Darksiders III frustrates, but it’s a classic that remains loyal to its lore.
After six years of wondering what would become of the Darksiders franchise after Vigil Games filed bankruptcy in 2013, Gunfire Games and THQ Nordic released Darksiders III on November 27, 2018. I have been a fan of the Darksiders series since its first installment was released in January 2010, so I was ecstatic when I learned that Darksiders III would be released! Over the holidays, I spent quite a bit of time playing this game and I figured today’s blog post would be dedicated to a review of it! If you have visited my blog before, you know that I have reviewed a few anime, but I have yet to review a video game. I think a part of me was waiting to play a video game that really excited and challenged me. Darksiders III certainly presented a challenge and overall I enjoyed playing it. I have read a couple of reviews of Darksiders III already, but I refuse to let what I have read impact what I take to be strengths and weaknesses of the game! What I am offering up are my own thoughts and opinions based off of my experience playing Darksiders III. Let’s begin with what Darksiders III did well…
Something that I think Darksiders III nailed was that it stayed true to the lore presented in the previous games. On the whole, the series has a pretty rich lore rooted in a tale as old time: the conflict between Heaven and Hell, angels and demons, good and evil. In Darksiders, you play as War, one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Since the dawn of time, Heaven and Hell have waged war in the hopes that one of them could gain advantage over the other. Amidst this ongoing war emerged The Charred Council, a group of mediators, determined to maintain balance. To achieve this end, they created the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, the last remaining Nephilim, a brotherhood designed to impose order when necessary.
As the conflict between Heaven and Hell raged on, humanity was born. The Charred Council deemed the birth of humanity paramount to maintaining the order of the world, so the Council crafted a third kingdom: The Kingdom of Man. Negotiating a truce between Heaven and Hell, the Charred Council saw the creation of the Seven Seals, which were only to be broken when the Kingdom of Man was ready for the apocalypse. I mean, I am not quite sure when man would collectively decide they were ready for the apocalypse, but…Whatever… Anyway…
It ends up being the case that War gets set up; he comes to Earth only to find that the Seven Seals were not broken. What gives this away is that none of War’s siblings (Death, Fury, Strife) decided to show up to help him bring forth the apocalypse. You, the player, help War prove his innocence by finding the real culprits responsible for the destruction of mankind. It’s a decent game with great voice actors bringing fairly interesting characters to life (you have Mark Hamill as The Watcher and Troy Baker as Abaddon and Straga). The game didn’t necessarily present anything unique insofar as it was following a relatively standard action-adventure formula most gamers are familiar with: beat your enemies to death, collect stuff, get new weapons and trinkets, beat a boss, proceed to the next area, rinse and repeat.
Following in the footsteps of its predecessor, Darksiders II was released in August 2012 as a hack and slash action-adventure game. In this installment, you play as Death, War’s brother and fellow Horseman of the Apocalypse, as he tries to help War clear his name. The major difference between Darksiders and Darksiders II is the RPG (role-playing) element that exists in the latter; you pick up clothing items, armor, and weapons as you move through various areas and are able to customize Death’s appearance, abilities, and what he will be hacking and slashing with. Something I find interesting is that the events of Darksiders and Darksiders II are occurring at the same time; as War lumbers through a post-apocalyptic Earth, Death is meeting the Makers (or the Architects of Creation) and traversing the Forge Lands in his attempt to resurrect humanity and erase War’s “crime.”
What is even more interesting is that Darksiders III serves as a prequel to War’s pursuit for truth and Death’s hunt for justice; the beginning of Darksiders III sees Fury meeting with The Charred Council as her brother War is awaiting his punishment for having prematurely started the apocalypse.
The characters that are central to the first two games are just as central in Darksiders III. The Charred Council still serves as a powerful entity responsible for keeping the powers of Heaven and Hell at bay and tasking each of the Horsemen with their own quest. The Demon Merchant Vulgrim returns to feast on the souls Fury collects so that she can upgrade her skills (Health, Physical Damage, and Arcane Damage) and purchase items. Ulthane the Black Hammer also appears in Darksiders III; he upgrades Fury’s weapons and gives her talismans to assist her on her quest to hunt down the Seven Deadly Sins (I will talk more about the Seven Deadly in a moment).
All of these characters look and sound better than ever! Seeing these familiar faces and hearing these familiar voices from the previous games keeps me invested in the world and in the narrative. Perhaps this notion of staying true to the mythos of a series is obvious; in any video game series it is important that each game builds off of the previous one in some way or another. I think with the Darksiders franchise this is especially important, though. There are too many pieces of the puzzle, given the lore, that must be put together in order for the games to work. There are ways in which Darksiders III does falter with respect to the narrative, but I will talk about that later.
I think a merit of Darksiders III is that it shares a structural and visual consistency with the rest of the series. For example, while Fury does face off against enemies never before seen, enemies from the previous two games also appear to take on the wrath of her whip, Scorn. When you move through The Scar, a large desert area, in Darksiders III to track down Wrath, it bears a striking resemblance to the Ashlands in Darksiders (where you fight The Stygian).
Something else I appreciate about the game is that the introduction of new characters does not feel out of place. The Lord of Hollows, for instance, is a new character presented to us in this recent installment, but he seems like a character who would fit in effortlessly in the previous games.
When playing Darksiders III, something about it just feels familiar or comfortable. This isn’t to suggest that playing the game feels redundant due to its familiarity; it is to say that the game reminds me of what I enjoyed so much about what came before it. I think this feeling of familiarity with Darksiders III has a lot to do with the number of staff who returned from Vigil to work on it, which I think is awesome. Although the game and its predecessors are predictable and formulaic with respect to gameplay, ultimately Darksiders III remains loyal to what made the first two games successful: its lore.
Another thing Darksiders III got right was that the game presents us with a female protagonist. There are two points I want to make with respect to the protagonist being a female: first, it is awesome to have a female protagonist in a video game who isn’t sexualized (go ahead and call me a feminist). It is not a secret that the gaming world is and has been predominately male, but I think it is refreshing to see female representation on the rise in video games! Samus Aran, Jill Valentine from the Resident Evil series, and Ellie from The Last of Us are only a few examples of female characters whose attractiveness is found in their strength, courage, and resiliency, not in their sex appeal (or potential sex appeal). Far too often have I seen the female fighting character wearing next to nothing (take Kitana and Jade from the Mortal Kombat series, for example). Listen, I don’t mind sex and nudity (I favor Tzeentch and Slaanesh, after all). My quibble isn’t about nudity; it is about practicality. I won’t deny the obvious about our antihero in Darksiders III: Fury has curves. What is great, though, is that her armor is functional but also doesn’t hide her body. Fury’s entire body is covered in what looks like a skintight but lightweight steel. If her body were exposed, given that she is fighting demons, angels, and everything else in between, she would be mortally wounded. From the sharp heels of her knee-high boots to the plates of armor covering the sides of her face, the focus on Fury turns to her presence, which is formidable. Fury proves that a female character can be alluring while also donning sensible, kickass gear. Ultimately, Fury’s appeal lies in her self-assurance, not in her assets, which brings me to the second point I want to make: there is a sense in which Fury is very much an antihero.
I think noting this is important, partly because female characters are generally presented as upbeat, warm, joyful, and a bit naïve (Aerith and Yuffie from the Final Fantasy series come to mind), and these are the sorts of qualities that, generally, make for an endearing, young heroine (or hero). Characters like Princess Peach perpetuate the “damsel in distress” trope, in which the female character needs saving in order to get the narrative going. Fury is not any of these things: she is far from cheerful, she is not hypersexualized, her status is not that of a love interest, and she is certainly not a damsel in distress. In fact, she is not the sort of protagonist you relate to unless you are a self-aggrandizing narcissist. At the beginning of the game (and for a good portion of the game, honestly), Fury is quite unlikeable. Her initial goal is not to help War, her brother, clear his name; instead, her aim is to be granted the right to serve as leader of the Horsemen. The Charred Council requests that Fury seek and destroy the Seven Deadly Sins. Once Fury has completed this arduous task, only then will she be granted the power to rule over her siblings.
In order to ensure that Fury completes her task, The Charred Council binds a Watcher to her wrist, just as they did to War in the first game. The relationship between Fury and her Watcher is pivotal to Fury’s growth in the game, but it is definitely a very different relationship than the one shared between War and his Watcher. Mark Hamill’s Watcher is hell-bent on making War’s task all the more difficult in Darksiders, but Fury’s Watcher (voiced by Fryda Wolff) initially comes off as laudatory, going so far as to claim she is a “fan” of Fury. The Watcher’s praise comes to an abrupt halt after Fury encounters and defeats Lust and spares the life of an Archangel named Usiel. After this, a tension presents itself between Fury and The Watcher: Fury realizes that she has been blinded by her desire for power and that this desire has been, to an extent, fueled by The Watcher’s flattery. Fury then turns her attention to the duty all of the Horsemen are meant to do: enforce order and balance. The Watcher takes this to be a flaw; Fury has “gone soft” by trading in her crusade for blood and vengeance for a quest to restore order.
Fury’s initial motivation in pursuing the Seven Deadly was to lead the Horsemen, to be seen as superior to her brothers, and to also figure out who killed her horse (I will talk about this later, trust me). It is when Fury sees what she could become if she is solely motivated by her anger that she understands she will be unable to complete her task. This is both the act of being humbled and the power of self-reflection; her self-assurance was actually arrogance. This is all to say that the Fury we get at the start of the game is not the Fury we get at the end of the game. Personally, I think there is something worthwhile and special about playing a character and watching their character development, regardless of their sex or gender. I think what makes Fury stand out as a protagonist in general is that she goes from being the hero we don’t want to the hero we need. It is just an added bonus that Fury is a badass female protagonist.
She doesn’t play into stereotypes or tropes generally associated with female characters and we watch her grow from a place of self-importance, anger, and resentment to a place of self-awareness, understanding, and strength. Even when it is discovered that the Charred Council themselves released the Seven Deadly Sins in the hopes that they would not only destroy Fury and her kin, but the remainder of humanity, Fury’s resolve is renewed: she will make it her purpose to protect the last of humanity. Darksiders III could have easily had its protagonist be Strife (the fourth Horseman), but it didn’t. I should also note that the end of the game sets it up such that Strife will have his time to shine in the next installment. I am of the mind that putting this focus on Fury was a unique and valuable move to make.
The final thing I think Darksiders III did well is not so much about content as it is about aesthetics: I absolutely love the character designs in this video game. Some of the reviews I have read are not too fond of the character design (and level design) as it appears “too cartoonish,” and to an extent I would agree with this. In comparison to other games that have come out in the last year, the design and scenery of the world in Darksiders III is certainly not as breathtaking or gorgeous as something like God of War or The Legend of Zelda, but that’s fine! I don’t think Darksiders III was aiming to take anyone’s breath away so much as it was hoping the player would have a smashing good time (literally). I have already talked about Fury’s design, but the Seven Deadly Sins, for the most part, look awesome. Each design is unique and unexpected. Take Lust, for instance. I was expecting Lust to be a voluptuous, seductive female, possibly snake-like or something. What is absolutely fascinating and ingenious is that Lust is gender-neutral; Lust is referred to as “they/them” by other characters in the game. While Lust speaks in a way that is effeminate, their design is androgynous. What I really like about Lust’s personification is that it isn’t about lusting after someone or desiring someone’s body; it is about lusting after power.
Perhaps one of my favorite character designs belongs to Avarice. Avarice is almost goblin-like in his appearance and, as the embodiment of greed, carries around a huge sack of stuff on his back. What I love is how diverse the things on his back appear to be, from artwork to the wings of dead angels to things that are just plain junk, Avarice seems more like a kleptomaniac than a hoarder. What I love is that Avarice seems to think all of these things just belong to him, regardless of what they are worth.
Gluttony is both disgusting and awesomely terrifying, Pride’s design is stunning and exudes both poise and contempt, and Envy is delightfully creepy. I think Wrath and Sloth are the only character designs that I didn’t care much for; I was hoping for something a bit more inventive. Wrath or anger is generally associated with the element of fire, so to have a giant hunk of armor made of fire seemed a bit boring to me and Sloth is just a fat, lazy bug. Overall, I appreciate the creativity and originality that went into crafting each of the personifications of the Seven Deadly Sins, as well as the other characters in the game.
Here are the ways in which I think Darksiders III faltered…
Darksiders III, just like the previous installments, is a hack and slash video game. I wasn’t expecting anything different. As the saying goes, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” As far as the actual hacking and slashing goes, the game follows Darksiders II pretty closely. You whip your enemies repetitively until they are dead and you can see how much damage each strike does, just as you could with Death’s scythe. Depending on where you move the analog stick while spamming the primary attack button, you can execute some pretty cool combos. The issue is that this gets boring. Even worse, it gets tedious. In order to defeat enemies and bosses in this game, your task is to time your dodges so you can counterstrike and then beat up on the enemy or boss relentlessly. Interestingly enough, there are some reviews that claim that combat in this game is deliberate and that mashing buttons isn’t a viable strategy for getting through the game. To this, I say that simply mashing buttons isn’t a viable strategy for getting through the game; being able to anticipate when you ought to mash buttons is a viable strategy for getting through the game. This autonomic pressing of buttons doesn’t bother me so much when it comes to lesser enemies, but it does bother me with respect to boss fights. When it comes to a boss fight, I am expecting something with a bit more nuance or sophistication. Most of the battles against the Seven Deadly Sins are tiresome, as it requires the same hacking and slashing that is needed when fighting enemies.
To me, there appeared to be two boss fights that attempt to wiggle out of this monotony: the battle with Gluttony and the battle with Pride. When fighting Gluttony, there are essentially two phases to the fight. The first phase involves you spamming the attack button while also dodging Gluttony’s projectile vomit and his long, swinging arms.
The second phase of the fight begins when the floor beneath Fury breaks and you battle a giant monstrous creature called the Kraken underwater. This is where the game attempts to do something interesting and sophisticated, but fails. In order to damage the Kraken, you actually cannot engage it. Instead, you have to lure underwater bombs into the Kraken’s mouth. This is irritating because there is nothing you can do to bait the Kraken; you simply have to wait for the Kraken to try and suck you into its mouth. This becomes time-consuming as you swim back and forth with underwater bombs following you around while also trying to avoid the Kraken’s teeth and tentacles. What is worse is that the frustration I felt had nothing to do with the battle being challenging because it really wasn’t that challenging; the frustration came from wanting something to actually happen in the battle instead of me swimming around with some bombs!
When fighting Pride, there comes a point during the fight where she removes the head of a statue and gives it the power to shoot a laser across the space in which you are fighting. The statue never stops moving and shooting, so the trick is to avoid getting hit by the laser while also trying to avoid getting hit by Pride’s blade as you fight her. Again, this is more aggravating than it is interesting or fun because all you really have to do is just time things right and follow up with some spamming of the attack buttons. My issue is that combat in this game doesn’t require any particular strategy—all it requires really are quick reflexes and a dexterous thumb.
I do want to say that, at times, it is incredibly satisfying to whip your enemies into oblivion, and combat becomes a little bit more enjoyable when you receive upgrades called Hollows. In this respect, Darksiders III resembles Darksiders in that there are upgrades, items, and weapons in both games that give Fury and War new abilities as well as access to new areas. Each Hollow that Fury comes to possess grants her new abilities and the use of new weapons based in a specific element. For example, the Flame Hollow allows Fury to walk through lava and magma, to jump higher, to burn obstacles like thick cobwebs, and allows Fury to use an extra weapon called Chains of Scorn, which are basically chain-sickles covered in fire. While the Hollows are useful and versatile, it still doesn’t alter the combat system—defeating your enemies still involves beating them senseless whether it’s with Fury’s whip, chains, lance, or mallet.
What I came to discover while playing Darksiders III is that the gameplay borrows heavily from the Dark Souls series and Bloodborne. When I played Darksiders III, I selected the “Normal” difficulty. I didn’t want to pick “Easy”; I wanted somewhat of a challenge while also having the ability to enjoy where the narrative would take me. The issue seemed to be that “Normal” was actually hard for me, despite consistently leveling up and upgrading my weapons. This might appear contradictory given that I said all the combat system requires is the mashing of buttons, but the difficulty of the game doesn’t seem to fall on the way you fight as Fury so much as it falls on how powerful enemies are. I cannot even begin to express how awful some of the enemies are to fight in this game. I am not even talking about mini-bosses, mind you! I am talking about lesser enemies that just exist in each new area of the world. This is where the similarity to Dark Souls and Bloodborne comes in: enemies are incredibly challenging and when you die, you lose all of the Souls you have collected from killing enemies. Souls in Darksiders III (just as in Darksiders) serve as currency in the game— you need Souls in order to level up, to purchase items, etc. When you are killed, your Souls are left behind in a small blue cluster that hovers over the location of where you died. While it is nice to get your Souls back, the game isn’t particularly forgiving otherwise. It doesn’t bother me that Darksiders III follows the Dark Souls model; I don’t think there is anything inherently wrong with it, but I do think the level of satisfaction you get once you manage to survive an onslaught of enemies is low. It doesn’t feel like I have gone toe to toe with enemies; I feel like I barely survived a beating. There is something about this sort of gameplay I can appreciate, which is that it really does take time, effort, and energy to get through the game. The video game does not tell you where to go, how to get anywhere, what to do, or how to do it. Put another way, you could look up a walkthrough to tell you how to get to the next area, but I highly doubt the walkthrough is going to help you beat Sloth or Gluttony. That will take gumption on your part.
The last thing I want to address with respect to Darksiders III is the following question: who killed Fury’s horse? This, my friends, is perhaps the most important question in the game and it doesn’t seem to be answered by the game’s end. When Fury faces Wrath for the first time, she summons her horse Rampage to help her deliver the final blow, only for Rampage to rush in and crash into the ground. To Fury’s horror, she discovers that her beloved horse and only companion has been impaled by the sword of an angel. In her distraction and distress, Wrath is able to nearly kill Fury. Fortunately, she ends up being rescued by the enigmatic Lord of Hollows. A large part of what motivates Fury from this point forward is figuring out who killed her steed. Trying to uncover who did this even supersedes her desire to lead the Horsemen.
Here is the point I am trying to make: there is a lack of narrative cohesion amongst the three games in the Darksiders series, and this disjointedness starts with Darksiders III. In the first two games, there was a clear goal—prove War’s innocence. The way in which War and Death go about trying to achieve this goal is different, but ultimately it is the same goal. Where the narrative of Darksiders III stumbles is with respect to Fury’s role in what began in the first game and is continued in the second. It is never made entirely clear why Fury must stop the Seven Deadly Sins. Surely they are powerful and devious in their own ways, but with scarcely any humans remaining given the apocalyptic state of the world, what really can the Seven Deadly do? Without humanity to corrupt, what place do Lust, Pride, or Avarice have? There is something lacking with respect to Fury’s purpose, which ends up being a running theme throughout the game. While she, as a character, ends up finding her purpose, it is still unclear to me where she, and subsequently her actions and their consequences, fit into the Darksiders series. Seriously though, who killed her horse?
In the end, I do think Darksiders III is a good game. What it lacks in continuity and originality it makes up for in its dedication to its lore and to a classic formula. I hope you found this lengthy review of Darksiders III interesting and I also hope it makes up for my absence! I hope you can forgive me! What are your thoughts on the game? Let me know in the comments below. As always, thanks so much for stopping by!