Both Diablo and Diablo II were unarguably two of the most important game titles released in the last 15 years. They were not only terrific games in their era – they simply re-defined the genre (action RPG/hack’n’slash) and became an inspiration for various game creators for years to come. You have to respect that, but you also have to expect a lot from Diablo III, the latest instalment of the franchise. It took Blizzard 12 years to finally put all the tiny bits together and release the game. And then, all hell broke loose…
It all started on release, when Blizzard’s authentication servers couldn’t handle the millions of players trying to LOG INTO this SINGLE PLAYER game, making Diablo III virtually impossible to play on release night. Even though Diablo III is a single player game – albeit with MP functionality – it requires you remain connected to the internet while playing. This is one of the reasons why Blizzard has received tons of negative feedback and what has led a hefty number of people to return their games back to the shops they bought Diablo III from. And I’m not surprised those guys reacted the way they did. We are living in a world of DRM, where companies (IP owners and publishers etc.) want to make sure their software is not pirated or used in a way that would violate the EULA (e.g. not resold). But there is a fine line between taking simple-yet-serious anti-piracy measures and taking overly excessive measures, such as forcing players to stay connected to the central server at all times IN A SINGLE PLAYER GAME! As if the Ubisoft’s casus was not enough…
Okay, but let’s put the DRM and constant online presence requirements aside for a while and concentrate on the game itself. Did we get what we hoped for? After twelve years of development, a few generations of PC hardware and the emergence of new gaming genres? After having finished the game on Normal difficulty and playing some 10+ hours on the Nightmare difficulty level, both alone and with friends, I can honestly give it out a solid 80% overall score. But… I also have several remarks that I feel like I need to share with you. I will not, however, go into details and not describe how each of the classes “feels”, nor divulge the (pretty weak) plot or share my feelings about playing the game with others (this is essentially the best option in D3!). Instead, I will describe the general feeling I have about this game.
Diablo III, to me, is unarguably a very solid example of a hack’n’slash game where killing monsters (and the way you do that!) is pushed to the limit, while the plot and character depth are mere subtleties (not to mention the overwhelming pathos of dialogue that often makes you wanna puke). The character development system implemented is rather well designed (providing some fun utilizing various skill combinations), yet it remains very much simplified and does not give you the freedom to spend character points among the four core character attributes on levelling up. Nor does the system allow you to decide which special skills and attacks you want to improve. Thus, you can be sure that at level 60, your Barbarian’s build will be the same as your friend’s. The only difference you will see will be the actual skills and abilities (active and passive) you decided you wanted to go with. While the overall list of skills, perks and attacks to choose from is essentially the same for both of you. Pretty weak, huh?
Two main keywords I would use to describe the various aspects of Diablo III are simplification and unification. I’ve already described the simplification (character development and game’s plot) above. But where did I see the unification? Basically, Blizzard now has all their three core IPs use the very same Battle.net account system and many features of Diablo III are also found in WoW or Starcraft. Heavy DRM, online presence required in order to load and play the game, graphics style very, very similar to WoW and Starcraft (being something in between of them two games), crafting system, auction hall (this time one that can also let you and Blizzard earn real money!) – just to name a few common features. Features, that make the game simplified and heavily lacking the originality and trendsetting this great franchise has always been known for.
In my book, it is the game’s originality, unique settings and rich gameplay experience that sucks me in and keeps me in front of my display for hours, providing me with lots of fun, adrenaline and aesthetics. Unfortunately, Diablo III has been largely designed not as a unique title, successor and pinnacle instalment of one of the greatest sagas in gaming history, but as a game designed to utilize Battle.net mechanisms and be damn friendly to the mainstream player (similar to what World of Warcraft has sadly become over the last year).
Better visuals, more loot and faster game pace – this seems to have been what was driving the producers of Diablo III (plus making more money for Blizzard as cheaply as possible by setting a high D1 price and taking a percentage of all transactions completed in Diablo III’s real money Auction House). Well, for a game that spent 12 years in development and considering the attention to detail that Blizzard teams used to display, I am generally disappointed. If you are, however, new to the genre or you haven’t spent hundreds of hours playing the two old Diablo games, you’ll probably thoroughly enjoy what Diablo III has to offer.