Wow, a little over six years, you say? Six-and-a-half-flipping years of developing Diablo III. Crikey. That’s a long time to do anything. And it’s here and, well, what about Diablo III took so long to make?
It sure as hell wasn’t the story or devotion to the setting established fourteen years ago. It’s just god-awful; it cripples the Diablo universe beyond repair. It’s kind of hilarious from just how outrageously bad it is.
There’s a singular desire within Diablo III’s narrative to constantly go big or go to hell. It is, after all, a conflict of epic proportions, an eternal war between Heaven and Hell, and you, the all-powerful chosen one, will save us all! There’s a forced gravitas in every aspect of the storytelling. The voice direction overacts to the point where no one seems to ever talk like any normal person would; everyone speaks in a Macbethian tone, as if every line was more world-shattering and game-changing than the last. It’s kind of funny, but if you’ve ever dug the sheer sinister evilness of Diablo and, to a lesser extent, Diablo II, it’s also just as sad to see how far Blizzard has fallen in creating atmosphere and telling a good story. Compare any cutscene from Diablo II to Diablo III‘s. It’s shocking just how tonally jarring the shift between to two games is.
“…it is far less interesting and far more generic.”
There’s no nuance; the plot reads like it was written for children; there’s no good characterization; and the only chunks of the game that seem to the written decently, dialogue for followers, just have no place in a world that was known for its sheer demonic filth. It has become high fantasy and it has lost all sense of its previous identity. As a result it is far less interesting and far more generic. This applies just as much to the game’s look as audio. Diablo III is a pretty game, but this stylized reality doesn’t lend itself to a gothic atmosphere at all. And while the sound design is fantastic with punchy, piercing sound effects and gross, mushy sounds of stuff dying, the music is far off base, going for the same go-for-broke attitude of the story. None of Matt Uelmen’s trademark percussion, atmospheric use of empty space, or bass lines from hell are here. Most of Diablo III‘s music doesn’t have a distinctive signature to it. It could be from any other game which employed a massive orchestra. Uelmen’s absence is missed.
Blizzard also does an excellent job of integrating their awful storytelling into gameplay; dialogue from idiotic demon lords and cheesy secondary do a great job of highlighting just how actively and egregiously bad it all is while you’re in the middle of the action, so all of Diablo III‘s storytelling failings are very, very hard to simply ignore. The lore also plays off like audio logs, as you pick them up, and they expand the world in ways that just make it far less interesting. Less is more. The less I know that the demon lords were just a bunch of quarreling and bickering politicians of Hell, the more I believe that they just are and are going to skin everything alive, because they’re just evil bastards like that.
For as much as Diablo was really just about intense mathematics, spreadsheets, gear checks, and finding your optimal solution to lay waste to all things, there’s always been a prevalent, defining atmosphere of grit and total despair. That’s just not there in Diablo III; not even a hint of it.
Depressing grievances aside, the killing-guys experience is primo stuff. Any single attack in the game hits with a fierceness that redefines the “A” in “ARPG.” Perhaps… mega-action would be more apt for Diablo III. The spick and span polish gone into this MARPG’s clickity-click-clickness is undeniable. Even destroying physical props, like tables and bookshelves, results in a stupid amount of catharsis.
The best part is there’s practically a kajillion ways to go from zero to kill. Skill points are completely abolished in favor of a skill/rune system with an infinite number of re-specs. Dozens of mega-action skills for any class are given modifiers to mega-action it up in vastly different ways. It’s not close to feeling balanced, as Blizzard has released ninja fixes to nerf some of the overpowered skills, but the game has a long ways to go before hitting upon solutions that will make all classes viable throughout the hardest difficulties. It’s a ballsy move on Blizzard’s part to do away with skill points entirely, and anyone saying Blizzard isn’t innovating with Diablo III is way off. There’s a massive amount of potential that can result in some incredibly unique builds. We’ve already seen some of that, like the ranged Barbarian build that has been able to combat the melee problem on the higher difficulties, and we’re not even a month into the game’s release.
An equally crazy decision was to get rid of being able to pump numbers into attributes manually, and the payoff here isn’t great. If anything, it’s a contributor to the second-most deeply problematic and flawed part of the game – the loot. The short of it is, loot isn’t interesting. It’s just okay. The only things caring about are if the gear affixes increases your class’ primary attribute and your health, and what kind of damage output it has. There’s nothing to it; if a piece of gear has higher numbers than the one you just had, you put it on. It’s like if every new tier of gun in Battlefield 3 was objectively better than the one before it. There’s nothing interesting, nothing to consider other than if it’ll make your numbers higher. New gear affixes start popping up after completing the game on normal, but with the game currently designed in a way that emphasizes damage output over all else, it’s something that needs a total redesign. There’s still a small spark, a little eye opener here and there, when the numbers you found are just that much higher than the ones you’d found before, but if I were a gambling addict, it wouldn’t be because of Diablo III.
What’s worse is how long it takes for any of these gameplay elements to even matter. With the game starting on Normal before letting you tackle the harder difficulties, this base difficulty is offensively easy. My first ten hours were literally spent with one hand on the mouse clicking for mega-action, and the other resting on the table so that it could support my head from collapsing onto my keyboard. It’s far, far too easy, and the mega-action can only carry the first ten hours so far. It’s not until Act III that the game starts pushing you around, daring you to play with just one hand and actually starts letting you use gems. That’s then whole hours into the game – just to drag some little gems into little sockets. It’s only by then does the richness of the combat begins to shine on through, and all your skills start going to work. Too much of Normal is boring, with the difficulty curve being so slight that the only times you die seem to be when either your internet or the servers short out of a random lag spike.
“…Blizzard’s online-only mandate has done very little to benefit me as a player.”
Oh, that. From a personal experience, Blizzard’s online-only mandate has done very little to benefit me as a player. Selling off a few items on the auction house has resulted in some pocket change and the idea of storing the game logic onto the cloud will prevent duping and hacking from crippling the game economy, but when I suddenly cut out from the game, it’s annoying because the implementation stops being transparent. When my Wi-Fi is being spread out all across the house, the game becomes unplayable. When I can’t just play and not consider the possibility of a disconnect or a sudden session of server maintenance, Blizzard’s saddled their own business problems on piracy and lack of control over their games and has made it our problems as well. That’s no good.
So probably the best way to live with the online requirement is to just constantly play other people online. The cooperative game ups the challenge quite a bit, and with four players on the same screen, that’s four times the mega-action, and you can never have enough mega-action, as the screen becomes littered with corpses, fire, arrows, plague-bearing frogs, and burly mountain men. It’s complete chaos and it’s these moments when the Diablo III’s problems just wash away, making their way out through my fingertips.
Knowing that Diablo III is going to have the backing of Blizzard’s dedicated post-release support puts the game in a great position to fully realize its enormous potential. The game we have now isn’t going to be the game we’re going to have by the end of the year. It’s a fun game that takes too long to get going anywhere, but its combat is so slick and refined that everything else around needs to step up to that level of quality. The universe of Diablo is most certainly destroyed, but the game is far from it.