Thursday, July 5, 2012

Diablo III review (with video review)

It's been 12 years since Diablo II enveloped our world with its addictive gameplay and instilled its audience with an insatiable lust for more loot.

The impossibly anticipated follow-up, Diablo III, has finally arrived and successfully builds off of what made the franchise so great to begin with. However, while it does keep to its roots, Diablo III's streamlined nature, rocky launch and post-release patching have brought with it some very controversial changes that's made it very tough to love.

Diablo III video review


Depending on who you are, the story behind Diablo either interests you or it doesn't. Being a Diablo veteran, I found the narrative of the first two games, at the very least, interesting. There was enough mystery and sense of accomplishment involved that it helped me continue pushing forward. Diablo III attempts to follow in the same vein and delivers spectacular cut-scenes, but falls far from what its predecessors decidedly told.

I wasn't expecting the world's next greatest story, but I at least wanted to care about what I was doing. Diablo III conforms to the trend of trying to put too much into the game too quickly and introduces old and new characters in contrived fashion. The game is also incredibly predictable, which is another trend I've been witnessing in Blizzard games. As events unfold, it gets to the point where you already know what's going to occur hours before it finally happens and when it does, all you can do is roll your eyes.

Lasers usually take care of spider problems. Usually.

Unlike the narrative, the Diablo core gameplay you know and love largely remains untouched. Each stage is randomly generated with hordes of monsters to slay and loot to grab. Each of the five unique classes (Barbarian, Wizard, Demon Hunter, Monk and Witch Doctor) can equip a plethora of armor and weapons along with a profuse amount of abilities. What's neat this time around though, is that instead of the classic talent tree approach to upgrading skills, Diablo III allows you to switch out your abilities on the fly. Since there's no skill points, your powers can be augmented by runes, which change your ability depending on which one's selected.

The new skill system is sweet in that you aren't locked into any type of set path. If one ability isn't proving useful, you can change it via a rune to make it more effective or grab a new move entirely. What I dislike about the system is that there's a lot of runes that are pointless. Why grab the rune for Spectral Blades that inflicts a slow on the target when there's much better available? I get it's the option of choice, but this becomes a big problem later in the life of the game. Since players are now restricted to taking only six different spells with them, when you ascend to the higher difficulties more than half of your current ability set is rendered inefficient and is therefore useless.

The environments are done pretty well.

People complain about cookie-cutter builds in other games and, ostensibly, Diablo III was doing away with that by allowing the swapping of abilities whenever. Unfortunately, when you do get that high in the game, there's few moves that you'd ever bring with you; making set builds and such ever present. This is disappointing as most of the abilities look great, but just aren't reliable or good enough later on. Did you ever think Whirlwind for the Barbarian would be considered a terrible skill? It is in Diablo III.

Your character role is also completely set in stone since attribute points, which were manually distributed in the first two Diablo games, are automatically allocated now. The absence of attribute points means less involvement with your character, but at the same time that means the requirements on items have been streamlined. Instead of having a strength or dexterity requirement, class and level are the only two deciding factors now. I can't blame everything on the points, but they most certainly do play a role.

For instance, a Wizard can carry a shield on his/her off-hand making you believe you could mold a character into a high vitality, tanky Wizard, right? Wrong. There's no point in trying to build that way since there's no benefits for doing so when you eventually get to Inferno; Diablo III's newest difficulty and also where the best loot drops. Try as you may, you're still going to be that glass cannon but, with that "build" you'd be lacking the cannon.

Destructible environments make you feel like a badass. That is, until a bee kills you.

Loot is still important as ever to Diablo III, but a couple major factors have changed the way loot works. For one, the implementation of an auction house (like World of Warcraft) has made it necessary for Blizzard to scale back the amount of great items people find. While they haven't said this, it only makes sense because there's both an in-game and real-world money auction house. Blizzard doesn't want people to get tons of amazing items and then sell them on the AH for tons of cash (they net a profit too), so finding cool weapons and such is a much rarer celebration in Diablo III.

The second issue with loot is that they majority of items downright suck. Legendary items (Diablo III's uniques) often are inferior to the game's yellows or rare items. Why? Instead of having set stats on a weapon that are random, every single state found is random. That means you can find a bow that as intelligence on it, which helps no one as opposed to in Diablo II, where the bow would always have dexterity on it, just a random amount.

To some, this might now sound like a big deal, but understand that this changes the whole flow of the game. Yes, Diablo is a dungeon crawler that focuses on farming, but in Diablo III you feel the farm. Its predecessors never had this issue because you'd actually get stuff you could use from time to time. If you were to just play the game to try and find items for yourself to use, you'd likely spend months just trying to find a decent replacement for one slot. This forces you to use the auction house, which is a shoddy way of going about business in Diablo.

You can leave global chat, but why not get some advertising while slaying demons?

Another major issue I have with Diablo III is how much it feels like an MMO. Times have changed, technology has evolved and the way we patch our games is different, but that doesn't mean every game needs to feel like an MMO. Every single time Blizzard patched Diablo III, something big was changed making it feel like WoW all over again - that isn't a good thing. Confusingly enough, Blizzard also made changes to make crates, pots and other random objects never drop items again. They even negated Magic Find having any effect on what's in chests whatsoever. Needless to say, the Diablo III slowly began to feel like anything but a Diablo game.

Despite my negativity toward the game, you can still spend a substantial amount of time with Diablo III before fatigue sets in. Playing with friends is fun, but even that can grow into an annoyance since your buddies can skip dialogue and cut-scenes that you might have wanted to see. Add all these issues on top of a rocky launch and you have Blizzard's latest gem. For a game that's been in development for over a decade, I expected Diablo III to be so much more than what we received. Hands down, this has to be one of the biggest disappointments of all-time.

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