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Video Game Review: Diablo III
Posted By Laura Buttrick On June 9, 2012 @ 8:23 pm In Games,Video Games | 2 Comments
Release Date: May 15th 2012
Platform: PC, Mac OSX
Developer and Publisher: Blizzard Entertainment
Genre: Hack and slash dungeon crawler
Blizzard are perhaps better known for their headline grabbing, genre-defining MMORPG World of Warcraft than they are for titles like Diablo and Starcraft, but the release of Diablo III was one of the most highly anticipated gaming events of 2012. Naturally, it went horribly wrong. With servers collapsing under the strain and ‘Error 37’ plaguing eager players, constant online access was (and still is) needed to even be able to play the game’s single player campaign. This requirement blighted Diablo III’s launch and is still a talking point for disgruntled gamers everywhere – not everyone can maintain an always-on Internet connection. We’re not all in Sweden, after all.
But game launches on this scale are always rocky, and older fans testify that Diablo II just plain sucked when it first came out; the current version that players know and love the result of endless patches, fixes and updates. Similarly to its predecessor a few game breaking elements of Diablo III, which allowed for the exploitation of overpowered tactics, were “nerfed” in the name of balance. This caused yet more unrest in an already turbulent fanbase who criticised the game for being too short, for being dull, for simply not being as good as the eleven year wait had led them to speculate.
My personal experience with the Diablo franchise has not been nearly so intimate as those who waited with bated breath for the 15th to dawn, but the hype surrounding the game drew me in all the same.
Succinctly, Diablo III is a hack’n’slash dungeon crawler featuring randomly generated maps and random item drops from randomly spawning mobs which may or may not feature in random events. The idea here is longevity – the basic battle mechanics remain the same, two key attacks assigned to the mouse buttons and a myriad of other abilities mapped to the number keys, but each playthrough yields new rewards. Movement is also controlled with the mouse, making precision a key skill for players on higher difficulty levels. Clicking on an enemy can launch the assigned attack from a safe distance, clicking just to the side of them takes you for a close and personal stroll with the harbinger of your durability decreasing death.
Something masquerading as a story strings all of this together, but Blizzard’s story-telling capabilities have never quite reached the heights of Bioware or Quantic Dream. They opted for tried-and-tested high fantasy arcs, but the narrative is so weak and the plot so forgettable that it is impossible to deny that Diablo III’s story is a mere scaffolding for the meat of the game. Dungeon crawling needs no narrative; the player creates their own. The initial run comes out at around ten hours, and with four difficulty levels and the rarest loot coming in at drop rates of 0.01% or lower more dedicated gamers have a beautifully crafted time sink on their hands.
And it is pretty beautiful, even if generic in setting. The game spans many different vistas, some dark caverns illuminated by sickly lights, others wide open fields and swamps, some castles and even some real dungeons. The enemies are often so numerous and so swiftly dispatched that it’s hard to get a look at their design, but it’s clear there’s a lot of variety here even if it is playing on well-trodden tropes. Boss fights tend to be epic in scope but until later playthroughs where the difficulty is amped up a few notches they pose no real challenge, more impressive in marvel than in might.
Herein dwells the problem. The treatment of your combatants as mere faceless fodder makes gameplay as compulsive and mindless as your average stint in Azeroth – all that is required of the player is to keep on clicking until everything around them is dead. There is nothing skilful about taking an enemy down in Diablo III – if you have the time to sit and click, click, click, you’ll get it done. The Skinner Box will then reward players with loot, and if the loot isn’t what you wanted, it’s time to do it all over again. And people do. For hours, and hours, and hours.
This method of gameplay certainly appeals for some players, particularly those with a competitive edge who cannot rest until they have the best weapons and armour equipped on their level 60 witch doctor. The addition of the Auction House, which currently uses in-game currency but will soon cater to real world currencies as well, makes the game a tempting lure for those in it for a bit of cash. World of Warcraft is notorious for Chinese gold farms (which, incidentally, break the game’s EULA and TOS) but Diablo III has the money maker built right in. As this game element has yet to be launched it remains to see how it will be used – or exploited – by greedier players. It is however touted as the main reason for the game’s “Always Online” policy – to prevent cheating to get items in single player to be sold later on at the Auction House.
I spend my day to day life surrounded by Diablo III fans, which gave me more insight into the game’s positive elements than I might have had otherwise. This said, I do not like Diablo III. I do not like it because it lacks everything that I feel makes modern games great. It’s repetitive, it’s based almost entirely on chance, it lacks any sort of emotionally engaging narrative and it is just plain boring for me as a gamer. I don’t care about it in any meaningful way. Perhaps that decade long build-up reinforced the fans against all the clicking. But it’s clear to me that there is an audience for this game, and given the load on the servers it’s an incredibly big one. And I can’t ignore that, no matter how much I dislike it.
If you enjoy hack’n’slash dungeon crawlers then Diablo III is probably the best one you could play (although I hear wonderful things about Torchlight, and its sequel is due out this summer). It goes on for a long, long, long time and you get to click a lot of enemies until they die and sometimes they’ll drop a piece of equipment which will amplify your character’s stats enough to take on the next big boss. If you play it long enough eventually you’re allowed to start over and play it again, but this time it’ll be more difficult. You can even play characters which suffer permadeath on defeat in Hardcore mode.
What is interesting about Diablo III is its final and most brutal driving force: its achievements system. If playing the game through four times and getting all the best loot wasn’t enough, there are thousands of achievement points to be accumulated for exploring every map, killing x number of this and collecting x number of that, taking part in this, seeing that, defeating this boss, saving that maiden. The achievement design (another game element in which I am very interested and have written about at length on The Dialogue Tree ) is top notch and an excellent motivator if the gameplay itself isn’t picking up the slack. Okay, it doesn’t contribute to your Steam score or your Gamerscore or your Trophy cabinet but chasing achievements is definitely one of the better reasons to spend time playing Diablo III, if only because you have something to show for it at the end. That said, the achievement system may be a reason to come back to the game, but it doesn’t stop Diablo III from being a massive grind. The closest comparison I can think of is one of those mindless Facebook games where you click on things to grow them, except instead of growing things you’re killing them instead.
I can’t blame Blizzard too much. In dystopian literature, people are often described as not having the language to express their dissent for the ruling power. There is a similar dissonance in the games industry, with most developers lacking the language and ideas to do anything truly brilliant. Diablo III is a game symptomatic of bigger problems. The word boring was the first that came to mind most while I played, and unoriginal followed shortly after. There is nothing special or worthwhile about Diablo III; there is nothing to make anyone who isn’t already a fan of the Diablo series start playing. It’s a game stuck in some bizarre ideology about “the good old days” and “playing it safe”. So it’s philosophically old and it’s financially safe, and neither of those things are enticing as far as my entertainment appetite goes. Diablo III made a lot of money and garnered itself a huge player base. Well done, Blizzard. Next time, make a game.
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