Home Editorial Of Heaven and Hell: The Diablo 3 review

It’s no surprise Diablo 3 has been the subject of debate and myriad flame wars across the internet. So few franchises have existed as long as Diablo has, and it’s only natural Blizzard’s teeming fanbase had high expectations of the successor to two of the most popular action-RPGs of all time.

The amount of bickering was unfathomable. Many players had their doubts, while others defended their favorite developer with hyped-up PR claims yet to be proven. And when the day of reckoning came, the forums were alight again, as server issues made final judgment impossible for both camps.

Now that the dust has settled and players (including myself) have gotten to tear through a large portion of the game, two conclusions become immediately apparent.

  1. Diablo 3 is a very good game.
  2. Diablo 3 could have been a much better game.

At almost every turn, perfection is visible, but out of reach. And while certain decisions are understandable (though still regrettable), others remain inscrutably idiotic.

 

The good side of Sanctuary

I’ll begin first by praising Diablo 3’s revised skill system. While I originally had my doubts about how unleveled, slot-based abilities would play out, the net result is that using them is fun. From an early level, your character has access to abilities that are visually, aurally, and spatially interesting. Sure, I would have preferred the option to unlock certain runes at certain levels (instead of a linear progression), but waiting for a particular ability isn’t much different than waiting to spend skill points till level 30 in Diablo 2.

The game’s poorly explained Elective Mode was, unfortunately, necessary for my enjoyment. Without it, character builds were reduced to a Panera-style “pick 6” menu. Yet with the click of a mouse (followed by millions of other, more interesting clicks), I was free to experiment. My Demon Hunter, Bayonetta, could now be a traps-only specialists or even a melee sword-and-shield fighter encased in a whirlwind of knives. Excellent.

Also enjoyable were the game’s environments, which offered a nice mix between claustrophobic and agoraphobic. Almost every stage was dark, forcing players to plunge into potential peril at every juncture. The sounds and music paid nostalgic tribute to both Diablo and Diablo 2, giving longtime players a lot of pleasant cues. The death throes of a Fallen, the drop of a rare ring, and the haunting melody of Old Tristram were among the sounds that sealed the deal. Diablo 3 took advantage of my surround sound beautifully, allowing me to snipe distant monsters without being able to see them.

Finally, many streamlined game elements made the entire experience easier. A shared Stash and shared craftsmen (excluding Hardcore mode) made item transfer quick and painless. New options to hide or display attack damage, loot drops, and other information allowed me to put only the data I needed on-screen at any time. And the de-itemization of Town Portal and Identify spells freed up inventory by removing what were previously two annoying necessities.

 

Putting players in purgatory

Of course, there were many changes made that weren’t so obviously beneficial. The first among them was the nearly universal removal of all player interaction. Sure, players could still join co-op games, but with severe limitations that are several steps back from Diablo 2 (and, in some cases, the original Diablo).

  • Lobbies are limited to four players, instead of eight
  • Lobbies cannot be named, hampering game creators and joiners
  • Players may only trade a tiny number of items at a time
  • Trading between players is pointless due to the auction house
  • Any player can skip dialog/cut scenes without a vote
  • There is no longer in-world PvP, or any PvP for that matter

Are these world-ending complaints? By no means. Yet many of these omissions have killed the spirit of what the Diablo 2 community was. In D2, it was common for players to make games like “Free items for Paladins” or “Let’s kill Big D!!!” or “Looking for FCR rings” or “Quebec players chat.” Playing the game online forced you to meet strangers and, in many cases, get to know them better. That’s basically gone now.

Also gone is the sense of challenge from Diablo and Diablo 2 (though each in their own way). I don’t mean to brag or anything, but as I approach the end of Nightmare mode I find it odd that I have yet to die a single time, ever. Enemies have very few hitpoints compared to my damage per second, and attacks are so greatly telegraphed (at some points even marking the ground for upcoming strikes) that getting hit by the most devastating blows basically requires falling asleep at the keyboard.

Have I seen other players die? Sure, countless times. But it was always due to some needless bravado or a poor decision to fight from a compromised position. I’m not even sure there’s a death penalty, unlike previous games where you were respawned unequipped and helpless. But I wouldn’t know because I felled very rare mob, sub boss, and act boss without any difficulty, only coming close to death once or twice.

Will the game get harder in Hell and Inferno? Undoubtedly. But Blizzard’s failure to murder my digital avatar over the course of dozens of hours is a great disappointment, especially considering I usually had no idea what enemies or scenarios I would face. I had originally planned to play Diablo 3 as Hardcore-only, but so far it appears there isn’t a goddamn difference! Of course, I understand difficulty is subjective, but when I can take down the final boss without using a single potion or healing skill, it’s a tad disappointing.

 

Fallen far from grace

On top of my minor gripes, Diablo 3 reeks of dumbing down in so many ways, it’s saddening. Yes, some changes (as mentioned before) were well intended and well executed, but many omissions and “improvements” have prevented Diablo 3 from having the decade-enduring appeal of its predecessors.

Hit the hardest in the transition from Diablo 2 are the game’s items. You see, in Diablo 2, every item had certain attributes. Really damaging two-handed weapons had insane stat requirements. Spears and polearms were slow, but had huge reach. Javelins and axes traded point-blank efficiency for ranged attacks. Hammers did extra damage to undead foes, and wands improved casters’ abilities. In essence, every weapon had huge pros and cons.

In Diablo 3, all weapons have the same range: either point blank, or infinite. Their attack speed and damage might differ a little, but an overwhelming DPS stat does its best to hide that information from you. Every weapon has 100% accuracy, and there are no requirements other than level and class. Essentially, there is no difference between a dagger that does 50 DPS and an axe that does 50 DPS.

Unique items, which have been renamed Legendary items, are now just as bland. In the original Diablo, unique armor and weapons looked different and offered astonishing trade-offs like powerful buffs at the cost of zero resistances. In Diablo 2, uniques ditched the negative modifiers in favor of truly unique bonuses. The Kuko bow fired free, explosive arrows. The famous Stone of Jordan ring granted enhanced skill levels. And Magefist gloves boosted mana regen while improving Fire Skill damage for any class. You could build an entire character around using them!

Magefist gauntlets are back in Diablo 3, and they are uninspired crap. They now give the same kind of Intelligence boost available on all armor. There are no unique attributes that inspire character builds or careful calculation. The second you get gloves with a better Intelligence or IAS bonus, you’ll ditch your Magefists. Across the board, the same is true of all of Diablo 3’s “Legendary” items. They’re boring stat machines that won’t change how you use your character or what he/she is capable of. In most cases, they’re actually worse than the items you’re already wearing.

The game’s mood also took a few inexcusable blows, thanks to terrible writing, uninspired character design, and terrible, terrible writing. I can’t underscore just how poorly Diablo 3 is plotted, with cookie cutter villains cracking the kind of one-lines you used to hear on Power Rangers in the ’90s.* With heroes that spout out meaningless insults at hell-worms they’ve slain. With supporting characters whose lines make me want to punch my headphones into pieces. With plot points that couldn’t be more foreshadowed unless the characters just flat-out held the script up to the screen. Don’t get me wrong – Diablo and Diablo 2 weren’t masterpieces, which is probably why Blizzard retconned their entire plots to create this iteration’s core conflict.

As previously stated, I’m not a big fan of the character classes. For instance, the Demon Hunter is fun to play, but she’s essentially Bayonetta (including the accent, the high heels, and the insults). Her outfit is a sad amalgam of “post-Warcraft Blizzard fashion” that includes low-poly boots and huge shoulder guards. And her entire concept makes no sense – how can she be considered a demon hunter when every character in the game spends their waking hours hunting demons?

Finally, the game’s online-only architecture is a clear loss for the consumer. Whether you experienced connection issues or not, the fact of the matter is that millions of players who paid $60 did not receive the product/service they paid for on time. If movie-goers were told at showtime that the film would be delayed for maintenance for three hours, they’d probably be furious, and justifiably so. Setting aside time to enjoy media is a big commitment to many players with busy schedules. It’s ironic that Diablo 3 says it needs a constant internet connection, yet apparently that requirement is infrequently met on the server side.

Additionally, Blizzard’s decision to excise the offline single player from Diablo 3 means gamers with spotty internet connections (including military personnel overseas, residents of remote areas, and constant commuters) have no way to reliably enjoy this adventure. There are no mods, no LAN play, and no way to play lag-free in any circumstances. While Blizzard claims these changes are to stifle piracy and hacking, I’m more likely to believe they were intended to boost sales on the Real Money Auction House.

 

A great action game, a middling Diablo game

Blizzard aimed to make Diablo 3 an accessible action game. In that, they succeeded. Diablo 3 has all the addictive hack-and-slash fun of its predecessors, plus an improved combat system.

What it doesn’t have, however, is soul. The community that existed in Diablo 2, love it or hate it, simply won’t exist in Diablo 3. The game doesn’t lend itself well to customization. Blizzard has argued this would be handled by items, but the items in D3 are actually less interesting than the ones in the rest of the franchise. The story has the emotional depth of a WB teen drama, with cringe-inducing reveals and laughable, terrible dialog.

Up until at least halfway through the game (that being after the entire Normal campaign), there is no difficulty or sense of danger. Enemies are straightforward and weak, having little effect against auction house-geared heroes. And the fabled Inferno mode Blizzard claimed would take “months to beat”? Some guy in the Netherlands soloed it less than a week after launch.

Will you enjoy Diablo 3? Probably, I know I have. But five years from now, I won’t be playing Diablo 3 the way I grinded through Lord of Destruction ad nauseum. I won’t be searching for build-inspiring uniques or high runes. I won’t be feeling the adrenaline rush of a hostile player coming into my hardcore adventure. And I sure as hell won’t be turning up the dialog volume. Ever.

 

 

* The evil witch in Act 1 actually has the same stupid hairdo as Rita Repulsa for fuck’s sake.

36 replies to this post
  1. The incredible customization of your characters in D2, whether through items or skills, is why I loved it so much. The lack of weapon variety sounds terrible. Just last night, I was playing D2 with a friend and we were in search of a faster weapon speed for his Zealot. I still need to play D3, but I think the absence of that aspect of the game will greatly hinder the experience.

    The D2 experience was only complete after the release of LoD. The original D2 was pretty simple too. Synergies, Runewords, and more only came through the expansion. Hopefully Blizzard will release an expansion or patches in the future to open the game up to more options in customization.

  2. I agree with you in the postive feedback, and I’m sure a lot of the complains and “flaws” as you put them, could be adressed in further patches. Regarding dificulty i wouldn’t know about the demon hunter, but i agree with you that normal and inferno are a piece of cake, comparing to diablo 2 i mean. In diablo 2 i find myself dying lots of times… lots lots lots of times… in normal and in nightmare as well. Now in D3 i’m rampagin trough NM with my monk without even a scracth, Diablo on normal was a piece of cake, it didn’t even cut to the half of my HP.
    I suppose this changes were ment for people less experienced on diablo games (i’m not saying i am a master, i’m far from it). So the game could be accessible to a wider audience.
    Example i joined a public game, in NM, one guy was playing with the monk level 34 (i was level 32), he did lot less damage than i did and had lot less HP than me, he had 1.4k and i had 4.5k HP, we fought the skeleton king and he died almost instantly. Thus i keep spamming and healing and eventually killed him. So ye the game ment to be accessible, in exchange for that they punish more skilled players that want more of a bigger challenge early in the game.
    But of course there’s hell and inferno dificulty, i might have to give that a try.

    • Question about the higher difficulty levels. In D2, the thing that made Hell so hard were the immunities. Not the bosses, but the regular mobs that were immune to entire schools of magic or damage. My lightning amazon doesn’t get fazed at all but the bosses in Hell, but the lightning immune trash mobs send her running.

      Is there anything like that in D3?

      • i haven’t crossed to something like that, i’m still playing NM. So i wouldn’t know, maybe in Hell dificulty we’ll se something like that.

  3. Oh ye they have a penalty for dying (i think i died twice so far) that is ridiculous…. they only decrease the durability from your armor like a 20% i think (correct me if i’m wrong), in diablo2 you were forced to TRY NOT TO DIE, cuz if you DIED, you had to go all the way and try to get all your items back…. so ye i miss that also from diablo2, it makes the game lot more challenging. But then again you rarely die in normal mode on D3.

  4. Holy shit where did u find the patience and willpower to write this much??!! And also, u know shit about Diablo in general roflmao

      • too bad you shouldn’t be a write, ESPECIALLY a game writer, because you suck terribly. Although I guess all the other terribad’s out there can read your shitty drivel and feel better about themselves, as you so evidently do (“dude i played in NIGHTMARE mode… SO TUFF”). Seriously, every Game site I go on, the pathetic Staff are the most untalented writers, and even worse, none of them are actually good at games at all, and always just rate Big name games high, so you think you are getting more “gamer street cred” by knowing all the mainstream popular names and terms. This shit is so fucking stupid how much mainstream idiots try and act like theyre GAMERZ now because its supposedly cool. However, you all have no talent, and should go back to Modern Warfare, if you can even do good in that shitty game…

  5. The trade screen is limited to the size of the player’s “backpack” since items now take up less space than in D2, it seems to me that you can trade about the same as you could then.

  6. This is the best game EVER created. Sure, it has always-online draconian DRM, no LAN support, cartoon graphics, dumbed down character customization and basically looks like WoW lite. But that’s irrelevant. What’s most important is the fact that a AAA Diablo game in 2012 is launching with no PVP and a pay2win auction house that Activision gets money from and all the retarded brand loyal Blizzdrones will gobble it up. It doesn’t matter that there are other FREE games coming out that are BETTER than Diablo 3.

    I’m still buying it, tho.

  7. Ok just so I get this straight:
    Theres no offline mode nor LAN, in favor of an always-online-DRM bullshit that many people knew about and STILL BOUGHT THE GAME, and then Blizzard decided it would be a good idea to cut back on all the perks of online play, such as group sizes, game management and the likes?

    Seriously?

    2 friends of mine already stopped playing for good and promised themselves to never buy a Blizzard product again. They said the lack of “cool drops” and the low difficulty level really set them off.

    @WiNG: Maybe you didn’t die yet, because messing around in elective mode gives you a leg up? Maybe they balanced the game around the preset characters and going all out on certain skill chains and builds just breaks it! In which case, GOOD JOB!

  8. Firstly, a very well written review.
    Secondly, I agree with much of your review. I both like and dislike the new skill system. It’s not as complicated or intricate as D2, but at least you don’t put 20+ hours into a character and realize it sucks and you can’t take back any of your poor choices. I love my monk and like the fact that I don’t need to sit and ponder every skill point I use. I’m free to just play and have fun!
    Finally, I also don’t like that they removed so much customization for items! No sapphires? Really? No cold damage that you can adjust? Sucks. Only like five sets? Then again I never got an entire set in D2 either. I like the auction house to get items, but I don’t like how item stats don’t always make sense. A maul that increases your intelligence? Maybe it will give you the insight to simply be a wizard and electocute the shit out of the demon hordes…

  9. I’m gonna have to be that one guy here and say you should all get Torchlight 2 when it comes out! Been playing the beta, and its good stuff. If you’re a ARPG fa,n simply pick veteran difficulty and you have a legitimate challenge, I’ve played maybe 4 hours and I’ve died numerous times. Though I suppose its because I keep joining higher level zones… Nonetheless!

  10. I been thinking whether to buy Diablo 3 for a quite awhile now. After reading how it isnt really all that great, I think wouldnt buy it.

    Thanks for the insightful review :D

  11. 95% of this article is just nitpicking. I’m starting to think that you thoroughly enjoy finding any petty reason to hate on Diablo 3 while acknowledging that Diablo 2 was a perfect, 10/10 game (which it wasn’t).

    There is plenty of room for improvements in Diablo 3, but please don’t sit here and feed us this BS that you call ‘critiquing’.

  12. Very good review WiNG, I can agree with every single point you made, except for the comparisions with Diablo 2, because I didn’t play that one.

    The thing that annoys me the most, is the voice of the female monk I am playing… That russian accent is annoying as hell (no offense to russians in general)

  13. I agree with a bit of this article, however, I am going to say something about your idea that the game is too easy. You say this, while you haven’t even beaten NIGHTMARE mode yet, which while it does a lot to make a person FEEL like a badass with it’s name, it can actually be understood more that in Diablo 3 Normal= easy nightmare=normal hell=hard inferno=very, very hard (actually impossible if not playing exact certain Skills, equipment, resistances, etc) So for this AMAZINGLY TALENTED AWESOME GAMER REVIEWER (sarcasm) to try and talk about how badass they are and how easy the game is (calling normal mode HALF the game is absurd LAWL), just shows even more how completely UP IT’S OWN ASS VIDEO GAME JOURNALISM IS. Seriously, you (OP) and the other noobasses in the comments “DURR GAME IS TOO EASY IM LVL 32 AND HAVEN’T DIED” Just you wait until you are in INFERNO mode and mobs can have up to 7 AFFIX abilities (stuff like Invulnerable Minions, Shielding, Poison, Arcane, Desecrator, Fast and Vortex… all in the same mobs) and you can get hit for 20,000+ damage in a single hit if not geared correctly. LOL whatever, keep playing obviously extremely low difficulty content, and bragging too other tards together about how LEET you are…

  14. I played Diablo and Diablo II to death and I’m not having much fun with Diablo II it seems like you could play it with your eyes shut and still come out on top. There is no mystery, sense of adventure or fear of death. You simply don’t have to plan as much because you don’t run out of ammo or stamina for instance. It’s blind clicking through.

  15. […] Right around now, fans of the recently-deceased Diablo series are probably getting anxious. Diablo 3′s long-hyped, long-overdue, and long-promised PvP was recently canceled, leaving fans of mouse-clicking without the new content they had been waiting for. If only there were another action/RPG available to help satisfy their jitters-inducing cravings for fighting, exp, and loot. It turns out there is: Path of Exile, a crowd-sourced masterpiece that captures the classic Diablo 2 feel without the not-so-classic Diablo 3 feel. […]

  16. Nice review. I suggest you could make a new review now to see what things were fixed or remade by the blizzard team. The game is slowly turning to be better and better..

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