Diablo 3 Review
I’ve previously expressed my concerns about Diablo 3 being able to live up to the colossal hype that surrounded it. Evidence of eleventh-hour changes seemed to suggest that the game was being rushed out the gate. With none of the original series’ developers working on the title, this would effectively be the first Diablo game Blizzard made. The industry titan has proven that it makes great MMORPG and RTS titles, but how would its first action RPG turn out without Blizzard North at the helm?
Having sunk a couple dozen hours into the game, I can now revisit the issue and ask:
Were my concerns validated?
Diablo 3 (2012): PC
Developer: Blizzard Entertainment
Publisher: Blizzard Entertainment
Released: May 15, 2012
Blizzard first caught my eye with Warcraft 2 in 1995, and I’ve been following the company ever since. Beyond the Dark Portal, Diablo, StarCraft, Brood War, Diablo 2, Lord of Destruction, Warcraft 3, The Frozen Throne, World of Warcraft, StarCraft 2 — I’ve played them all. I know Blizzard games.
To review Diablo 3, we need to consider the game’s success not just as a standalone action RPG title, but also as a sequel to a longstanding franchise. Let’s dive in.
Despite a completely revamped skill system, Diablo 3 still plays like Diablo 2 — furious clicking to get to the next loot piñata as quickly as possible. Combat is straightforward, fast-paced, and satisfyingly brutal. It’s simple enough to be quick to learn, but nuanced enough to offer depth for those looking to get into the numbers.
The new skill system is a welcome change for me. I love the flexibility it affords, no longer forcing players to commit to a decision they’ll have to live with for 90 levels. Other innovations improve upon the D2 experience as well, such as totems at the end of dungeons that allow you to teleport to the entrance rather than retrace your steps, the ability to drop environmental hazards on enemies, health globes that provide healing when walked over, a shared stash between all your characters, the ability to pick up gold by simply walking over it, and a more easily manageable inventory system.
It’s not all roses, however; some enemies are more annoying than difficult to fight, such as creatures with the Nightmarish affix. When they strike you, they impose a fear effect that sets your character running in the opposite direction for a moment and making combat tedious. This is simply not a fun mechanic — no one enjoys losing control of their character. But that’s just a minor nitpick.
What Diablo 3′s combat system does best is make you feel powerful. The combination of slaying demons in droves and over-the-top particle effects and animations leave you feeling like the biggest badass in the Burning Hells, even when you’re partied up with three other demi-gods. Each of the game’s five classes plays differently and carries a unique flavor, but they all feel powerful.
D3′s co-op experience is enjoyable; however, combat with a four player party can rapidly degenerate into a complete Charlie Foxtrot, especially with more than one Witch Doctor in the group. Distinguishing between the various particle effects and models is a greater challenge than some of the Act bosses. That said, playing with friends is always fun, generally allows for more rapid progression through the game, and with individual loot drops, you no longer have to worry about racing to click on loot before anyone else.
I wasn’t a fan of player-versus-player combat in Diablo 2, but I nonetheless appreciated the option to duel a friend now and again just for kicks. Although PvP arenas have been promised for D3, the lack of any form of temporary PvP measure is felt. If a friend and I want to cross swords, knowing full well the game isn’t balanced for PvP, why shouldn’t we be able to?
D3 challenges players with four difficulty modes, allowing them to replay the same content at higher levels. The challenge truly begins in the second difficulty setting, Nightmare, and continues to ramp up nicely from there. Those seeking a greater challenge can create a Hardcore character, who only has one life — death is permanent. However, given the current server issues, you’re as likely to die due to lag as you are through your own fault.
Visuals & Setting
Graphically, Diablo 3 is dated, with disappointingly low poly-counts and muddy textures. While this is nothing new for Blizzard given the relatively long development cycles of their games, I’ve never felt the gap in graphical quality between Blizzard and other AAA developers more than with D3. I understand that Blizzard likes to keep scalability in mind and create games that older computers can run, but a high-res option would have allowed the game to age better while still accommodating a wide range of gaming rigs.
The silver lining is Blizzard’s art direction. Diablo 3 looks dated, yes, but it doesn’t look bad. Far from it, in fact. Once you accept the dated graphics, you begin appreciating the artistry of the world, which is terrifically executed. Environments have depth, personality, and dynamic elements.
Visually, Blizzard has brought the Diablo series in line with its Warcraft and StarCraft franchises, with bold colors, clean lines, and stylized proportions. While D3 is certainly darker than Blizzard’s other opuses, it’s a far cry from the gritty, macabre horror that defined the look of the Diablo franchise — the more cartoonish style lessens the impact of gory visuals.
Advancing through D3′s settings relates a visual narrative that introduces darkness into the world progressively, dialing up gloom in pace with the story and letting players revisit familiar locales along the way. Thankfully, Blizzard realized how much players hated the jungles of D2′s Act 3 and wisely skipped that setting; though they strangely decided to keep an incarnation of the giant mosquitoes that manage to be all the more annoying by shooting bees — yes, bees — at you.
D3′s world is seeped in lore that has been wisely integrated into gameplay via tomes you find lying around that activate voice-over narrations. Without having to stop to read anything, you learn a little more about the game world while continuing your quest.
As usual, Blizzad once again delivers mind-blowing quality in its cinematics. While some clichéd dialogue may give you reason to turn down the volume, the visuals are a feast for the eyes. I’ve always looked forward to Blizzard’s cinematics, and D3 didn’t let me down.
Diablo 3 doesn’t offer Blizzard’s best storytelling. While there was a major surprise for me here and there, predictable plot elements and clichés pervade the story. Some lines of dialogue had me cringing — a first for a Blizzard title. I almost refused to believe that my favorite character would speak with such a mouthful of cheese.
Villain Belial is finally revealed in a scene so predictable that even your character lampshades the fact that she saw it coming a mile away — and he is the Lord of Lies, the one character you’d expect to catch you completely by surprise. Baal, Lord of Destruction, had a more shocking reveal back in Diablo 2.
Now, I can forgive a little triteness as long as the story’s ending is satisfying, but D3 fails to deliver here. D3 has some powerful and emotional scenes in its first Act, but ultimately left me hollow at curtain call. I won’t say the game’s story is bad, but I expected more from the conclusion to the Diablo trilogy. The most important plot twist was predicted by fans months to years ago, and is essentially glossed over by the characters and never brought up again. The ending simply doesn’t provide sufficient closure on the issues that emotionally engaged the audience — even factoring in the probability of a sequel.
I will applaud D3 for better incorporating your character into the story than its predecessor, and providing a protagonist with voice — both literally and figuratively. D2 made you feel incidental to the story; D3 makes you feel integral. Your character has back story, interacts with NPCs in meaningful ways, and is the driving force of the narrative.
Some may say that Diablo never had a strong story, and whether that’s true or not is irrelevant — the fact that Diablo 1 or 2 did not include something doesn’t make it okay for Diablo 3 to exclude it, especially given how far the gaming industry has evolved over the past fifteen years. We’ve come to expect more from stories in games: characters with depth, captivating plots, twists that keep us guessing, and an ending that we’ll remember for years. Other titles have served as paragons of how captivating a video game’s story should be; Diablo 3 should be measured against no lesser standard.
It should be noted as a companion point to the game’s art direction that the story direction also feels more in line with Warcraft than Diablo. D2′s story was dark, bleak, and unsettling; D3′s story is epic, cinematic, and uplifting. Neither style is superior — they’re just different.
One thing D3′s story does well is build up the anticipation for boss fights by introducing key villains early on and vilifying them through repeat exposure. Once you finally face one of these antagonists, you’re chomping at the bit to tear his head off. Although the device is overused to the point that the writers’ intent is completely transparent, it makes for more satisfying victories. That said, clichéd dialogue cheapens the bosses themselves, transforming them from frightening demons to incompetent Bond villains.
D3 pays homage to the Diablo series by either bringing back or making reference to a host of familiar faces, although it is sometimes heavy-handed in its approach, jabbing you in the ribs and saying, “Hey, remember this guy? Huh? Huh?” Though for every indiscreet reintroduction is a subtle reference that can easily go unnoticed, serving as an Easter egg for series diehards.