Review by Lysamus
Not the Game We Were Promised, But Otherwise An Average Hack n Slash Adventure
Diablo III makes many promises about presenting an engrossing, personal and replayable experience, but ultimately stumbles in its fulfillment of those promises, largely in part due to a misplaced focus on features that detract from the core gameplay. While the game is well produced and delivers a decent hack-n-slash experience, one will be left wanting more from a company once known for making legendary and widely accessible games.
What specifically are these promises? I will go over them throughout this review, and explain how the design of Diablo III ultimately detracts from them.
Diablo III is centered around playing as one of 5 diverse classes and venturing out into a dark world filled with devious denizens. Initially, the gameplay is fresh and open to deep customization via the Skill/Rune system, which allow the player to equip their character with 6 active and 3 passive skills. These skills are vastly different from each other, allowing players to play however they wish within the confines of their class. However, as the game progresses to the higher tiers of difficulty, more and more of those skills become useless compared to clearly better alternatives, resulting in players being shoehorned into playstyles they might not have signed up for. This flaw is especially emphasized at the Inferno Difficulty, where monsters become so overwhelmingly powerful that only specific classes with specific skillsets and top tier equipment can hope to make any progress. In its current build, the gameplay is not balanced to provide the deeply customizable experience Diablo III promised.
People who've played the previous Diablo games might remember how the randomized dungeon layouts, character class skill variety, and the thrill of finding powerful, unique equipment kept them coming back for more. While those features are present in Diablo III, they've been trimmed to their bare essentials or sacrificed outright in lieu of new, less engaging mechanics. Dungeon levels feel more linear in Diablo III than in previous iterations, with the random element expressed via events consisting of a brief dialogue segment and a single combat with a small horde of monsters. Character classes no longer require specific equipment or permanent skill selections to develop, essentially meaning that one play through with each class is enough to experience all that class has to offer. By far though, the most grievous sin committed against replayability is due to the presence of an Online Auction House, which allows players to find idealized rare equipment for their class, often for reasonably low gold rates (as of now, the promised Real Money Auction House is not available). The thrill of finding equipment loses its luster when knowing that a quick stop to the auction house will yield more than many hours of hunting for that perfect piece of gear. In this way, the core engagement of the Diablo game is largely lost. Blizzard attempts to alleviate this issue through the presence of gold sink crafters, but once again, the possibility of crafting a useful piece of gear cannot compete with the certainty of finding the perfect piece through the Auction House.
Accessible, Yet Hard to Master
Blizzard is renowned for its ability to provide marvelous games that don't require high technical specifications, but provide a high skill ceiling for those wishing to master the game's mechanics. In terms of system specs, Diablo III is not a demanding monster, providing visuals designed to run on older generation systems without sacrificing frame rates. However, because Blizzard requires you to play the game on their online servers at all times, the players ability to access the game may vary according to the stability of their internet connections and Blizzard's maintenance schedule. It should also be noted that as of today, there's concern over the security of those servers, with many players complaining about having their accounts wiped out by hackers, account phisers, and keyloggers. As to mastery of the mechanics, player skill takes a backseat to equipment and skill layout at the higher difficulty levels, resulting in a generic experience that does not test the player beyond their ability to calculate statistic and damage numbers (both of which are made very simple due to the fact that each class only relies on one attribute to determine their damage output, allowing them to ignore all others attributes almost entirely).
Breath-taking Cut scenes and Engrossing Narrative
Make no mistake, the cut scenes in Diablo 3 are visually stunning and worthy of applause, so long as the player is careful not to give too much thought to the story being told. The script is riddled with cheesy dialogue and predictable twists, some so clumsily delivered as to insult the player's intelligence. Not all of the writing is terrible however, and if a player is willing to take the time to speak with the various NPCs that tagalong on the hero's journey, he or she will likely find a few nuggets of narrative gold. However, as a whole, the story leaves the player emotionally detached from the cast and void of any suitable closure that conveys a sense of accomplishment; a decision by Blizzard that was likely intentional in order to make room for the inevitable expansion pack.
Diablo III is a competent, heavily produced game that, to its detriment, bucks the trend of previous Blizzard games while still trying to capture their magic. As a result, its flame burns brightest in the first few moments of gameplay, petering out rapidly until swallowed by the darkness of genericism and frustration. For those looking for the spiritual successor of the Diablo franchise, I would suggest looking elsewhere. For those looking for a fun hack and slash game, while this game fits the bill, other cheaper alternatives such as Torchlight or Titan's Quest would also be suitable and are far less demanding than Activision-Blizzard.
Rating: 2.5 - Playable
Product Release: Diablo III (US, 05/15/12)
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