Evil Is Back…
Unfortunately, its riddled with bugs, is somewhat mediocre in general and on top of it all, pretty dumbed down too…but before we get into Diablo 3, let’s get all Jean Claude Van Damme and time travel back to the 90’s for a bit.
It’s 1996 and I’m introduced to the world of Sanctuary and the small, demon ravaged town of Tristram through my friend Greg, one of the few people at the time I knew who had a computer. We would hangout pretty much everyday after school and once Diablo came out, Greg bought it and it changed everything for me as a gamer forever. I was amazed that a game could be this exciting! Story, graphics, music, character customization, depth, re-playability…this game had it all. In an age of Cruisin’ USA, this was a remarkable game to behold, way ahead of its time.
In Diablo, you had 3 classes to choose from, warrior, rogue and sorcerer, each unique in equipment and skills. Diablo also offered an amazing item system, in which enemies you had slain randomly dropped treasure. Some would drop gold, others would leave behind common or rare magical items. This is what made and still makes Diablo so much fun, the sheer amount of loot you reap from fallen enemies that make your character a walking, slaughtering, demon slaying bad ass is amazing. Needless to say, I was hooked and eagerly clamoring for more.
“All that’s left of proud Tristram, are ghosts and ashes.”
Fortunately, I got my chance to revisit hell and the Lord of Terror himself, when Diablo II hit stores in 2000. At this time, computers were becoming a bit more commonplace and I had my own, so I didn’t have to mooch off Greg this time around. And as amazing as Diablo was, Diablo II was ten times better than that. The 7 minute long opening cinematic for Diablo II really sets the stage for something so grandiose that it still gives me chills every time I watch it…it really set the standard for what storytelling in a video game could be. With such an epic sense of horror and unease, you knew right away that you were in for an adventure.
Everything that Diablo set the bar for, Diablo II flat-out obliterated. Five different character classes, a skill tree with dozens of possibilities just waiting for you to unlock them and of course, those items…literally THOUSANDS of unique items and the ability to socket and customize them to your liking make this game one of the most replayable titles ever. No matter how many times you play through it, you’re guaranteed not to see the same thing, or play through it the same way twice.
“Well…it seems your terms…are not acceptable.”
Lord of Destruction was the Diablo II expansion pack which released in 2001. It added a 5th act to the already amazing and original storyline of Diablo II, while also introducing two new playable character classes. Essentially it was as good a reason as any to make Diablo II that much more playable and ensure that nerds everywhere spend countless hours…hell, even years fighting evil, collecting treasure and leveling up.
“Error 37, 75, 3003…”
Diablo II kept gamers playing for eleven years in fact…that’s how long the span was from Diablo II to Diablo III which just released this week. Needless to say, there has been a tremendous amount of expectation for this game, not only due to the success and innovation of the previous iterations, but because we nerds are an insatiable lot and love our franchises. I myself am no exception to this rule and my nerdery knows no bounds.
Having reserved my collectors edition of Diablo III months in advance, I eagerly waited in line for the midnight release at Gamestop with my roommate Julie who I dragged along for this little adventure. I even had her somewhat enthused for what was sure to be a pinnacle in gaming history, by showing her clips and lore from the previous games while we waited. Having secured my copy, I raced home and voraciously tore open the box, anxious to install it on my powerful computer and slay some demons for at least an hour before having to go to bed for work in the morning (damn adult life). While installing, Julie and I browsed through the extra content packaged in the collectors edition, including a really excellent hard cover art book of the game.
Once install was complete I was ready to quest! Or…so I thought. It seemed Diablo III had something more sinister than demons in store for me…a mandatory online connection to the company’s servers…which weren’t working. Like, AT ALL.
Diablo III’s launch was met with nerd rage the likes of which even I have never seen. What should have been a nerdgasm of over a decades worth of anticipation, instead turned into hate filled posts on Blizzard’s (the game publisher) website forums filled with complaints from fans wronged and out for blood. It seems Blizzard wasn’t prepared for the magnitude of people storming their servers that night and everything simply just crashed under the stress. My biggest issue being that all of this could have easily been avoided had they made the game like any other PC game where you put in the disc and simply play it. But no, in an effort to try to cut down on piracy they decided to make it so you have to be logged in to even play a game which is most definitely a single player experience.
This brings me to another issue entirely, it basically means you don’t really own the game…you’re just sort of buying the right to play it…and not even at your convenience, at theirs. If their servers are down or having issues this means you can’t play the game, simple as that. You essentially have a glorified shiny frisbee in your computers disc drive at this point. It has been long rumored that gaming is trying to abolish discs in general in the next generation of consoles coming out and adopting a similar system of having to be online to play. If anything, Diablo III is a perfect example of why this is a terrible idea. I like being able to play my games when I want to, not dependent on the publishers having their shit together. This is a privilege I’ve enjoyed for over 25 years in gaming and I really don’t like this potential new trend.
But enough about the failed launch and the fact you still can’t really play the game all the time without the possibility of getting booted, or it crashing entirely on occasion…how does it play?
Well…that’s the thing…it’s merely ok. Which isn’t a bad thing, but after 11 years and two great titles before it, I expect more than ok.
Let me start with what works. Simply put, it plays beautifully. Controls are responsive, the graphics and cinematics are as gorgeous as always (especially when turned all the way up) and the story, music and voice acting is impressive as always. Killing demons and collecting loot has honestly never been more satisfying. What I am having problems with, are the elements that got stripped away…such as the element of strategy and customization to your character that were removed for a more streamlined (e.g. for dummies) experience.
No more skill points. Yep. You now unlock your skills at a predetermined level. No more saving up those hard-earned points to choose your path on the skill tree, it’s all done for you now. But there isn’t even a skill tree at all anymore, you have like 5 or 6 skills you unlock and then choose which one you want to use via a quick slot option, making for a very limited (although fun) choice of destruction.
No more character points. Want to make a wizard and spend those hard-earned character points on intelligence AND strength so you can double up as a battlemage? Wielding that high strength required magic sword you just found all while raining down magical destruction? Sorry. Those points are automatically spent for you now. Your characteristics are the same as anyone else who is playing that character class.
No identify scrolls…this may not be game breaking to most, but I really loved not knowing what that magical item you just picked up was until you identified it. If you were in the middle of a dungeon and ran out of scrolls you had no way of knowing the potential excellence of what you had in your inventory until you got either more scrolls or had Cain identify it for you in town. In Diablo III magical items have a description of all their effects as soon as you pick them up. Lame.
It’s things like this that make for a stripped down version of the games I’ve come to love for almost 20 years now…decreasing the thinking and strategy aspect, while upping the smash factor is really disheartening. Is it just assumed that modern gamers don’t like to think these days? Is the younger gaming generation all about style over substance? I really hope not. Gaming is something that I have enjoyed my entire life and it just feels like the elements that make a game an experience for your mind are starting to take a back seat to the purely smashy, smashy entertainment aspect.
All in all Diablo III is (to me) an extremely fun, if not mindless version of the games that I’ve loved since I was 16 and something of a realization that while the things you loved in your youth change with the times, they don’t necessarily get better.
By: Jon Caron
Sock Talk Co-Host/Jerk