23 April 2012

Diablo III Open beta weekend impressions

This will be something of a review of Blizzard's upcoming title Diablo III. A sequel to Diablo II which fans have waited 12 years for. Does the game blow you away with its sheer amount of awesomeness?

Not really. This is a game that will split the audience into apologetics, those unimpressed and those who don't care and just buy it to play casually out of context with the previous Diablo games. Count me as a member of the unimpressed after having played through this 3 hour long demo.

One has to wonder how long they did work on this title, considering the release is just a month away I think it's safe to say that the "story" and the writing is really weak. Now the first Diablo 1 game was all about descending stairs and passages for 20 something levels in the same cathedral crypt. Imo Diablo 1 was boring, Diablo 2 added more of a story and purpose - varied geographical locations and proved to be a pretty enjoyable game.

The story of Diablo 3, what has been presented in the open beta demo, is really worn out and tired at this point. Forces of evil are about again for the third time after having been completely destroyed, (new) Tristram is again under siege, Deckard Cain is again trying to solve the mysteries of the "MacGuffin" behind the return of the lord of evil who seeks to corrupt the world. Still, as weak as the dialogue and story is - the voice actor of Deckard Cain is back and his bits are pretty much the only decent dialogue presented in the roughly 3 hour long demo.

Everyone else is really uninteresting or in the case of the villains encountered - really really lame. "I will rule this crypt, I'm eeeevil, you will NEVER stop me, muahahahaha" stock dialogue spoken by bosses that you slay effortlessly. Granted that the bosses in D1 and D2 had the same kind of James Bond villain monologues - but the writing and voice acting of the villains in D3 is cringeworthy.

Let's shift focus away from the bare bones of the "story" to something we know will persist throughout the game - the art direction and graphics. This was the first thing that struck me the first time I saw pictures of Diablo 3 - the Warcraft looking art direction and heavy use of a pastel colored palette. The first two Diablo games had a gothic, realistic and dark art direction for the environments and the characters populating the world. Diablo 3 looks cartoony, the monsters encountered in the demo look goofy and the constant bombardment of colors make it look more like Warcraft 3 than Diablo 2. The world is weirdly colored and lit, it just looks cartoony through and through. There is a site called "dark3d" which allows you to check D3 before and after draining it of all the unnecessary colors. Imo very little effort is required of the developers to make it more in line with the previous games, yet they choose this ugly look - it does not help that all light sources, dropped items, objects, monsters and power ups all shine and sparkle so much that the screen more often than not looks like platform game for consoles - only thing lacking is bouncing gold coins like in Super Mario.

Diablo 2 had outdoor environments that were colorful and even took place during daylight. Still those environments were bleak and pale in comparison. I would perhaps not be as let down by all of this in D3 if the underground locations such as crypts and lairs weren't also pastell colored and happy looking to match the surface areas.

Characters. There are 5 character classes to choose from. They seem to be revamped and/or merged character classes from previous games. I don't really know if they are all that exciting, only tried the Barbarian and played through the demo with the Demon Hunter. What I did notice, and this could be linked to the demo, is that my Demon Hunter who is a ranged weapon specialist could not use any hand to hand weapons?

It also seems that you no longer need ammunition for your ranged weapons, instead you are free to blast away without restrictions. Quivers are instead reduced to adding you attack speed and damage bonuses for ranged weapons. I don't really know why this was done, it reduces the difficulty a lot. Attacks in this game seem to be based upon abilities first and foremost - which you then combine with a weapon to inflict damage. Only explanation I could come up with is that Blizzard wanted to make each character locked to their playstyle - ranged character with ranged only weapons and so on.

Gameplay is same old as in the previous Diablo games, and honestly feels dated and not super exciting (if it ever felt exciting). Basically keep pressing/holding your left mouse button and aim at the incoming hordes of enemies. A friend who also played the beta said that perhaps the game gets a bit more tactical further on when you unlock more skills. This is possible, and true enough this is pretty much what Diablo games have always been about, but there is very little to distract you from the repetitive unchallenging gameplay you find in this game. Offensive and defensive abilities are still a part of your "character building" as you level up, but it has all been dumbed down. You no longer choose skills on a tech tree or place character points anywhere - the game does so for you. Leveling up is an automated event where you have minimal input.


There seem to be a couple of new features in the game. Perhaps the most interesting is the blacksmith who can be "trained" (upgraded by paying money) so that he can craft you better weapons and armor. You can also hand over crappy magical items which he will salvage for parts which can then be used to craft new magical items. Then we have the "pride" of the game which is the "auction house" which by all accounts is responsible for the "always logged on" requirement even when playing single player. The auction house feels like a greedy attempt by Blizzard to profit of players in game trading more than actually adding anything to the gameplay. I can't really see how this will be used by anyone but extreme powergamers or lazy people who want to spend real money on in game items.

I am very unimpressed and underwhelmed with what I've seen - and I did not even buy into the hype. It is very much in line of what has been shown in various "let's play" videos. To actually be able to play it yourself is as unexciting as it was to watch others play it. I think the reasons are several.

The gameplay is ridiculously unchallenging and way to repetitive for modern standards. The lack of a distracting Gothic "feeling" exposes the game as a shallow experience.
Choice of graphics and art direction makes this game look more kid friendly rather than appeal to a grown up audience.
The story and dialogue feel as if written by someone who wasn't even trying or asked their 8year old kids for advice.

The few actually good things about this game are:

Deckard Cain and his voice actor, pretty much lending the only source of credibility to the story.
The music is still top notch, though it can't salvage this game on its own.
Classic topdown perspective.
The new crafting system seems interesting.

It really gives me the impression of Blizzard cashing in on previous titles hoping that the name "Diablo" alone is enough.  I'm glad I'm not one of those who actively waited and pleaded to Blizzard for 12 years about making a sequel to Diablo 2.  There were signs of artistic decay in Starcraft 2: Wings of Liberty, and it is becoming quite obvious that Blizzard can’t live on old merits forever. They seem to be making poorer and less epic versions of their own games instead of progressing. Maybe their development studio went stale after a decade focused only on World of Warcraft, it feels as if the game was made by fans who used the mapmaker of Warcraft 3.

Btw, here is some food for thought "before and after" pictures using "dark3d" and "how it should have looked like" comparisons:

And below are the remaining pictures I took during my demo game.

8 comments:

  1. Sad that they dropped the ball on Diablo. I was just a dungeon crawl and hack'n'slash. The second as you said had a good story. The graphics look good as well as the other few positives you found. I may try to the demo and buy it when it goes on clearance or discount on Evilbay that someone is selling off.

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  2. Have to say I'm not really surprised, in recent times I've found the old games that I loved are really not being translated very well into new (ish) games. I guess it could also be that we are all older, 12 years since D2 that is depressing I think I was like 16 or something when I played it, and now I'm married with a mortgage!

    The pastel effect colour pallet seems like a school boy error in design though, fingers crossed no one trys to translate my old (and still played) fav Theme Hospital!

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  3. @Smillie, Theme Hospital still rocks - totally awesome game. Actually installed and played it just a couple of months ago :-D
    Was amazed that the old CD still worked but the game proved to be a bit unstable on my modern computer.

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  4. One to avoid for sure, I was indifferent anyway and your review Is damning!

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  5. I feel that the age of great 3rd person RPG's is long gone. Probably dead with Neverwinter knights.

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  6. I think it worked OK in Dragon Age: Origins, but then I'm a fan of isometric perspective and have always associated classic RPG with that.

    I always have a hard time with 3rd person over the shoulder perspectives even if the game itself is great, and not everything works in first person either (hard to judge distances when fighting in melee for instance).

    I can't imagine Diablo using 3rd/1st person though, I think it would become more of a pure action game - something that happened with Fallout 3 (even if New Vegas was a big improvement).

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  7. As mentioned earlier, the scoundrel is primarily a ranged fighter, opting to keep his distance from the enemy and fire deadly barrages of bolts and arrows, slowing and damaging his foes as you finish them off. While most of the scoundrel's armor will be automatically given to him as he levels up, you will have the ability to custom gear him with amulets, rings, tokens, bows and crossbows.

    Diablo 3

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