In 2013, “Darksiders” fans had all but given up hope for a new game in the series. THQ’s bankruptcy not only left the franchise rights in limbo but led to the shuttering of series developer Vigil Games. At the time THQ Nordic (then Nordic Games) was an unknown. The publisher had purchased a mountain of THQ IPs, but had no idea what it was going to do with them.
Nordic Games did know that there was demand for many of the franchises. Among them, “Darksiders.”
“It takes a very long time to make games,” THQ Nordic CEO Lars Wingefors told “Game Informer” in April 2013. “You won’t see a new ‘Darksiders’ this year. I don’t believe in bringing out a shitty sequel.”
It has, in fact, taken more than five years. And, true to Wingefors’ word, “Darksiders III” appears to be a faithful sequel that expands a story fans were worried would be left on a permanent cliffhanger.
“Darksiders III” takes place at the same time as “Darksiders II,” and you don’t need to have played either of the previous titles to understand what’s going on. The stories are connected, but the events of the three games happen concurrently and independently.
The first and second games starred War and Death, two of the four horsemen of the apocalypse. The latest installment features the third horseman, Fury, who plays quite differently than her brothers. War has his brute strength. Death his agility. Fury is a mage who excels at keeping enemies at a distance with a whip and magic.
Fury is more strategic in combat so you won’t see her facing off against dozens of enemies at once. Instead, Gunfire Games (comprised of many former Vigil Games employees) designed the environments to offer more vantage points.
“You can watch the patrols and see where the guys are grouping up,” says senior designer Richard Vorodi. “Here’s where they separate from the herd. You’re largely in control of the difficulty of the combat. Taking on one guy is easier than six.”
Fury is a more methodical combatant. Getting surrounded by foes can spell a quick defeat, but even a single enemy can prove challenging. Dodging at the perfect moment can open up enemies to strong counter-attacks that help balance the challenge.
Like its predecessors, “Darksiders III” features an open world. Post-apocalyptic Earth is utterly gorgeous, and while series creator and comic artist Joe Madureira isn’t directly involved, his art style carries forward. His concept art for Fury is the basis of the current design, and Gunfire Games has fully realized the vision.
Fury’s quest is to defeat the seven deadly sins, the first of which, Envy, is featured in the most recent demo shown at PAX West. She takes on the visage of a bird-like crone and defeating her opens up the rest of the game by providing a mask that tracks the remaining sins.
“If you think of the first game, it had a lot of ‘Zelda’ in its DNA,” Vorodi says. “This is a lot closer to a ‘Metroid’ game. The world is a character.”
A shift in play paradigm also brings a change to other core systems. One of the biggest changes from ‘Darksiders’ to ‘Darksiders II’ was the incorporation of a full action-RPG loot system. That has been modified again for the third entry, with Fury unlocking new abilities that give her access to previously inaccessible areas.
“Death was more of a paper doll,” Vorodi explains. “He could pick up any weapon he wanted and equip it. ‘Darksiders III’ sits somewhere in between ‘Darksiders I’ and ‘Darksiders II’ in terms of RPG mechanics.”
Unlike many “Metroid”-style games, there is no world map. Vorodi says that Gunfire wants players to rely on landmarks and the environment to navigate. The large Haven Tree, a decrepit church, and other easily recognizable environmental elements will serve as guideposts in the world.
“We don’t have a map system of any kind in the game,” Vorodi explains. “We’re not a huge fan of maps. We don’t think players like them either. We want players to get lost. We think the fun comes from finding your way and spending time in the world to uncover secrets. You still need to have some guidance, and that’s what the points of interest offer.”
There’s also a compass that’s unlocked after fighting Envy. Like “Mega Man” games, there’s no specific order you’ll need to fight the remaining sins. Vorodi expects that there will be debate amongst players as to the best order for fighting the bosses.
“Darksiders III” is the game that many ex-Vigil Games developers never thought they’d be able to make.
Vorodi says that THQ Nordic hasn’t balked at Gunfire Games’ needs to make “Darksider III” everything it should be. “Both companies were incredibly supportive of the franchise,” he said. “THQ Nordic has given us everything we’ve said we needed for the game. They want it to be a Darksiders game. They’re not easy to make, and the fact that we have one means that we’ve got the support we need.”