Review by justinolegero

"Angels vs. Demons, Good vs. Evil, and Consumer Expectations vs. The Diablo 3 Development Team"

This long-anticipated sequel to the Diablo series comes ten years after its predecessor. With a ten year gap, surely Blizzard's amazing team could come up with a superior game to the last. Instead they created a game that plays vastly different but doesn't exactly feel like an improvement. From its release, there have been striking numbers of complaints from Diablo's more hardcore fans about the looting system, less-than-exemplary plot, and most of all, the necessitation of online play that doesn't always run smoothly. While the game may have these problems, it remains hellishly addictive and somehow fun to play.

Story: 3/10

I actually found the story of Diablo to be quite immersive. The problem is that Blizzard makes it more forcibly immersive. To beat all four acts may take you as little as ten hours if you aren't much of an explorer. Once you've gotten through the game, what is there to do? Play through it again on a higher difficulty with the same character, levelling up further but running through the exact same story over again. As you're going through the game for the third time, the story just seems like a complete nuisance. You'll find yourself wanting nothing more than to skip all of the story bits and run through random dungeons finding stronger elite mobs to drop better gear. Luckily, Blizzard gives the option to skip cutscenes, but there are certain errands that needlessly slow you down regardless.

The plot development is simple and predictable. It's angels vs. demons with your character caught in the middle, trying to stop Diablo and his minions from wreaking havoc. The villains you encounter each have their distinct personalities, which Blizzard capitalizes on quite well, but they could still have gone further with it. For example, the “Lord of Lies” does lie to you, but considering his title, he should have been much better at it. By the end of the campaign, I found myself underwhelmed. The ending was very basic, and still left a few unanswered questions. I assumed that at the very least, since the game was in development for so long, there would have been more to the plot. Instead, it's almost as if Blizzard just gave up on it during the final act and cut it short because they got lazy/bored/“Look! A squirrel!”. There are certain secondary characters you meet throughout who add some comedy or unique background to the story, but for the most part, they are pretty one-dimensional. The game is left with an immediately enticing story which quickly becomes nothing more than a hindrance to gameplay.

Graphics: 7/10

Every FMV cutscene in the game is beautiful, showing even the pores on the faces of each character involved. The environments are also incredibly detailed and endearing. Artists said they wanted each act to look like a completely different painting and they did just that. From one act to the next, environments are unique to keep the gamer's interest, with varied color schemes and textures. In terms of sprites, the graphics are pretty standard. Nothing looks bad but there are no terribly stunning features either. This is understandable due to the style of the game. With everything meant to be seen at a distance from a topical view, there's not much more detailing that can be done.

Unfortunately, for how good the graphics are, they're not very accessible. This game does require a computer with a pretty strong processor and graphics card to run smoothly. I've tried playing it on both a PC with an excellent processor and a laptop with the minimal requirements to play. Even with the settings turned as low as they could be on my laptop, the game ran extremely slow. In a game that can only be played online, this is a huge problem. While your character is moving at half-speed, the enemies are still moving regularly, so they'll appear to teleport right to you most of the time and even kill you before you realize you've lost health. In fact, it was completely impossible for me to beat the boss of the second act even being overlevelled, all because of one attack he uses that requires you to constantly run from it or die almost instantly. This is a huge issue because without either a high level friend to come in and kill the boss for you or a high end gaming computer, you'll never even get to play the second half of the campaign on Normal difficulty. Considering how the graphics aren't ground-breaking, more should have been done to make the game accessible to those without premium specs.

Controls: 7/10

Blizzard really went out of their way to simplify the controls in this game, using mainly the number keys 1-4 and the mouse. I'd say this was a great choice, as it plays into the game's main focus of constantly playing around with character builds. You'll only ever have six activated abilities equipped at a time, so there isn't too much to take care of or readjust to once you've switched them. Then there are the supporting controls, most importantly using a potion (‘q' by default), holding ‘alt' to bring up the names of all item drops onscreen, and the various menu buttons which are mostly self-explanatory (‘f' for follower menu, ‘I' for inventory, ‘s' for skills, etc.). On top of that, it's easy to go into the options menu and readjust your key bindings to your liking.

The controls seem less reliable when fighting overpowered mobs that require you to constantly be on the move. Mainly, moving from point ‘A' to point ‘B' is done by left-clicking a point on the screen. Attacking an enemy is done by left-clicking on them. When the entire screen is being overtaken by a swarm of tiny demons, clicking on an empty space to run away from them becomes pretty difficult, since you'll often accidentally click another mob and run to attack them instead. There's a button that you can hold down to stand in place and attack rather than move, but not one you can hold down for the opposite effect. In higher difficulties when surviving relies more on running in circles around a mob, this is a huge issue. On top of that, since the screen becomes so cluttered most of the time, it can be challenging to hit that one specific monster you need to kill first to make the rest of the fight easy. Essentially, Blizzard did well to simplify the controls, but there are still some aspects vital to survival that could be tweaked.

Gameplay: 6/10

Diablo 2 implemented skill trees that encouraged obsessive hoarding of points to throw them all into one or two stronger skills you would use constantly. Diablo 3 makes a drastic change by not allotting skill points at all. The focus in Diablo 3 is less toward building a particular character than it is toward farming awesome gear for a more versatile character. Every wizard learns the same spells at the same levels as every other wizard. Instead you are encouraged to try using these skills in different combinations to create character builds that work for you. There is never any penalty for trying out new abilities aside from the inevitable death if you suck at it. Personally, I enjoy this style, as it keeps gameplay lighthearted and inspires creativity. Still, it feels like something is missing in terms of customizability. How are you supposed to consider your own character special when it will always have the same capabilities as another one of the same level? Why bother levelling a second character of the same class if it will never be any different from the one you have? Blizzard seems to think the answer is in equipment customization. Crafting and looting better equipment is the way to make your character unique. The problem is, this is the exact same customization that is expected these days in most RPGS. As such, Diablo 3 has nothing special to offer in terms of creating a unique experience for each gamer.

Diablo 3 is a dungeon crawler, plain and simple. Nobody should buy the game expecting it to constantly throw them curveballs. It's all about a routine of raiding dungeons and killing monsters along the way to obtain sweet loot, power up your character, and then sell the extra loot for profit. There are still issues, however, such as the extreme disparity in difficulty levels. You must first run through the insultingly easy normal difficulty mode to get to a higher one, in which time you'll end up at about level 30. After that, levelling becomes slower and mobs become more powerful. As a monk on Hell difficulty mode currently, I still find regular mobs to be pretty easy, but then your gameplay gets interrupted by elites/champions, which are more powerful versions of regular mobs. Once you encounter a group of these, it's all about luck as they are assigned random affixes that give them different abilities, such as trails of lava behind them or unkillable minions. Many of these are reasonable, but more often you'll find them to be so difficult and unfair that you'd rather run past them and give up on their loot (and those are the mobs you must kill to get the best loot). An example of an unfair combination would be a frozen, jailer, desecrator, which can freeze you in place, light a fire under you, and then also lock you in place again with its jailer ability so you can't escape this fire that will kill you almost instantly if you're standing in it. It is likely that Blizzard will address these issues in future patches, but at the time, higher difficulties seem terribly imbalanced.

Sound: 7/10

The collector's edition of the game comes with a soundtrack for a reason. The musical numbers in the game are vast, and beautifully orchestrated. It does seem at times though that a lot of the music sounds very similar: slow songs that give off a sense of dread. This is appropriate to the game's themes, but it does get tiresome after a while. Voice acting is excellent, though. Each class has its own two voice actors (one for each gender) that have suitable accents to their origins. Voice acting is generally filled with emotion and well-articulated. On top of that, most sound effects are fulfilling. When an enemy drops a gem, there's an appropriate ‘ding' sound so that you'll recognize it. When you successfully hit an enemy there is a ‘whack' or ‘sizzle' depending on the kind of attack you're using. Good, but not great.

Online capabilities: 3/10

Now this is where poo hit the fan at Blizzard HQ and their fans lost a lot of faith. The game requires you to be online, despite the fact that it's made to be an essentially single-player game. That means that Blizzard can shut you out of the game at any point, like when they do their maintenance periods, even if you just want to get into the game and play alone. They did this reportedly to prevent hackers/botters from ruining the game by flooding the market with items they unfairly acquired. This may be a noble cause, but it has been one of the most prominent complaints from the consumers, and rightfully so. To pay 60 dollars for a new game, one should expect to play it whenever they want. Some people have tight schedules and have to allot their playtime accordingly, so it would be a big letdown to come home for your couple hours of play only to find out the game is down for maintenance. The release day for the game was a complete mess, too, with the servers being down more often than not and anxious gamers waiting around for hours on Diablo forums just to get another chance to play.

Connectivity issues are relevant even when you are playing. The main issue I've encountered is “rubber banding”, a term used to refer to the phenomenon of your character instantly jumping from one point on the screen to another where he was at a couple of seconds earlier. In higher difficulties this can have disastrous consequences. More than once have I found myself at low health trying to flee from a group of mobs only to be rubber banded back into the midst of them and die a horrible, unavoidable death. This is a particularly big issue when playing on hardcore mode, wherein, if your character dies, they don't come back under any circumstances. I've heard horror stories of people losing their level 60 hardcore characters to rubber banding and lag spikes. I understand that people need to realize these risks when they start a hardcore character, but there really shouldn't be those risks at all. Hardcore mode is essentially in place to provide a more immersive and realistic experience, as though your character is a real person rather than one with infinite lives. If that's the case, then lag spikes work against that realism, as I hardly think Blizzard meant for the world of Diablo to be a place where people die because they randomly teleported or stopped moving altogether. I mean, there are no NPCs in the game that happen to die of lag spiking.

The only thing I'd say Blizzard implemented well in terms of online gameplay is multiplayer. It's very easy to join a game with your friends or even people you don't know in public games. This gameplay doesn't get slowed down too much either, as you can instantly teleport to wherever your teammates are from town. Ultimately, though, the necessitation of online play in Diablo is a hindrance to the consumers rather than a benefit.

Overall: 5/10 (rounded down out of pure malice)

If you're a fan of dungeon crawlers, you'll enjoy this game. I can't guarantee how long you'll enjoy it but for a while it'll be like an addiction to you. I wish I could say this game was better, because I do thoroughly enjoy it, but there are certain problems that are just inexcusable. My recommendation at this point is to just wait for an expansion to come out. By then, hopefully Blizzard will have modified the game to something more reasonable.

Reviewer's Rating:   2.5 - Playable

Originally Posted: 06/29/12

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

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