Sorry for the inactivity. I’m a full time student, so that takes a lot of my energy in when school is in session.
That said, I was hoping to pass a good deal of my summer vacation in the loving arms of Diablo III. Unfortunately, the game is really, really bad. It’s got a high gloss finish, tons of polish, and some of the best animated cut scenes I’ve seen, but the game itself doesn’t come close to being the form of multimedia entertainment that a modern video gaming audience wants.
Take Mass Effect, for instance. BioWare makes what my best chum Zach calls “AAA Games” too, and ME 3 has all the high gloss void of depth that tends to define pop culture entertainment. But ME3 still had a story that was recognizable as such; it built tension and for all of its flaws, I never once threw away the controller in disgust.
I actually uninstalled Diablo III. I’m a game hoarder. This is unprecedented for me. I’m not even sure how to interpret it. My best guess is that I feared the game’s many diseases would leak out into the others I have installed. Diablo III might very well be the Patient Zero of games. I certainly hope no one tries to copy it, in any case, but the pessimist in me knows that its Zynga-games inspired model will sweep the minds of game publishers world wide.
Diablo III’s four difficulty settings are balanced strangely; Normal mode is never challenging, except when the game has decided to completely change how combat works; the boss fights implement typical raid mechanics that World of Warcraft players will recognize immediately—leave your character standing in a floor effect and you die. The rest of the game never really embraces this mechanic, though, so it feels out of place. The only challenge is in quickly adapting to a new type of fight, and since the bosses all basically have the same “don’t stand in crap” fight mechanic, it’s only really challenging if you have slow reaction times and weren’t expecting to have to avoid the boss <and> some kind of floor effect.
Nightmare and Hell difficulty, the next modes after normal for characters above level 30, are a bit more challenging, but in an extremely non-organic feeling way. The bosses aren’t any tougher, but random Champion monsters with special attributes, such as being able to throw walls around you or throw bombs at you, make getting to those bosses hard. Sometimes. The champion monsters have random attributes that can range anywhere from freakishly easy to completely impossible. By itself, this would be an interesting gameplay mechanic. Unfortunately, it’s the center focus of the game’s meta progression (especially in the fourth difficulty, Inferno). The end bosses are pointless, because you’ve already seen the story; the goal is to find better items by killing the randomly spawning champion monsters.
Inferno isn’t balanced. Act I is a moderate challenge within the game’s simple point-and-click combat interface, but Act II is completely impossible except for characters with specific items. Items that you get by killing champions over and over again in Act I. But once you have these items, Acts III and IV are just as easy as nightmare mode was, barring the occasional champion group that literally can’t be killed.
The game’s experimental take on character customization mostly falls flat. Each character has both a male and a female model, complete with cutscenes and voiceovers for each sex and class. This would be awesome, except the voice acting is abysmal, and the cut scenes are all essentially the same for each character. The result is a weird cross between 90’s and 2000’s video games, where the player’s character had no personality, and the more modern idea that video game characters need novel-like development. Except that if these characters were in a novel, it’d be the kind you find from a really crappy vanity press that publishes stories by eighth graders.
The gameplay aspect of character customization is far superior. Each class gets a very wide array of skills, and these unlock every few levels. The player can only use six skills at a time, along with three passive skills, and the result is that very few characters within the same class function in the same way. It’s a nice touch. The problem is that the progression to the end-game is dotted with skills as rewards. When this stops at level 60, there are no more rewards for killing the trash monsters between bosses, apart from what can randomly drop from champions. Half of the incentive to keep playing goes away at level 60, and it isn’t replaced with anything.
The game’s story line is by far its weakest point. While the cut scenes are all masterfully done, the story that they’re conveying is the worst professionally crafted story that I’ve seen in decades. It feels like the writers had no grasp of craft; the NPCs are flat, the story lacks nuance of any sort, and there’s never a single point where a savvy gamer will wonder, “What’s going to happen next?” For that matter, there’s not even a moment where they’ll care about whether a character lives or dies. For example, (spoilers below!) when Leah gets possessed by Diablo, the reaction is basically “So what?” She was never someone I got to know, she had no story arc, no climactic moment, and nothing likable aside from being cutely drawn and modeled. The same is true when Deckard Cain dies in act I, and when Adria betrays you in Act III. The writers failed at making me care about these characters, and they failed at constructing a decent plot.
At launch, the US servers were almost completely unusable, and since (as part of the game’s DRM) you have to connect to the servers, there was a lot of time when I couldn’t play the single player game I’d already bought, even though my hardware met the minimum specs. And speaking of minimum specs, I tried this game on three separate computers, all of which blew the game’s required hardware specs out of the water. I could never get rid the game’s frame clipping and sudden drops in FPS, both of which made gameplay irritating.
Technical support essentially calls you a lair if you make a ticket about this, and while I was still giving the game a fighting chance, Blizzard never made an announcement addressing these performance issues. If they have at this point, I don’t really give a flying rat’s ass; they’ve already lost a customer.
When I write to QuikTrip about some problem I have in their store, they send me coupons and an apology. I keep giving QuikTrip money, because I like being treated by a human being, even within the paradigm of Corporate Shenaniganry.
If Blizzard can take a lesson from a freak’n chain of Midwestern gas stations, maybe I’ll give them money again at some distant point in the future. In the meantime, Defender II is twice as compelling as Diablo III, and manages to have better technical support. That’s kind of sad.
The most offensive part of this game is probably the Real Money Auction house. It’s offensive in part because the auction house interface is unintuitive and badly made. The true insult, however, is in the idea that, for fun, a player should kill Inferno-difficulty champions over and over again, put the few good items that those drop on the auction house for other players to buy with real money, so that Blizzard can get a cut of whatever you sold them for. If I wanted to be a Blizzard employee, I’d send them my resume.
If you were a Die-hard Diablo & and Diablo II fan, seek gaming elsewhere. Torchlight II looks promising; Guild Wars II is amazing. This iteration of the Diablo series, however, is one of the worse disasters I’ve ever had the misfortune of owning.