WARNING – SPOILERS AHEAD!

YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!

Diablo 3, a lot’s been said about it and now’s my turn.

Let’s get a few things out of the way:

  • No, it’s not Diablo 2, it’s not that game with a better engine and it was never meant to be.
  • The game was never going to fulfill the fanbase’s expectations, mostly because those expectations were unreal. A game with over ten years in development and over 5 years’ worth of teasers created Messiah-like expectations. Disappointment in one way or another was inevitable.
  • The argument of D2 being play-to-win and D3 being pay-to-win is moronic, and I’ll give you a little fact, something I know most blind haters can’t deal with. Pay-to-win was already around in D2, people sold and bought their items off each other, it was just done in forums and you risked being swindled and your accounts being compromised. Blizzard simply decided to get a piece of the action in D3, as well as provide you with a non-real-money alternative. Buy crap with gold, i.e., use make-believe-money to buy make-believe-crap. You can still buy make-believe-crap with real money, but now you commit that idiocy through secure servers.

With that out of the way, let’s get started.

Diablo 3 is the latest entry in Blizzard’s Diablo franchise. It puts you in the role of one in a seemingly endless supply chain of adventurers living in Sanctuary, the world where it all takes place. You, like those “heroes” before you, go around killing stuff and collecting crap, all on the path to stop evil and yet be less important to the story than the smallest of NPCs.

Sidebar: I say “hero”, because in D3, like in most RPGs, you’re nothing more than a glorified errand boy, or girl.

I’ve heard that one in the form of a complaint, the fact your actions don’t really matter, as the story revolves around everyone else. I raise you Diablo 2 then, where Marius, the cowardly idiot, has way more weight in the story, so far as being the damn narrator. And the moment where your character finally “shows up”, it’s in a cinematic describing how “heroes”, not you, not the necromancer or the paladin, but “heroes”, destroyed the Soulstones, and in the video it’s a generic human, you can’t tell for sure who the hell it was. The only player-character in the ENTIRE Diablo franchise to have any fucking meaning or participation is The Dark Wanderer, the warrior from D1, now retconned to be Leoric’s eldest (which really didn’t matter in the slightest to the story, so I don’t know why they did that retcon. I would’ve re-released a remastered D1 including that little retelling, but that’s just me). Of course, we could include the Archer and Sorcerer, as they end up as minor, and I do mean pathetically minor, villains in the sequel.

No such luck for the D2 cast, they were discarded like cheap toys. Hell, at one point, the D3 Barbarian was going to be the D2 one, to give some sense of continuity, but the idea was scrapped.

D3 actually adds a lot in the form of character relevance, with those little parchment-drawing mini-cinematics at the end of each major scene (in Theater, an Act is divided into one or more scenes). During each cinematic, the character speaks a bit about what’s happened and what they’ve done, as if you weren’t present when you did it. It’s a move in the right direction, but the fact they’re merely narrating what you’ve just played gets annoying after a while. Sometimes they just speak their minds and give you a glimpse into their thoughts and insights, but mostly it’s the play by play.

The story is weak to be honest. Sure, Diablo’s story, even though I thoroughly enjoy it, has never been too deep, unless you count the Sin War novels, which are pretty cool and have, surprisingly, a lot to do with the plot (Nephalem to be precise). D1’s story can’t be simpler: evil takes over town, must go smite evil in the depths of it. D2’s, for all its worship, is even simpler: let’s go after the Dark Wanderer. That’s it. Even including Mephisto and Baal, for the first four acts aka “the main game” you’re just chasing after a dude with more fervor than a tax collector. Wanna guess what happens in Act V? I know the suspense is killing you, so I’ll tell you: you chase after Baal with even more fervor. Diablo’s dead, so his brother has to pay for the taxes. After him!!

Then came D3, where they keep you in the dark for most of the first act, even though all but the monster and boss roster is predictable as hell, even more if you, like me, read The Book of Cain. With the first act completed and the Holy Michael Clarke Duncan at your side and Cain having blown up (which I was cool with, the old man deserved a rest after three games of being rescued from danger), you move on to the Desert stage, because Diablo is like Mario Bros., there’s a clearly defined set of stages, climates and geography to be used and abused.

Sidebar 2: I’ve heard complaints about the way Cain died. How did you expect him to go? In a blaze of glory? No, he was a freaking scholar, doing the horadric-cube-fullmetal-alchemist thing was the only card in his arsenal. So he used it, and after that went kaplooie, as an octogenarian just having been tortured with magic (albeit butterfly magic) should. If he was to go, there was no other way, he had to simply die, no final desperate rush against the forces of darkness, just a few kind words, a bit of unneeded advice, clapping his hands and transmuting Tyrael’s sword. It’s a step up from his role in D2, where it was pretty much “Shut up Cain and identify these items!”

On Act 2, you begin hunting for the most pathetic villain out there, Magda, the butterfly witch…that doesn’t really sound intimidating, and she isn’t. Then again, she’s not really a villain; she’s a Minion, so maybe she’s just pathetic enough. Then you start going after the real villain, Belial, the Lord of Lies with the worst Poker Face. Also there’s Zoltun Khule, a man whose last name rhymes with Cool, and who’s anything but. A friend of mine said he’d have loved to see Khule as an ally, instead of predictably betraying you and trying to kill you only to have his ass handed to him on a platter. I agree, not only because having a snarky ghostly NPC in town would have been awesome, but it would’ve opened a lot of possibilities for expansion material. In this act you’re introduced to D3s MacGuffin, the Black Soulstone (queue shocking music!), which you’ll spend the rest of the game charging like a cheap battery. Oh yeah, you also meet Adriah, who’s totally not evil.

Yeah, right! I knew she was crooked from the moment her voice actress first uttered a single line. Instead of making her sweet, nice, caring and even protective of her daughter, she’s dark, brooding, harsh, and pushes her daughter to the brink of death on more than one occasion, making her reveal not that surprising, because you’ve already been thinking “I wanna kill this bitch, she’s Evil!” for quite a while.

Bad storytelling decisions.

I know it’s not common in Diablo and in fact it never fucking happens, but EVIL CAN BE SUBTLE. If she’d been just a bit more subtle, maybe dropping a hint or two in those exposition moments you get when you click on topics over their head, but being “nice” the rest of the time, maybe the character would’ve worked a lot better.

After that brilliant confrontation with the “master of deceit” with more tells than a virgin at the AVN Expo, you move on to Arreat, the massive area where your search for Baal’s taxes took place in D2; only the map’s been significantly reduced…well, it’s not that to be honest, just instead of starting in the Barbarian town from D2, you start in the most redundant place of all, Bastion Keep Fortress (I will give Blizzard the benefit of the doubt here, they’re widely known for doing this crap on purpose), located, like the School in Buffy, right next to the Hellmouth. So, the trek isn’t that long, it’s more of a walk in the park (more on that later). In this act you go for the final soul for your Blacklight Battery, Azmodan, lord of unnecessary taunting and exposition. I don’t know, but isn’t “Keeping your fucking mouth shut!” a first in strategy, especially when it comes to your plans and their weak points?

In the Book of Cain, they say all Seven Evils are actually close in power; the hierarchy of Greater and Lesser has nothing to do with brawn. So it has to be brains, the Lesser ones not having any.

Finally, once you kill the prick and shut him up, you get predictably betrayed by the Evil Bitch and Leah, like many characters before her, and just like her dear old dad, completing the circle in a nice tidy way, becomes Diablo and in the most badass cinematic yet, storms Heaven and humiliates the angel Impertinentius worse than actresses in Japanese porn. So of course, it’s up to you and the Emo-until-peptalk Holy Michael Clarke Duncan to stop Diablo in between rescuing pretty much everyone in heaven and proving once again in Diablo history that Angels are worthless.

Sidebar 3: Tyrael should only hope to be as awesome as Michael Clarke Duncan!!!

You kill diablo, bye bye, and you see Holy MCD stepping up to become the Mortal Seat of Wisdom in the Angiris Council. And you? You’ve done your part, go home and do it all again in Nightmare. Speaking of which, I’m pretty sure that’s what the other difficulties are, Nightmare mode is actually a nightmare the character’s trapped in, his traumatized mind making all seem that much harder. With Hell difficulty, he dies and goes to hell, because no character in Diablo is actually good, and is forced to relive his “adventures” again, but with massive difficulty this time. As for Inferno, I did say Blizzard did the redundant crap on purpose, didn’t I? For the sake of this argument, let’s say Inferno = Tartarus and be done with it.

I’ve heard people complain that Angels are never fully explained and either seem like cardboard cut-outs or simply incomprehensible. I will say this: THAT’S THE POINT. Angels aren’t meant to be understood. Demons are pretty closely tied to human emotions and sin, so we get them, but angels are physical manifestations of virtues, completely pure and incredibly ALIEN. Hell, Tyrael had to become Human for us to understand what goes through his head (which is to say, not much), and even he has trouble figuring out why Impertinentius (real name Imperius, but this one fits him more) is such a dick, and they lived together until a few hours before the beginning of D3.

Another point of bitching I’ve come across is the inclusion of Sin War material, saying that the game should only be based around stuff seen in the games…Why? The novels are canon, why can’t they be used? And hey, everything from the sin war used in the game is thoroughly explained IN THE GAME, with those very helpful notes you keep picking up on the way. They tell you the whole story, well, the clipboard version at least.

As for expansions, Blizzard said there would be a few and I can give you a list of possible storylines:

  • If you see the ending cinematic, where Diablo is dissolving, you’ll notice not all of him goes, there’s a chunk that just falls down. I bet that’s the Soulstone. And if there’s something we’ve learned, is that Soulstones can only be destroyed in Hell’s Forge.
  • The Angiris Council has an Angel of Wisdom, he’s just missing, disappeared after the events of D2. He can still come back and start screwing with everyone. His power is to see all things, there has to be something to that.
  • Impertinentius of course, he’s probably still around, his off-switch moment at the end, doesn’t necessarily mean he’s dead.
  • Adriah, the really not evil witch, is also still around.
  • Going back to the Soulstone thing. The original Prime Evil, Tahamet, from whom the 7 evils sprang from could be brought back. If the falling lump IS the Soulstone, it can fall all the way to Hell. According to the cosmology, each of Tahamet’s heads formed one of the Great  Evils, and his body became Hell. If the Soulstone reaches Hell and the souls in it fuse with “the body”, you can get Tahamet again, making it the most epic Boss fight in all of Diablo. Tahamet is pretty much a massive dragon that makes Deathwing from WoW look like a gecko.
  • Any of the D2 cast can come back to be a pain in the ass. It happened with the Warrior, The Summoner and Blood Raven, it can happen to the rest. I personally want to see the Paladin come back. He’s a Zakarum Paladin, a religion you crush during D2. It should be interesting to see what’s become of him.

Now on to the meat of the subject.

GAMEPLAY!

Diablo 3 handles like any and all isometric action RPGs. You click, they move, you click, they attack, you click, they cast spells, you click, they die. That’s it; it’s a whole lot of clicking. Well, clicking and pressing buttons 1-4 on your keyboard, but that’s it.

Fortunately, there’s a lot involved in the clicking, like the skills and the systems and whatever else I can pull out of my ass to extend this article a couple of pages more.

From D2 to D3, skill trees went out the window and we ended up with an equal-opportunity skill system. Everyone has access to everything, so no more crappy builds because of a badly spent skill point. Same with the stats, no more caster with 90 Strength (which I totally did in D2, with my necromancer having a Maul and a Gothic Plate Armor. I kicked ass and looked awesome doing it!). Well, it’s still possible, just a little harder as the stats are now tied to classes. Strength for the Barbarian is not the same as Strength for the Witch Doctor, which I have to say, on a first glance, is beyond stupid; but considering the fact “basic attack” is gone and everything is tied to Powers like D&D 4th edition, it makes more sense. Stats have a base function, like the aforementioned Strength providing +1 armor for each point, but have now a particular purpose for each class.

Your stats are, like in WoW, ruled by your gear, which means the loot is much more complex than it was in D2. In that game, it was mostly damage, protection and a few special effects, like +X on Y Skill, with the core of your character being your Stat & Skill choices. Now the gear carries the Stats themselves, and there are a crap ton of stats. About 4 primary, but secondary, wheew, too many to count, even more than in WoW, and that’s saying a lot. Even Thorns, that property in items that made you squeal like a schoolgirl in D2 (at least it did for me) is listed as a secondary stat in D3, but considering everything’s tied to items now, maybe it’s the same.

As for the skills, some are good, a few are worthless, but that’s normal in all RPGs. My problem comes in with the runes, which are supposed to vary how the skill works, but instead of each being perfectly suited for a given situation, making the swap of runes something if not necessary at least worthwhile; you’ll probably pick 1 rune for each skill and never change it again, unless it’s nerfed in a patch. I also have an issue with runes unlocking per level, as it doesn’t give you any freedom in how you play your character, you have to wait and stay quiet until it’s your turn to get the nice rune. With all the accusations of Diablo 3 being WoW inspired, I’m surprised D3 didn’t implement runes like the WoW Glyphs, where you get them, i.e., make them or buy them, and bind them to your character, changing how a skill or other works and being completely swappable. I’d have gone for that one, make runes optional stuff, something you can get as quest rewards or as a recipe for your blacksmith or even bought from an NPC, and then you can have them to use as you please. As for the choice of runes, I’d have made runes give you a pro and a con, bonus with drawback, like most of the WoW glyphs work. X skill now does 20% more, but lasts half the time, for example.

Originally there were going to be Skill Rune Words in the game…I grieve for that cut from the final version.

Gems make a comeback, but like most stuff in D3, like the skill system, it’s much more simplified, even though there are many more “levels” for gem quality, from 5 in D2 to 14 in D3. There are also a lot less gems types, which isn’t bad (and for the record, the SKULL in D2, isn’t a gem, even if the game listed it as such).

As for the characters, each has their own “power source”, which reminds me a lot of D&D 4th, and I hate 4th. Monks get spirit, Barbarians get Fury, Demon Hunters are unique in having 2 sources, one for each type of skill, and can someone please tell me what fucking difference there is between Arcane Power and Mana. It’s the same thing.

They’re not completely unique, they don’t all work differently from each other, but then again, the gameplay is simple, you can’t make the power sources complex.

Potions make a return, but only the health ones, the Mana potion processing plant broke down when Mount Arreat blew up; and now potions have a cooldown period, which is an awesome design decision, it eliminated to potion-chugging of Diablo 2, where as long as your belt held potions and nothing one-shot you, you were golden. If only the difficulty was there for potions to be necessary. Normal difficulty is easy as hell, which is different from Hell, I only died a lot because I pretty much always run into the middle of a group and fight my way out (I don’t play hardcore mode for the same reason). You’ll be hanging on to potions for a long long time, only Belial and the mini-bosses on Act 4 will make you drink potions like a bastard, and most of the times, the Health Globes, the most ridiculous thing to appear on Sanctuary, will save the day.

Personally, I’d have made the globes optional. When you start a new game, it should say “do you want health globes to drop like green souls in God of War?” And then you choose no, and play as you should, with potions and nothing else.

Nightmare difficulty ups the challenge to previous games’ Normal difficulty. It’s the price of accessibility, you want to satisfy the casual players then the difficulty drops as well as the systems get simplified. As someone who played D2 as a complete novice, the simplification didn’t come as a bad thing; I just think it might have been oversimplified. Sure, get rid of the stat point choices, nothing wrong with that, but make the skill system more robust and more open to customization, something D3 is lacking in, everything being too cookie cutter, the measly 3 passive skills being the only true point of variety, but then again, until you reach 60, most of them will be locked.

Hell difficulty is where things get interesting and you probably will get your ass kicked if you’re not careful. Especially around those kamikaze-demon-suicide-bombers that show up once in a while and remind you in a very-kaboom way that tunnel-vision and simply charging ahead is going to get you killed.

Sidebar 4: For those of you who complain about those, and say they’re cheap, I can just point you to the Suicide Minions from Act V of your mounted-on-an-altar Diablo 2

Then finally comes where all complaints seem to rain down: Inferno. Inferno is the final difficulty, accessible only to level 60s (I don’t get the point of that difficulty level, but then again, I have trouble finding the desire to go through Nightmare and Hell instead of rolling a new character). It has the hardest bosses and the best loot. Sadly, it requires a crap ton of grinding, a complaint I don’t seem to remember from Diablo 2, where people spent weeks farming the same bosses (Mephisto mostly) for one piece of loot or runes. But now, in D3, grinding is a sin, and how dare they make you grind? Here’s also where the pay-to-win argument comes from, from people saying they have to buy stuff to get ahead. Have you considered that what you bought was farmed by someone else’s grinding? Probably not.

Also, this is where the most idiotic, nonsensical complaint comes into play: End Game, and the lack thereof. People, while it’s true that D3 shares the MMO constant connectivity model (and it’s a pain in the ass), it is not an MMO, you don’t pay for subscription. This is a finite game, you play, you finish it, you move on with your life. There’s no endgame to be had, no reason for you to keep coming back, at least not with the same character. Sadly, Blizzard’s pathetic apology didn’t help matters, they should just have said “people, this isn’t WoW, there’s no endgame. Wait for the expansion and future patches”, which is the truth. Once again I point out I didn’t see these complaints on D2, people played and that was it, the Pandemonium event was a gift from blizzard, not something required.

I think WoW has spoiled people into thinking every Blizzard game should be played ad infinitum (or ad nauseam).

So far, Blizzard has done a lot to fix stuff, as it will always be, there is no game out there that doesn’t have or need a patch or two, or 22 like Diablo 2 had (and that’s not counting the minor patches Battle.net could do without a client update). Patching and fixing and keeping the userbase happy is unavoidable, especially with the rabid Blizzard playerbase, who are never happy and always find fault with something. I’m guessing Blizzard hands out Prozac as part of their Employment Package.

Monster Power, the latest fix, helps with the difficulty problem and Paragon Levels and the Infernal Machine give the rabid animals their vaunted End Game.

But some things will not be fixed, like the skill system complaints I have, but I can live with that, and who knows, maybe in one of the many expansions to come, probably released during our lifetime, we’ll see some fixes on that.

As for the length of the game. It’s shorter, much shorter than D2, but mostly I think it’s because most maps feel cramped. It’s why the 2nd act, while not being that big in itself feels the longest. And if the game didn’t guide you so much and took you by the hand in a “this way to the boss!” kind of way, it would probably help it feel longer. Think about it, Diablo 2’s Act II, Lut Gholein, isn’t that big of an act, but the maps and the tombs are so fantastically huge, it makes it seem eternal. It’s the same with Act V, the Arreat maps are massive.

One final thing: I miss the Horadric Cube, really, I do. I get why it’s not in the game. One of the D2 “heroes” probably has it and let’s face it, Cain doesn’t have the make-believe-stones to go and tell one of them “hey give that back!” But I do miss it.

To summarize: Yep, the story’s weak, but that’s not new to Diablo, a Universe where the backstories are richer and more complex than the games’.

Yep, the game has flaws, it’s oversimplified and too easy, but things are getting fixed.

Is it good? Yes it is. It’s an awesome game. You’ll click most of your life away playing it. Will it have the same longevity as its predecessor? Probably. It’ll take a while for people to become as addicted, but yeah, we’ll see people play it for years to come and just like D2, most of us will install it over and over again over the years to play with our friends online.

Is it a perfect game? Hell no. Is it better than Skyrim? Hell yes! At least the actors have souls, and the cheesiest of Diablo 3’s dialogue is superior to the best of Skyrim dialogue.

Final Sideboard: I have defended Blizzard at a few points, so I’m sure there’s a chance for at least 1 comment of “Blizzard’s paying you”, as there always are. Let me point this out. Look at the number of followers to my blog, do you really think Blizz would pay someone with that little following?

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