Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Diablo III Is Fun But Nothing New

Posted By on Tue, Jun 12, 2012 at 1:04 PM

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Sometimes you run into that song or movie or television show that is merely a retelling or new rendition of an older theme. Gaming is notorious for that as well. If a game has some success you can bet there will be half a-dozen new games produced to try to emulate that formula.

Diablo and Diablo II inspired a wide variety of dungeon-crawl wannabes that tried to imitate Blizzard's franchise success and siphon off it. Most paled by comparison, though there were a few that were decent enough to hang in there.

Diablo II was released 12 years ago. In the interim, rumors about D3 ran rampant. Would it happen? Was it going to be an MMO?

The quick answers to those questions are yes, it happened, and it's sort of an MMO—you have to have an online connection to battle.net to play the game. You can play solo but if you need help with a boss you can open up your game and allow other community members to drop in. As for the rest of it …

For those who remember Diablo and Diablo II, D3 is the same game. Sort of. Graphics have been updated, the story has some changes but, by and large, this is the same point-and-click dungeon crawl that the previous Diablo games were. The old-school charm is back, the hack'n'slash can be entertaining, but the constant click, click, click for movement and targeting can get a tad wearing.

Even still, the game got quite a few smiles out of me simply because of the sheer destructive force of the characters and resulting animations that are the stock of a Diablo game. More than once, when an enemy was ripped asunder, there was a wide-eyed exclamation followed by a jaw drop and then laughter. Sounds kind of creepy, I know.

Want an example? A barbarian wanders through the wastes, the fog-of-war (that slightly irritating effect that stops players from seeing the whole mapboard until they have actually gone there) slowly lifts but a variety of monsters (otherwise known as "mobs") materialize and attempt to bring the quest to a crashing halt. The barbarian leaps into battle, his or her battle axe blazing and separating flesh from bone as enemies rag-doll it across the landscape with ribcages and other body parts spinning far from where the body lands. Blood splatters, some cheesy catch-phrase follows, loot is collected and it is on to the next group of mobs or into the dungeon where there is the quest item and more loot to gain.

Loot comes in a couple of flavors. There are the colored drops, which delineate valuable items, and there are the gray drops, which are vendor trash (stuff whose only worth is selling them to the town vendors for coin). The colored drops can be transmuted by the blacksmith into resources for crafting, or stored in the player stash to be made available to other created characters or sold through the auction house.

What else is relatively new? Skill sets have been refined so players can fine-tune characters as they work up. As mentioned, the graphics have been updated to look smooth on higher-resolution machines, though the point of view is the same as previous Diablo incarnations. Still, the look of the game is broody, moody and enjoyable. The character classes (there is now a barbarian, demon hunter, monk, witch doctor and wizard) are diverse and rather fun to play. It's nice to see old non-playable characters, like Deckard Cain, back in the game to guide players to quests.

In spite of a familiarity that can be welcoming, one aspect that's detracting is that this feels like a been-there, done-that, got-the-T-shirt rehash of the first Diablo and D2. Character creation is weak and the player interface is all point and click, which is old school but not necessarily fun school. Due to the volume of players on battle.net, lag seems to be an issue at times. The game also makes it clear—no cow level (though there has to be some sort of Easter egg tucked away in there).

So, is this a pass or a play game? Let's put it this way: Hours upon hours upon hours were devoted to D2 but that may not be the case with D3. It feels like an extension of the license with the same general look, same user interface and mechanics, and is, essentially, the same hack'n'slash dungeon crawl. One would think that all of that adds up to a "pass" when it comes to this game, but not really. For those who have not experienced an old-school dungeon crawl, D3 should be quite entertaining. For those who have had experience with previous Diablo games, this feels like an old friend come to visit. Yes, it's fun, but maybe not quite the time sink the previous games were.

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