Review: Diablo III
After many years of waiting for Diablo III, has it been worth it? This review will look at how Diablo III handles, and how it sizes up to its legendary predecessor.
- Worth The Time?It's fun, and everyones playing it. You'll be entertained enough to keep playing.
- Things LovedCinematics, Story Callbacks to Diablo and Diablo II, Easy Partying and Questing Features.
- Things HatedToo much World of Warcraft Influence, No Skill or Statistic Choice, Improper Difficulty Scaling, Various errors, such as Error 37, 75, 3006.
- RecommendationYou'll get your money's worth if you enjoy RPG's, and/or the Diablo franchise. You will play through many of the difficulties and probably reach a high level.
- Name: Diablo III
- Genre: RPG
- Players: 1-4
- Multiplayer: Yes
- Platforms: PC, Mac
- Developer: Blizzard Entertainment
- Publisher: Blizzard Entertainment
- Price: R449 (Kalahari), R478 (TAKEALOT)
- Reviewed On: PC
Diablo III is finally here, and despite my absolute rebuke of the game in my hands-on preview of the beta, I’ve been given the opportunity to play the full game to evaluate if it really is as bad as I made it out to be. Well the long and short of it is: no it isn’t the war crime against the genre that I originally made it out to be. In fact, there are tons of aspects to the game.
Diablo III picks up 20 years later from where Diablo II left off, with the Arch Angel Tyrael destroying the corrupted World Stone on Mount Arreat. You, the protagonist plays one of five character classes (Barbarian, Monk, Witch Doctor, Wizard, Demon Hunter) who has journeyed to New Tristram seeking a falling star that fell on The Cathedral. I won’t take you further than that regarding the plot, as I don’t wish to inadvertently give away any spoilers.
Blizzard tried their best to put a few twists in the main plot, but most of them seemed pretty easy to call way before they happened. However, despite that, the narrative is definitely very rich and detailed. A great example of this are the journal entries that are found throughout the game. The journal entries give either a piece of historical narrative about an aspect of the game, or some piece of lore about the monsters in your current area. Of course Blizzard, once again, doesn’t fail to disappoint when it comes to their famous cut-scene cinematics. They leave most people asking, “Why don’t they just make a damn movie?”
Graphics / Environment
The graphical look and feel of the game can only be described as World of Warcraftish, with a more cartoony feel than its grittier, darker predecessors. I’m not particularly bothered about this, however I believe Blizzard’s reasoning for the look and feel choices aren’t a particularly good one. Apparently the cartoony graphics age better, which would keep the game looking fresher for longer. Unfortunately what they did in the graphical department was completely counter-intuitive to their choices in the gameplay department, with regards to longevity and replayability. One of the other problems I’ve seemed to notice is that when some real spell action is going on, in a big battle, it really is difficult to see what is happening, especially if you have a wizard in your party. I think that this is potentially a huge issue for hardcore players, as one unnoticed enemy area-of-effect cast by the mobs could spell death for you, and possibly your entire party.
This is the real meat of the game. And it is probably where I have my biggest issues with the game. As you may or may not already know, Diablo III’s character building opportunities are rather “flexible”. Basically skills are no longer chosen, but instead they are unlocked at a particular level. From that, the player can merely choose the six skills and three passives that he wishes to use from his unlocked selection. Similarly, the character statistic point allocations are done automatically for the player. Some may say this is a good thing, I would however disagree.
Back in the days of Diablo II, a player would have to be very careful about where they allocated statistic and skill points, since any choice was completely final. This meant that you chose a particular build for your character and you stuck with it. Certain gear suited you and you’d look for that gear. Finally, you’d get to about level 90-95 and your character would have a main couple of skills with a few associated synergies. More recently in the last year or so, the complete re-skilling of a character has become possible through patches for the game. All that being said, Diablo III’s chosen skill and statistic mechanic represent the complete opposite end of the spectrum as to how things used to work. Where the old system used to be final, in terms of character build, the new system in Diablo III allows for one to play in a completely careless manner, as allocations have no meaning whatsoever. Changing skills is just too easy and dynamic.
Why is a dynamic system a problem, you ask? Well firstly, your character now represents a superstate of every possible character playable for that class. This means that I can do things like switch out my skills to suit the gear that I find, and to help with any situation I encounter. Therefore, essentially at the end of the day, once I’ve played the class I wouldn’t really want to play it again. I haven’t built a character, I’ve merely just adapted one super-build to suit different situations. Therefore I’d argue the replayabilty is cut short in a huge way. Who is honestly going to play the same character twice when they’ve actually tried everything with one character along the way?
In my opinion, the way to approach the finality of skill choices needs to be a moderated one. For example, skill choices are final, however I can trade items to retain points. This system is found in other games.
Next is Statistic allocation. In Diablo III this is done automatically. Is this a good idea? I’d argue no, because it limits ones ability to make choices that fit their character. For example lets take the Barbarian skill “Revenge”. This skill relies on you being hit, so if you wanted Revenge as the focus of your build, there is no way you’d want Dexterity being allocated to you for dodging purposes, as you’d rather have those points dropped in vitality to increase your health. Of course you can influence your statistics through different gear choices, but this is reliant on me actually finding the right statistic combos on items. This is an endlessly frustrating formulaic process.
However, despite this rather long critique about the skill system, the game still has most of the qualities we know and love from Diablo II. It’s definitely action packed with huge hordes of enemies that you’ll love to hack and slash at with great therapeutic value. The rune passives for the active skills allow for a lot more flexibility when tuning your character, not to mention, it is fun to try completely different skill, rune, and passive combinations to find what causes the most damage. Health potions now have a timer on them, so you can no longer sit with a stack of full rejuvenation potions ready to drink your way to victory. Using potions has definitely become a more strategic operation, where you need to learn that you won’t win all your fights.
The famous Horadoric Cube has been replaced by a Collin Firth look-a-like blacksmith, who requires that you feed him gold and tomes in order to allow him to craft higher level items. It’s sort of like Diablo II’s gambling mixed with cube recipes, as you need to use gold and item reagents (which you get from salvaging junk items) to create a random rare or magical item. You will then hope that this item will have what you’re looking for. Similarly, there is a Gem related person that requires just as much love and attention to be able to craft higher level gems out of lower level ones. And an unsocketting service is also offered for gold, of course.
It is evident that the game has been designed with a more social aspect in mind. Hopping in and out of games that your friends are playing is really easy with the quick join and friends list features. Diablo III doesn’t really mind about your questing procedure either. You’re free to join and leave someone at any stage during their questing, whether they’re behind or ahead of you in the quest. This of course is within reason, since you can’t join difficulties that you have not yet unlocked. Diablo III makes playing together with friends a lot easier, without having to rigidly be on the exact same quest. The game is also absolutely littered with achievements to unlock. If your character even picks his nose, he’ll end up with an achievement. One can see they put a bit of pop-culture humour into naming the achievements as well.
The game comes with a child lock, for those of you who didn’t know. By default, certain skills can only be put in certain skill slots and the descriptions of the skills include no actual numbers or percentages. These dumbing down options are on by default, and at no time is the player made aware that a more advanced skill mode with advanced skill descriptions are even available. The ability to unlock this is tucked away, in the form of two check boxes in the gameplay options, where as far as I can see, it isn’t ever mentioned. This feels like poor design when it comes to usability on Blizzard’s part.
The difficulty scaling doesn’t seem very balanced when additional players join your party. I’d argue that inter-character synergies are relatively weak in comparison to the difficulty that the game scales by when playing multiplayer. This is particularly apparent as one progresses into Nightmare and Hell difficulty. For Hardcore players it seems as though it’s safer to play by oneself than to try and play in a party. Some of the elite monster combos are particularly unforgiving, with the game almost seeming a bit unfair for the Hardcore player that encounters one of these mobs and is killed in less than a second. These modes will punish careless and cautious players alike, with the only option being to avoid almost every special monster encountered. As a Barbarian, Hardcore does not seem balanced enough to give a fair playing experience.
Adding in a fourth difficulty really seems like a bit of a cop-out to me. It takes almost no effort on their part to add in another difficulty, since they’ve just recycled the content four times instead of three times, making the game just that little bit more tedious. It’s also a quick and easy way to add replayability instead of having a proper skill structure, as mentioned above.
This might be the worst part of Diablo III, for me. The infamous Auction House. Now bear in mind that we’ve already spoken about how you can’t really do much character customization, through skills and statistics. Therefore, items seem to have an even greater importance in this game than ever before. How convenient, because there is a magical place that anyone can visit to buy anything they like. You can try and rationalise an Auction House however you like. You can say it doesn’t ruin the game. You can even say you’re not going to use it, but the fact is, if all your friends are doing black tar heroin — you’re going to feel a bit left out, and you’ll probably give it a try at some point. And when you do you’ll find that:
1 — Finding cool items at your level isn’t really that fun anymore, unless they’re amazing items. It will seem like you can always afford something better at the Auction House.
2 — Gems below the level of “Square” are essentially worth nothing. The reason for this is because the cost to transmute anything below square quality into a square is essentially higher than just buying the item.
Funnily enough, Blizzard actually charges you a commission at the gold Auction House as well as at the real money Auction House. (I hope they spend all their virtual gold wisely). I suppose at the end of the day, they’re just trying to make money. So, who can blame them for completely selling out and turning Diablo III into a huge cash cow? It is claimed that legalising this behaviour is for the best, and that regulating it is good. Besides that, the servers that you’re forced to Error 37 on — I mean play on — don’t run off of air. Someone has to fit that bill, so why not get more money from you to do this?
I’m all for online gaming. I think it’s sad that the gaming culture has moved away from LAN play with the advent of real internet. I understand Blizzard are trying to protect their game by making online play a necessity. But honestly, if there’s one company I’d expect to have experience with hosting game servers with high volumes, it would be Blizzard. How can you not be prepared for launch day volumes? With server scalability being easily achievable through services like Amazon’s EC2, surely they could have allocated a bit more power for the first week or so of the game instead of frustrating their whole user base? It already starts one off with a bit of a sour taste for the game.
I know this review has probably come out a bit overly critical. I know that as a Diablo II addict I’ve held this game to what one would possibly call a higher standard than I normally would. And of course we’ve always known Blizzard to produce a higher standard of gaming experience. Having said that though, at the end of the day, I can definitely say that if I hadn’t been issued with the review copy of this game I would have seriously felt left out, and would have been regretting the cancellation of my Collector’s Edition pre-order. The game has been very enjoyable and addictive for the past two weeks, despite what I may think about certain gameplay design choices.