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According to IGN Video Games (This article and its images were originally posted on IGN Video Games July 13, 2018 at 12:01PM.)
Seeing little embers drift across the screen, with a slowly building, slightly gothic orchestral track and the bold, angular logo for the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse lingering in the background, is one of the most unexpectedly welcoming things I’ve seen in a while. And just above the words ‘Press Any Key’, right in the front and center of the screen: Darksiders III.
The long-awaited sequel went dark after the reveal trailer was posted in May 2017, but just a couple of weeks ago, I was able to play almost two hours of the latest build at the Gunfire Games studio in Austin, Texas. It has evolved significantly since the first time I played it, but it’s still, at its core, a post-apocalyptic, hack’n’slash, puzzle-filled adventure set in a world full of angels, demons, and the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Honestly, I think I’m mostly comforted by the fact that Gunfire – a team comprised largely of the original Vigil Games group that made the first two games – seems to have done a remarkable job of modernising the series without departing from the core pillars of the franchise at all. One of the designers told me, “It’s a video game. I know that sounds odd, but that’s one of my favourite things about it. We went through this process of, what are some of the tropes that you get rid of, what are some of the tropes that you keep? We sanded it down, and here we are.” That completely made sense to me.
Of course, there are significant changes. With a new Darksiders comes a new protagonist, and Gunfire assured me that Fury (voiced by Firewatch’s Cissy Jones) has the strongest arc of any of the characters yet. Even in the few cutscenes I saw, Fury seems more driven, hungrier, and probably more stubborn than War or Death ever were. She’s desperate to be the leader of the Horsemen – a role none of the others have ever cared about – and it seems like she’ll almost blindly follow the series’ well-established Charred Council’s orders to reach her goal. You can find out more about her in her character reveal. There were cutscenes I wasn’t allowed to see and a lot of questions the team wouldn’t answer in order to avoid spoilers, but the team said Darksiders 3 will “move the needle” in terms of storytelling, and fans of the series should expect interesting twists and revelations, including insight into the end of Darksiders 2.
Beyond story components, Fury’s instructed to take on physical representations of the seven deadly sins, though I’ve only seen two of those – Sloth and Wrath. Sloth’s a giant, admittedly gross bug, sitting on a throne held by other bugs, buried in a sort of ‘dungeon’ that has totally evolved from its original ‘Earthly’ design to an area that’s indicative of its ruler. He’s supposed to be a little funny, too, with some quirky one-liners and a cheeky attitude when you encounter him. I know a whole lot less about Wrath other than his sort of Overwatch-Reinhardt-esque design, but Gunfire told me each of the sins is intended to be a little cartoonish, and wholly distinct from one another, and in some small way, should reflect a part of Fury. Honestly, I’m excited to learn more about them, and I think playing through the levels leading up to each sin will be full of anticipation – what’s it going to look like? How’s it going to act?
The world is supposed to get harder as you slowly take down more of the sins, too, meaning enemies scale depending on how far you are through the story. Each individual enemy is supposed to be a little tougher than they were in previous games in the series, but there are less of them overall. That shift requires a little more precision than the first two games did, and that precision comes with a very satisfying counter system, that I slowly got better and better at as I played through the build. If Fury dodges an enemy at exactly the right time, there’ll be a sort of glow on screen – which will look different depending on which of her elemental abilities she has activated – and then a short window for you to hit them hard with a counter-attack. Since each different enemy has a significant variety of attacks and animations, and I saw 12 different enemy types in my two hours playing, the counter system has to be re-learned with every enemy.
At first, I screwed countering up more often than not by reacting a little too early. By the end of the demo I was succeeding far more often, and found each new enemy almost a little exciting, because it meant there was new timing I had to learn. I don’t know how many enemies Darksiders 3 will have overall, but I do think countering takes away some of the combat repetition people felt in Darksiders 2. It’s also just important to get right – since Fury’s more of a mage, she’s a bit squishier than War and Death, and if you aren’t paying attention to dodging and countering, she’s going to die a whole lot. I know it’s almost cliche at this point, but it’s worth mentioning that Gunfire said, this time around, the combat is more inspired by Dark Souls than previous games in the series.
Of course, there’s a leveling system, where the souls you collect act as currency for upgrades to your health and your attacks, and it’s relatively simple – it feels a lot more like the original Darksiders than Darksiders 2. One smart new addition to upgrades is a creature called a Lurcher Demon – if you die, one will spawn in the area of your death, and it’ll have consumed all of your lost souls. There’s a little puzzle in trying to jump after it as it peacefully floats around with all the currency you’ve collected, but it also acts as a neat checkpoint. If you kill other enemies while it’s close by it’ll eat up their souls, too, stealing them from you until you attack it. There’s a crafting system too, and while I wasn’t able to see it in action, I was collecting items for crafting around the world.
The most significant change in terms of combat, though, is the introduction of Fury’s elemental abilities, which come from things called “hollows” that are replacing the Zelda-style items you’d come across in previous games. The only one I was able to see was the Fire Hollow, though I’d guess there are four or five more (Gunfire wouldn’t confirm this). The Fire Hollow came to Fury during a cutscene that I won’t spoil, and granted her three new abilities. She could walk through fire and lava without taking damage. She got new weapons, which were nunchuck-style sticks, held in both hands, and could be charged with Y to release a full flame attack. She also got an extended jump, where holding A would make her look a little like a phoenix in mid-air.
Fury’s hair and some minor parts of her armor changed to reflect the Fire Hollow too, which should make it pretty easy to identify which ability you have activated at any given time. The additional weapon was a bonus, especially considering it’s a bit faster than the whip, and came just as I started to get a little bored with it. That said, coolest part is definitely the way the ability is integrated into traversal, allowing you to double-back on environments and approach them in new ways. Things that you needed items to burn could be burned just with her abilities, things that were too high to jump to could now be jumped to, and walking through lava meant there were shortcuts and secrets hidden throughout environments that might’ve just tugged at your curiosity the first time you’d seen them, because you couldn’t reach them.
In fact, the approach to the world is both my favourite thing about Darksiders 3 (so far), and probably the biggest ‘upgrade’ from previous games in the series. It sort of melts in on itself, with the six distinct ‘dungeons’ being filled with linking passageways and slowly shifting from one environment into another. There’s supposed to be a lot of overlap in a lot of ways, including that Gunfire doesn’t consider the game to be linear, and you can approach some of the sins and their lairs in different orders. I only saw two environments – the bug-infested subway that Sloth inhabited, and what I’d call a ‘fire dungeon’, but both noticeably varied even within themselves as I got deeper into them. It feels like there’s a lot of verticality there too, with the depths of the dungeons fully reflecting whichever sin lived there, while the earlier parts still reflected Earth.
They’re ultimately all supposed to feel less like compartmentalized zones, and more like cohesive, lived-in, connected parts of the same world. The way Fury’s abilities tie into exploring the world is intentional too, and when I asked the team how they would explain Darksiders 3, the first thing they said was “it’s a cool world that you can explore”, before getting into mentioning combat, puzzles, or style, and that focus rings true. In the first game you’d mostly just see a chest that you couldn’t access because you didn’t have the right item, but now there are more elaborate secrets, different paths, and an abundance of ways to give players a chance to explore the spaces they’ll go through. It’s designed for players to be able to fully but progressively digest every single environment – if they want to – until they’re at the end-game.
To add to that, if there’s a puzzle present in Darksiders 3, it fits fairly naturally into the environment. There aren’t any elaborately set up puzzles, there aren’t any suspiciously unopened chests (who keeps putting those there!?), there aren’t any rooms with doors that’ll only unlock when you’ve killed every enemy inside of it. Basically, everything that exists in the world is set to feel like it would be there even if you weren’t, departing from the feeling that enemies mostly just stood around waiting for you to show up. For example, the skeletons that were scattered throughout one of the dungeons I explored were often praying when I showed up, usually in the direction of important quest items I could interact with.
That’s a really subtle touch, but it just adds to the idea that every corner of the world has purpose and context. Gunfire put a lot of consideration into building puzzles, too, with the intention of having each new puzzle introduced as a ‘tutorial’ of sorts, but progressively get more intricate as a dungeon goes on. I want to be clear – there weren’t any on-screen tutorials, so the first few times I found a new kind of puzzle, it did take me awhile to figure out what I needed to do. Once I did, they just kept adding layers and layers on top of what I could do with those solutions, but without it ever feeling like they were too elaborate to naturally exist. Puzzles in Darksiders 3 were designed so that they should make sense in the environments they’re in, with more context than they’ve had before.
My favourite puzzle in the two hours I played was centered around a stone giant, that Gunfire decided to name the ‘Causeway Colossus’ while I was in the room, so that name might be subject to change. I walked into an area that felt like a dungeon within a dungeon, and was faced with a giant stone statue that seemed a little too dramatic to simply exist there. The dungeon took me through a bunch of different rooms with their own puzzles – which could be approached in any order – to collect the swords that would act as a power source. I won’t say what happened, but I think it illustrates a lot of how I felt while playing; I’d see something different and cool, and wonder what it was going to end up doing, or how, even if that might be a few hours later. It feels threatening and exciting at the same time.
So, while I’ve written a whole bunch of things that I know or like about Darksiders 3 here, it is also worth mentioning that I somewhat frequently encountered framerate drops, and some issues with getting through that world. A particular jump I should’ve been able to make became hard because I was hitting some kind of invisible wall that shouldn’t have been there, one enemy kept knocking me off of a platform when I was trying to fight him, some checkpoints felt a little far apart, and some of the solutions to puzzles felt a bit unclear, because I hadn’t learned the language for them progressively enough. I don’t feel like any of these issues have a whole lot of weight just because Darksiders 3 is still actively being refined and worked on (and the developers were making note of the issues I encountered as I encountered them, even saying things like, “Oh, we need to fix that”!), but they’re worth mentioning at this stage all the same.
Ryan McCaffrey is IGN’s Executive Editor of Previews and Xbox Guru-in-Chief. Follow him on Twitter at @DMC_Ryan, catch him on Unlocked, and drop-ship him Taylor Ham sandwiches from New Jersey whenever possible.
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