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    Review of Diablo 3 by Blizzard Entertainment

    If you wanted to explain to a friend who knew nothing about Dungeons & Dragons, Pathfinder, or any other RPG, what might be an easy way to do it? Well, you could sit down and show them books, character sheets, or miniatures. Or if they liked computer games, you could invite them to play a few hours of any of the Diablo series of games, and tell them, “It’s like that, but without the computer!”

    To me, Blizzard’s Diablo series has been one of those gamer-geek “infection vectors” for getting non-roleplayers into D&D. So while Wil Wheaton might use Settlers of Catan (see [ame="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o3WJTlDa7oo"]Tabletop Episode 2[/ame]) to spread the nerd-phage, if you want to give someone the basic idea of a hack-and-slash style of roleplay wrapped in a tasty story coating, then Diablo has definitely worked for me. And let’s face it – even though it’s not a true role-playing video game, the games have always had an amazing dark fantasy storyline, cool monsters, tons of action, and is one of those PC games that just feels good to play when your regular D&D group can’t get together.

    And last week, Blizzard Entertainment finally released Diablo 3, making the epic story of good versus evil a full-blown trilogy now! It’s been 16 long years since Blizzard introduced the genre of “dark fantasy action role-playing” when the original Diablo hit the shelves in 1996, and the new edition to the series might be considered one of the most anticipated games of this year! With a ton of new features, online play, updated graphic, and a continuation of the epic storyline, Diablo 3 could be poised to break the sales records set by its predecessors.

    So the real question is: Will all these new features really make Diablo 3 the crowning jewel of this epic dark fantasy action roleplay game series?

    Diablo 3 by Blizzard Entertainment

    • Developer: Blizzard Entertainment
    • Platforms: PC & MAC
    • Requires: Internet Connection
    • Release: May 15, 2012
    • ESRB: M (Mature)
    • Retail: $59.99 (on sale at [ame="http://www.amazon.com/Diablo-III-Standard-Edition-Pc/dp/B00178630A/ref=as_li_tf_mfw?&linkCode=wey&tag=neurogames-20"]Amazon.com[/ame])

    Summary

    Diablo 3 is a dark fantasy action roleplaying adventure game set in a world stuck between a war between Heaven and Hell. The player takes on the persona of one of five different heroes (character classes), and sets forth to oppose the demons of Hell, while the angels of Heaven argue over the fate of mankind. The adventure takes place in the world setting created for the previous games in the Diablo series, with new lands to explore, new monsters, and new powers and spells for characters to use in order to prevent Armageddon and save the world!

    Author’s Note: This review was written after playing the game on a PC with the following specs: AMD Phenom II Quad Core 3.50 GHz with 4 GB ram and an ATI Radeon HD 5700. This system qualifies for the Recommended Specs for playing Diablo 3.


    Production Quality

    The production quality of Diablo 3 is simply stunning, and by far the best of the series. The graphical engine has definitely evolved over the course of the three games, and the characters and monsters look and move with amazing fluidity. And one thing can be said about Blizzard – they know how to make VISTAS. Blizzard has demonstrated time and again that it can render some incredible fantasy world vistas which have a certain breath-taking WOW factor (pun completely intended) when first encountered, and Diablo 3 has plenty of eye-popping moments. The “play” areas of the game look rich, marvelously detailed, and have a truly 3D feel to them, whether tromping around a sewer or ruins in a dungeon crawl, or wandering through the farmlands, forests, or deserts. From my perspective, I think the underground environments were far more awe-inspiring and 3D feeling than the outdoor vistas, but that’s just splitting hairs, because it’s all incredibly detailed.

    As for audio, it’s clear Blizzard knows how to make some great music and amazing sound effects. If you have ever played any of the previous Diablo games, you’ll definitely hear tunes you’re familiar with, like the Tristram theme, as well as new scores for various lands and up-tempo epic scores for battles, particularly boss encounters. Overall, the music works well with the game’s environments and action sequences, and definitely enhances the play experience. And if you really like the music, Diablo 3’s soundtrack is on sale at the iTunes Store right now.

    Seeing as Diablo 3 is an action adventure game, awesome sound effects are an absolute requirement, and the game definitely delivers. There are plenty of both ambient background sounds and battle effects sounds in the game, ranging from creepy skitterings and rockfall sounds in dungeons to the splattering of gore from monsters being slain, not to mention a plethora of booms and zaps from magical spells being set off. Without a doubt, there’s a full audio package of music and sounds which totally enhances the game play experience.

    The Game Play
    With a game of this magnitude, there’s no real way for me to cover everything going on in Diablo 3 in the detail it deserves. If you want more details about the game, Blizzard has done an excellent job of creating a Diablo 3 resource site, and it discusses pretty much all the aspects of game play and features. But I wanted to touch on the aspects of the game I really loved, as well as the parts I think were a let-down.

    Character Classes & Advancement

    While Character Creation was fairly basic, offering you a class and a gender, I was glad that Blizzard finally let you choose your own sex! In previous editions, certain classes were male and others were female, and I thought that showed a real lack of imagination on the part of the designers. Of course, there are no racial options in the world of Diablo – everyone is basically a human – but they did a good job of creating a range of humanity, from the pale Nordic-like Barbarians to the African-based Witch Doctors.

    For the purposes of the review, I played every class to at least 10th level to get a feeling for what they could do. For new players, I’d strongly recommend the Barbarian, because he’s a brute, relatively straightforward to play, and has strong self-healing abilities. The Monk is amazingly fun as well, has great healing, and it was fun to have it based upon a Russian rather than the expected Asian theme. The ranged casters – Wizard and Demon Hunter – are also awesomely fun to play, but require a bit of finesse as they can get overrun quickly by hordes of monsters. However, the Witch Doctor I found to be a really poor design, being the only “pet” class in the game. While the pets are cool but their AI is dumb as a box of rocks - they cannot be controlled, and I watched them run into combat after combat and get mauled in area of effects which I avoided. Without active pets, the Witch Doctor is fairly anemic, and I think Blizzard made the character class that broke the melee and ranged archetype molds without really tweaking it to make it useful.

    I also really enjoyed the new character advancement system, where the player is slowly doled out new powers and spells which fit into the various hot keys (left and right mouse, and numbers 1 to 4). This was pretty smart, in my opinion, as it allowed both newbie and veteran players to get used to the interface and the new powers. With four powers per hot key, as well as four “rune” enhancements per power, it gives players a wide range of options to meet their particular style. I also liked that the power load outs can be changed on the fly, making it possible to change powers and enhancements to meet various monsters and bosses in the game.

    In a game like Diablo 3, advancement occurs not only by leveling and power increases, but also through gear. While the gear looks pretty awesome, the gear drops themselves have been pretty uninspiring, often well below the heroes’ level, and I remember far better items dropping in the previous games of the series. Thankfully, there is a tradeskill system in the game which allows the hero to “shard” magic items, and then take the essences and reforge new items with a blacksmith NPC. Regretfully, the list of creatable items is sparse, but they are usually far more potent than the dropped items unless a rare (gold or orange) drops. And to make your hero look nifty, they have added armor dyes to change the color scheme, or to make a piece of armor invisible. I like that they have added stuff like this, but the dye color palette is fairly small so far and I hope there is more colors added later on.


    Questing & Storyline

    The storyline of Diablo 3 has, so far, been excellent and epic feeling, and I’m only in Act II! It continues on from the previous games, involving the crusty old Horadric Mage, Deckard Cain, guiding the hero to fight against the last of the Lords of Hell.

    While the storyline and the questing are a linear in form, the dungeons and monster encounters are completely random, and there are plenty of sidetrek dungeons to be encountered in the wilderness for fun. One of the great things about the storyline is that it is all narrated by voice actors, and the acting is really good. There are also gorgeously rendered cut-scenes with graphical characters so life-like and real looking, it’s a bit creepy.

    The NPCs also have stories and comments to make on a wide range of topics, including offering discussions about lore and the history of the previous games. While I know that many gamers would not define this sort of interaction as role-playing, it does give the game a real and solid story around all the hacking and slashing, and the writers have done an excellent job at engaging me as a player as I “stay a while and listen”.

    Killing new monster types also offers the chance to hear commentary from a loremaster or from Deckard Cain. These two make the game feel more in-depth and immersive, and gives an interesting perspective on the demons and beasts encountered and fought.


    Combats

    The combats in Diablo 3 are epic and gory, with monster bodies thrown around and often blown into grisly chunks which bounce around the battlefield! Rag-doll style motion to the bodies and splattering blood effects is certainly one way this game rated an M for Mature ESRB Rating, but it does make for a visceral thrill when you Leap your Barbarian into a pack of demons and start splattering them right back to Hell!

    I’ll admit I was a bit disappointed early on to be fighting some of the same threats I faced in the previous two versions of the series – the Skeleton King and the Butcher are the first two bosses... surprise! But the enhanced AI and graphics, as well as the new powers of the monsters made the fights quite a bit more epic and fun in the long run. Overall, the AI of the monsters is pretty sharp, although some of the critters have bizarre behaviors that sometimes get the best of them – like stopping to munch on their fallen comrades or stopping to laugh at you.

    Another new feature to combat is what 4E players would recognize as single-use terrain powers. You can drop iron sconces, piles of logs, loose walls of stone, and other hazards onto enemies and help soften them up for the kill. And frankly, they added quite a bit more breakables in the game, which means that every combat is one of those “don’t blink or you’ll miss something” affairs, with monsters, spells, and debris flying everywhere!

    I should mention that they also include three NPC companions for heroes to take along during the game – a Templar, a Scoundrel, and an Enchantress. You can only take one with you at a time, but they are quite helpful in combat, and add a bit of that “role-playing” stuff to what would be an action adventure game. All three companions have amusing quips to share between fights, very different reactions to the heroes and other NPCs, and have very detailed back stories which can be accessed over time through conversations with them. The Templar seemed a bit pompous to me, but I really enjoyed the personalities of the Scoundrel and the Enchantress, the former being a greedy womanizer with some humorous comments before and during combats.


    Non-Combat Activities & Other Features

    As I mentioned, there is a tradeskill system in the game, with both a blacksmith NPC and a jewelcrafter NPC to make the heroes’ their gear. One oddity of the game was that the upgrades done to these crafters were universal across all characters for an account. I wasn’t sure I liked that, as I felt it detracted from the individuality of the heroes in their own storyline. Money and the storage locker are also shared across all characters, which again I did not like as it pushed the game away from the role-play aspects.

    There is also an Achievement system in the game, which I thought was rather trite, awarding a player for rather silly things like using dyes or reaping coins. The only nice thing about the Achievements was that it did open up new patterns and symbols to use on a player’s banner for the account. However, an account banner was, again, uninspired to me, and I would have rather seen a banner system possible for each character. I think the main reason for a banner and Achievement system was to impress your friends, because it serves little to a solo player killing his way through the game.

    And here, I should probably discuss the big downside of the game – Battlenet. Despite the game being a single player experience, with the option of cooperative play, you cannot play Diablo 3 at all, unless you have a Battlenet account and are playing with game with a live internet connection. Yes, that’s right, you cannot play the game locally – you have to play it on Blizzard’s servers or not at all.

    Blizzard claims that this is to support cooperative play, PvP arenas, and two Auction Houses – a game gold version and a real currency version. Also, Blizzard claims that forcing online play makes sure that accounts are more secure, and prevents players from hacking their items and characters. But honestly, none of this make any difference to me, and yet I have no choice but to play over the internet on their servers, even if I don’t want to play cooperatively, do PvP arenas, or buy and sell things from Auction Houses! Nor do I give a rat’s ass if other players hack their characters and items to win the game, and I don’t need account security if I didn’t have an account to begin with and was just playing by myself at home on my PC!

    Previous versions of Diablo allowed players to play cooperatively by LAN or across the internet by hosting a game on their own PCs. All Blizzard has accomplished here is inconvenience the end-user, and give them a terrible play experience because of server lag, daily downtime for server updates and maintenance, and occasional disconnections that reset games back to their last “checkpoint”. So far, since launch, there have been server maintenance times of an hour to as long as six hours, and night’s when the lag was so bad, my character was stuttering and screen jumping back by as much as three seconds. In addition, I have twice lost around 20 to 25 minutes of game time and progress because of disconnections from the Battlenet servers, which is epically frustrating as well!

    Frankly, the only reason I can figure to force players to all be online is greed. I can only assume that Blizzard plans to eventually sell expansion packs, premium content, and to get a cut of real cash from the curreny based Auction House – which is still not live as of yet, I might add. Thankfully, there is no monthly fee to play, but then again, players should not have to be online to play what is essentially a SOLO GAME, and there is no excuse for inconveniencing a customer after they make an honest purchase.

    Overall Score: 3.75 out of 5.0


    Conclusion

    For the most part, Diablo 3 is a great game and a worthy successor to the series that started the whole dark fantasy adventure game genre. The graphics are beautiful, the storyline is engaging and epic in scope, with character classes that are fun to play. The combats are definitely thrilling, full of action and suspense, and often quite challenging to win. But Blizzard’s decision to force all players online and play Diablo 3 with the risk of lag and disconnection, and the inconvenience of downtime has certainly marred what could have been a perfect action adventure role-playing experience. I doubt I would play through the game more than once, given the frustration I have already had with lag, disconnects, and server downtime, and that alone cost the game a full point of score in the final tally.

    So until next Review… I wish you Happy Gaming!
    Attached Thumbnails Attached Thumbnails d3box.jpg  
    Last edited by Morrus; Wednesday, 6th June, 2012 at 12:17 PM.
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