Sunday, December 15, 2013

The Devil In The Corporation

Even if I was a great fan of the original Diablo and D2, I was late in deciding to take on Diablo 3. It was a combination of factors, from the bad reviews the game kept getting, to the constant servers errors I kept hearing about and to me being too busy to take up such a time-eater. However, I came across it at a great discount and, on an impulse, decided to give it a try. Three weeks of (casual) gameplay later this is what I think.

The game is beautiful to look at and a visual pleasure to play in. The environments are meticulously rendered and yet they loose none of their details when zoomed in or acted upon. Blowing up tree trunks or exploding bodies of enemies is both fun and physically accurate. Sure, some heads or pieces of wood can be seen to spin for too long, but that is part of the game's appeal, right? You are become Death, the destroyer of Worlds!

The sounds are better than the music but they are both quite well made. What I found strange was that, at least once, throughout Act I, the background music clearly reminded me of the main theme from Baldur's Gate. Let's chalk this one off as ...tribute.

The bad news is that it builds exactly the same kind of character for everyone. There are no choices when leveling up. Everything eventually gets unlocked for you and you only get to choose what 4 skills to use and which runes to combine with each one. Your strength, dexterity, intelligence and vitality get automatically increased, depending on your class. No more making a tank out of a ranger I am afraid. And this is where the game looses a good chunk of its rating.
The fact that you get to have a sidekick that does practically little more than keep the mobs occupied until you dispense of them, does not help either.

Yes, the story plot is infantile, disrespectful to the original games (I will refrain from spoiling it) and it offers very little help in immersing into the game world. It is unfortunate because, Blizzard has proved in the past that they can produce games with a very good back-story, such as Starcraft II.
However, this a game franchise that is heavily invested on the Judeo-Christian culture of the Devil. Just read the name on the box! So, taking away demonic pentagrams and most religious symbols (some crosses can still be found) fools no one. Because once you go down that road and then decide to backup, you should make sure not to step on yourself and trip. As in: if a golden-eyed Fallen Angel (Hello!) is helping you fight Diablo, are you sure who is the Devil and who is not?

Well designed and clearly labeled items make all the difference in the world. I would love for Borderlands 2 items to have such a clear Damager-Per-Second (DPS) number to make comparisons easier. Pair this with an inventory that is big enough and free of the need to play item-Tetris in (all items take up either one or two vertical squares) and you have yourself almost loot haven. Almost because you still get too many unusable items, mostly because of class restrictions.
You can stash such items in your common stash to share with your other heroes (on the same BattleNet account) but make sure to find the necessary...700,000 gold to pay for all the extra stash space. Hint: use the Auction House while you still can.
The only thing I found missing is the ability to add sockets to magical items and enchant regular ones.

I am going to go against the current here but here it is: I found the Auction House a brilliant idea. Well designed and decently executed. I am going to be sad to see it go on March, as announced. I can only hope they change their mind before then.
In all honesty, I am currently a Demon Hunter at Nightmare difficulty. And I have heard the complaints that it is impossible to finish Inferno without Real-Money Auction House (which is clearly not how it is supposed to work) but up to Nightmare, using the Auction House is the only way to get enough money to be able to do the enhancements you want, craft or buy the items you covet and unlock the precious extra stash space you need.

I had to rate the game even lower because of the always-online requirement. Because it is indeed a hassle and a hindrance (just try pausing in town for longer than half and hour and see what happens). Yes, the game does offer some gameplay features (namely, the Auction-House) to compensate for the inconvenience but they all give way to anger and frustration whenever Blizzard's servers go down  and you are unable to play a Single-player game for days at a time(!). Take away the Auction-House, however, and the always-online requirement becomes a severe and now unjustified hindrance!

No, D3 dips to an even lower rating for managing to be both short and boring at times. There, I said it. Yes, it is a well balanced eye-candie, with tons of loot, problematic character development yet the gameplay feels like at chore at times and it is over before you know it. I even found Act I (the one offered for free as a demo) to be better designed and longer than the rest.

It is like that old Woody Allen joke: two old ladies are complaining about their retirement home catering. "The food was awful, barely edible", "I know", her friend replied, "and such small portions!".