Darksiders has always offered a mid-tier version of other huge franchises. The first one was a mature interpretation of Zelda and Darksiders 2 was equal parts Diablo with a pinch of a less competent Devil May Cry. While not as revered as its influences, Darksiders epitomized the B-game in all its glory. One Chapter 11 bankruptcy and liquidation later, DARKSIDERS 3 is finally out, choosing Dark Souls as its main source of inspiration this time. But it haphazardly commits to that vision and ends up being a messy, mechanically conflicted game with an inexcusable amount of technical problems.
Turning Darksiders into a Dark Souls type of game isn’t too big of a jump from its earlier Zelda influences since each takes place in a large, interconnected world full of unique biomes and dungeons. The styles are similar enough to easily translate without a complete overhaul and Darksiders 3 takes that opportunity to retrofit its existing systems into ones more befitting to the Soulslike genre. Souls as act as experience that you can funnel into three different categories, dying makes you drop your soul collection, healing is handled via flasks, and merchants act as checkpoints.
However, it hasn’t ditched its fast-paced hack and slash roots, which is where the game is at odds with itself. Journeying back to the spot where you died in Dark Souls has weight because it’s risky but rewarding to gain back all of your dropped souls. That stress reinforces the game’s tone and is key to how it makes every second full of important choices. In Darksiders 3, you also drop your souls but they don’t disappear when you die again and without that tension, it’s just a chore to hoof it back since there is little risk involved. It’s a prime example of Gunfire Games grafting Soulslike staples around Darksiders 3 without critically reflecting on whether or not if fits.
Darksiders 3 Review – The Sin of Sloth-Like Combat
Grasping on to ill-fitting Soulslike remnants also clashes with the core of the game’s combat. Encounters have the illusion of methodical, thoughtful swordplay. However, Darksiders 3 is still entrenched in its days trying to imitate the combo-heavy stylings of the early God of War games. But, in a strange twist of fate, Darksiders 3 has almost zero combo potential. Air juggles are basically nonexistent and the multitude of secondary weapons don’t have enough versatility or new moves to add to your offensive repertoire. The default whip—in all its plainness—gets the job done, which kills the need to switch to anything else and makes the combat quite dry.
In essence, it’s the worst of both types of game it is trying to be. Soulslikes may not have huge combo lists but are instead driven by the core fundamentals of knowing when to strike and dodge. Games like Devil May Cry prioritize stylish, lengthy juggles and an arsenal of weapons that give the player more ways in achieving that goal. But without the the ability to pull of slick combos or the restraint to slow everything down, Darksiders 3’s mashy swordplay is both shallow like a bad Bayonetta game and mentally unexciting like a bad Soulslike game.
The combat never clicks either way and the dodge move shoulders much of that responsibility. Hack and slash games are built on savvy defensive moves. It’s partly why Bayonetta is so revered—its skill-based fighting is fantastic but its dodge is nearly perfect. Getting out the way of danger needs to rock solid so it doesn’t interrupt the zen of executing a long combo or finding an opening to strike.
Darksiders 3 consistently fails achieving any satisfying groove because of its abhorrent dodge move. Minimal animation canceling make controls feel sluggish since you’re often at the mercy of its plentiful recovery frames. Most foes also have grand, sweeping attacks that cover more distance than what your dodge can get you out of, meaning you’ll often get hit mid-evade because it rarely goes far enough to get you to a safe area. Attacks even come one right after another and since the dodge is so slow, you’ll often get hit by an unavoidable move right after you’ve evaded the previous slash.
Enemies will track you too and slide over to get a cheap hit in if you evade a nanosecond too early. And its controls aren’t responsive to dodge during that short window of safety nor does it grace you with an acceptable amount of invincibility frames. Combat is generally unfulfilling but it all comes back to the dodge move that abjectly fails in its one and only function: to get the player away from harm.
Darksiders 3 Review – Combat, Combat, and Even More Combat
And it’s an even bigger issue given how heavily Darksiders 3 leans on fighting. The first game had plenty of dungeons that exercised your brain as well as your reflexes. Puzzles were cleverly designed and a welcome change of pace from the admittedly simple melee swordplay.
Darksiders 3 goes all in on combat, which is more monotonous and far less mentally engaging. The occasional cerebral test is often offensively brief and entirely undeserving of the returning “puzzle solved” musical chime. Without anything to break it up, you’re just trudging from encounter to encounter, further noticing its crippling shortcomings and begging for a respite. Multiple inventive powers even beg to be utilized but only sit on the sidelines. Instead of integrating each of their multiple creative functions together for clever platforming puzzles, they’re only used sparingly and separately. What a waste of admittedly great potential.
Darksiders 3 Review – A Glut of Technical Issues
Rampant technical troubles spoil the trace amounts of potential the game has left. The default frame rate is already pretty low but buckles under the least bit of stress, making combat even less precise and responsive; a death knell for the multiple genres it’s trying fit into. Devolving into a stuttery slideshow is hardly warranted too since it’s not a hectic game, even at its busiest.
But slowdown is only a fraction of its vast array of problems. Post-death load times always hover around 30 to 40 seconds and are complemented by the constant loads during gameplay. Jarring pauses bring you to a literal halt to load the next area regardless of what you’re doing and don’t even stop the prevalent texture pop-in. Whether during battle or just strolling between corridors, it doesn’t matter; it’ll force you to stop and stare at an impromptu loading screen. Darksiders 3 even once stopped me while running to load an entire level in before my eyes (which you can see in the above picture). Frequent loads like this kill any semblance of pacing that the game can barely assemble in the first place.
Bugs are also prevalent and come in all shapes and sizes. Outside of hard crashing three times, I had a glitch trap me in a room, another that cut the audio out completely, and even one that played the audio of the cutscene I had just watched while it was loading the previous checkpoint. The game even gave me the trophy for beating it on hard despite completing it on normal. Although that last one could be considered a “good” bug, it helps paint a more accurate picture of how wildly incomplete the game is and how it had no business releasing in its current state.
Darksiders 3’s story is complete but also completely boring. The Council has tasked Fury, one of the Horsemen (Horsewomen?) of the Apocalypse, with tracking down and killing the Seven Deadly Sins in the wake of the apocalypse that kicked off the first game. Conspiracy and lies cloud the Council’s demands in a way all too similar to that original entry: angels and demons are both bad and everyone with power is a corrupt liar. Recycling the same ideas as if they’re new is a dull way to drum up drama, especially since none of the characters are particularly likable. Fury shouts with the same overly edgy threats as War, which the game tries to address by forcing an arc upon her. It’s drastic and not believable transformation but gets buried within predictable plot with flat villains anyway.
For a game all about destroying the manifestations of sin, Darksiders 3 is guilty of a lot of them. It’s envious of better games like Dark Souls and Devil May Cry, lustful of the relevance those titles have, sloth-like in its combat, and too proud to delay itself in order to fix its glut of technical shortcomings. A better game is hidden somewhere within its depths, beneath its glaring issues that beg for more development time. But as it stands, it’s a hobbled, confused mess of a game that’s a victim of a lot of the sins it proclaims to be against.
Darksiders 3 was reviewed on PS4 via a digital code provided by the publisher.