Review by smiledk

"Great fun for a while, end game is pretty hollow and aggravating."

First off, my 7/10 score given to the game isn't based off averaging mostly arbitrarily assigned numbers. It's based off the GameFAQs definition of a 7/10, "Good - a few problems, but worth the time to play." I also held off writing this review until I leveled a couple different classes to max level and played on the highest difficulty setting on both for a bit, to get a more full view of the game. Without further ado, lets have at it.

Graphics
Graphically speaking, the game isn't breathtaking. The graphics don't look too bad either though. They sit in the "graphics zone" that Blizzard likes to occupy, where the graphics are serviceable enough that they don't look outdated, but low enough that lower end PCs can run the game. The problem here is that the game appears to be pretty poorly optimized. I exceed all the recommended computer specs, with the exception being my graphics card that is a smidgen below the recommended, but leagues above the minimum, and I can barely run the game on rock bottom settings in certain areas. Particularly ones with water (e.g.: sewers), and there is no graphics setting for water. specifically.

The most noteworthy praise to the graphics can be given to the physics of the game world. Many objects are destructible, and will be destroyed when you start flinging spells around the screen like mad. Enemies bodies can be blown off platforms into the dark abyss below, and it's pretty cool to see it happen.

Sound
The sound effects are good. No sound effect stands out as being out of place or annoying. Each class/gender gets their own voice actor, and all the voices are done competently. I think Deckard Cain sounds like someone mockingly imitating an elderly person though, instead of actually being one.

I didn't find the music to be particularly special, but it wasn't bad either. I turned it off fairly soon for less racket while in VOIP programs with friends, or so I could listen to my own music while grinding the hours away.

Control
The control scheme works most of the time, but it definitely leaves something to be desired. Attacks are bound to left and right click on the mouse, with the 1 through 4 keys also being bound to attacks/abilities, and Q being bound to potions (all by default of course). The problem is that left click is also bound to movement. This isn't too bad for melee classes, but for a ranged class a minor miss-click can send your character flying headfirst into a monster that will kill you in one hit instead of attacking them from afar. You can hold down shift to "root" yourself in place, essentially disabling movement temporarily and turning yourself into a turret, but you're going to have to hold shift basically any time you attack, which gets old very quickly. Kiting monsters around also becomes a chore when you need to constantly fling your mouse all over the screen.

Move and attack being on the same key feels like a problem that should not exist on a PC where you have at least 100+ keys at your disposal. Blizzard appears to be clinging to the past (possibly for nostalgia factor for the players?) instead of improving their control scheme. Most of the time it's not too bad of a problem, but sometimes your character will refuse to move and continue attacking monsters when they fill up the screen.

There is also some sort of oddly placed aim assist in the game. Your abilities do not fire off in the direction that you place the mouse. If you mouse is sufficiently close to a monster, it locks the ability to that direction. It isn't too bad, but if you have an ability that does damage in a cone shape in front of you, and you aim between two monsters to hit both of them, it sometimes adjusts your aim directly at one so you completely miss the other.

Story
Mostly boring. It boils down to "Bad guys want to kill everyone. You need to kill the bad guys." Many plot points are poorly explained, but I won't elaborate to avoid any spoilers.

While the main plot is dull, the chatter between your character and your NPC allies is pretty neat. It fleshes out the world and develops the characters much better than the main plot does. The random diaries and books that you can find around the world also provide much more engaging background story, and they're read to you so you don't need to stop the action and read them.

Gameplay
This is the meat and potatoes of any game, and especially so for a game like Diablo 3. If you're reading this review you probably already know the formula, but it boils down to slaughtering everything you can see, collecting their gold/gear, and leveling up. The game is entirely based around improving your character's power, through gear and levels. If you're the kind of person that enjoys that, then the game is fantastic, at least for a while.

There are two professions in the game, and you can advance both of them if you choose. The first is jewelcrafting, which allows you to combine gems you find in your adventures to make more powerful gems to augment your gear with. It's not essential, but can be quite useful. Higher level gems require a lot of money to upgrade though. The second profession is blacksmithing, which lets you create gear. It gets very pricey after a while though, and since all the gear you craft has random stats, you're likely better off just buying gear from the auction house.

Statistic points are automatically given once you level up, instead of you being able to manually decide where they go. Many people despise this, but I like it quite a bit. In the beginning of the game you have no idea what you're doing, and with automatically assigned points you can't completely mess up your character's build.

There are no talent trees, instead as you level up you unlock new skills to use, and each skill has runes that you can unlock, which alter how the ability performs. You can also choose 3 passive abilities to use. You can swap out skills and runes at your leisure, with only a very short cooldown to impede you (it's around 5 to 10 seconds, so you can't effectively do it in combat). This is cool as it promotes constantly tinkering with abilities and swapping them out to find your perfect setup. There are two problems with the system however.

The first problem with the skill system is "elective" mode. By default, your character has around 3-5 abilities that can be placed into each slot. Each slot is a category. Your left and right clicks are resource generating and resource spending attacks, while the 1 through 4 keys tend to be defensive/support abilities and situational attacks. Hidden within the options is "elective" mode, which lets you put any ability in any skill slot, with your left mouse button being locked to a resource generating attack regardless. So you could pick all attack abilities, or all defensive abilities, or whatever. Without somebody telling you about this, you can easily play the game for hundreds of hours without noticing it, unless you dig through the options before playing a game.

The second problem, is that the system fails pretty horribly at what it's trying to do. The intent is to have no two players characters with the same build. At lower levels this is true. You could have any assortment of skills and runes and clear through the game. At inferno difficulty (the toughest), you quickly adopt a cookie cutter build, or you don't get anything killed. Monsters do ludicrous amounts of damage, so you're typically pigeon-holed into defensive abilities just to not get immediately slaughtered. Some classes like the demon hunter rely entirely around one ability (smoke screen in this case) to be able to even function in higher difficulties.

When roaming around the world you mostly encounter regular creatures, but you'll encounter elite creatures every now and again. These creatures have vastly increased damage and health pools, and have random attributes assigned to them. Each difficulty level adds one new attribute to elite packs, meaning in normal difficulty they have one randomly generated "buff." In inferno they have 4. They range from teleport, which allows them to teleport around (usually on top of you), to invulnerable (everyone in the pack is immune to damage except one monster that you'll need to single out), to waller (they'll place temporary walls on the field to attempt to trap you. In inferno difficulty you can get insane combinations like "extra fast, jailor, invulnerable waller." This means they move 5 times as fast as you can, will root you in place (jailor), only one monster will be damageable, and they'll block you in with walls. These get annoying very fast, especially for ranged classes as they rely on kiting, which becomes nearly impossible.

The game avoids giving you true challenges, that you need to overcome with skill and strategy. The biggest challenge in the game is acquiring the right gear to survive. In certain cases you need X amount of resistance and X amount of health to simply not die, and there is no way that player skill can aid you until you reach that certain gear level. Gear certainly should be a factor, as it's a defining characteristic of RPGs, but Diablo takes it to the extreme, where gear is nearly the only factor. Character build factors in as well, but it's mostly about the gear.

To aid in the gear necessities is the auction house. Since all stats on gear dropped is completely random (and as a result most gear you find is completely useless) you're going to rely on the auction house for gear to advance in inferno difficulty. The problem with buying gear is that it completely destroys the point of the game at the level cap, which is to acquire better gear. If you buy a set of the "best" gear possible, then there is no point in using the gear to kill monsters because the point in killing the monsters is to get gear, since leveling up and getting new skills isn't a factor at the level cap.

At the time of this review, the real money auction house (aka RMAH) isn't implemented into the game yet. The idea is that players can sell items and gold to other players for real money, and Blizzard takes a cut of that money. This is one of the most controversial aspects of the game, it's probably the deciding factor behind requiring the player to be always online (even when playing single player) which is even more controversial. The RMAH probably started out with the best of intentions. People are going to buy and sell items with real money anyway, so providing a legitimate way to do so results in less people getting screwed over. Also allowing players to sell their own gold will drastically cut down on "illegal" gold farmers influence, as since they are the largest cause of hacked accounts, lowering their influence is good for the player and good for Blizzard. Then the cut that Blizzard takes from auctions helps pay for server costs and development for game updates.

The plan seems to have gone awry however. The cut they currently plan on taking is pretty huge (the exact amount they take may change when the RMAH launches, so telling you the current number doesn't really matter), so the average player won't be able to make hardly any money without finding an extremely rare/good item. This also necessitates the always online nature of the game, to make hacking much more difficult. When people are dealing with real money you need to make sure unfairly obtained items are not present on the RMAH. For players that don't plan on using the RMAH, it just gives them the inconvenience of always needing to be online.

The RMAH could also need to some nefarious actions on Blizzard's part. They could easily post items on the auction house with perfect stat allocations that they just generated. Doing so could potentially turn the game into a free to play game with micro transactions. Due to the game being sole about gear though, it would be more aptly described as "pay to win." The problem here is that you're already paying full price for a premium game, instead of paying nothing for the game. This all all conjecture though, but there is certainly nothing stopping Blizzard from doing it, and there essentially wouldn't be any way for the players to tell if it's happening.

Difficulty
This was touched on a bit in the gameplay section, but I like to have a section dedicated to it.

The first two difficulty levels are a breeze, they're almost insultingly easy. Once you make it to inferno though, they game gets insanely hard. I didn't have too much trouble on my monk character, since they can be set up to be extremely defensive, but on my demon hunter character you can easily get instantly killed the millisecond monsters appear on the edge of the screen. It gets extremely aggravating, and the only way to get around it is to simply grit your teeth and die a thousand times until you get better gear.

As previously stated, player skill is only a minor factor in your performance, and gear overemphasized.

Replay Value
It took me somewhere in the realm of 40 hours to get a character to the level cap without particularly rushing to get there. I found the leveling experience to be the most fun part of the game, since you don't encounter the soul crushing aggravating difficulty of inferno, and you're constantly getting new gear upgrades and new skills/runes to tinker with. The end game becomes a gear grind for the sake of grinding gear.

If you want to level up each class to the level cap, you can get quite a bit of play time out of the game. If you want to stick to one character and play the end game content, then you may be disappointed quickly.

Summary
The game is a blast to play for a decent while, but it quickly devolves into a mindless click fest with annoying gear-based instead of skill-based difficulty. The always online requirement and real money auction house will definitely turn some people off to the game, and justifiably so.

The game doesn't advance the Diablo formula at all really, making the game feel a bit outdated, but it does carry some nostalgia for a person looking for an "old school" gaming experience. The biggest relics from the past that the game clings to is the outdated control scheme, and gear-based, rather than skill-based difficulty.

Whether or not the game is a worth a buy depends on what you look to get out of the game. If you just want to level up a few characters, bash up some skeletons with friends, and then sell off all your gold for real money once you're done to recoup some of the cost of the game, you'll probably have some fun.


Reviewer's Score: 7/10 | Originally Posted: 06/04/12

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


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