The beloved hack and slash-franchise Darksiders is finally back after six long years and, as plenty of long-time fans of the franchise gather for the release of the next horseman-led instalment in the series, we've done some gathering ourselves - for some deadly sins.
The third game in the series grants the player the opportunity to wield the power of a "new" horseman. In the past we've hacked as War, slashed as Death, and this time around we're moving nimbly through the battlefield as Fury - the first and only female protagonist among the horsemen (or in this case, horsewoman). Fury moves like an acrobat when annihilating her enemies, wields a whip made of what looks to be razor wire, and sports some neat magic powers her brothers don't possess, but more on that later.
At the beginning of the game, the player walks up to the council's fiery throne where War can be seen chained to a boulder for a crime he insists he did not commit, this crime being having opened the seventh seal and thus disturbing the balance of the world. Fury is given the mission to find and retrieve the souls of the seven deadly sins that have been set free and with War in chains, Death missing and Strife "tending to other matters" (how very vague), Fury is the only one who can help restore the balance. The consequences for War's crimes bleed off on Fury's journey, however, forcing her to take a watcher (a sort of council-controlled spy one could say, to make sure no other horseman betrays it) with her as she tracks down the sinful beings. This watcher hovers alongside Fury as she travels a world in turmoil, giving her helpful tips along the way. When leaving the chamber, War turns to his sister, warning her that forces conspire against them and telling her to search her heart while insisting he's innocent.
When dropped down into the hostile environment the player gets to familiarise him- or herself with the game's mechanics and the base gameplay features. Almost instantly Fury gets herself into combat-clad trouble with a bunch of demonic minions who are roaming the city streets that have been ravaged by the chaos Fury is working hard to banish.
The combat is easy enough with the X button being the attack button (Y when in fire form) and pressing it in different successions, holding the button down and mixing it up with a jump/double jump or a dodge making for different attacks. Fury dodges incoming attacks with the right bumper and, if timed perfectly, time slows down, giving her enough time to take the enemy down while its back is turned (this, we found, is the best way to go through the game, especially boss fights, so get practising your timing right away).
Fury's combat movements are very different from those possessed by her brothers, the main difference being her acrobatic nature. Her whip is a good fit for her move-set with its versatility range-wise, and Fury's jump attacks, as well as the dodge-mechanic, make killing lousy demons a cakewalk. Later on in the game, Fury unlocks the power of fire through a fire hollow which gives her an entirely different skill set as well as the ability to jump higher with a force of flames. In this state, she uses Y to attack, obtains the ability to walk through lava, can slice through webs without the need of an explosive bug helper, and gets a new set of weapons called the Chains of Scorn, which have shorter range but can ignite enemies. Apart from this form (and others) she can also enter Havoc form, which turns her into a massive maiden of brute force, although that one is time limited.
The weapons Fury wields, although being subject to optional change along the way, feel like a natural extension of the protagonist's body and can be upgraded as one gets further in the game using enhancements that can be found in the world (as well as adamantium and other items depending on what the player wants to upgrade). The enhancements can in turn also be upgraded with two paths differing in stats. Here one must find angelic or demonic shards for either of the two paths.
The in-game world offers plenty of environmental puzzles as well as some platforming sequences and Metroidvania-type sections where the player has to grapple across gaping hellholes, use magic, use a fire form jump boost, or throw exploding beetles into otherwise indestructible webs, and oftentimes the puzzles are well worth taking on, as upgrades, souls or collectables hide behind them. All collectables look like yellow, shining orbs and can be seen from a distance, mocking those players who have yet to unlock a way to reach them. Speaking of orbs; soul lurchers riddle the world and different coloured orbs mean different pickups. Green orbs replenish your Nephilim's Respite (which is a full-heal inventory item that replenishes as Fury levels up or dies), blue orbs act as currency, and yellow orbs will fill your wrath bar, which can be used to enter a different combat state or use a wrath-filled special attack. These orbs differ from the collectable ones as they home in on Fury after she kills enemies, instead of having to be picked up manually.
So to the main villains of the game - the sins. The first sin the player meets is Envy, a half bird, half humanoid-looking brat who wants everything to be hers and hers alone, talking smack about humans, how they're "apes crawling through dirt" and mocking the Horsemen's need to protect them. Obviously, Envy must die for this complete blasphemy and die she shall. Envy's move-set is an interesting but predictable one. She unleashes a flurry of fast attacks when Fury is close enough, jumps up and comes back down creating a shockwave of pain, and conjures an exploding area of energy at Fury's feet if she strays too far away.
If Fury takes too much damage, one can press up on the D-pad to heal with Nephilim's Respite or pick a different healing item and/or buffing consumable by pressing left or right and then up when the consumable of choice is highlighted. When taken down to a set point on her health bar Envy charges up an attack, sending the two through the floor of the building, then hovering back up, prompting Fury to do some platforming to get her back down to the combat zone. After climbing, grappling and, in the end, slashing the sin back down to earth, Fury has to take Envy's health bar all the way down, prompting a cutscene as well as introducing a new item.
Said new item is a talisman which Envy seems really upset to lose, and understandably so as Fury uses it to trap her soul - job well done. This talisman will then, with a green glow, tell the player when one of the seven deadly sins is nearby. It will also display two symbols on your compass at the top of your screen, the skull being the nearest sin while the dots indicate other sins you can go kill whenever you wish to. Every sin, as well as some enemies, will leave their crystallised remains behind that the player can pick up with B and shatter in their inventory. This will grant Fury souls to sell to merchant Vulgrim Plinth, whom you meet early on in the game. Trading souls with him will grant Fury attribute points that can then be used to upgrade her health, attack, or arcane magic. After meeting with Vulgrim for the first time, a network of pathways called Serpent Holes will open up to Fury, letting her fast travel between discovered points.
When reaching Haven, the massive tree landmark on the map, the player will meet with Ulthane, a dwarf smith, as well as his kin and some human refugees, telling you to send any humans you may come across on your journey their way since Haven is the only place of refuge for these poor souls. By giving them access to "The Bridge", a teleportation device, the humans can then be teleported directly to Ulthane (no annoying escort missions, that is). These humans can be found all over the game world as one of the world's collectables. Ulthane, even though he asks for a lot, is a useful ally as he is the one to go to for your weapon upgrading needs.
There was one thing that took us by surprise in Darksiders III: the difficulty. This game is really unforgiving, even if you've played plenty of hack and slash games in the past. We ended up playing on "Story", which is the easiest of the difficulty levels to get through the game and we still had some problems with the combat. Now it's not unreasonable and practice makes perfect but players new to the genre may have some issues when slicing through the game's many enemies and the checkpoint system may feel unfair.
Another negative (even though the previously mentioned one may not be a negative for many), despite some frame-rate issues and random game crashes, is the graphics. Darksiders III is not a beautiful game when looking strictly at the visuals. The textures and characters look dated, last-gen in some instances. The design is what saves it. Also underwhelming are the boss fights, or perhaps "uneven" is a better word for them. Some of the sins' combat encounters are wonderful with a lot of interesting mechanics being used (the first boss was our favourite) while others feel like base minion enemies, which can feel incredibly underwhelming when you're on the hunt and looking forward to some deadly sin action.
All of this aside though, Darksiders III is a lovely game with plenty to do, a well varied and well-designed world, and an equally varied enemy roster. There are some issues here, the frame rate and game crashes being the biggest among them, but as a Darksiders fan we're not disappointed with the latest instalment. DLC is planned for later on and we're already looking forward to more.