it actually is
  • Other people have reported other bugs, glitches and issues (although I didn't encounter those in 40 hours)

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