Darksiders 3 has an identity crisis. On the one hand, the stylish, effect-laden combos at your disposal point to a game with combat encounters reminiscent of Devil May Cry’s kinetic action. Yet your fragility and the tough challenge enemies present actively discourage you from approaching combat on the front foot, instead favouring a more methodical approach with an emphasis on tact and evasion. The Darksiders series has always worn its inspirations on its sleeve, but at least there was a sense of focus and consistent design omnipresent in all of its moving parts. Those first two games may have been derivative, but they took concepts and built on them in fun and engaging ways that elevated their strong points. Darksiders 3 is the antithesis of this approach, feeling muddled and unfocused, with an uneven design that trickles down and negatively affects each of its disparate systems.
After both War and Death had their fun in Darksiders 3’s predecessors, it’s now the turn of the perpetually angry Fury, as you take the reins of the third horseman of the apocalypse. Fury wields a bladed whip known as the Barbs of Scorn, which offers both decent range and a satisfying feedback of meaty hits once you’re up close and personal in some demonic entity’s face. Throughout the game you’ll acquire Hollows that grant unique secondary weapons–like a lumbering mallet and rapid-fire chains–and open up your traversal options with different elemental effects. Combos are relatively easy to execute, with one button dedicated to primary attacks and another for those aforementioned secondary strikes. Button mashing is enough to get you through most encounters, but mixing in slight delays between button presses will allow you to pull off air combos and other similarly stylish moves. It certainly looks the part of a flamboyant action game, but these flashy combos are only really feasible against weaker enemies.
Darksiders 3 has taken some clear inspiration from Dark Souls, so Fury’s low survivability forces you to approach combat in a way that belies its exuberant combos. Enemies are fast and hit hard, and are regularly found in groups. With no stamina meter to speak of, there’s an emphasis on dodging and keeping out of danger that does deviate from Dark Souls’ stringent use of energy management. Each perfectly timed dodge is rewarded with a slow-motion flourish and the chance to counter with a powerful arcane attack, and most clashes are built around Fury’s ability to weave out of the way of incoming sword slashes and ravenous claws. There’s a good variety of enemy types, too; reading their attack patterns and knowing when to evade is paramount to defeating almost every enemy you can’t simply banish with a single combo.
This all sounds well and good on paper, and taken at face value there’s nothing inherently wrong with a more considered approach to combat. But Darksiders 3 never leans into this method heavily enough, and out-of-place vestiges of its flashy counterpoint regularly cause frustration as it seems to split between wanting to be two very different types of game.
You may have air juggles and various strings of deadly moves at your disposal, but you’re often forced to settle for safe combos because anything else will leave you wide open to a devastating attack. Then there’s the way you lock on to enemies. This has remained relatively unchanged from Darksiders 2, opting for a 3D targeting system similar to the one used in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. This was clearly designed with one-on-one battles in mind and certainly doesn’t fit in a game as challenging as this. While there are undoubtedly some tough enemies in Darksiders 3, the real difficulty comes from facing more than one enemy at a time rather than a singular threat. This works twofold: groups of enemies are intrinsically tougher due to their numbers, and the unwieldy lock-on and a terrible camera make these fights a lot more challenging than they would otherwise be. The camera has a tendency to block your view with walls and any objects in the vicinity, which is only exacerbated by the claustrophobic environments that dominate the majority of the game. Dying because you can’t see, or because switching targets is too fiddly, are constant annoyances. Not to mention the number of times you’re hit by attacks from off-screen. There’s an indicator for incoming attacks, but it’s incredibly difficult to discern in the thick of the action, and no such warning exists for projectiles.
Dying because you can’t see, or because switching targets is too fiddly, are constant annoyances. Not to mention the number of times you’re hit by attacks from off-screen.
Darksiders 3 also strips out a lot of the RPG elements from its immediate predecessor. Killing enemies rewards you with souls which can also be found throughout the game world in consumable clusters. Each time you reach a checkpoint you can trade them to a demonic merchant in order to level up three attributes: health, strength, and arcane. It’s a very simplistic progression system, and while you can lose souls by dying and must then retrieve them again, there’s never any tension borne from the threat of perishing and losing them all because you can bank souls even if you don’t have enough to level up.
Weapons can be upgraded to increase their damage output, and enhancements will augment your arsenal with buffs that might give you 4% health back for each successful hit, or add more invincibility frames to your dodge. But there’s no sense of individuality here, and combat never evolves because all you’re doing is boosting your damage output. It doesn’t take too long before repetition settles in.
This is a problem when combat is all-encompassing. There are some rudimentary puzzles sprinkled throughout, but they’re few and far between and generally revolve around hitting a large jellyfish creature into position so you can use its head to reach higher platforms, moving blocks, and using explosive insects to access different areas. None of this is particularly engaging, and that goes for the rare instances of platforming as well. Grabbing onto ledges is too temperamental, and Darksiders 3 lacks a cohesive visual language that makes some platforming sections more convoluted than they should be.
The apocalyptic wasteland of Earth just isn’t that interesting to traverse either. The interconnected world is made up of dilapidated office buildings, grimy subways, and flooded industrial areas. Each of these locales is enveloped in muted colours dominated by beige and grey, with only a couple of areas deviating from this bland design. Your quest might revolve around tracking down and killing The Seven Deadly Sins, but the environments you’re in rarely reflect their diverse personalities, which feels like a squandered opportunity. Sloth is a large grotesque bug, so it makes sense that you’ll find eggs cascading around the walls of his subway lair, and face off against arachnids and four-legged creatures. Yet, bafflingly enough, Gluttony–a vulgar plant-like creature with multiple mouths–also resides in a subway littered with eggs and insectoids to fight.
Verticality plays a substantial role in these environments, but there’s no sense of scale when you’re regularly confined to dank corridors in subways and caves. It’s a shame, too, because while the bulky, comic book art style of Joe Madueria is still reflected in the excellent character designs–even if he’s not directly involved in Darksiders 3–the backdrop for these larger-than-life beings is this generic, insipid world. And while it underwhelms in the visual department, Darksiders 3 is still rife with constant framerate issues–even on a PS4 Pro–on top of crashes, sound glitches, and other technical misgivings.
There are other elements worth mentioning, like the way the game length is padded out by the exclusion of an vague in-game map that makes fast travel worthless since you never know where exactly you’re going, or the counter-intuitive way letting an enemy kill you is the best option when it comes to replenishing your healing items. But saying any more at this point is just too disheartening. Darksiders 3 retrogrades on its predecessors with an unfocused approach that constantly clashes with itself. There are remnants of a good game here, buried within the vivacious combos of a combat style this game doesn’t want to embrace. Unfortunately, it’s buried far too deep to ever salvage.