Diablo III: The Review In Four Points

Yeah, I bought it. Yeah, I spent six hours playing it. But that’s enough. It’s not that “Diablo III” is a bad game by any stretch of the imagination, it’s just that for what we get, it wasn’t worth the wait, and it’s trying to please too many people at once.

“Diablo III” is one of the most anticipated games of all time, arguably. In fact, today is a crappy day for our own Nathan Birch, because four years ago, he wrote a list about how, among other games, we’d never get to play “Max Payne III” or “Diablo III”, and we’re never going to stop razzing him because they’re both coming out today. He should be getting his “Happy Wrongday” card in the mail aaaaaaany second now.

Honestly, though, for some people, this is going to be the “Star Wars” prequels all over again.

It’s not that “Diablo III” is a bad game. In a way, I really envy the gamers who are going to play “Diablo” for the first time with “III”, because they’re going to love it.

Those of us who played it back in the day, though, and aren’t incredibly hardcore fans, might find themselves enjoying it a lot less.

If all you need to hear is that this is more “Diablo”, then, well, stop reading. This is more “Diablo”, and I hope you enjoy every last minute.

But, if you’re not a hardcore fan, there are a few basic truths here that we should acknowledge, starting with…

#4) The Basic Gameplay Isn’t Deep Enough

Blizzard makes great games, absolutely, but stop and consider that the last “Diablo” game was twelve years ago, and even by twelve years ago standards, the basic mechanics of the game were “click on something until it dies.” Here, have a gameplay video:

Look familiar? It took Blizzard twelve years to make this game, and it’s essentially still stuck in the twentieth century in a lot of ways. Granted, the fans don’t want it to change, at all, ever, but in the intervening decade-plus, some gameplay innovation, hell, some complexity beyond equipping loot drops and a fairly standard blacksmithing system, would be nice. “Starcraft II” had some fairly substantial changes that made it a newer, richer experience over the original “Starcraft”, for example.

“Diablo III”, on the other hand, has more armor slots, the Town Portal has some tweaks, and there are other nice touches to speed up gameplay and trim the frustration. The Followers you collect in particular can be useful. But it’s not like we haven’t seen this before, in games that rip off “Diablo”.

Worse, they’ve actually made the game less complex when it comes to building your character. The key appeal was building the perfect character at a granular level: with no skill points or manual control over attributes…really, what’s the point? A crafting system, no matter how much Blizzard pretends, is not the same thing. At least there are skill runes, which can alter gameplay substantially, and freshen up combat as it gets dull, but the feel still comes off as dumbed down.

#3) The Story Is No Great Shakes

In fact, it’s pretty stupid.

Seriously, sit down and read the story of the original two games. Take it out of context, look at it, and marvel that your teenaged self ever found it compelling. Hell, the story in the third game is so thin Blizzard decided to dump cutscenes: all those clips in the ads are pre-rendered for advertising purposes. Notice, again, they largely avoid showing gameplay.

Granted, a lot of games have stories that don’t age well. “Deus Ex” has a plot that’s somewhat ridiculous. But it also has deep, rich, complex gameplay, which is why it’s still held up as a classic. “Diablo” doesn’t.

There’s no traditional motivation to keep playing, here. The story’s not very good, the gameplay just gives you new and prettier ways to kill things with mouse clicks…if this were any other franchise, from any other company, it would be getting destroyed right now.

#2) We Are Just Experiencing the Beginning of Hearing About It

I’m not even going to pretend the comments on this aren’t going to be a bright river of hatred, since “Diablo” is a sacred franchise and guys my age have spent literally a decade waiting for it. But I’m not going to be alone on this. A lot of people are going to call in sick from work today, hit Gamestop or download it, install the game, play it for a few hours…and get really, really angry.

Conversely, a lot of people are really going to enjoy it. Thus, a tiresome nerd argument will spawn, and will not die no matter how much we click on it.

#1) The Auction House Mechanic Makes This Quite Possibly The Most Bitterly Cynical Game Ever Released

It’s common to joke about Blizzard being a digital crack dealer, but honestly, the auction house mechanics cross something resembling an ethical line, here, to the point where it kind of sucks the fun out of the game knowing that it’s there.

There’s very little Blizzard, or any game company, can do about grey market loot, but this “if you can’t beat them, join them” strategy seems to be the most nasty digital Skinner box ever designed. Grind the game, sell the loot, grind the game, sell the loot…isn’t this bad? Isn’t this what we’re supposed to revile and hate about PC gaming?

Stop and consider that Blizzard is, quite literally, bribing players, especially more casual players, to keep playing the game. And not with fake money or better items or exclusive dungeons: it collects 15% off the top in the Auction House and gives you cold hard cash, after taking another 15%. “We don’t have to make this game better or different or unique. We’ll just make playing it pay, so you’ll keep playing it.” In light of abuses like goldfarming, of which Blizzard is all too aware, it feels counter to, well, the entire reason we play games, not to mention encouraging labor abuses and other issues. You earn loot drops. That’s the entire idea. That’s the driving force of the damn game.

Yeah, it’s not available in Hardcore mode, but so what? That just means it’s aimed squarely at the kind of market that buys better loot instead of earning it in the first place. And it’s obvious this mechanic is really what’s new about “Diablo”, is really what drives the game. Notice that crafting replaces skill points…so you can craft and sell, craft and sell. You can’t sell your character anymore…but you can sell chunks of their skill!

True, you can just use in-game gold, but that the cash option is there at all is troubling. It gives what should be a welcome return the stench of a cash grab. Again, you can’t tell me, with a straight face, if any other franchise tried to pull this little stunt, that fans or the gaming press would tolerate it or enthusiasm wouldn’t fall straight off a cliff. “Diablo” is getting a pass in the wider press because of nostalgia, and it shouldn’t.

That’s my perspective. What’s yours?

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