Saturday, June 09, 2012

Tech: Diablo 3 review

When I was in middle school, one of the biggest things around was a PC game called "Diablo." For about a solid month, all the kids were obsessed with it (someone even sneaked a demo install onto one of our classroom computers). Mornings before class were spent discussing spells, monsters, and, most of all, the cool loot someone found during their trip through the dungeons the past night. "Diablo II" did something similar for everybody in high school.

After that, though, there was a long "Diablo" drought. Blizzard focused on its money-printing machine, Blizzard North split off and made other games, and the world basically forgot about Deckard Cain, Fallen Ones, and inventory Tetris.

Which brings us to today's question: can "Diablo III" rekindle the old magic after twelve(!) years?

The above video references the most controversial change in "Diablo III" - the requirement that the game be connected to the Internet, and Blizzard's servers, at all times. In point of fact, it isn't much of a change from how "Diablo" has always been (everybody played the first game online, and that was back in the days of dial-up and AOL), but it does mean that your entire playing experience hinges on this.

As far as the specifics of playing the game go, let's break it down...


+ Flexible skill system: Diablo III marks a radical change from previous action RPGs (and RPGs in general) in that you can reconfigure your skills on the fly, without penalty, as many times as you like. Instead of having to make new characters to try out different skills, or being locked into skills you don't like, you can just switch your equipped skills out. It's massively convenient, fun to tinker with, and a huge step forward in gameplay design.

Great production values: The art design in DIII skews towards WoW/cartoon fantasy rather than gothic horror, but there's no denying that everything in the game looks great. All the animation is fluid, and backgrounds seem to go on for miles behind and below your character. The battle sounds are good, too; in one extended melee, the grunts and screams were so intense they shorted out my PC speakers.

+ Super-streamlined experience: Blizzard's taken everything they learned from "World of Warcraft" and channeled it into Diablo. No more typing in game names and passwords to join your buddies - you can jump into the action with two mouse clicks.


- Iffy game balance: "Diablo III" was undergoing major revisions in gameplay right up until it was released. As such, you'll encounter some quirks and annoyances in your quest, like useless skills, sections of the game that are too hard or too easy, and a ludicrously expensive crafting system.

- Recycled content: There are way too many environments and scenarios in DIII that are carbon copies of those from "Diablo II." Facing off against goatmen on a grassy field? Check. Fighting insects in caves underneath a desert? Check. Giant battles on snowy landscapes? Check. You'll get a serious sense of deja vu every time you start up the game, and it feels pretty lazy when so much is new and exciting.

- Awful storyline: Okay, so "Diablo" games have never been very story-centric, but the plot in "Diablo III" is just plain silly. Here's a good summation. In retrospect, the approach taken in "Diablo II" (where the cinematics followed the villain of the story) was a lot more daring and logical.

Rating: 86/100 (singleplayer); 90/100 (multiplayer)


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