The Darksiders franchise has always worn its influences on its sleeve. The first game was released in 2010 and featured a dark Gothic world of angels and demons, combined with the dungeon- and upgrade-based gameplay of The Legend of Zelda. Two years later, Darksiders 2 opted for more traditional RPG mechanics, like finding and upgrading various weapon types throughout your journey rather than discovering new powers. The series has followed others more than it has led.
Darksiders 3 returns to those roots as a borrower of ideas, offering only a slightly updated version of the Darksiders formula. Darksiders 3 is a third-person dungeon crawler, just like the first two games in the series. The game stars Fury, one of the four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, tasked to hunt down personifications of the seven deadly sins. Her promised reward is leadership of the Horsemen.
Few memorable story moments transpire as I work through this seven-person Most Wanted list, the plot sharing little continuity with the previous games. I hack and slash my way through the world, and spend quiet moments solving puzzles and collecting keys that I wield on my back like a sword before dropping them off in a nearby statue.
I unlock new fighting stances for Fury as the game progresses, but combat is mostly based on dodging and countering. The combat is deliberate, and even low-level or simple enemies can kill you if you don’t think ahead. Mashing buttons isn’t a viable strategy.
Like so many action-RPGs in recent years, Darksiders 3 borrows liberally from the Dark Souls school of game design. Health no longer regenerates as it did in the other Darksiders games. Instead, Fury carries an item called Nephilim’s Respite, which she activates to heal. The item has a limited number of charges before it must be refilled, which is done by defeating enemies. Fury also earns Souls by killing enemies, and I use them to purchase items or increase Fury’s level in health, physical damage or magical damage.
I lose all my Souls when I die, but they’re left behind in a small ghost that must be destroyed if I want to regain the lost currency. I can also crush soul clusters found in the world to gain more souls.
Darksiders 3 is a bit more linear than Dark Souls. I fight through open areas for a while, and then things narrow down for a boss encounter. Every few bosses, I’m granted a new tool that comes with its own special ability. These Hallows allow me to solve new puzzles, reach new areas and attack with new weapons all at once. They’re versatile upgrades.
The first Hallow I receive is the Flame Hallow. It grants me fast-hitting flame nunchucks on my secondary attack button, but also gives me the ability to increase my jump height and burn through webs I find in the environment — something I could only do before using bomb bugs found in certain parts of the world.
I swap Hallows with the press of a button. While I can’t swap mid-combo, it’s easy enough to use more than one Hallow per encounter by the time I reached the end of the game.
Darksiders 3 comes to life near the end of the game, as all these upgrades and abilities allow me to master extensive combos and make quick work of enemies that were once troublesome. This is the same sense of progression that’s so familiar from Zelda games: I gain abilities, I learn how to use them, and by the end of the experience, I have to learn how they all work together to continue moving ahead. It’s satisfying, but rote.
And the world itself can’t match the elegant design of the Souls or Zelda series. While there are some shortcuts through areas I already visited, there are too many times I’m stuck running through empty areas I’ve already cleared to get to the next section of the game. Exploring meant creating work for myself as I ran back over familiar terrain. There is no map, and the compass that’s supposed to point me in the right direction is often of little help on longer journeys.
The boss battles are a chore, and rarely do anything interesting with each character’s sin-based theme. I’m not sure how I would design a character that attacked with the power of “Wrath,” for instance, but it’s a moot point, because each fight in Darksiders 3 can be won by learning when to dodge and when to counterattack.
I wish I had played Darksiders 3 years ago. Today, it feels like something that might be found on the shelves of a dusty Blockbuster Video that’s somehow still around. It’s not a bad game, but it’s also not unique. It ever so slightly builds off the fantastic foundation set by better games that came before it. The result is something familiar that still has grabbed me for all 12 hours I’ve spent with it.
Darksiders 3 is a nostalgic trip, reminding me of games I loved when I was younger. It never does anything spectacular, nor does it offer many new ideas. Instead, it exists as an earnest reminder of how games played eight years ago, and that’s enough for me.
Darksiders 3 was reviewed on Windows PC using a final “retail” Steam key provided by THQ Nordic. You can find additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here.