The Switch has finally caught up with Darksiders … for now.
I was thrilled when it turned out that the long-awaited Darksiders III was actually happening. I picked it up on the day it was released for Xbox One and despite its somewhat rough release state, I really enjoyed my time with it. I played it again this year on the Xbox Series X, where the significant upgrade was able to overcome any remaining technical issues with brute force. But when a Switch version was announced, I couldn’t help but think back to the original Xbox One version. If it took an Xbox Series X to solve its tech problems, what hope was there for a Switch version? And yet I had enjoyed it on Xbox One in 2018, warts and everything, so if the Switch could get close enough there might be hope.
Darksiders III, similar to Darksiders II, plays during a time jump that occurs right after the opening segment of the original Darksider. The rider of the Apocalypse, War, rode early and lowered the armies of heaven and hell to earth. While he sits in chains waiting for the verdict for his deeds (which will ultimately come in the form of a Zelda-inspired adventure game), his sister Fury is tasked with hunting down the seven deadly sins that are free on earth. Unlike the first Darksiders, which for the most part take place a thousand years after the Apocalypse, or Darksiders II, which primarily focuses on universes outside of our own, Darksiders III takes place on an immediately post-apocalyptic earth. Angels and demons struggle to conquer territory, and a few human survivors cling to life. The changing earth ultimately forms the backdrop for what is probably the most character-growth-driven story the series has told. Unlike the two horsemen previously explored, Fury does not seek to atone or undo the apocalypse. In fact, she would much rather participate. History is ultimately one of understanding what is unique to humanity and worth saving by investigating its mistakes. And then of course you kill a literal tornado by setting it on fire in one place; it’s still a Darksiders game.
The Darksiders games have long been heavily inspired by 3D Zelda, but with a stronger focus on combat. For Darksiders III, the series shifts towards more strategic battles and takes heavy influence from the Souls franchise. Players can choose between two combat modes. The default setting is more based on your inspiration. Using healing items takes a moment and requires Fury to stop moving. Attacks cannot be interrupted by other actions such as evasion, which requires the player to be fully committed to one particular action. Classic mode, on the other hand, allows the fight to feel a little more like the two previous Darksiders games by removing the two restrictions mentioned above. As I said, the difficulty is retained. This is by far the toughest game in the series when it comes to combat. It is very easy to get overwhelmed by enemies if you don’t watch them closely and many of the bosses present a tough challenge.
The fight, however, is only part of the journey. The rest of Darksiders III is focused on exploration and some easy puzzle solving. Compared to the previous games, the focus on bespoke Zelda-like dungeons is reduced and a large part of the puzzle solution revolves around using acquired skills to access parts of the environment that were previously unavailable. In this way I would compare Darksiders III less to Zelda or even Dark Souls, but more to Metroid. As the adventure progresses, Fury will acquire various upgrades called Hollows. These abilities enable her to take on different elemental forms, each giving her new movement options. One of them allows her a triple jump, which throws her into the air. Another allows her to walk normally at full speed underwater. Another allows her to walk on the water instead. It is even given the option of taking the shape of a sphere and attaching it to certain parts of walls and ceilings. The comparisons to Metroid aren’t hard to find or obscure. The ability that makes her run normally underwater even makes her turn purple. The influences are clear and not deterred.
As far as game design goes, I have very few complaints about Darksiders III. The only glaring problem, made even more apparent by the comparisons just mentioned, is the lack of a map. The world of Darksiders III is one of the most labyrinthine I’ve ever seen. It’s huge, seamless, interconnected, and often very confusing. While you may have a compass that generally points you in the direction of your next main objective, coming back with new skills to clear optional side areas is a big job. You can travel fast from any of the checkpoints that also serve as stores around the world, but the Fast Travel Points are only presented as a list separated only by general subject areas. Although I played through the game several times at this point, I never really got a handle on the layout of the world. If you’re just about to push through the main story, this isn’t the biggest issue, but this is clearly a game you’ll want to explore, find collectibles, and even have optional boss fights. The lack of even the most basic card system that was present in every other Darksiders game is astounding.
The Switch version itself is an odd beast to be criticized. Even now, when you go back to the Xbox One version years after launch and multiple patches, there are still problems. It regularly pauses to stream more of the world if you move around in it too fast. Aggressive geometry culling means that quickly rotating the camera almost always reveals a quick glimpse of the void on your periphery. And loading times after death are generally between 30-40 seconds. The Switch version keeps all of these problems, but doesn’t really add them at the same time. In fact, the load times on Switch are around 20% faster on average. The general technical impression is that, other than visual changes made to get it working on Switch, this is largely the same as the Xbox One version. This is not to say that it is technically good, just that the problems at hand are not inherent with this port. In terms of raw graphics, Darksiders III makes a lot of trade-offs, but maintains a reasonable frame rate and resolution. Playing handheld actually looks pretty good. It looks a little more blurry on the TV, but not as bad as I expected. You can check out my full technical breakdown below if you are interested.
Darksiders III is a more sophisticated take on a series that wasn’t exactly known for being easy. It changes its influences a bit while maintaining its unique take on the action adventure. Aside from the obvious omission of a card, Darksiders III is easy to play, fun, challenging, and rewarding. Apart from the expected visual downgrades, the switch port is on par with the originally targeted systems. The only problem is that these systems never ran particularly well either. If anything, the Switch version improves some elements of the original performance, but it can still be a bit bumpy. This has always been a game that required more powerful hardware to overcome its shortcomings, and the Switch obviously cannot fully deliver that. At the same time, with a little faster loading and solid handheld performance, I’d probably still take on the original Xbox One version.