Review by reykjavix

"Diablo II for your grandma"

I want you, the reader, to search deep within your soul and ask yourself: would you care about this game if it didn't have the words "Diablo" and "Blizzard" on the cover?

Diablo III took Blizzard literally 12 years and several million dollars to make. This has to be brought up because a game with such a ridiculously long development cycle and super-huge budget has to be held to higher standards than other games with lesser resources. Considering that, Diablo III is a complete joke and should be the laughingstock of the games industry. But even ignoring that, by today's standards, Diablo III is a less than average game and owes its popularity solely to pedigree. Furthermore, Blizzard almost completely gutted Diablo's dark, adult style in favor of a softer aesthetic that is more appealing to WoW fans. Let me elucidate.

GAMEPLAY

This is the one thing Diablo III does extremely well. It is a very, very fun game that compels you to keep playing. It's easy to lose several hours into it, chasing that next skill or piece of armor. The revamped skill system is novel, smart, and exciting. Essentially, you can respec your character at any time (even in a boss battle) and you can put any skill into any of your six slots (assuming you turned on Elective Mode in the gameplay options menu.) This allows for tactical, on-the-fly customization, and is the brunt of the game. Furthermore, rather than skills having levels like D2, you have "runes" which mutate your skills. For example, you can turn your bat flamethrower into a long-range projectile. Loot is also done well, and serves as your only way to customize your stats (you level up stats automatically in this game.)

Another thing I'd like to mention is the inclusion of action elements. Meaning that the game often requires that you actually play it well by dodging attacks and placing your character well. This goes a long way towards making the game appealing to skilled action gamers such as myself.

However, the one negative part of the gameplay is excessive streamlining. For example, you can't even use a standard weapon attack, so what's the point of equipping a bow vs. a mace? I understand the game was built around being skills only, but if you're a hardcore gamer you might be annoyed at your apparent lack of options.

GRAPHICS

This game's graphics are a complete joke. They would have been worse than average literally five years ago. I get that Blizzard makes games that can be played on most any computer, but the level of graphical quality is so abhorrent that you'll constantly be looking at the screen saying, "this game came out in 2012?!?" Even if you run this game on full graphical settings, it still looks awful.

First, the positive. The effects and explosions generally look pretty good. Also, many enemies have multiple death animations. For example, if you kill a spider with force, it's legs will be blown off. But if you kill it with poison, it will melt away into a green puddle.

Now, the myriad of negatives. First and foremost, this game has an awful visual style. Diablo is all about darkness, gore, and disgusting corpses torn in half all over the place. Diablo II even had a boss with her breasts hanging out. It was an extremely adult, sinister game. Diablo III, on the other hand, consciously chooses to censor these elements. Basically, Blizzard took out most things that would be considered offensive to your grandmother. I'm pretty sure nobody even curses in the entire game. So, what we're left with is a game that can't decide on a visual style. Is it dark and adult, or cartoony and childish? It occupies a disgusting middle ground that fails to create a cohesive aesthetic.

The enemy designs are boring and unimaginative. For the majority of the first act, you'll fight generic-looking skeletons, ghosts, and zombies. Also big spiders. I've never seen that enemy before in a video game! In Act II, you'll see a lot of enemies rehashed from D2. And, I'm sorry to say, things don't pick up much later on, either. Bosses aren't that great, either. The first two bosses you'll fight are a big spider, and a big skeleton. They couldn't be more cookie cutter if they tried!

The environments are similarly bland. Upon looking at them closely, they look a lot like World of Warcraft environments. Again, this cartoony style does not mesh well with the Diablo universe. Most environments are drab, lifeless, and honestly not all that detailed, which clashes with the colorful style of the characters and abilities. The base color of Diablo II was black, which contrasted well with everything else. The base color of D3 is gray, which undermines the visual contrast and just makes the game look washed-out and unappealing.

Finally, the cutscenes. Blizzard is certainly great at making videos that blow you away. But in Diablo III, they are boring and sparse. You'll notice that key story events (no spoilers here) are in-engine cutscenes when they really ought to have been prerendered, considering the weight of what's going on in the universe. Many of the cutscenes don't depict an epic battle, but rather lame drama and people just talking.

Straight up, Diablo II is a better looking game than Diablo III. Most gamers think that if a game is 3D, it automatically looks better than any 2D game. But those of us with a trained artistic eye know better. D2 has a tight, well-defined aesthetic and a varied yet focused art design. D3 is toned down and doesn't know what kind of game it wants to be, leaving it a visual mess.

SOUND

D3's sound is EVEN WORSE than the graphics. The first thing that'll grab you is that the voice acting and dialogue are just deplorable. I literally face-palmed almost every time somebody started talking in Act I. And oh boy, are the NPC's in this game chatty. Here are some gems:

"Bring me their bones!"
"You'll never defeat me!"

These are literal quotes from the game. These would be at home in a Saturday morning cartoon for small children. But in an M-rated game (not sure how it's not Teen, by the way) this is a pathetic joke that, again, clashes with the Diablo style. Like the graphics, the dialogue has been toned down and made more kid-friendly.

The music is insultingly awful. It's throwaway, bland, lifeless, atmospheric garbage with almost no semblance of melody, beat, or even usage of instruments. You'll go long stretches hearing nothing but wind or empty synthetic sounds. None of it is memorable, nor does it contribute to the aesthetic. It was designed to sort of just fill a void and hide in the background. Calling it "music" is unfair. D3's soundtrack is really just sounds, with few exceptions.

Compare this to Diablo II, which had a rich, well-defined aural style, lots of melodies, and rampant instrument usage... all while remaining dark and helping to tell the story. You'll hear delicious guitar solos in Act I, some great sitar stuff in Act II, and some jungle beats in Act III. Even Diablo II's more low-key, atmospheric stuff had style in spades, and reminded you you're playing Diablo, rather than being generic filler that could fit in most any modern game. If you'd like proof, I'd strongly recommend going to youtube and searching for the following tracks: "Rogue Encampment", "Tristram", and "Harem."

Here's a test: hum the melody of Tristram right now. It's easy, right? That's because D2 had catchy, memorable music. Now, hum some music from Diablo III. It's okay, I'll wait. ......That's right, you can't, because Diablo III has no melody.

STORY

As a disclaimer, I don't care about story in games. To me, it's just an excuse for an aesthetic style (again, which Diablo III lacks) and an impetus for the characters. Like most video games, Diablo III has a done-to-death plot of good vs. evil. Really nothing special. However, at least Blizzard put in plenty of "lore" for those who actually care.

Here's a huge thing that ruins the story: the inclusion of the Leah character, whom you see in the cutscenes and often accompanies you. Like most other things with this game, she does not mesh at all with the Diablo style and brings the game down. Not because she's female. But because she's an innocent little kid. On a side-note, props to Blizzard for allowing you to pick male and female versions of each class. Innocent little kids have no place in the Diablo universe. Sure, there was Wirt, but he wasn't all over the cutscenes and story like Leah. Also, his peg-leg meshed well with the Diablo style. I feel that Leah was shoehorned into this game to expand the game's audience by appealing to girls and children. I'm not an exclusionist, but again, Diablo is not the place for an innocent little kid. In the same way that Diablo is not the place for a character like Urkel.

BOX ART

Nothing special. Just Diablo's face. Like the rest of this game, bland and not memorable or artistically innovative or interesting. It tells you almost nothing about this game (again, you bought it just based on pedigree) and could have been so much more. To be fair, D2's box art wasn't great either.

OVERALL

Diablo III is an expertly designed PRODUCT. It'll sell well, and it does a great job of appealing to a wide demographic. It has been carefully crafted to be as inoffensive as possible, and specifically to appeal to WoW fans. But as a GAME or a WORK OF ART, Diablo III is a joke. The classic Diablo style has been gutted so that your grandmother won't take such offense to it. The graphics would have looked terrible half a decade ago. The enemies are done-to-death RPG standbys. The dialogue will constantly make you cringe. And the music is an insult to the work of Matt Uelman (composer of D2.) The gameplay is good, though.

One more time. Ask yourself: do I like this game because I legitimately like it, or do I like it because I like other things Blizzard has done, and because I want to be part of a group? Dwell on that deeply.


Reviewer's Score: 4/10 | Originally Posted: 05/21/12

Game Release: Diablo III (US, 05/15/12)


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