"By 2012 standards, Diablo 3 will contend for game of the year. By overall gaming standards, Diablo 3 is terrible. It's time for a new standard."

Let me start by saying in a vacuum, Diablo 3 is a decent game -- good, even. If you load up Diablo 3 expecting to hold down a mouse key as your character slices things to bits, your core gameplay will still be there. You might even have loads of fun picking a character, finding some items, gearing up and going nuts. Might.

But the key words here are "in a vacuum", because Diablo 3 is really shallow and it will not take long to realize that overall, the game is a joke. The bolded headers in this review are all quotes from the game's design team.

"It's intentional. We don't want a game where the most effective way to play is to dodge in and out of enemy attacks. It's not that difficult to do, and it's just not a very fun way to play." -Bashiok, on the game's incorrect melee collision detection and Blizzard's arrogant belief that players should not be allowed to determine what "fun" means.

Diablo 3 does a lot of things well, though one could argue that Blizzard's hype machine was a better game than the actual game was. Given how good Diablo 2 was and still is, and how it took more than 10 years for a sequel, people expected Diablo 3 to be... well, better then it is in present state. There are currently 5 classes to pick from -- Wizard, Barbarian, Demon Hunter, Witch Doctor, and Monk -- and for the most part all the classes are effective. Wizard and Barbarian and self-explanatory for any Diablo veteran, and the other three classes are easy enough to figure out. Demon Hunter is a cross between the amazon and assassin from Diablo 2, the Witch Doctor is a weird version of the necro, and the Monk is a weird version of the Paladin. The short version is that you pick a class, then set out and start killing things. There is barely a plot to speak of, but thankfully people aren't playing western action RPGs for storylines. Diablo is back, so are his demons, go kill them and save the world from being overrun. We've seen this all before, and no amount of in-game storytelling will change that. And this is fine. It's exactly what we want and have come to expect from the Diablo series.

Where Diablo 3 shines in is how streamlined everything is. A lot of people actually hated this, but I think it's fine since most of what was streamlined were necessary additions and fixes. The big change is how level ups are fixed -- no more picking and choosing your own stats and having stats to worry about when equipping an item. Outside class-specific items, everything you pick up can be equipped if you meet the character level requirement. Furthermore, you no longer have skill trees to worry about, and leveling up unlocks character abilities. Basically, you won't have to play 278 different Barbarians to fool around with everything a Barbarian can do, since all Barbarians will all have access to every character ability at max level.

The gameplay is also much simpler. In Diablo 2, you would often have a lot of different skills and abilities tied up to your keyboard and mouse wheel. Even if you changed the configuration to QWER, some numbers and the mouse wheel, there was still a lot of fooling around to do in fights. In Diablo 3, all you ever really have to worry about are numbers 1 through 4 and both mouse buttons. That's it. It keeps things much more simple, and focuses the gameplay on killing demons instead of skill trees, stat building and keyboard binding.

"Working as intended." -Jay Wilson, on the game's meme-worthy drop rates

Past that, a lot of little things were also changed to make everything much faster and more accessible. Every class now has access to free town portals and item identification, so there's no more need to carry useless tomes around. Character and stash space is far larger and big items only take up two squares, so there's no more nonsense about having too much crap on your person even with all your characters sharing the same stash. At the end of most dungeons is a warp that ports you back to the entrance, there are checkpoints all over the place, saving is automatic, and though the maps are randomized you're often pointed where to go, so you don't really have to worry about repeats of that Durance of Hate nonsense where it can take forever to figure out where to go. There's a lot of other little things that most veterans of the series will appreciate, like health orbs on top of potions for better healing than games of the past, and much more accessible waypoint, so just fool around with everything as you go.

Diablo 3 has four difficulty settings instead of three, with Inferno being the new one. Inferno is designed to kill you as quickly as possible through various amounts of impossible enemy affixes, though you could always farm for hundreds of hours or buy your way through it in the auction house. More on that point later, though there's a reason only 2% of players have even bothered with Inferno difficulty to date. It's not hard to see the money-grubbing that Blizzard was going for there.

The two biggest issues with the core gameplay mechanics are the mana and skill system. Every class having access to its own skills are nice, but not when most skills are completely worthless. Blizzard advertized billions of different builds by giving each skill rune access -- in layman's terms, every skill in the game can be slightly altered to give different effects, so one player may decide to give the Demon Hunter's bola shot an area of effect fire blast, while another player may prefer lightning -- but when I say worthless, most of the skills and runes in this game are truly garbage. Quantity and quality are not the same thing, and Blizzard has completely forgotten this concept ever since World of Warcraft was successful. It's no accident that most of what makes Diablo 3 bad was borrowed from or directly influenced by World of Warcraft. The idea was forcing people out of comfort zones and not just picking all the best skills, but who isn't going to end up doing that anyway? You'll end up finding a build or two that pleases you, and largely ignoring everything else once you fool around with it and realize it sucks. It's impossible to list all the bad skills in a review, but 95% of skills and runes in each class, at least, will never actually be used regularly by most players.

"We know people are having fun with their Trail of Cinders builds, so we're nerfing it." -Lylirra, proving that any good build will eventually become unviable

Mana is even worse. Rather than sticking with every class having the same mana system, Blizzard tried to get cute and give each class a specific way of using skills. For example, Barbarians have "fury" as their mana. As Barbarians deal and take damage, fury builds up. As fury builds up, the Barbarian can then use better abilities than the basic left mouse click attack. Every class plays like this with the exception of Wizard, and trust me when I say it's even dumber than you could possibly imagine without playing it for yourself. Mana is a constant struggle in Diablo 3, and why it was changed is completely beyond me.

Items are also really bad, but we'll get to that later. Overall in the gameplay sense, Diablo 3 actually is really fun in many respects, but when it messes up, it messes up badly and in every way possible. I can appreciate what they were doing with the new skill system, but they should have focused on making the class abilities good instead of trying to squeeze in as many as possible. And the new mana system is just completely unforgivable by any standard, though imana by itself doesn't mess up Diablo 3 beyond repair.

What does mess it up beyond repair, however, can be summed up in four words: Real Money Auction House.

Some time in Diablo 3's development, someone at Blizzard noticed the black market trading going on with Diablo 2 items. And by "black market", Blizzard defined this as "someone not us making money on in-game items". A couple of sites that will go unnamed here saw a lot of success, and one in particular used its own form of currency and auction. There was no way Blizzard wasn't going to notice this, especially with the company merging with Activision and openly embracing all of Bobby Kotick's gaming design practices. When Kotick says game development and play should not be about having fun and instead about making money, Blizzard noticed the multi-billion dollar market value and went nuts. Worth noting here is that Blizzard North employees went on a massive voluntary exodus from around 2003 through 2005, and that company's closure in 2005 meant that almost none of the people who designed Diablo 2 would end up helping finalize Diablo 3. Hmm...

"F*** that loser." -Jay Wilson, about series creator David Brevik

Fast forward to 2012, and it's become very apparent that Blizzard has fully adopted Activision's financial policies of money first and game design second. World of Warcraft has been run into the ground and as of this writing is on track to literally be turned into World of Pokemoncraft, Starcraft 2 being released in three separate parts -- with us not having a release date for part 2 a full two years after Wings of Liberty hit shelves, naturally -- is nothing short of an embarrassment, and the Diablo series went from being about killing demons to Blizzard squeezing as much money as possible from an auction house. The Activision merger absolutely killed this company, and gamers have noticed. After Diablo 3's record launch and online numbers, which included people staying on board to play even after one of the most embarrassing launch errors in gaming history, play rates have dropped off a cliff and show no signs of improving. Unfortunately, through various exploits involving the auction house and the economy being ruined entirely, very little can actually be done to fix this.

In 2 and a half months, Diablo 3 has had several embarrassing episodes. Blizzard's awful idea of always-online DRM, when most people intend to play single player, was a complete disaster at launch (Side note: Always-online DRM is the absolute worst thing to ever happen to gaming and it may be the single biggest reason gaming needs to hit rock bottom and reinvent itself; one should not have to always be online to play single player). Servers could not handle it, and Error 37 remains a meme to this day. Always-online DRM also has the added side effect of having to play based on the whims of server maintenance; if the servers go down for 13 hours because Diablo 3 has to go down while Starcraft 2 gets a new patch, well then it sucks to be you! Also, be ready for lag and latency spikes all over the place, not to mention loads of glitches that come with too many players being online at once. It's a gigantic hassle, and it all could have been avoided without the idiotic idea to include always-online DRM in the game.

To expand upon how bad the always online aspect is, there is a known issue with Diablo 3 called rubberbanding. What this basically means is that you can expect the game to go smoothly, then you'll see a 2000+ ping, die to thin air, and get disconnected from the server. In standard Blizzard fashion, the fix for this issue actually made it worse.

The player exodus has already been covered. Several duping methods and game-breaking glitches have been found, but most of them did severe damage to the economy since players realize that keeping things quiet is the best course of action with real money at stake. Blizzard's shoddy programming is so bad in this game that some dupes involve simple copy-paste or just turning the computer clock back by two hours. Blizzard was even caught buying forum advertising by giving people 5 dollars per day to say good things about Diablo 3. Most of the time when people complain on forums about a video game, it's standard internet idiocy, but Diablo 3 has been so messed up beyond repair multiple times so badly that the official Blizzard forums for the game have turned into a gold mine of what not to do and how not to handle a game going badly. Reading that forum is a nice form of catharsis and entertainment, and I highly recommend just doing that instead of actually playing Diablo 3. Trust me, it's more fun.

"The integrity of Diablo 3 is very important to us." -Vaeflare, in response to multiple uncorrected exploit methods that have yet to be fixed

The worst of all was Patch 1.0.3. Blizzard advertized this patch as something that would keep players around, because the idea was to make item drop rates better, thus keeping people interested since they would no longer have to go to the auction house to get the best stuff.

What Blizzard kept silent however is that while item drop rates did indeed improve, they stealthily nerfed item stats without telling the players. So while you were getting more items at item level 63, the actual stats on the items would be complete garbage. There are horror stories on the internet right now of people farming inferno difficulty for hundreds of hours, and never finding one single good ilvl63, and ZERO legendary or set items. Because again, Blizzard needs to keep people buying at the auction house and taking off that 15% as much as possible. People are also kidding themselves if they think a good deal of the best items for sale aren't put there by Blizzard's own employees, similar to how a lot of the allowed botting in Diablo 2 led to Blizzard-run item purchasing.

What this all means is that the Real Money Auction House (RMAH) completely dominates everything about how Diablo 3 is run. Blizzard not only rakes 15% off of any purchase in the auction house, but they also control the drop rates in-game. They are essentially their own judge and jury. Blizzard can control the entire economy in Diablo 3, take 15% off of any purchase, advertise the RMAH as "making money while playing your favorite game!", and they can do it in as shady a way as possible with no one around to police them.

Currently as of this review, Blizzard is apologizing again and promising that the next patch (1.0.4) will fix everything, but how often does Blizzard have to lie before people stop believing them? Short of removing the auction house entirely and going back to the Diablo 2 method of trading, nothing will ever change. People need to look up Einstein's definition of insanity, vote with their dollars, and stop giving Blizzard money. It has become painfully obvious that they do not deserve it, especially with Activision's obvious influences on how things now work there.

The sad thing is that Diablo 3's failures don't end with the RMAH. The items themselves are absolutely awful, even when not comparing them to Diablo 2's amazing item system. With no skill tree and no stat points to spend, "gearing up" is the only way a character can truly improve. One would think that not having to worry about items giving skill levels would be a good thing, but it isn't. Items can have random stat affixes that have nothing whatsoever to do with the class you're currently playing -- why would a Demon Hunter bow need extra points in intelligence, for example -- and lots of things are just completely useless. Jeweling and crafting have no point unless you're an achievement gamer, and most items you find just end up getting sold to feed the RMAH. What in the world has gaming become where having fun takes a back seat to forcing as many microtransactions out of the player as possible? I can understand a free game like League of Legends doing this, but paying full price for a game should not mean paying more money on top of that to get the game's full experience.

Speaking of, Blizzard went the way of Capcom and released a barely half-finished game on launch day in hopes of players being dumb enough to pay more money for a game that should have been finished at release. There was no PvP, multiplayer groups cap at four players, chat options are horrendous, account security might as well involve a paper box and some string (which can of course be fixed by buying an authenticator from Blizzard, naturally), and the auction house has already been covered. Blizzard promises these fixes and updates will be free, but anyone who believes that is probably in line to buy a bridge somewhere.

"People only remember 'Stay awhile and listen' because it was annoying." -Jay Wilson, about Deckard Cain and the Act 1 spoiler

The saddest thing of all is that all of this stuff -- all of it -- could be forgiven if the actual game had proper balance and was fun to play at all difficulty levels with a proper curve. But as-is, normal and nightmare are way too easy, and inferno is just a brick wall of resets until you see enemies with weak random affixes that you're able to deal with. Hell is where the most balance is, though by then most players will have moved on to games that are actually good.

Diablo 3's two best features are graphics and music, and like we've seen so many times, when your game's two best features are graphics and music, it means your game is bad. That isn't to say the graphics and music are good, mind, just that they're the two best features. Blizzard promised low graphics standards to make sure as many people could play as possible, similar to the past when the company was actually good at making games, so naturally when the game was released it required a relatively high-end graphics card to operate. The music is decent when it's actually playing, I guess, but those spots are rare in Diablo 3.

At the end of the day, Diablo 3's best feature is the realistic physics engine. Maybe if Blizzard spent less time making sure things fell at realistic speeds and more time working on the actual gameplay, Diablo 3 would actually be a good game instead of a half-finished mess, in which Blizzard attempts to stop the bleeding with band-aids instead of staples.

"Aren't you thankful?" -Bashiok, on how nerfs could always be worse

No, we aren't thankful. Not for the hypocrisy, the bad design, or anything else. Diablo 3 is dead, and the tombstone should read "F*** that loser" on it. Although ironically enough, Diablo 3 being a dead game is one of the only things gamers can actually be thankful for regarding Diablo 3.


Reviewer's Score: 2/10 | Originally Posted: 07/31/12, Updated 10/09/12

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


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