Note: I wrote the bulk of this review back in June 2012 and cleaned it up to be published in Jan 2013, so please excuse some of the inconsistencies or out of date info.
Diablo 3 is not the game I had expected it would be. I loved both the original Diablo and Diablo 2, and I expected it would follow the formula set by those game reasonably closely. However, expectations and reality don’t always align.
When you are first thrown into the game’s world, you immediately hear the familiar sounds of Tristram’s guitar, the familiar sound effect of a bow fired by an NPC, and you come across a conveniently named town: New Tristram. Right away, my expectations were beginning to be met, but every step further into the game, I began to sense that something was not quite right. Everything was just a little bit off, and a whole bunch of thing I expected to be a particular way, weren’t. I can appreciate the idea that they wanted Diablo veterans to feel at home, but for me at least, the way the game unfolded led to me realizing just how far removed the game is from past Diablos, which in turn led to me feeling mislead.
However, the games we’re getting today are a lot different than the games we got 11 years ago. And I can’t really get too upset at Blizzard for wanting to experiment a bit rather than make the exact same game we got so many years ago. So I set my expectations aside and decided to go for an adventure.
That adventure never came. When I think back on my memories of playing this game – I should mention that I haven’t touched the game since the summer – all I remember is that I killed things. Oh sure, I remember how the mechanics of the game worked, and who gave me an awesome sword, but when I think back to the story, all I remember is that you’d come across some guy who looked menacing and then you’d kill him or her or it. There were some technically impressive cinematics, and some dialogue was heard, but I can get more out of the story of a single episode of Pokémon than from I did from playing this game for 50+ hours.
I don’t consider grinding an adventure either. Your first time through the game, on “normal” difficulty, you go run through the game and occasionally you come across something new: a blacksmith, a gem shop, etc. But the one thing that stays consistent is that you never come across a challenge you can’t get past after a couple attempts. After some careful consideration, I’ve concluded that the normal difficulty is pretty much the tutorial. The game finally gets going once you get into hell difficulty, but at this point you’ve probably put 15-20 hours or more into your character, and you’re too distracted to realize that the adventure you hoped for has finally come.
I hate to be a conspiracy theorist, but I think this was a business decision rather than one made to improve the game. You see, the game has an online auction house which really starts to become a factor the further you get into the game. To beat the game on “inferno” difficulty (the difficulty after “hell”), you need the best equipment you can get your hands on, and the auction house often has that. What makes me call this a business decision is the introduction of the real money auction house. I haven’t checked in months, but when it went live, seeing an item for over a hundred dollars on there was pretty common. And Blizzard gets a percentage of all items sold. With World of Warcraft slowly losing popularity, I bet this was a scheme to try to make up for that. Which, from a business point of view, is pretty fascinating to me, but as a gamer, it’s awful to see and is the reason I stopped playing. What’s the point of spending hours looking for good gear when someone else is just going to whip out their credit card and buy something better?
However, it’s not all bad news. I can honestly say I enjoyed the game during the “nightmare” and “hell” difficulties. In particular, joining up with friends has always been a highlight of the series. Now that’s an incredibly easy thing to do. As long as a few conditions are met, all you have to do to join a friend’s game is click a button. Once in, you can click their flag in town to be instantly teleported to their location. Of course this means you can do things like have a character that is in the first part of the game join a friend in the last part of the game, which may raise some questions about whether that should be allowed, considering the potential spoilers and such. However, since Diablo 3 is a game that is designed to be played over and over again, and once you’ve gone through it once, you won’t want artificial barriers restricting your ability to join a game.
The combat is different. I won’t go into details, but to put it simply: players who want their decisions to matter won’t like the changes; players who like to be able to adapt as the situation changes will like the changes. I’m apart of the latter. I liked the changes.
Overall, I liked a lot of what they did with the game. The lack of a decent story was never an issue for me as Diablo has never been about the story, but about meeting up to slay some monsters with friends. It’s just a shame that the auction house and the insanely difficult “Inferno” mode had to end that for me.