Tuesday, April 1

Game Review: Diablo 3 (Patch 2.0)

Genre: ARPG/Dungeon Crawler
Platforms: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PC, Mac
Release date: 15/05/12
Developer: Blizzard Entertainment

Diablo 3 is the long awaited sequel to the monumental Diablo 2. At launch the game was plagued by the always online requirement, Real Money Auction House (RMAH) and poor looting. 2 years later some of the issues have been fixed with the addition of the 2.0 patch. The RMAH has been removed, loot itemisation vastly improved and heroes have been furthered balanced. Unfortunately the always online requirement still exists, which may severely hamper your ability to play the game. 

Diablo 3 is set some 20 years after the events of Diablo 2 with a mostly new set of heroes. You choose from the Monk, Wizard, Witch Doctor, Demon Hunter and Barbarian. Each hero has the option of male or female and each features unique voice acting, which is appreciated. I created a female wizard, after playing a Sorceress in Diablo 2, and started on Hard difficulty.

Jumping into a new game the most striking feature is the dated visuals. While as usual, Blizzard's art style is strong and can make up for some deficiencies, the game clearly lacks in the graphics department. Characters are rough and low quality, which is especially noticeable when you take a closer look. Textures are also muddy. While it doesn't detract from the experience, the game certainly isn't beautiful. That said the presentation is otherwise impeccable. The voice acting, sound effects and sound track do a great job in bringing the world to life. 

Characters are especially visually lacking

Like its predecessors Diablo 3 drops you straight into the action, this time in the town of New Tristram. Your hero has followed a mysterious falling star and finds New Tristram beset by the walking dead. As your hero stymies the tide of monsters, you uncover the larger demonic plot and the threat to the world at large. Blizzard's recent attempts at story telling have been somewhat ham fisted and Diablo 3 is no exception. The game features B movie tier villains and so much hair brained bravado from your hero that it's hard to take things seriously. This is especially unfortunate as Diablo 2 managed to craft a brilliantly sombre atmosphere.

Gameplay sees your hero facing off hordes of enemies using a variety of abilities. In a puzzling move by Blizzard you can only have 6 abilities bound at once, which start as mouse button 1&2 and keys 1-4. Within each bound key you can only choose from a limited quantity of abilities as well. This means that you are significantly limited in the way you combine your abilities. There is some respite, as each ability has runes which alter the ability. For instance reducing cooldowns and adding status effects. Such runes don't add any major depth and I found myself sticking to the generic runes. It might be feasible that you would customise your abilities and runes for boss fights, but on Hard mode I found this completely unnecessary. I focused on a maximal damage build and never faced any real threats during the campaign, able to destroy most bosses in under 60 seconds (thanks Archon!).

Act 2 is perhaps the highlight of the game taking place in the deserts.
Bosses provide a mediocre experience. With the Archon ability on Hard mode I annihilated everything in my path, included the final boss fight. While bosses spew out World of Warcraft "don't stand in the fire abilities" they are so easy to avoid, and do so little damage that they are ignorable. Bosses don't tend to do anything else interesting. 

Aside from the unconventional ability system the rest of the gameplay is pretty simple. Kill enemies, complete quests, level up and equip phat loot. One significant problem I discovered was that enemies don't stay dead and maps don't stay explored. Every time you log out, or disconnect in a hostile area, the map is entirely reset. This became extremely damning when my internet connection crapped out after spending 15 minutes clearing a map. Enemies also scale to your level which means that as the hero you never feel any more powerful. When a zombie is as dangerous as a hell demon, it kills any sense of progression. For these reasons, around the 6 hour mark, I stopped caring about full map exploration or killing all enemies. Instead I just cheesed my way through the game, disheartened by the fact that nothing I really do in a map matters since I'm not getting more powerful (monsters level with me), the map competition will reset and monsters will respawn upon log out.

Thus was the game damned.

Diablo 3 manages to present a mediocre, inoffensive experience. While nothing about it sticks out as particularly bad, nothing stands out as particularly good either. It's a shame that such a highly respected franchise is reduced to this, due to several poor decisions. Diablo 3 serves as a reasonable time sink for 15 or so hours, but not much else.