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Darksiders 3 review

Punchy combat and a pretty setting can’t hide Darksiders 3's flaws.

Our Verdict

Punchy combat and a pretty setting can’t hide Darksiders 3's flaws.

Need to know

What is it? A hack-and-slasher with big boss fights, puzzles and platforming.
Expect to pay: $60/£45
Developer: Gunfire Games
Publisher: THQ Nordic
Reviewed on: GeForce GTX 1070, Core-i7 8750H, 16GB RAM
Multiplayer? No
Link: Official site

When you fight small groups of demons as the nimble Fury (who's one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse), Darksiders 3 feels special. She’s agile and responsive when you tell her to dodge, and she swings her weapons in flashy arcs of elemental magic that send sparks dancing from enemy to enemy. It all looks fantastic. But when taking on larger packs, the clunky lock-on camera makes fights frustrating, and outside of combat, the platforming and puzzling are far too lightweight. It’s been six years since the last Darksiders game, and this is a far cry from the return I’d hoped for.

The Charred Council have tasked Fury with stopping the apocalypse by defeating the seven deadly sins. To reach those bosses you’ll travel a semi-open world, plough through waves of enemies, solve puzzles and navigate platforming sections.

The grunts are impressively varied: demon children chuck toxic goo, winged angels summon clones, and four-armed brutes hide behind steel shields. Their unique abilities combined with Fury’s fragility—she’ll go down in three heavy strikes—means you'll have to fight with caution, noting attack patterns before diving in.

I enjoyed this ponderous approach when facing four enemies or fewer. Pulling the left trigger locks the camera onto one, and you can switch between targets by flicking the right stick, directing your strikes. Dodge as an enemy swings and you’ll trigger slow motion, setting up satisfying counters that you can combo into other moves, attacking with both your default whip and one of four other weapons you’ll pick up at fixed points in the story. 

I caught glimpses of the unabashed corniness that drew me to the first two games, but Darksiders 3 takes itself too seriously.

But when you fight multiple enemies—which is most of the time—the pulled-in camera doesn’t play along. Enemies to your back or sides often jump in from off-screen and hit you in one movement, which feels unfair. A white marker warns you when that’s going to happen, but keeping track of these markers, the enemies in front of you, and far-off ranged attackers is too much to ask, and I constantly felt like I was wrestling with the lock-on to focus on the right target.

Difficulty is therefore uneven: it feels right for small groups of hard-hitting enemies, but battling larger groups of often weaker foes is frustrating. Boss difficulty is similarly wonky. One-on-one battles, including in the late-game, are too easy: learn the attack pattern, dodge at the right time and counter punch. But when I fought bosses that summon minions, like the giant bug Sloth, I ran into the same camera problems as when I faced big groups of grunts, which makes them feel disproportionately hard. 

The seven sins draw on familiar tropes—underwater sea monsters, giant bugs, a huge man in fire armour—but they all have different quirks that stop them feeling boring. Sloth, for example, sits on a throne carried by smaller bugs, directing his army. Chip away his health bar and he’ll jump out of his seat, swinging a giant club.

He’s also wonderfully sarcastic and has a cutting tongue—more than can be said for most of the cast. I caught glimpses of the unabashed corniness that drew me to the first two games, but Darksiders 3 takes itself too seriously. Fury changes too much during the story, and too suddenly, for it to feel like a natural character arc, which makes it hard to care come the finale.

Performance

I got generally stable performance across the world, and my GTX 1070 could run Darksiders 3 on the highest settings at a steady 60 fps, with occasional dips into the 50s—although my framerate tanked briefly during one boss battle. I didn’t encounter many bugs or glitches, but in one area, on two separate occasions, the game randomly froze every five seconds, and I could only fix it by restarting. Those moments were annoying but they were rare enough that they didn’t ruin the game, and the developer is promising a release hotfix to patch the worst problems.

Also note that Darksiders 3 is playable with a mouse and keyboard—controls are remappable, too—but is really built for a controller and I'd recommend using one.

Outside of combat, puzzling and platforming are underwhelming. There’s no wall-running or climbing as in Darksiders 2—you’ll be whip-swinging between conveniently-placed metal bars a lot, which offers little challenge. Puzzles are unimaginative early on: I lost count of how many times I had to lead a bug to a pool of fire, watch it fill up with flames, and throw it at a cobweb to reveal a path.

The puzzles are better in the last third, where you’ll have to combine powers you pick up during the story in quick succession. In one, I used my force power to knock a beam round and round, following up with stasis to freeze it in place when it was perfectly positioned for me to use as a swinging anchor point. Hardly taxing, but it at least made me think.

Environments also improve as the game goes on. For the first four hours I was stuck squashing bugs in generic sewers, but above ground it’s very pretty. I fought demons on a crumbling highway, in underwater ruins, and in a broken city in which giant trees snake through windows. The art style is standard fantasy fare, but it’s bright and colourful. 

I like the flexibility in the order you can face some of the seven deadly sins, too. Your compass tells you the nearest one, but you can backtrack and explore to find others. Sadly, the lack of proper loot—you won’t find any weapons or armour—gives you little reason to poke around the environments. Side paths yield resources for upgrading your weapons, but you’re just bumping up damage output, and there are only a handful of unique enchantments to slot into weapons, such as one that heals you as you deal damage, which isn't especially interesting.

With less loot to grab, simplified platforming and easy puzzles, Darksiders 3 leans harder on its combat than previous games. And while Fury packs a punch, the wonky camera makes fights more frustrating that they should be. It doesn’t condemn Darksiders to oblivion, but it’s the lowlight of the series so far.

The Verdict

Darksiders 3

Punchy combat and a pretty setting can’t hide Darksiders 3's flaws.