The Best And Worst of DIABLO III (spoiler free-ish review)
Come, fellow traveller and hear a tale of darkness and devilry by Hedgehog
This is a spoiler free-ish review. I’ve not revealed plot points in the text and all screencaps were taken from pretty much the very start of the game, during the first few quests. You’re welcome.
So in case you hadn’t heard, because you live in a cave or something and have your daily dose of House of Geekery printed out by an acquaintance and delivered to your door/hovel/bridge you lurk under, the geekosphere is abuzz with excitement as the long anticipated Diablo III finally arrives on doorsteps and hard drives and at game stores worldwide. The third in the series of Diablo games, D3 as it is affectionately referred to (when not being called “just let me log in you sonofabitchwhorewankerfuckfuckityfuckshitdick” – more on that later) is once again set in the land of Sanctuary where apparently monsters trying to conquer reality is pretty commonplace. It sure happens frequently enough.
The basics of the plot is this: the player character arrives in New Tristram to investigate a fallen star, which many prophecies seem to point out as a possible indicator of yet another apocalypse. Depending on which class you select, your origin is quite different but all roads lead to Rome, as they say, and you wind up investigating the meteor, partnering up with locals and killing a whole ton of dead, almost dead, undead and never-to-be-dead beasties. Don’t worry, that’s not a spoiler; everything I just said is revealed in the first ten seconds of the opening cinematic.
For the TL;DR crowd, the game is fantastic. Like Skyrim (the last game I gave the Best/Worst treatment too) there is a fantasy setting here but the similarities are few. Sanctuary contains no elves or orcs, only humans of differing persuasions and the enemies are more devilish than fantastic. But it’s not all smiles and sunshine – except that one level – and so here we have the best, and the worst, of Diablo III.
It looks gorgeous.
I’m all about immersion, and one of the things I find contributes greatly to my immersion in a game is the visual depth the world provides. This is not to say I require everything to be photo-real and in the highest-def imaginable, Minecraft is one of my go-to staples after all; no what I mean is that the overall design philosophy of a game, including graphical fidelity, wold building, interactivity and a whole host of other features are something that can either make or break a game for me.
One of the things I loved about Skyrim was that the world it presented felt almost as real as the duller one sitting outside my front door. One of the things I dislike about Call of Duty games is how “hyper-real” everything has suddenly become, like a Michael Bay directed modern warfare film it’s less about immersion and more about spectacle. At no point do those worlds feel legitimate, to me at least. They look realistic, very well designed and textured, but I suppose if you’ve seen one beige stone Middle Eastern locale or New York City in the midst of attack you’ve seen em all
Diablo III has no such problem. It looks amazing – I’m lucky enough to be able to play on almost the highest possible settings, which was a surprise, given that the game is already known (I suppose, erroneously) as a beast and I’m not exactly running the Yellowstone Supercomputer over here – but more than that, the world has been painstakingly constructed to give a true impression of completeness. Ruined buildings crumble upon your approach, the homes and taverns feel lived in, catacombs dank, forests dark. Monster flesh ebbs and pulses with movement, spells dance with light. Truly gorgeous.
It’s fun to play.
The Diablo series follows a very simple gameplay strategy; you point at things and click on them until they die and vomit up gold and other items to either use or sell. Diablo III is no stranger to this system, and although that may seem a little Farmville to the uninitiated, it is so, so much more. While the gameplay mechanics may be superficially simple, the depth of character creation through spells and rune assignment gives the gameplay a certain richness and the exploration the game allows is consuming.
There are five classes, each of which you can play as either male or female:
Barbarian: smashy, smash hit things till they fall down.
Wizard: the obligatory magic user, with a range of spells for attack and defence. I play this.
Demon Hunter: probably the closest thing to the ‘rogue’ class, using ranged weapons like bows.
Monk: paladin type with a specialty in melee combat and hand-to-hand.
Witch Doctor: sort of a voodoo-necromancer-type guy, who can summon minions.
On the journey towards your assigned quest you may come across musty basements or abandoned chapels, old sheds, catacombs and caves wholly unrelated to the quest but offering an enjoyable aside and an opportunity to gain ever more loot. Because loot, my friends, is what life is all about.
Excellent learning curve.
The game (on normal) starts off with a few low level enemies at a time, then adds in a few new enemies, then suddenly enemies can teleport, then there’s more of them, then what the fuck is that thing? Never does the game seem off balance. I’ve not yet (admittedly, I’m still on a Wizard’s “quest in progress”) encountered a battle I could not win with just a little strategy and cunning, and more than a bit of pew-pew-pew.
The game is challenging, but never painful. The curve allows vets to ease themselves back into it, and for newbies to learn the ropes without feeling overwhelmed.
Speaking of vets and newbies, the game’s lore contains something for players new and old. While the story is explained in gorgeous hand-drawn style parchment cutscenes, there are of course nods to previous games and subtle in-jokes to give those familiar with the world of Sanctuary a little bit extra. This allows everything from the ‘trying to guess what building is what in Old Tristram’ to Whimsyshire. You’ll know what I mean when you get there.
REPULSOR BEAM! I mean Ray of Frost. Or whatever, it’s a fucking ice laser and it rocks.
Always on online DRM.
If you’ve been paying even the slightest attention to the launch of Diablo III then you will undoubtedly be familiar with the screen above. Error 37 has been a trending topic on twitter and even has its own website. The use of BattleNet as a sort of online gatekeeper to the game’s playability has been a serious bone of contention within the fan base and gamer community at large.
While the idea is mostly fine – that in order to play even the single player campaign one must be logged into, and online with, the BattleNet servers – the simple fact that the servers were, at least in the beginning, down more often than up lead to many players simply unable to play the game they shelled out money for. Even offline. Alone. Without any friends. Because they’re nerds. Not only this, but when you can play the game, you often experience lag. Lag. In a single player game. Apparently that’s a thing now.
To put it simply, there is no offline mode, meaning that not only will I never be able to have a gathering of like-minded geeks in the park to Diablo it up, but if the World of Warcraft, Starcraft or Diablo III servers are down, overburdened with players or even just offline for scheduled maintenance, then you’re shit outta luck boys and girls and may as well go watch some Legend of Korra because you sure as hell aren’t playing Diablo.
No character customisation.
Although I fully understand that there has never been much in terms of character customisation in the Diablo games, one simply picks a class and gender and is assigned the sole skin for that combination, I feel that in the era of Fallout, Skyrim and Mass Effect – three games with almost endless scope for customising the look and personality of your player character – having absolutely no options at all is a little grim.
And I mean none at all. You have one face, one hairstyle, one option identical to every single other person who also chose that class and gender. So my Dude Wizard looks the same as every other Dude Wizard and my friends Barbarian Princess looks exactly like every other Barbarian Princess in every game, on every server. I get that the series has roots and that’s fine, but I honestly think a teensy bit of personalisation here wouldn’t have gone astray.
Even just a couple of hairstyles and a complexion shifter. If you could manage it in World of Warcraft in 2004, I think you can cope in 2012’s biggest RPG release.
I guess clicking on shit till it dies might not be for everyone.
Some people are idiots after all.
In order to facilitate the auction house, in-game vendors have fucking nothing worth buying.
Okay so there is an auction house, where players can trade items with other players in exchange for gold and such, much like the WoW Auction House I would frequent in Orgrimmar back before I realised that World of Warcraft was boring and filled with dickheads.
Now, this is just speculation on my part but I believe that the existence of the Auction House is the reason why the vendors of Sanctuary have almost nothing to buy. One guy in New Tristram has a sword, an axe and a health potion. That’s it. Oh and whatever I have just sold to him. While I like that fact they don’t run out of money like the traders and vendors in Skyrim it’s a little annoying that there is nothing to buy from them. But that’s fine, you say, just go buy things in the Auction House at vastly inflated prices.
Oh and the real money (where you use real, genuine, earned-at-your-job cash money from meatspace to give your tiny fake person a slightly bigger
penis weapon) Auction House isn’t running yet and has been pushed back to some indeterminate future date.
Why the fuck is anybody surprised that Tristram is being attacked by the undead? Do they not remember the last two fucking games? Were none of these people paying attention the last time Tristram was levelled by Diablo? How about you all move a fifteen minute carriage ride to the South, set up a new town not called Tristram and live to the ripe old age of 60.
Remember when I said the world building was outstanding? Well it is and most of the voice acting is pretty good too, with the obligatory Medieval English twist to the accents and dialogue but it does seem amusing incongruous at times that anybody in this world is shocked by what’s happening around them.
There are a few gripes along side every game launch; bugs, UI issues, generally stupid design choices, Horse Armour DLC, but few so grand as Error 37. That said, I’ve honestly had no real problems myself with this particular nasty, because I chose the American servers and as an Australian this means that most of the hours available to me for gaming are also the hours spent by many Americans huddled up in bed with a duvet over their face.
When I was trying to get on the Asia servers, I got 37’d for twenty solid minutes, but thankfully I moved on.
So while the issue is a major one for many people – and, let me be clear, a major one overall, as I think this kind of always-online malarkey opens up a whole new world of game related issues, many of which we cannot even foresee and some (like the lag in a single player campaign) we’re seeing now could become commonplace – it hasn’t really effected my opinion of the game I’ve been playing.
Diablo III is fun. It’s very fun. Most of you reading this probably don’t even need me to tell you that because you came here to have your already high opinion of the game reinforced. But for those who do need convincing, grab it. If you know someone with a boxed version, they got Guest Passes that let you play up to the first major dungeon boss (who I haven’t reached yet, between work and social obligations and writing this damn article). This should give you enough time to know if a) your computer can run the game and b) if you’re going to like it.
The Starter Edition will also, I’m told, be open to the public in about a month, in case you don’t have any friends with boxed editions. Or any friends. Not judging, just, you know who you are.
It really is a sterling title and, when you can log in, it’s truly a great time to be had.