Diablo III: Second Thoughts

It’s been over a month since I reviewed Diablo III. I gave Diablo III a score of 8.1 out of 10. In comparison, my retro review of Diablo II is 9.1, a score that I feel it still deserves to this day. Why would the sequel to a game released in 2000 score a full point lower? Mostly because it just didn’t have that Diablo “magic” at all and my thoughts on the game reflected this. However, I was still in the “honeymoon phase” of Diablo III when I reviewed it, and that phase has since worn off. As a veteran of the Diablo series since day one, I’m going to look at Diablo III again and cite what’s wrong with it. This isn’t another review, but more of an analysis of why I believe that my review was not harsh enough and why this game may not even deserve to be above 8/10, something that is almost unheard of for what is supposed to be a major blockbuster game.

It's okay Tyrael, it's not your fault that Blizzard butchered your character.
It’s okay Tyrael, it’s not your fault that Blizzard butchered your character.

Nobody Likes Diablo III
Now I know what you might be thinking! “Hold on guy, I really like Diablo III!” Maybe you do and there’s nothing wrong with that and heck, lots of people like Diablo III. However, there are a lot of people who have flat out tossed the game aside and said that they don’t want to touch it anymore. What really gives me the impression that Blizzard dropped the ball badly with Diablo III is the fact that, of five people I know in real life, all have stopped playing Diablo III. Two quit on the Hell difficulty, I quit on Nightmare, and two quit before even beating the game on the starting difficulty. To be fair I could have made it to Hell and kept playing at least for a little bit, but a freak event that occurred against Diablo on Nightmare saw me die when he had only a sliver of health left and I ended up shelfing the game as a result.

So everyone I personally know who played this game has stopped playing it already. 100% of real life players have quit, 0% remained for more than a month. This is pretty shocking that not even a single person in my real life circle stayed with the game. Things are a little more divided online with a lot of people still playing the game, but it’s impossible to deny that this game ended up being a disappointment to many long time Diablo fans. Pro-Diablo III supporters can mumble all they want about the game clearly being good due to selling like wildfire, but that argument means nothing at all. This game sold because of a loyal fanbase that was hyped for a sequel to two games that were proven winners. The six million plus people who bought Diablo III thought that this game would be a winner as well, but clearly various aspects of the game just didn’t meet their expectations.

Deja fucking vu.
Deja fucking vu.

Where’s The Atmosphere?
Diablo III is boring. There, I said it. The four acts in this game may be interesting enough the first time through the game, but once you experience the four locales and realize that there isn’t really any compelling and exciting areas in the game on the scale of several Diablo II areas, then the magic wears off in a hurry. Act 1 is a rehash of the first act of Diablo II. Ditto for the second act. Even the third act is modelled after Diablo II’s expansion pack but with a lot less interesting areas to explore. While I’m on the subject of the third act, I have to say that it is probably the most disappointing storyline chapter I have ever experienced in a video game. We were returning to Arreat to witness the destruction caused by the destruction of the Worldstone, but we spent half of the act mucking around on top of and inside a giant tower? There was little sense of progression and, when we finally did get out onto the snowy fields, it didn’t last long and we were immediately thrown into a Hell environment that was shoe-horned into the game just for the sake of there being a Hell environment. The fourth act was moderately interesting, but it didn’t even last an hour regardless of how fast or slow you progressed through the chapter.

There’s also the fact that, after the first act of the game, the story just fell flat on its face as a result of Blizzard’s questionable story telling abilities as of late. Everyone I’ve spoken to seems to agree that the first act was indeed the highlight of the game, as it certainly possessed the most genuine Diablo “feel” to it. Anyway, this sort of leads into the next point.

Been There, Done That!
Why is this essentially just a melting pot of good ideas from Diablo II that have been bastardized? Aside from the crafting NPCs, there have been no major innovations in Diablo III. Heck, you could even argue that Shen is nothing more than the Horadric Cube with an annoying voice and desire to milk you of your hard earned gold coins. Actually, doesn’t this make Shen a step back in terms of features? The Horadric Cube allowed us to upgrade gems for free.

My biggest beef is that every location we visit just feels like an area of Diablo II with a new paint job. Blizzard could have gone in many different directions with this game, but they chose not to. We could have explored beaches, murky marshlands, rocky mountain pathways, or actual dense forests with meadows and winding rivers. Instead we’ve been given the Tristram area (for the third time), a desert (for the second time), and the Arreat region (for the second time). Has anyone seen a map of Sanctuary before? There are at least two dozen places we haven’t actually seen that would be worth going to. Are we EVER going to see the awesome city of Westmarch? It is referenced in every Diablo game but we’ve never seen it. Instead we’re thrust into Caldeum which is arguably not even half as cool as Lut Gholein was when it was introduced.

Why do we need to visit Tristram with each game as well? Blizzard can only throw us back into that hamlet so many times before they start retconning their own lore. We’ve had to run through the town of Tristram three times now and we’ve had to delve into the Cathedral twice. This doesn’t seem like a series that wants to advance. Blizzard is stuck in the past, unable to get over their admiration for the town of Tristram. Well I say get over it, because no series should make the player constantly revisit the same old areas time and time again. That’s not pushing the boundaries, it’s unimaginative game design.

Blizzard Fans = Sheep
Blizzard Fans = Sheep

Money Rules Everything
The fact that the auction house has become such an integral part of the Diablo III experience is disappointing. Remember when these games were all about hunting for loot? Remember when we did that and it was fun? Diablo III doesn’t remember since the game seemingly forgets that gear should be found off of monsters, not listed by John Doe on the auction house. This takes all of the fun out of finding loot. The fact that Blizzard made improvements freakishly difficult to come across pretty much says it all in my opinion. Looking at my Diablo III character, I found a few great upgrades in the first act on the second difficultly, but do you know what? By the time I was fighting Diablo, I was still wearing items that the Skeleton King had dropped all because Blizzard decided to make decent items much harder to come by so that we would be encouraged to use the auction house. There’s something wrong with that picture.

What is even more disappointing is the real money auction house, or RMAH. I can’t even fathom how it is morally acceptable to sell virtual pixels with numbers attached for over a hundred dollars. What boggles my mind even more is that there are people willing to purchase these items for over $100 just so that they can see slightly higher numbers dance across their screens as they wail on goatmen and giggling skeletons.

Jesus Christ!
Jesus Christ!

Diablo III: Wrath of Error 37
Even though Error 37 is mostly a thing of the past, it doesn’t change the fact that one fundamentally wrong thing about Diablo III is the fact that the game must be played online at all times. We, the players who laid down $60, are not allowed to play whenever we wish. Even those of us with stable connections aren’t as fortunate as we like to think. What if our ISPs are doing routine maintenance for a few hours? No Diablo III for you. What about on Tuesdays when Blizzard conducts routine maintenance for eight hours? Again, no Diablo. Despite the fact that Blizzard conducts the maintenance when most people are at school or work, it still scews over Australian players and the like who are in different time zones but use the US servers. Australian players are upset that they cannot play during prime time hours on Tuesdays, and who could blame them? Most of us like to unwind in the evenings and play a game or two for a little while, but Australians cannot do that with Diablo III despite paying good money to play it.

A lot of people like to take a pretty radical stance on this issue and say that nobody has bought the game, that we have only paid Blizzard a license to be allowed to use their product. Wait, what? There is literally no other medium where this is an acceptable practice. Would you let Levi’s take away your jeans because they decided that they want to perform an eight hour inspection on your pants despite the fact that there’s clearly nothing wrong with them? What if it is your only pair of pants? Imagine if you just bought a beautiful Dodge Viper but, at any random moment, Dodge could flick a switch to forbid you from driving your car. You’d be pretty pissed off, wouldn’t you? Diablo III is essentially a library book that the library is allowed to take away from us at any moment without warning us or letting us know. I don’t like this one bit.

Many people support Blizzard in this stance, but I can’t fathom how or why. These people would be up in arms if this applied to their favourite offline single player games. Imagine if Nintendo pulled this with Mario once a week. For eight hours every Tuesday, nobody would be allowed to play Mario because Nintendo would have to inspect Mario’s jump physics or something. I’d be up in arms. So would everyone else. If you lay down money for a game that comes with a single player aspect to it, you don’t expect random disruptions that prevent you from playing the game.

Ah, customization at it's finest!
Ah, customization at it’s finest!

Play Our Way Or The Highway
I was supportive of some changes Blizzard made for Diablo III back before the game launched, but not so much anymore. I’m okay with them removing a little freedom of choice. Maybe we don’t need attribute points or skill points to fiddle with each time we level up, but come on Blizzard… taking away EVERY freedom that players enjoyed in previous games? We can’t choose what areas our characters will physically specialize in, we can’t choose what skills they will learn or when, and we can’t determine what field of expertise our characters will follow. Everything is 100% decided for us. Every single aspect of our character development is set in stone.

Now this is where some loyal Diablo III players will pipe up and support the rune system. That’s not character development and it’s not customization, it’s just picking skills. That’s it. When anyone can copy your “build” within thirty seconds at zero cost, it’s not customization. There is no customization in this game, I’m sorry to say. Even the process of gemming isn’t as thorough as it used to be. Gemming in Diablo III is only half as deep as it was in Diablo II. Hell, we don’t even have as many socketable items anymore. Does anyone else miss diamonds and skulls? What about REAL runes?

Hey baby, wanna go for a... wait, what? That's a GUY!?
Hey baby, wanna go for a… wait, what? That’s a GUY!?

Hollywood, Get Outta Diablo!
The story is utter garbage. Why does Azmodan constantly tell us exactly what he is plotting? Does he want us to stop him? Isn’t he a master tactician? If he is, why is he blabbing his fiendish master plans to the entire world? I don’t know, maybe he’s just lonely. He certainly does like talking a lot. I couldn’t help but roll my eyes every single time his fat holographic head appeared because the music would suddenly change as if it was some badass scene when, in reality, I just felt like Azmodan was Claw from Inspector Gadget who randomly decided that he thought spilling all of his plans would spice things up a bit. What the hell?

And what was with Cain’s death? That had to be the crappiest death I have ever seen for an iconic video game character. He didn’t even get to go out in a blaze of glory. What killed Cain? A sissy little projectile that wouldn’t even make a quill beast flinch. They tried to make his death feel dramatic, but it didn’t. Cain’s death was cheap. Blizzard merely killed him off for the “whoa” factor. The cinematic at the end of the act was kind of sad, but it would have been a lot better if Cain didn’t go out like some weak bitch.

Should I even touch upon Adria and Leah? I mean really? Adria practically had “look out, I’m a traitor” branded on her forehead from the moment she was introduced. Even Kulle pretty much made fun of the player for keeping Adria around. You know what would have been a good story? Siding with Kulle and taking down Adria before she could even pull any lame stunts. At least that would have spared us from having to endure the sight of Diableah. I’ll give Diablo props for making Leah’s own mother sacrifice her and allow her to be Diablo’s host, that was pretty cool… but the aftermath was not. Here’s the end of the game in a nut shell.

Bam, I am Diablo and I’m inside of a human girl.
Bam, now I am myself again… though I now have a sexy swagger and great hips.
Bam, now I’m dead.

It all happened so fast, and why the heck was Diablo so social? I don’t recall him talking at all in the previous two games. I mean okay, I think he spoke when he was the Dark Wanderer and I had no problem when Diablo was talking when he was still using Leah’s body, but half of the “terror” he made me feel in the first two games came exclusively from his silence. Diablo was a silent antagonist and it worked in his favour tremendously well. You could always trust in two things… First, that Diablo wouldn’t utter a word. Second, that Diablo would fuck shit up. I just… I can’t even fathom how Blizzard thought this story would fly. I haven’t spoken to a single person who has said, “Wow, awesome story in Diablo III!”

The result of randomization taking a backseat.
The result of randomization taking a backseat.

Have I Been Here Before?
Remember when Diablo III had lots of randomization? Yeah, neither do I. Blizzard promised that this game would have loads of randomization similar to what we experienced in the first two games, but did we? Well, not really. Almost every area in this game is entirely static. I think that the only randomization I experienced was in the Tristam Cathedral, but even there the randomization was pretty poor. There was hardly any variety in the set pieces used in the randomization and everything always felt the same.

A good chunk of the fun of past Diablo games came from the fact that nobody ever knew where to go. Finding a dungeon’s exit was often just as challenging as defeating the inhabitants of the dungeon. It gave us a lot of opportunities to explore and collect additional loot. None of this exists in Diablo III. Right from the very start the game is a linear line until the Tristram Cathedral. Everyone knows exactly where to go, and that’s not what made Diablo fun. The only thing Diablo III has working in its favour would be the random dungeons, but even these are static locations inside. Woohoo.

In conclusion? I was too nice to this game. Too many changes have been made and almost none of them were for the better. Diablo III is a massive step back from Diablo II in all departments other than graphics and gameplay flow. If you want a deep and engaging action RPG, then Diablo II is the way to go. If you want to go a little more modern, check out Torchlight along with Torchlight II when it releases sometime this summer. So what score does Diablo III truly deserve? Probably around a 6.5 or so at best.

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Diablo III vs. A Rock

I thought that this was a slightly amusing find, so here I’m throwing it up on here! This is a silly comparison between Blizzard’s blockbuster video game Diablo III and a common rock. The chart compares the entertainment value between the two and it seems that a rock may give you more bang for your buck… but then again, rocks are free and plentiful and can be found just about anywhere!

You can click the following image for a full size version. Also note that if I see any queued comments screaming at me over the nature of the image, I’ll refuse to approve them. Remember, this image is all in good fun. Don’t take video games seriously.

Diablo III (Review)

I don’t know what to write. I hate to open a review by saying that because you’re here for my opinion on this game, but I truly have no idea how to go about reviewing Diablo III. This is a game that is so hard for me to describe my feelings for. When I’m playing the game, I think it’s a lot of fun and I don’t want to stop… but when I’m not playing the game, I pretty much have nothing but bad things to say about it. I’ve never felt so conflicted about a game before! With that said, if you are reading this now, then surely I came to a decent conclusion about this game that I felt was worth expressing. Let’s hurry up and cut to the chase, shall we?

Diablo III is the third installment in Blizzard’s sixteen year old action RPG franchise. It’s hard to believe that the Diablo series is so old now with only three games to its name, but keep in mind that the original Diablo III would have happened over half a decade ago if it hadn’t been for the unfortunate demise of Blizzard North. Twelve years have passed since Diablo II and, in that span of time, one would expect Blizzard to come up with a lot of exciting and innovative ideas for the next game. To put this span of time into perspective, the time that passed between Diablo II and Diablo III was greater than the time that passed between Super Mario Bros. on the NES and Mario 64 on the N64. Hard to believe, isn’t it? Even more so hard to believe given the severe lack of innovation in Blizzard’s latest outing. Irvine, California based Blizzard definitely played it safe with Diablo III, believing that sticking to what they knew, rather than pushing the envelope, would be the key to Diablo III’s success. Why do I say that Diablo III isn’t innovative and that Blizzard played it safe with the development of the game? Unfortunately, it’s because Diablo III is pretty much just a 3D version of Diablo II with several features stripped away or dumbed down. For each step forward this game takes, it then takes a dozen steps back.

An absolute mess of a skills menu.

Remember socketed gear in Diablo II? Don’t even think about seeing it until midway through the game’s second act. Socketing works the same as it did in Diablo II, though there are not as many kinds of gems available and the socketing rewards are not as exciting. You see, since Diablo III also removed stat point allocation, the process of distributing additional stat points has been placed upon gems and socketing. Gems now increase strength, dexterity, and other stats rather than offering additional bonuses like in Diablo II. The whole socketing meta-game feels a little cheapened in Diablo III, but there is one definite feature which I welcomed with open arms. You are now able to remove gems from items and reuse them again. While I like this feature and find it to be incredibly handy, I will admit that there is a definite disadvantage to it. Without having to worry about permanently socketing an item anymore, the risk of losing gems or using them on something that will soon be obsolete no longer comes into play. There’s no risk and reward gameplay involved in socketing anymore, removing the aspect of gemming that sort of felt like a lottery at times. Plus why bother hunting down new gems when you can just take out the old ones from your previous pieces of equipment?

The greatest change, aside from stat point allocation going the way of the dinosaur (which I’m fine with), is the streamlining of player abilities. This is a feature that I’m glad to see, but it was implemented horribly and is an awful mess. Rather than choosing which skills to learn and refine via skill points that you gain as you level up, players now learn new abilities upon each level up. It’s not a bad system because it allows players to try out everything and figure out what works best for them rather than playing what I like to call “skill point lottery” by sinking a bunch of points into skills that may end up being garbage later on. All abilities scale with your level, so they’re all viable throughout the entire game. Combined with runes, which are performance changing modifiers that you unlock as you level up, each class has dozens of different combinations to play with. Now, what makes this a horrible mess? The ability menu does. It’s clunky and not at all user friendly. It feels like something I’d expect to find in a children’s game, as everything it tucked away into little categories that you have to click to access. The game practically recommends what abilities to use and in what slots, which takes away from the player’s independence a bit and really holds their hand. Thank goodness for elective mode, which lets you place any skill into any slot on your hotbar.

Scrolls of identify and town portal have vanished as well. Players can now use town portals whenever they want, but the spell to cast a portal must first be obtained from an early quest in the first act. As for identifying items, almost everything already comes identified for you. Rare items must still be identified, but this is simply done by right clicking the item and waiting a moment for your character to identify the item in question. Pointless feature, I know. If identifying no longer costs money or requires Deckard Cain, why even have it in there? The cost of identifying items has become three wasted seconds of your time.

I want those precious seconds back too, Hans.

I’ve also noticed that Diablo III is very light on randomization. Outdoor areas are no longer random at all (though they do contain random dungeons and events) and are entirely static. As for quest dungeons, they all seem to feel the same to me each time I visit them. I’ve seen people claiming that the game does randomize their layouts, but I can’t help but feel like I’m running the exact same path through the Tristram cathedral each time I play, which I attribute to the fact that there are very few set pieces used in randomization. Expect to find the same rooms and hallway layouts almost constantly in this game. There’s very little in the game world that is any bit interesting to look at or explore and, since nothing appears to ever change, I can’t think of any reason to thoroughly explore any given area on additional characters. Unlike the world of Diablo II, Sanctuary is a very static place in the newest installment.

Gameplay thankfully feels a lot like Diablo II. The AI has been improved significantly and the newer game engine allows a lot of interesting things to occur during important boss fights. The only part about the gameplay that feels a little off is the graphical presentation. Diablo used to be a dark, gothic 2D adventure. It’s now a semi colourful 3D experience, so a bit of the game’s personality has been lost and it is felt during gameplay to an extent. Everything else in the gameplay is pretty much the same as before, right down to spell properties and how certain monsters behave in battle. Fallen shamans still resurrect the dead and the barbarian’s whirlwind still annihilates everything in sight. This is the same ol’ Diablo experience that we’re used to but, as I said at the start of the review, Blizzard played things too safely. This is pretty much just a colourful Diablo II with new classes.

I mentioned elective mode a few paragraphs back. This is a feature that you can enable in the game’s options menu which allows you to place any skill into any slot on your hotbar. Without enabling elective mode, you are stuck putting certain skills of one category into a sole slot on your hotbar. So, if you have two offensive abilities that fall under the same category which you really like and don’t have elective mode turned on, you can’t use them together. Elective mode makes things a lot nicer and allows users to fully customize their hotbar, but I still have one beef with it. You have to unlock slots on your hotbar, and you won’t have them all unlocked until around level 20. This is because certain slots on the hotbar were designed to be used by certain skill types only by users without elective mode on. I can understand the reasoning for this, but it really gives users of elective mode the shaft. If you have four skills that you want to use early in the game but only have three hotbar slots unlocked, you’re screwed and have to deal with it until you unlock the next slot.

I’ll also take a stance against the bosses in this game. While they are all very well designed and are loads of fun to fight, they’re simply far too easy. Players are extremely unlikely to be challenged by any of the game’s major bosses on normal difficulty, and even on nightmare they’re still relative pushovers in comparison to what you’ll face in the wilderness. The unfortunate truth with Diablo III is that random monsters can pose as greater threats to you then the leaders of Hell itself. This isn’t terribly evident in normal difficulty, but once you move onto the harder difficulties you will encounter champion and unique monsters that have pretty terrifying affixes that are designed to make them more challenging than they would normally be. These affixes give monsters some pretty scary passive abilities such as poison clouds, molten magma trails, and magical arcane beams. Every single one of these affixes is designed to either harm you severely or lock you in place. On nightmare and above, the combinations that some monsters are given are just downright frightening. They provide great challenge and are fun to fight, but I really do take issue with them being more challenging than the big boss fights of the game. For example, I’m yet to die on the game’s final boss, but I died to an amped up champion or two on normal difficulty. The contrast between bosses and lowly champions grows even larger once you hit nightmare difficulty. It’s a pretty strange anomaly, and I hope Blizzard buffs the bosses considerably. They should be evoking apprehension and fear into the players but, at the moment, they’re just not doing that at all.

I don’t recall ever saying “I want to be a witch doctor” as a little boy.

I don’t want to knock on the game’s visuals too much because I know that Blizzard designed the game to be able to run on a wide variety of systems (a feat that is easier in 2D than 3D without sacrificing visual style), I can’t help but shake that the WoW influence in the visuals is extremely worrying. Diablo never used to look like this at all. Models all have jagged, pointy edges along with very colourful but simplistic textures. At times, this game seriously looks a lot like WoW from an isometric angle with slightly better graphics. Looking like WoW isn’t really a bad thing, but it’s not the visual style that a Diablo game should possess at all. It just doesn’t fit and it makes the game feel like an imposter parading around in Diablo’s skin, which is a bit of a role reversal since that is usually Diablo’s specialty.

It’s also worth noting that there is some visual inconsistency in the game. Characters and NPCs look fine for the most part, but the are several varying styles in Diablo III’s monster designs. For example, the two Lesser Evils looks pretty Diablo-esque while other models, such as the Butcher or Maghda, give off serious “designed for WoW” vibes. Other monsters don’t look like they belong in Diablo or even Warcraft, such as the huge exploding zombies and the suicidal fallen demons that blow themselves up. There is also one enemy type appearing in the third act that I can’t immediately recall the name which looks downright cartoon-like in nature. This visual inconsistency in the game’s monster models is very disappointing and unfortunate when you take into consideration how consistent and detailed the game world itself is. One last note on the visuals. The cinematics in this game reminded me that Blizzard really needs to make a movie. They have the talent to do so, and it would certainly be a gorgeous film to watch… but the story would probably be something worth worrying about for sure.

That was a pretty good segue so, next up, the story. It’s pretty bad. Without spoiling anything, Blizzard can only rehash the same formula so many times before people know what’s going to happen to every character in their games. There are twists and turns in Diablo III, but they are all very predictable and anyone who has played Starcraft or Warcraft will know what to expect. There’s nothing groundbreaking in this game, but the actions of one character did bother me slightly at one point in the game. Also, as if a poorly crafted story wasn’t bad enough, the writing is pretty lousy as well. Outside of Cain, Leah, and Tyrael, I cannot think of a single character with good lines. To make matters even worse, the games two big baddies Belial and Azmodan, frequently appear and taunt you in a manner I’d expect from a high school jock. It’s just so juvenile and silly. It’s beyond evident that Blizzard North’s writers were in a league of their own when compared to the current crop of writers employed by Blizzard.

What to say for the sound effects and music? Very generic, really. None of the sound effects are particularly satisfying and the music is entirely forgettable. I don’t even have the music on anymore when I play because I never notice it anyway. I just play my own tunes now or put Diablo II music on loop instead. The voice work isn’t any better. I love a few of the voices for the playable characters (the male monk is just awesome) and a few well known talents such as Dominic Keating and Jennifer Hale do a good job in the game. Other characters (mostly NPCs) sound absolutely dreadful, and don’t even get me started on the voices of the antagonists. Are demons supposed to sound like Saturday morning cartoon villains? Azmodan, buddy, I can’t take you seriously with that voice!

Jennifer Hale's awesome voice brings Leah to life.
Jennifer Hale’s awesome voice brings Leah to life.

I didn’t even touch upon the fact that you have to be online to play at all times and that everything occurs server-side. This is a pretty terrible system that prevents you from playing the game whenever you want and it makes progressing through the game a real challenge when you have to log out of the game before you can complete an objective that you’ve been on for a good amount of time. It will all reset unless you hit a checkpoint. There’s also the issue with inevitable lag spikes which are completely out of the player’s control. This can make playing a hardcore character extremely risky. Would you be okay with permanently losing a hardcore character to a lack of skill or a lapse in judgement on your part? Sure you would, it’s to be expected. Now, how does it sound to have your character die for good due to an unexpected increase in latency that results in you being unable to respond to monster attacks in a timely manner while also being hit by melee creatures standing halfway across screen? Not very good, right? Not at all, and I learned that the hard way with my own hardcore character that I lost due to a random lag spike. Hardcore characters are now very risky to play. Given how you can now lose your character due to factors that are out of your control, it definitely does raise the question as to just how good of an idea it is to play a hard core character, especially for those who may already have existing connection issues.

Diablo III is a good game, but it is littered with many flaws and minor issues that hold it back from true greatness. There were just too many questionable design choices made during the development of this game and they really do harm the overall quality of the product. Fortunately Diablo III excels where it matters, and that’s hacking up dozens up dozens of monsters while fighting for your life. The combat-heavy dungeon diving is a sheer blast in this game and serves as a nice counter to all of Diablo III’s surprising shortcomings. Make no mistake, this is a very good game. Diablo III simply isn’t the masterpiece many people expected due to Blizzard’s hesitance to raise the bar and push the boundaries of the action RPG genre. This game is light on new features and some aspects of the game fall short, but the overall gameplay is certainly right on the money.

Final Score

8.1/10

Pros:
+ Cinematics are absolutely amazing to watch and are satisfying conclusions to each act.
+ Classes are quite varied and there’s at least one here for everyone.
+ Gameplay is still fast paced and a lot of fun for those who enjoy action RPGs.

Cons:
– Requirement to always be online to play means you will not be able to play whenever you wish.
– Story almost feels like it is over before it even begins due to the four acts being very short.
– Very little innovation in the game, if any at all.

Diablo III Beta Impressions

So, Diablo 3. It’s time to talk about that game again.

Once upon a time I was dead set against even giving this game the time of day. Everything that I had heard regarding the game, such as the inclusion of a real money auction house or the removal of stat points and skill trees, made me believe that the crew Blizzard brought in to replace the former Blizzard North developers had no idea what they were doing. I was actively discouraging people I knew from being interested in Diablo 3. Factoring in how I’m a former WoW player who now hatefully rallies against the MMORPG and, gee, it made me look like a pissed off ex-Blizzard fan. To an extent I was, even though I did buy and enjoy Starcraft 2 (I have a review of it up on here for anyone interested).

After applying for the Diablo 3 beta opt-in and not getting in since day one, I finally got a chance last week when Blizzard opened up Diablo 3’s beta to the public in order to perform a stress test. I went into the beta not expecting much, and my incredibly slow download of the beta only increased my nearly unjusitifed disdain for the game. However, after sorting out the issue causing the slow download (which was tied to Internet Explorer even though I use Firefox, go figure), I was able to hop into the world of Diablo 3 and experience a new adventure in the world of Sanctuary for the first time since 2001.

So what is my verdict of Diablo 3 after slamming it for over a year? It is fundamentally a different experience than anything Blizzard North offered up in the first two games but that hasn’t stopped the new development team from creating something really enjoyable. If the small bit of Act 1 that I’ve played is anything to go by, Diablo 3 is going to shape up to be one of Blizzard’s best titles that they have ever produced.

It’s already a known fact that a fair amount of gameplay aspects have changed dramatically since Diablo 2, but just how severe are the changes? As many are aware, stat points are gone and your statistics increase automatically as you level up. This change has been welcomed by almost everyone as just about every internet user I speak to admits that this will help cut back on the amount of “character screw ups” that occurred so often in Diablo 2. Face it, how many of us foolishly sank points into energy and vitality back in the early days of Diablo 2 only to realize that our characters ended up being unable to equip almost any new piece of gear due to low strength or couldn’t even hit monsters half the time as a result of having little dexterity? The only people who seem saddened that stat points can no longer be allocated are the people who felt that it added an extra layer of customization. Did it? No, not really. It just determined if your character was playable or just plain shit. Allocating those points didn’t do anything, they were just numbers that controlled how good your character was playing through the game the way Blizzard intended. That’s not customization!

Skill trees are also a thing of the past, which is surprising to say the least. After they proved to be remarkably popular in Diablo 2, Blizzard adopted them in World of Warcraft. However, talent trees were recently simplified in WoW and they do not appear at all in Diablo 3. So what do we have now? We automatically gain new abilities when we level up. For example, say the the sorceress from Diablo 2 was returning. At level 2 you would receive a message notifying you that you can now use fireball. At level 10, the game would indicate that firewall is now available. As you level, you will gradually unlock more and more powers to use and, since they scale with your level, you will never sink a bunch of points into one or two skills while neglecting many others. This guarantees that all skills are viable later in the game and, again, helps in preventing players from building poor or weak characters. You’ll also unlock runes as you level up that you can combine with your powers. By selecting a rune, you will change the properties of an attack and almost create something brand new. Runes can radically change the animation and performance of just about any skill, so they’re definitely worth experimenting with.

The inventory screen has also been revamped heavily. No longer will players be playing Tetris and shifting gear around to make room for more equipment. This is a fantastic change, as potions and other small items take up only one block on the invenory screen while pieces of equipment take up two. There was nothing good about having pieces of armor taking up upwards of a dozen spaces in Diablo 2 and organizing your inventory became an annoying chore because of it. Anyone who disagrees with the inventory screen revamp and prefers the old system is clearly looking back on Diablo 2 with rose tinted glasses.

Blizzard has also tried to cut back on potion spamming, which isn’t that bad of an idea. My favourite part of Diablo has always been the action and the strategy, and making several trips back to town to buy more potions for a hard boss fight in Diablo 2 was not a part of that. Potions now stack (yes!) and have only ONE slot on your action bar. You can hold as many potions as you want and, to combat potion spam, Blizzard has added a short cooldown on using potions which is also a good idea. Now, here comes something I took a serious stance against before playing the beta. Health orbs. When you’re in a big fight, there is a chance that fallen foes will drop red health orbs that will restore your life when they are touched. I thought that this sounded really gimmicky at first and wondered why an action RPG was being given platformer-esque power-ups. Well, after playing the open beta, I can definitely say that health orbs played a very small part in the overall experience. They never felt necessary to seek out and grab and, because of this, they almost became background objects to me that didn’t matter.

In terms of actual gameplay, things are actually remarkably similar to Blizzard North’s Diablo games. Aside from newer technology allowing more complex character animations and environmental effects, this is definitely the same hack and slash madness that we’ve all grown to love. This is what I was most afraid the new team would mess up, but they did an amazing job. The clickfest battles are as fun as ever, looting works the same as before, and the integrals such as town portals and waypoints are back. Town portals are perhaps my favourite improved aspect of the game since Diablo 2. No longer will we have to deal with scrolls and tomes to take up to town due to anyone being able to make a town portal whenever they wish. The ability to create a town portal is now a spell that characters learn about forty five minutes into the game, and it’s a great thing to have. Having an unlimited number of portals to call upon, in conjunction with the improved inventory screen, makes mass corpse looting a true joy rather than a frightening chore like it was in Diablo 2.

Now, how are the classes? They are wonderfully varied! My personal favourite thus far is the monk, a genius martial artist who is able to obliterate foes with some truly flashy hand to hand techniques. The monk also possesses insane survivability. Aside from being a great melee DPS character, the monk is incredibly agile and also has healing abilities as well as auras that work similarly to what the paladin had in his arsenal in Diablo 2. I can see the monk being a huge fan favourite after release, because there seems to be nothing that this class does not excel at!

Demon hunter is currently my second favourite class. This class is a lot like the amazon of the first two games, a ranged fighter with a very bow/crossbow-centric skill set. The demon hunter has all sorts of cool ranged abilities with one exciting early game ability being a sort of spread shot that fires in three directions and tears through anything in its path. Also, while most classes only have one resource pool to worry about when it comes to using abilities (mana for witch doctors, fury for barbarians, etc.), the demon hunter has two. Hatred, the red resource, governs offensive techniques meant for obliterating foes. Discipline is a blue resource and it is more defensive, allowing the demon hunter to perform acrobatic feats to put distance between him or herself and their foes.

I didn’t spend much time with other classes, but I gave them all a shot at least. The barbarian is exactly what you’d expect, though he now hits harder than ever! Don’t be surprised to see enemies go flying across the screen as you pulverize them with your Hulk-sized arms. The wizard is pretty much the sorceress from Diablo 2 but, thanks to modern technology, the class can perform moe interesting spells such as a ray of frost that will shoot anywhere your mouse goes. The witch doctor is the class I spent the least amount of time with because, even from the get go, it felt really boring to play. Your initial ability as the witch doctor is nothing more than a poison dart gun, but you’ll soon be able to summon hellhounds and such which makes the class a little more bearable.

If I were to rank the classes in order from most to least enjoyable, it would go like this: monk, demon hunter, barbarian/wizard (too close to call), and witch doctor. The monk and demon hunter feel remarkably complete and are a true joy to play as while the witch doctor feels particularly lacking in the beta.

Overall, I had a great deal of fun in the open beta after playing it for as long as my weekend schedule allowed, which was eight or nine hours. The final battle against the Skeleton King (yes, THAT Skeleton King) was insanely enjoyable and, considering that it occurs only a third of the way through Act 1, I can’t wait to see what the big end bosses are like for each of the game’s four acts. I think that we’re all in for quite a treat!

So, is Diablo 3 good? Yes, and I’m ashamed of myself for ever criticizing this game so much. It’s pretty clear that this isn’t the Diablo we played back in the 90s and at the turn of the century, but Blizzard’s new blood created an amazing impersonation of Blizzard North’s successful formula. Diablo 3 is going to be massive when May 15 hits, and I expect it to remain so for many years to come. See you all in Sanctuary in three weeks!

Unsurprising Diablo III News

WARNING: You have stumbled upon one of my “rant” pages for a game(s). My rants are intentionally critical and contain foul language. If you are not comfortable with this, then please don’t read the material I have written.


So Blizzard is showing off a bit of Diablo III at Gamescom. This is pretty cool, since new info on the game is always welcome. However, Blizzard decided that at Gamescom, they would do nothing more than just fuck with us.

Here is the “big info reveal” from Gamescom. This is taken from an IGN article. Click here for the full article.

Jay Wilson, game director on Blizzard’s highly anticipated action-RPG Diablo III gave a presentation at Gamescom 2010 to talk about a new feature for the game, the artisan system. These are NPCs that help you out during the game that craft and manipulate items for you. Wilson focused on the blacksmith for the duration of the presentation, but also touched on the jeweler and mystic. While you won’t start out your questing in Diablo III with these artisans, you are able to collect and maintain all three at the same time.

Initially you’ll need to do some tasks for the artisans when you first meet, earn their loyalty, and they’ll then join up and follow along from town to town throughout Sancturary. One of the goals with Diablo III was to add a crafting system, but the team didn’t want one where the player needs to spend a lot of time in towns and slow down the pace of the game.

The blacksmith, once recruited, will set up shop in town and is surrounded by anvils, a cart and item racks. He’ll act as a vendor where you can buy and sell items, and can also craft items. He tends to produce armor and heavy weapons more geared for melee characters, though there’ll be crafting options for every class. More interestingly, he can add sockets to items and can repair them as well. If an item doesn’t have sockets, then he can socket it so you can add gems to any item regardless of quality.
All three artisan types can be improved as the game progresses to enhance their crafting skill set. Once upgraded, you’ll also see the effects visually around the vendor areas in town. For example, in the blacksmith’s area the anvil and weapon racks and wagons surrounding him will be more ornate and elaborate, with pieces of armor attached to the wagon and fancy fires burning with chains wrapping around. Blizzard doesn’t want the items crafted to be entirely predictable.

When actually ordering the vendor to craft items, there’ll be a mix of predictable and unpredictable elements. A recipe for a dagger can have a set range of damage, but may also come along with two random properties. Some craftable have more predictable combinations than others, but Blizzard’s idea was to have a certain amount of randomness for every item. To gather the materials for crafting, you’ll need to salvage existing items. To get materials you’ll be able to put unwanted items you can drop them in a cube-like device (not the Horadric Cube, but similar) and break down the items, which you can do anywhere, to kick out materials. Higher level gear and quality items without high sell prices are generally the best to break down, and there’s some items that give you special drops.

For the other artisans, the mystic can enchant items, adding additional chance to crit or whatever you like, as well as identify items, craft wands, staves, and smaller armor items like bracers. The jeweler can pull gems off of items without destroying the item or the gem, and can also craft special items like amulets. Jeweler can also combine gems into better ones, replacing the function of the Horadric Cube from Diablo II, and in all there’ll be fourteen levels of quality for gems, though above level five the requirements for upgrading will be especially steep. All three artisans can follow you simultaneously and be fully upgraded, so there’s no need to pick one over the other.

Okay, so… Essentially the artisans are just characters from Diablo II but with new names. None of this is revolutionary. These are features that Blizzard introduced in Diablo II nearly a decade ago. It’s borderline hilarious that they’re chatting up the artisans as if they’re an exciting gameplay feature.

Sorry Blizzard, but everyone expected shit like this to be in the game. You’re not going to wow anybody with features that have become the norm in the PC RPG genre. Want to get people talking? Reveal the fifth fucking class already!

Hopefully this isn’t all Blizzard will mention at Gamescom, but… After giving a presentation about basic gameplay functions, I’m not going to hold my breath for Blizzard to reveal any sort of new and cool features in Diablo III.

Who thought that this would be a good idea? Show off something that will actually make people talk, Blizzard. Fuck!!

Return to August 2010 Articles

Diablo 2 (Retro Review)

“Few games have aged as gracefully as this colossal hit by Blizzard.”

Diablo 3 is probably still about a year away from release as of this writing, and there are few games available to allow gamers to satisfy their thirst for quality hack and slash action. Sacred, Titan Quest, and several others have attempted to copy Blizzard’s successful formula, but just like those who tried to copy the formulas of Starcraft or World of Warcraft, they have failed to even come close to matching what they are blatantly imitating.

Rewind a full decade to the year 2000. Diablo 2 had just been released, and it drove the hack and slash RPG fanatics absolutely wild as the game became critically acclaimed faster than you can say “stay a while and listen.” Ten years later and no game in the genre is yet to make as big a splash as Diablo 2, and it will likely remain this way until Diablo 3 ships sometime in 2011.

So what made Diablo 2 so good? Why has there not been even a single game released in the past ten years capable of topping it? The simple reason is because what Blizzard does well, they in fact do very well. Blizzard strives for excellence in their games, and it shows. Whether you like or hate their games, it’s impossible to deny that they are high quality sources of entertainment.

I consider World of Warcraft to be my favourite Blizzard product of all time, but Diablo 2 is not far off. Since this is a review for that excellent game, it’s time for me to stop talking about other Blizzard products, which includes Diablo 3.

Diablo 2 picked up shortly after the first game. The hero of the first game (Diablo canon dictates that it was the warrior class) has become nothing but a vessel for Diablo as he seeks to unleash his brothers Baal and Mephisto, which would ultimately allow them to rule Sanctuary (the mortal realm in Diablo). Of course, most people didn’t play Diablo 2 for the story, since the game came out just a few years before story telling became the prime focus of almost every genre. Diablo 2 was able to get away with just having great gameplay alone, and it did just that.

If you’re unfamiliar with how Diablo 2 plays, then you have probably been living under a rock. If you have indeed been living under a rock, then I will explain how the game plays in a simple manner. Players assume the role of one of several different classes (which are all 100% unique) and must adventure across Sanctuary from an isometric view, slaughtering demons and monsters almost the entire way. The game is played mostly with the mouse, as left clicking instructs your character where to go while right clicking performs whatever action you may have assigned to a hot key. The left mouse button can also function as a hot key, but you will only perform whatever ability you have tied to the left button when you click on a hostile creature.

Players take on a variety of quests that point them in the direction of Diablo and his brothers. Experience points are awarded by killing creatures and completing quests. Once you level you are able to distribute five stat points to various attributes, and you also get to put one skill point into anything of your choosing in your talent trees. The sorceress can learn new elemental spells from their trees, while the barbarian can learn powerful physical attacks.

Diablo 2 has more pieces of equipment than any game from 2000 should have, as the different gear combinations number in the thousands. This is excluding possibilities that include socketing pieces of gear with gems and runes (the latter are only in the expansion pack) which increase stats, offer resistances, deal bonus elemental damage, and much more.

For new players, Diablo 2 can be a very overwhelming and difficult game until they fully complete at least two runs of the game before understanding how all of the encounters work and what gear should be used and when. Many creatures have resistances or weaknesses that the player will discover, and boss fights are anything but easy on the first play through the game. Diablo 2’s bosses will, almost all of the time, hit like tanks. Stocking up on health potions is imperative in this game due to the extremely high damage output of many creatures and bosses as well, especially Diablo himself.

The game spans several different geographical regions before the player journeys to Hell to battle Diablo (and then to the snowy mountains in the expansion). All regions are very unique with their own unique creatures and quests, as well as a major quest hub each.

Diablo 2 has some of the creepiest music I’ve ever heard, and if it had been used in any other games (such as survival horror titles) then the effect would have been absolutely terrifying. Fortunately for Diablo 2, it is an action packed hack and slash RPG, so you likely won’t feel any fear when you play this game. Certain areas a little unnerving though, such as when you reach Hell itself. The background music, coupled with the groans and wails you will hear, make it very unsettling while being extremely fun at the same time.

Areas that lack the creepy atmosphere come off just as well. Act 2, which is set in the desert, has some fantastic music that is hauntingly immersive. The sound effects are quite good for a ten year old game. While the sounds aren’t particular realistic (in fact many are quite cartoonish by today’s standards), they set the tone very well and compliment the game’s music and graphical style very well. Voice work, which plays a major part in the game, is quite good. Modern games certainly have more emotional voice work that comes across better, but Diablo 2’s is still very decent for it’s time.

The only part of Diablo 2 that hasn’t aged the best are the graphics. While the game looked stunning when it was first released, it is now borderline ugly in some areas. Characters are blurry and lacking a lot of detail despite being 2D. In fact, the entire game world is 2D. Though you would expect the world to be very beautiful to look at, the only areas that have great attention to detail are the towns. Wilderness areas and dungeons look and feel rather generic most of the time, and due to the areas being randomly generated, they suffer severely from what I call “Copy & Paste Syndrome” where you see familiar surrounding all too frequently, resulting in a few cases of deja vu.

Diablo 2’s positives far outweigh the negatives and the game remains a real pleasure to play even to this day. The game was quite ahead of it’s time and, if it was re-released with modern graphics, it would still score very high with practically every reviewer. Diablo 2 is one of Blizzard’s best games, and the love that they put into it still shows strongly even today. If you’ve never played the game, you owe it to yourself to give the game a play before Diablo 3 hit shelves next year.

Final Score

9.1/10