The Darksiders series is a pastiche of beloved games and genres that came before it. The first two Darksiders entries wore their Zelda, God of War, Metroid, and Diablo inspirations proudly and generally found success, even if they never quite reached the heights of any of those singular games. Darksiders III is similar in that its main inspirations are still easy to spot, but Zelda no longer serves as the pillar on which the game is built. The focus has shifted away from puzzles and acquiring items, and toward combat and navigation upgrades that help you move through the larger world. The result is a game that feels familiar – and dated – but with gameplay and level design that sing, even when its story is awkwardly clearing its throat.
Darksiders III follows Fury, the angriest and most unpredictable member of the four horsemen of the apocalypse. She is on a mission from the Charred Council to track down the seven deadly sins who escaped imprisonment when the world went to hell. Unlike War and Death from the first two games, she is not concerned with what brought about the apocalypse, making her goals different – at least initially.
Another big change for Darksiders III is the larger structure. The first two games were like Zelda titles, with puzzle-focused levels spread across a larger explorable world. Fury’s world is not broken apart in this way. In fact, I only solved a handful of puzzles across the entire experience. I personally loved those sequences in the previous games, but I did not miss them here. Moving through Darksiders III feels more like moving through a continuous series of interconnected areas with new movement abilities opening up more options for where Fury can go and what secrets she can uncover. The absence of a map is surprising, and I feared it would limit my ability to navigate, but the compass system does a good job directing you to your main objective, and secrets are broadcast well enough in the environment that they’re easy to spot. In these ways Darksiders III stands apart from the first two games and I appreciate the change. It makes it feel more like a well-executed, straight-on action experience.
Fury uses a chain-whip as her main attack, which gives her a wide attack range to take on surprisingly powerful foes. She also unlocks a boomerang-like weapon, as well as a handful of secondary blades. You switch between the secondary blades without entering a menu, and they each grant her specific navigation abilities. The icy swords allow her to walk on water, freezing it below her feet. Her fiery dual blades give her the ability to traipse through lava. Each has plenty of combos, but I had more fun relying on standard attacks and focusing on dodging out of the way to execute powerful, perfectly-timed counters. Fury doesn’t block (and sometimes yells at enemies derisively when they do), and it keeps the action brisk. She’s always on the offensive, which I appreciate as an impatient fighter.
Every enemy, and especially the bosses, pose a substantial threat. Even the early foes can fell Fury if she gets sloppy or overwhelmed. This makes exploration cautious and tense, which I like, but the checkpoints can sometimes be unnecessarily spaced out. A few bosses in particular are plagued by faraway checkpoints that led me to sprint past enemies for long stretches just to give my most recently discovered boss another shot.
Hunting the sins is the most compelling element of the story, as Fury’s goal is clear and the personifications of the sins each have interesting and unique designs. When the larger lore of the universe starts creeping in, however, things fall apart. Conspiracy theories run amok and important new characters are suddenly presented without a proper introduction. The final twists of the plot land with a thud, but I do like Fury and much of her dialogue. Among the heroes we have played so far in this series, she has the most personality and is my favorite.
In many ways, Darksiders III feels like a game from the previous console generation. Its art design is distinct, and feels like an old comic book with vibrant colors and villains that personify their names. But that’s an old trope today, and it lacks the graphical detail we have come to expect in modern games. Compared to its action game competitors, the production values are lacking and I did run into distracting graphical hiccups and one full crash that required a reset. With all that said, I was eager to see what was around every corner. The layout of the world, the way Fury explores it, the few puzzles, and the combat are all well-designed, elevating it above the elements that make it feel like a game from the past.
What Darksiders III lacks in production values, it makes up for with good design.