Review: Darksiders 3 is a diamond in the rough but feels like it’s falling apart

November 26, 2018

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Reviewed on Xbox One X

The Darksiders franchise is one that is constantly shifting. While the as-of-now trilogy has remained firmly rooted in the hack-and-slash genre, each game is designed differently. War’s original outing was a Zelda-style game with long puzzle-based dungeons; Death’s adventure saw a wider open world and Diablo-esque loot drops. Darksiders 3 follows the series tradition of being wildly different from its predecessors; Darksiders 3 is a Dark Souls game.

This isn’t pretentiousness talking – Darksiders 3 literally takes full systems and design cues from Dark Souls and places them in this franchise’s colorful war-torn world. Fury’s quest to fight and capture the Seven Deadly Sins will see you fighting through a tightly designed interconnected hub while rounding up souls to spend on level ups and items.

It’s not that much of a Far Cry from its predecessors in that regard – both War’s and Death’s adventures saw souls used as currency to purchase items from the series-staple merchant Vulgrim, but this is much deadlier. As with From Software’s games, dying will see your currently held souls ripped away from you and kept at the spot where you perished. You can fight to get them back or you can leave them, but they won’t always remain.

Combat takes some Souls-like cues in its emphasis on one-on-one combat and estus-style healing, which you can earn back from defeating enemies adding some more risk/reward play, but that’s where the comparisons end. Armed with her whip and a variety of secondary weapons later on, Fury’s moveset is much faster than anything seen in Souls. She’s agile, much more so than her brothers, and the game’s emphasis on perfect dodges (which reward you with counter attacks) make Darksiders 3 the tensest and most thrilling Darksiders game yet.

Instead of the Zelda-like gameplay of its predecessors, this third entry is decidedly more Metroid than what’s come before. While you start off with just your trusty whip and some basic moves, much like how Samus always starts with just her standard blaster, it won’t take long for you to earn some more moves thanks to the help of the Lord of Hollows. Over time you’ll gain access to fire attacks, lightning attacks, force attacks, and ice attacks, all with their own abilities for use in traversal, puzzles, and combat.

In a weird turn of events, this method of unlocking abilities before moving onto the next boss makes Darksiders 3 remarkably linear – and in the days of countless open-world titles, I won’t say that’s a bad thing. The top of the screen tells you the direction of the next boss, but not necessarily how to get there. Sometimes there are numerous ways to get into the area but only one way to get directly to the boss you’re fighting. It’s remarkably fresh and incredibly enjoyable to play a game that feels like it wants you to actually reach its ending in 2018.

Narratively, Darksiders 3 also feels linear and one-note. If you’re going into a Darksiders game thinking that you’re going to get an epic tale full of emotional gut-punches with dramatic weight you’re playing the wrong game. What’s here is competently written and enjoyable; it’s essentially a buddy-cop story with Fury and her female Watcher companion and in that regard, it’s probably the best buddy-cop story in years. The two main characters play off each other well and their personalities are undeniably more engaging than the solemn tones of War and Death. So far, Fury has been the most enjoyable Horseman we’ve had any amount of time with and she kicks ass in the most satisfying ways we’ve seen yet.

Reading this, you’d probably think that I’m wholeheartedly going to recommend Darksiders 3, but it pains me to say that I absolutely cannot do that. For everything that it does right, Darksiders 3 can’t escape from its biggest problem: it constantly feels like it’s breaking apart.

Performance problems, maps failing to load, flickering white textures, cutscenes playing in loading screens after death, spawning you under the map, variable load times and zones that constantly stop to load after moving just five feet – it’s a technical mess. Seven hours into Darksiders 3, I was met with an infinite loading screen at 11 pm – I had to get another critic (who thankfully is a night owl) to get me back to where I was in the game so that I could continue it for this review. You might think, “Boo hoo, the guy who has a job to review games had to play more games”, but it pleases me to say that I have a life and I’m sure those who have jobs that mean they can’t play many games wouldn’t want to have this happen to them either.

To the critic who got me back to where I was, I am unendingly grateful, but it made me terrified to continue to play Darksiders 3. Not because of it’s incredible enemy, character and environment design, but because I was so afraid of everything breaking again. Every time the performance started to chug, every loading hitch, every loading screen – I had to sink my head while I waited for the game to come back.

The worst part is, I absolutely loved Darksiders 3. It’s not the best game without these technical shortcomings – it doesn’t do anything outstandingly, it’s just really enjoyable. Fury’s outing could have easily been another 8/10 outing in the Darksiders universe; a great and enjoyable game that gave us exactly what we expected from a third entry, but there’s no way I can give it a score that high. I hope it gets fixed in the future because I would love to replay it with all of these issues remedied.

Gunfire Games have done well in providing an engaging and satisfying third entry in the Darksiders franchise. With meaty, fast combat and fantastic character designs, I want everyone to play a version of Darksiders 3 that doesn’t feel like it’s imploding. As enjoyable as it is, it can’t escape from its technical shortcomings. It’s a sinking ship but the band is still playing – at least the song sounds good.

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