STAFF REVIEW of Darksiders III (Xbox One)

Friday, December 21, 2018.
by Brent Roberts

Darksiders III Box art One of the greatest sources of all story material relates to the eternal battle between Heaven and Hell, where Earth and humanity is caught in the middle. In the past, THQ (who is now THQ Nordic) has provided us such tales in the Darksiders series. With little to no advertisement, Darksiders descended upon the public, like the horseman that they are, and was so surprisingly good that it spawned its own cult following by being the literal definition of a sleeper hit. Dark times fell upon THQ and the company dissolved, and in doing so, caused uncertainty in the future of the Darksiders’ stories. While the stories were told for War and Death, there were two stories whose fate was now up in the air, until now.

News came of Darksiders being picked up, and with THQ Nordic now being at the helm of the IP, and it seemed like everything was green lit to be moving forward with the tale, all while everyone was clamoring over their Red Dead Redemption 2's, Call of Duty, Battlefield, etc. THQ Nordic casually released Darksiders III, and it literally picks up right where we left off from the previous two titles. This time though, the horseman you play isn't War or Death, but this time you tell Fury's story.

Fury is the female horseman who is quite literally the most impatient and conceited horseman we have experienced to date. While War was tormented, and Death seemed arrogant, Fury wants it all and wants it now. Should anything delay that, and Fury will annihilate anything preventing that from occurring. While the council deliberates and investigates War's actions, Fury's job is to track down the Seven Deadly Sins who have broken loose from the Council's grasp and return them to the council so that order may be restored to the precious balance so eagerly sought.

The story is what primarily made Darksiders such an iconic tale. Describing the balance between Heaven and Hell with humanity locked in the middle, and thankfully this story keeps to the same grounds. Each sin is represented in a manner that suits each representation: Wrath is a juggernaut of vengeance and power, Sloth is a lazy overweight character that would rather sacrifice his minions to do its work than exert force of his own and Lust is an enchantress of desire that will make you obtain everything you ever wanted for a price. There is one character that thankfully makes their return to the game, the merchant Vulgrim; a humble merchant of trinkets, consumables and artifacts for Fury.

Now the same principal background of obtaining new powers throughout the story also applies as well to this latest Darksiders entry. While you play a rider of the apocalypse, you are without the necessary powers to complete your mission. As Fury is tested, and passes, she will obtain new powers. Think of these new powers almost as elemental enhancements. The flame enchantment will allow her to a propelled jump to reach new heights, the lightning enchantment will allow her to perform a glide move at the height of her double jump and can make use of wind vents to help propel her into the air and cross greater distances. These new elemental powers are mapped to your A, B, X, and Y buttons, and can be called upon instantly with just a simple button combination such as LB + A. As Fury also eliminates enemies, she will be able to call upon 2 additional forms of attack. One of them is based off the selected element she is currently using, which is activated with LB+RT, and the other one is her wrath form where she becomes an unrelenting powerful force of pure aggression but only does Arcane damage (you’ll hear more about Arcane damage later), and it only lasts for a short while.

It goes without saying that these new abilities mean one thing. Going back to the beginning and finding new areas to explore that were once unreachable for you. This sense of grinding has been at the forefront of Darksiders since its inception, however, it's taken to a new extreme level in this latest release. One of the most notable downfalls has to be with their lurcher currency and how it's lost upon death. Let me give you an example.

Say you're wandering around and slaughtering enemies left and right for over an hour, but then you get caught and you end up dying. Now not only will you spawn at the last Vulgrim location, but your lurcher (currency) count will reset to 0, and as such, EVERY ENEMY you killed will also respawn. So, what I found myself doing is going back and re-farming from the beginning over and over again. The tediousness of this is indescribable, however, when you get back to the same place you died, you'll find a massive blue lurcher element that you can hit with your whip and reclaim all your lost currency that is now added onto your new total. While very time consuming, very profitable in the end. However, you're going to be dying quite a bit in the beginning, so maybe save this till later.

The reason you're going to be dying a lot is that Fury, even for being a Horseman of the Apocalypse, is incredibly weak. I don't know why. The Charred Council that helps control the balance, and who created the Horsemen, made them fragile and powerless for whatever reason. You'll be falling in love very rapidly with the RB which is your dodge button. Should you time it right, not only will you dodge the attack and receive no damage, but you'll also gain a window to unleash an arcane attack that can cause severe damage (pending you upgrade your skill; more on that later) but also open up a window of vulnerability against your opponent where you can chain together more attacks. However, while getting accustomed to the RB and it's timing of the enemy's attacks, you'll suffer a lot of damage and die quite frequently. You've been warned.

The gameplay itself is decent, however, there are some issues that plague it. One of the issues I found most annoying dealt with the lack of a mini map. This took a long, long time to get acclimated to because with no map of any sort to guide you, you find yourself wandering around levels like that Pulp Fiction meme trying to figure out where to go next. Another issue with the gameplay is the whole lock on feature never felt right. You can use the LT to lock onto an enemy and then use the RS to cycle through enemies attacking you, so you can select which one to focus on. Sounds great, however in doing so you can lose focus of the other 4 enemies coming at you and dealing damage to you. While the focus is great for a 1v1 engagement, it becomes irrelevant and damn near suicidal if you decide to use it in a group. Other drawbacks include pressing in the Right Stick to engage in an over the shoulder targeting mode, which is ok, but you lose your peripheral vision, so it becomes more focused. Again, this is great if you need it to go 1 on 1, but if you use it in a group setting, you're cutting off at least half your vision which will certainly lead to death.

As I was progressing through Darksiders, I did notice that music and soundtrack sadly was quite forgettable. There was though, one section of the game and that is when you get to the maker's building that has some absolutely incredible music. I found myself actually pausing there for a while just to listen to it. In case you were wondering, the maker is where Fury goes to upgrade her weapons and her enhancements. Each enhancement carries with it two properties. So, for example, one enhancement would be 1: Rejuvenate health per minute and 2: Increase lurcher count spawned by destroying objects. Now you can only select 1 path to upgrade the enchantment, but when you do the 4th upgrade in your path you'll find that both paths combine at the end to create a balanced enchantment. While the lurcher may be good for currency, health is always a blessing, so it's always best to prepare for the long term. Now as Fury progresses and acquires new powers, so too does she acquire new weapons. Outside of her whip you’ll find she will have spears, some form of fire nunchaku and much more. All of which can be upgraded.

As the maker is used for upgrading your equipment, Vulgrim the merchant is used for upgrading your character. Using the lurchers you collect you can feed them to Vulgrim who, after enough have been acquired, will grant you an ability point which you can use to upgrade one of three classes: Health (how much damage you can take), Strength (how much damage you deal) and Arcane (how much damage you do when going into arcane mode and perfectly dodging attacks). I found that it was in my best interest to focus on building my character's health and strength, but as I approached the later levels, upgrading the arcane stat has been incredibly valuable.

I must take a moment now because I have to say that the graphics of Darksiders III is something that not only pays homage to the style that we have become accustomed to throughout the series, but has provided moments of incredible beauty. There was a moment where I explored and found my way into a cave that was only lit with soft blue bioluminescence pods which looked like a blanket of blue stars in the night sky. There were enemies there that were a greenish tint that glowed like a blacklight, and the whole area was drop dead gorgeous. Each area has its own distinctive feel to it which gives it a very unique feeling as you move from level to level, but it's more than just complete a level and move on, as you are essentially exploring a world. Think of it as an origami piece that you unfold and discover one crease at a time until you unfold everything and see the final picture. While frustrating at first, the concept is wonderfully executed. Sadly, when it comes to the graphics, there were numerous times when the frame rate did drop significantly and there were other graphical hiccups that didn't occur at the most opportune times, but in the overall scheme of things, they were few and far between.

There was something though that was missing from the classic Darksiders games of the past, and that were the puzzles. While they do exist in Darksiders III, they are few and far between and much more simplistic than what came before them. This shifts the focus to be more about combat than puzzle solving, which can be OK should you favor more action; however, the game is about restoring balance, and yet Darksiders III seems heavily out of balance. Instead of thinking how to get a multi-step puzzle completed, it usually boils down to hack your way to a point, do something relatively simplistic and repeat until the puzzle is solved.

Overall my experience of Darksiders III has been one of a rollercoaster, full of highs and lows, which is to be expected since that seems par for the course. I have to tip my cap though to everyone involved in bringing Darksiders III to life, and if you have played War and Death's story, then you will be more than excited to know that Fury's narrative is every bit as incredible as you have come to expect. Darksiders, when it was released, became the definitive example of a sleeper hit, and like the Phoenix that arises from the ashes, Darksiders III has been resurrected in a fashion that lays the ground work for a tremendous conclusion to the series should we get Darksiders IV and the final chapter of the horsemen and the apocalypse. If you're a fan of hack and slash adventure games with an incredible story, then this should be on your list of must have games to purchase.

Overall: 7.5 / 10
Gameplay: 8.0 / 10
Visuals: 8.5 / 10
Sound: 6.5 / 10


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