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How do you possibly condense twelve years’ worth of anticipation into a single game? Such is the question that plagues Blizzard’s Diablo III – if you can get in to play, that is.
I was one of the (likely) hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people slamming the servers on launch day, 12:01 a.m., with reckless abandon. What did it get me? Not very many “first impressions” write about.
By the time two a.m. or so rolled around (Pacific time), my group of more than ten Redditors (and friends of Redditors) had just barely gotten into their games. While starting a big gaming marathon with two hours of Diablo III excitement could have probably kept me going until the sun came up, having to delay any and all fun until the servers let us all in got pretty tiring pretty quickly.
It’s since been a bit of an up and down with Blizzard, but I’ve somehow managed to find enough windows of time between my personal life and the life of Blizzard’s servers (currently on fire) to beat the game on normal difficulty. In addition to some fun screenshots below, here are a few quick impressions from someone who’s been punching Prime Evils in the face since 1997.
Playing Diablo III makes me nostalgic for Diablo II. You know what I’m talking about. You’d save all of your skill points for the first 15 levels of your character’s existence, and then start dumping them into two or three skills and synergies to create The Unstoppable Character. Save for the random, annoying immunities you’d find in Hell difficulty, steam-rolling Diablo’s minions (Baal’s too) was more a question of how fast you could click your mouse than how tough these foes really were.
Diablo III – not so much. If you’re not paying attention, conventional packs of mobs have the capacity to put a good bit of hurt on your bottom. This isn’t the kind of game where you can just walk right behind a Frozen Orb while watching YouTube videos on the side. Should you find yourself in a four-player slugfest, well, don’t expect to just leave your party members behind while you head on out solo. Yeowch.
Remember what I just said? Okay, now ignore it for a number of boss fights within the game, because Diablo III has this odd tendency to waver between frustratingly difficult and absurdly easy. Your first trip to Belial will be unpleasant for you. Other bosses in the game are tank-and-spanks, up to and including some baddies you find in Act IV itself.
In other words, Diablo III doesn’t scale all that well. Heaven help the hardcore player who started out on his or her quest to glory immediately after hitting level 10 with an normal character – you’re setting yourself up for a bit of sadness.
For whatever reason, Diablo III just feels like a flurry of activity compared to Diablo II. Maybe there’s something about the way Blizzard now handles random mobs and elite monsters; maybe it’s a result of the ease at which players can warp in and out of levels to meet up with their friends; maybe it’s because of all the in-game cutscenes that become an exercise in spacebar mechanics for those more eager to kill than learn.
It could also be the story itself. I won’t spoil the goods for those of you who are still chugging through, but the significant plot elements that happen in each act – including the big “sigh, really?” moment toward the late-game – seem hurried. So quickly do we meet new people, learn the barest amount about them, learn a little bit more about the act boss, before blammo – next act. Blizzard’s through-line is a river rapid, not a lazy inner tube ride. And I confess, I don’t feel like I really understand who some characters are, why they act the way they do, or how in the heck we got to where we are.
And I like the Diablo universe.
Diablo III has a lot going on. You have the game itself, your characters, your friends, the auction house… I don’t want to spoil a review and say that Blizzard, perhaps, bit off more than it could chew on this one – on an 11-year development cycle, no less.
For example: It would have been nice to be able to sit in a queue for the game on launch day instead of dealing with all the server meltdowns (a minor gripe for an occurrence that Blizzard really should have foreseen). Moving on, why is there no option to queue for public games of specific sizes? While I appreciate the ability to quickly jump into someone else’s game and help them out, these frequently become pairings. I want to play with the full, four-person experience, and I want to join or queue for a game that allows this to happen intentionally, not just by chance.
For that matter, why can I add Battle.net friends via Facebook within Starcraft II… but not Diablo III? Nothing says “ball of fun” like having to write your friends’ Battletags down in a notebook so you can input them into the game later.
And, in the largest, lazy sin to date, why is Blizzard showing me a cutscene to end a major act that they already released as a trailer for the game. First off, spoilers: Much of what was predicted by Diablo fans based upon the peculiarities of that trailer happens. Second: It’s a bit of a letdown to find out that we’ve all already watched one of the game’s few extended, fully-rendered cinematics. With but a handful of these beautiful mini-movies to view in the game, it’s a real bummer to find out that the total amount of new CG content drops by one when chugging through the acts.
Nitpicky? Yes. When a company has spent 11 years working on a single title, I think nitpicking is completely fair game.
Criticisms aside, Diablo III remains a fun stompy-stomp through all things evil. You’ll enjoy your (rushed) time throughout the four acts… the real question is whether Blizzard’s built enough to keep players jamming on new characters and new difficulties over the long-term.
And why, oh why, won't they find competent writers for the plot and in-game dialogue. I officially volunteer.
Maximum PC’s resident Diablo nut and former editor, David Murphy, looks forward to getting pummeled left and right on Inferno difficulty.