Sunday, May 20, 2012

Diablo III: When Storytelling and Gameplay Clash

*Diablo III spoilers ahead*

I just beat Diablo III. As it came out only a few days ago, and I only played it for ~15 hours so far, I definitely thought it went by too quickly.

It seems that Blizzard has designed this game experience to be like the 'high-level play' experience of World of Warcraft. That is to say - repetitive and grinding. To be fair, I have not looked into multiplayer very far, and know nothing about how PvP might work, but all in all, I admit to being disappointed with the end result.

The game itself was certainly fun, and I'm sure I'll continue having fun playing through on the higher level (Nightmare) difficulty. However, they should have given me the option to skip right to it. I didn't want an easy first run. I want to be challenged. Basically, they set up Normal difficulty as the tutorial - sadly, the tutorial happens to run through the entire game.

Had they let me skip the 'beginner' mode, I would have been far more satisfied with the game. It is hard to take the story (which is okay) and the grandiose cutscenes (which are phenomenal) seriously when I am tearing through the most powerful enemies Hell has to offer with a beam of destruction in one hand and a cup of tea in the other. I'm not even sure my wizard bothered to look at the terrible creatures he was annihilating.

One boss battle in the fourth act was especially laughable. I'm standing in the shattered ruins of Heaven itself while Diablo taunts me and tells me his most powerful servant, the Spikey Minion of Doom, lies ahead to stop me. I walk into the next room and said servant taunts me as well as our fight begins.

Spikey Minion died before his taunt had finished. Of course, the game didn't seem to expect this, as his coarse, arrogant voice kept playing even as I began to grab the magic loot off his spikey corpse. That sort of thing kind of detracts from the grandeur of the storyline. How am I supposed to take the fires of Hell seriously when I can snuff them like a match?

Even when playing through on Nightmare, if I decide to do that, won't restore the feel. I already know the story. I've seen everything the game has to offer. If the challenge had gone hand in hand with the discovery of the story itself, I would have been able to immerse myself in the titanic battle for the fate of all creation. As it was, I paid more attention to the magic items hemorrhaging from the holes I blew in the various demons than the demons themselves, even when they had fancy names and dialogue.

Some might say that collecting loot is what Diablo is all about - I'll even say they have a point. The story would have been great if I'd been challenged on my first play through (which is the only play through where story matters!) but oh well. As long as the rest of the gameplay is involving, I can forgive that failing.

Sadly, loot has been 'streamlined' to the point where it, as well, is boring. Magic items are now part of a harvesting system where you are expected to break most of them down for raw materials. That part ain't a big deal - they were common in earlier games too.

More damaging are the laughably named "rare" items, which by my guess drop about once every ten minutes. At first it was exciting to see those little gold names pop up, wondering what strange and powerful relic I had happened upon. By the end of the game they were no more exciting then any other item. Diablo III had managed to take the fun out of collecting loot. Rarity is a big part of the fun. If you remove that, you remove the whole point.

This post has gotten long... but I'm probably not done venting on the subject. I have been a fan of Blizzard since Warcraft (the original). I remember going to the mall for all seven of Starcraft's release dates. Though I quit World of Warcraft I still think it a well-done game.

Diablo III is, in my opinion, Blizzard's first stumble. Still a good game, had it come from any other company. But the bar for Blizzard is very high.

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