Under the Radar

Diablo 3: Nostalgia, Chagrin, Slaughter and Disappointment

The proper cover for Diablo III.

Diablo 3...hmmm....

I was a teenager when I fell in love with its predecessor, and thirteen years later, this is far and away the biggest release I and millions of other fans been waiting for, including the drool-inducing months leading up to Skyrim, Mass Effect 3, and anything-at-all in the Assassin’s Creed series.  It is the sequel to the game which spawned an entire eponymous genre (ie., Diablo Clones), so expectations were astronomical (grunts, note: the Mad Duo said for you to look here).  As soon as I got home from work on the 15th, I plunked myself down to play this thing.  After the first wave of nostalgia wore off, though, I gradually began to question the whole ordeal.

The graphics were far and away the best thing about the game (trailers were awesome).  The movie sequences were photo-realistic and crisp, and the in-game graphics had been touched up as much as they could without coming up with a new system (3rd person clickers are, after all, rather limited).  The color palettes went a long way toward immersing the player in the story, and rewarding them with spectacular explosions and effects depending on their abilities.  Overall, I’d give graphics a 9- always room for improvement, but nothing that really wowed me.

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Sound is barely worth mentioning.  It didn’t grate on me, but eventually I just turned it off and played my own music.  The voice acting was solid, with Deckard Cain and Tyrael making extensive use of it, and they were the only reason I kept the sound on as long as I did.  The nature of the game is extremely repetitive, so the sounds just sort of play constantly.  I could only listen to it so much, and there are subtitles for most of the dialog.  I’d give the sound a 7.

Gameplay.  For one, there are only slight differences from Diablo 2.  You choose abilities, and click on your targets to attack, with a few more keyboard buttons for additional abilities.  Not complicated, particularly, and I will admit, at least to some degree, elegant, though I mean that in the technical sense; the system is adaptable to many different styles of play and still feels fluid and remains easy to learn- even people brand new to the series will be completely comfortable with it within the first few hours.  But it lacks that je ne sais quoi that makes you want to continue.  It feels mechanical, almost forced, like you’re doing it because you must, not because you enjoy it.  Here, it inherits deeply from World of Warcraft- only without the social leverage of guilds (or the novelty of a much larger game), there’s just no reason to keep coming back.  All play must be done with an internet connection (to monitor cheaters, I imagine), even if you just want to solo-crawl through.  Once you sign on, if the server goes down, it seems you can continue playing with massive latency, but if you can’t connect to BattleNet (Blizzard’s multi-player server), you can’t play.  We’ll re-examine this in the outro, but for now, gameplay gets a 5.

Finally, we come to the story, and no spoilers.   Not that they’d really matter.  Seriously.   After 13 years, you’d think that they’d at least have gotten some good writers.   Hell, even Kingdoms of Amalur got RA Salvatore.  After playing for 2 hours, you’ll know how the game ends.  What makes the predictability even more galling is that the series is famous primarily for randomization and innovation.  But if the idea of personalities growing and changing due to events in the outside world makes your skin crawl, don’t worry, because Blizzard is apparently writing for your demographic.  There were some past events explained and one (shocking?) revelation that fell flat on its face.  Because they still managed to sneak in some logical coherence and a little bit of history, story gets a 4.

My biggest complaint may just be disappointment; after 13 years, I just expected more.  The $60 price tag isn’t worth the nostalgia.  Or perhaps, the sheer magnitude of the innovation burned out the pleasure centers of my brain, which is why the rest of the play felt like the soul-crushing drudge it was.  I think that’s it- I think Blizzard has completely reimagined the dungeon crawl genre and restored it to its primacy of 13 years ago.  That must be it.

If you’re looking for a game which embodies and seems even to revel in shallow story and yawn-provoking linearity, go play World of Warcraft- at least you’ll have friends to do it with, and with the addition of timely new content.  If you want a really fun 3rd person clicker to dungeon crawl to, you can just play Diablo 2 or any of the thousands of clones it spawned, many of which are available from indie-developers on steam.  Where this game fails the most is in providing motive to continue playing.  As someone who has spent far too much time playing video games, monkey-pull-lever-monkey-get-banana is hardwired into me.  The only banana I get for pulling this lever is another lever- and by some inversion in analogy-spacetime, it’s the same damned lever.

Diablo 3 is an appalling disappointment.  Run away.  I give it a 6, and that was with my generosity for graphics, sound, and yes, even nostalgia.

Very respectfully (or that's what you think), the GI Jew.

We're the Mad Duo, and we approve this message. We would also like to thank Sherman (GI Jew) for his input on the matter, Godless, lunatic liberal heathen that he is. This review of a game we were about to waste money on is disappoint but worth the read, and has earned him a reprieve from this month's hippie hunting efforts at Breach-Bang-Clear. Follow him on his personal blog at Pygmalion's Geas. You can also watch for his occasional diatribe at www.breachbangclear.com.

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