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I found myself becoming increasingly concerned through the first few hours of Darksiders III. The crumbling city environments are initially repetitive and a bit boring, enemies felt too similar and Fury's combat prowess left much to be desired. On top of that, there was little in the line of narrative to motivate my actions and the game suffered from bizarre load freezes and headache-inducing framerate issues.
I've waited six years for the Darksiders series to return, so I'm happy to report that all of those issues were addressed to at least some degree the further I got into the game. That's obviously not ideal, but those willing to trudge through a weak opening are rewarded for their dedication. Darksiders III is kind of like an old chainsaw tucked away in the back of a shed. It may take a while to rev up but, once it does, it manages to get the job done.
As Fury, one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse, you are tasked with hunting down and capturing the personifications of the Seven Deadly Sins in order to restore balance to the world. This all comes after your brother, War, allegedly kicked off the end of days earlier than planned, so the tale takes place before either Darksiders or Darksiders II, if I've got my chronology correct.
If you haven't played the previous games in the series, the good news is that you don't have to worry about missing out on much (outside of the fact that they are fantastic games and you should absolutely play them). The team at Gunfire Games said early on that they were more focused on gameplay than story in this outing, and they certainly delivered on that promise. Kind of a bummer, but at least you don't have to worry about being totally lost from a narrative standpoint. That's not to say there aren't some decent story beats along the way, just that you'll be spending far more of your time whacking demons and angels with a whip than trying to uncover the truth behind the apocalypse and whether or not Fury is being deceived by Heaven, Hell and everything in between.
The Darksiders series has always worn its inspirations on its sleeve, with the first two games cribbing openly from The Legend of Zelda. Darksiders II plugged in some additional RPG elements like crafting, stat management and open maps, helping distinguish the series a bit more from the adventure games it was so clearly influenced by. Rather than continue to build on that formula, Darksiders III instead takes several steps back in order to become a straight hack-and-slash game that was clearly fueled by a love for Dark Souls.
The map is comprised of several large areas connected by tunnels aplenty and many, many smaller locales. This makes for a much more linear experience, though there are plenty of secrets tucked away and entire branches of maps you could miss completely if you aren't keeping a sharp eye out. Once the action moved into caves and crumbling crypts, my issues with the framerate and the bizarre loading became less of a problem. Things seem to have improved further following a day-one patch, so here's hoping the lingering issues can be ironed out through additional support .
Shortly after her first tussle with Wrath, Fury is introduced to the Lord of the Hollows. Along with making Fury question her mission and the motivations of those she serves, this towering plot point grants our hero her first Hollow, an elemental form that offers a handful of useful new abilities. The first Hollow gives Fury a secondary attack boasting flaming flails, as well as a new traversal ability to jump higher than before. It also grants her a couple of new moves to unleash in battle, making it a pretty versatile upgrade.
This is when the combat in Darksiders III starts to take shape and, by the time you've got another Hollow or two to aid in both combat and traversal, the game starts to really find its groove.
The environments never really wow, but they're varied enough considering the fact they are all set within the same area of a demolished city. The cast of characters is pretty small, but the performances are solid and the shallow story was just intriguing enough to keep me invested.
As for the baddies you'll be beating the stuffing out of, they become increasingly diverse the further you dive into the dilapidated structures and tight corridors, with each of the six or so major zones offering some new twists to master in terms of both combat and making your way around the map.
As noted above, Darksiders III is heavily influenced by Dark Souls, so even the weakest enemies can do some serious damage to Fury if you're not paying attention and learning their attack patterns. Most encounters become fast and furious balancing acts between well-timed dodges and attacks and, while you'll occasionally be battling the camera as much as your enemies, the end result is a satisfying romp. The weapons you get from Hollow forms help keep the proceedings varied so, again, the further into Darksiders III you get, the more tools you'll have at your disposal.
When I look at Darksiders III as a whole, the end result is a game with a lot of heart that never quite lives up to its ambition. Whether it's due to limited resources or the fact that this game very nearly never saw the light of day is unclear but, in the end, this third outing never rises to the level of the games that came before it.
At the same time, Darksiders III still manages to be a heck of a lot of fun once it shakes off the cobwebs and the combat opens up. And after playing so, so many open world epics these past few years, I find its more focused approach to be something of a relief. While many will understandably fault Darksiders III for being scaled down in many ways, I was content to go on an adventure that has a set path, only a few attributes to level up and minimal customization/resources to manage. There were enough moving parts to keep me engaged without ever making me feel overwhelmed and the adventure's 20-hour runtime kept me entertained without having Fury and her pals overstay their welcome.
Darksiders III is a relic of the past suffering from an identity crisis but, despite its faults, it manages to deliver a fun and frequently challenging experience for genre fans to hack and slash their way through. It's not the triumphant return devotees of the series were hoping for, but it's still a serviceable continuation.
This review based on a PlayStation 4 download provided by the publisher.