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Diablo III

Development and a Day

Few gaming franchises are able to retain the attention of it's fanbase, while the latest franchise iteration percolates in development hell, like Diablo. Diablo III proves that a slow and carefully cooked development cycle can still service up a delectable demonic delicacy. Diablo III (D3) follows the sequel design philosophy of thirds: one third new content and gameplay, one third familiar content and gameplay, and one third improvements and fixes to sub-stellar content and gameplay from prior releases. Apparently, Blizzard also interpreted this design philosophy as the required number of development revisions before finally deciding on a particular game design direction. Now that the ++decadeIncrement By 1, Prior to Reading long development process has completed, and D3 has been thoroughly digested, what are my left-over impressions? More importantly, does Diablo III live up to fan and Blizzard expectations?

Diablo III
Down the glowing blue over-sized rabbit hole we go...

To say that Diablo III has a lot to live up to, is a severe understatement. The majority of contemporary western-developed RPGs borrow, either directly or indirectly, from the Diablo franchise. Diablo II, released over 12 years ago, innovated upon character customization, loot hunting, and cooperative multiplayer RPG elements which have become a standard in modern RPGs. Blizzard's answer to this daunting challenge is to approach D3's design with extreme caution. Gameplay, true to the aforementioned design philosophy, improves upon the major faults of D2's "locked" character development, and separation of offline/online characters. D3 adds an evolutionary and innovative flexible skill-assignment system for dynamic character-builds, and ambitiously incorporates a controversial mandate of an online connection (for single or multiplayer gaming). These presumed major changes, ignoring a bevy of others, still do little to significantly change Diablo's core gameplay formula of kill, loot, customize, and repeat. Instead, Blizzard primarily opts to extract, polish, and perfect the essence of the Diablo franchise, while referencing the wealth of knowledge and experience gained from developing World of Warcraft (WoW), to provide a modernized Diablo experience to a significantly broader global audience.

A Bruise upon the Mood

Plotwise, D3 continues 20 years after the events from D2, and it's Lord of Destruction (LoD) expansion. A meteorite has crashed near New Tristram, resulting in hordes of the undead to emerge. This event has attracted your hero to investigate; thus starting your adventure. D3's story progresses similiarly to how D2's story unfolds, via various in-town NPC conversations and act-to-act CG movie transitions. There is a difference, new to D3, with how the story is primarily delivered. Nearly all of D3's major plot points feature heavily scripted action events (like Deckard Cain's escape sequence from the Skeleton King). Another added delivery method is the discovery of "lore" through new monster encounters, scroll/book/journal pickups, and automated background conversations between your hero and their current travel companion. With the scripted action events, story sequences transpire with as little interruption to the playing experience as possible. These skippable scripted events offer a good counter-balance to the CG movie sequences between each act. Within D2, action-oriented plot points had to either be reserved for the act's cinematic movie, or have had already transpired without being shown to the player. Indeed, D3's heavy use of scripted events has allowed Blizzard to keep the player more involved with the story progression.

Diablo III
The "good guy" voice actors are relatively good. The "bad guy" voice actors are generally bad due to bad writing and plot design.

For players that are more thorough in their exploration, Blizzard rewards these players with hidden/triggered "lore" items/monsters and automated background conversations. When wandering through the world of Sanctuary your character will find various green "lore" items (books, scrolls, journals) on the ground. When these items are picked up the player is rewarded with a small EXP bonus, and narration from the item's owner. A similiar sequence occurs whenever a new enemy type is encountered; which is followed by a narration detailing the lore of the encountered creature. These player-driven discoveries provide an added layer of detail to the mythos of the Diablo franchise. The automated companion conversations offer the same degree of backstory for the interacting characters. As you traverse the many environments of D3, your character (depending on your selected class and sex) will have a different background conversation contingent to the current companion that is with you. These conversations add a significant degree of personality to these characters, without requiring deliberate player interaction. Each of these non-mandatory story elements enhance the main plot of D3, and further flesh out the lore of the Diablo franchise.

However, there are some execution, writing, and voice-acting problems which detracts from this Diablo experience. Some of the scripted events feel campy in their execution, like an under budget B-movie, due to the unnatural animation and an unchanging camera angle. Despite it's ability to zoom in, the singular camera angle presentation emotionally detaches the player from the scripted events. If Blizzard wanted us to feel emotion right alongside these characters, then they need to highlight the expressions on the characters' faces. Another aspect of campyness is the overly dramatic voice-acting. This is mostly apparent when the demons are openly conversing with your character, especially in act two, three, and four. For a bunch of evil hell-born lords of sin, why do they have such cheesy lines? Even Diablo itself is guilty of aweful oratory utterance. There are one-to-many cliche moments in D3 that prevents taking the story seriously. I kid you not, the writers thought that it was a good idea to include the "you and I are not so different" line. Blizzard intended to include some bits of comedy into this game, just like the pop-cultural references litered within WoW. But in the end, you are left with a game that feels less like a Diablo game, and more like a Blizzard game.

Diablo III
The first half of Act I captures the Diablo mood perfectly. Unfortunately, this is the darkest/mature that D3 will ever get.

The Diablo franchise is Blizzard's most dark and mature gaming franchise. Beyond the obvious on-screen violence, the Diablo franchise was morbid, evil, and at times frightening to explore. This was achieved through the quest dialog and light radius lighting system. Unlike the first two Diablo games, D3 removes the ability for a player to increase the lighting around their character. Not only were the first two Diablo games darker in tone, but they were literally darker in environment illumination. This darkness limited the player's visibility around their character. Being unable to see what lurked off in the near distance, certainly enhanced the fright factor. Regretably, D3 is not a frightful game. It lacks the same dark atmosphere and serious tone of it's predecessors. Don't get me wrong, D3 still feels like a Diablo game, but it also looks and feels like a slightly more mature WoW. The first half of "Act 1", and the second half of "Act 4", are the only true redemptions of this. During these instances, D3 is truely a Diablo game. Unfortunately, the remainder of the game doesn't take itself serious enough; which hurts the overall story, it's presentation, and the impressions left on first-timers.

Hurt and Virtue and Physics

The visual art direction of D3 is beautiful, but a little out of place. Just like the aforementioned story and atmosphere, the art of D3 doesn't wholly reflect the dark and sinister presentation of prior Diablo games. D3 is brighter and more vibrant with it's use of colors than prior Diablo games. It is clear that Blizzard's art direction was partly inspired by WoW's focus on graphical performance, versus fidelity, which led to relatively low system requirements. While the game certainly looks amazing, there is room for higher resolution textures and polygon counts. It suffices to say that a darker and more realistic approach to the artwork, along the lines of Dark Souls, would have been more appropriate for a Diablo game. Thankfully the buttery-smooth animation of everything, and I do mean everything, breathes vital life into D3's world. Part of this can be accredited to the physics engine. The physics engine exponentially enhances the impact of every delivered blow to enemies, by calculating collision considerations for the environment layout and structure. The ultra-violent brutality calculated and rendered on-screen will satisfy any player's empowerment fantasies.

For me, experiencing Sanctuary's magically animated and detailed world for the first time felt like the first time I experienced Tallon IV in Metroid Prime. Most of the environments within D3 are litered with lively details like gusted up sands, tiny squishable critters, and epically animated background warfare, which makes Sanctuary feel like a real place. The destructable environments, enhanced by the physics, add significant realism to each Act's area. Unfortunately, not all of the dungeon/level designs share the same lively details as those found in Act I, or the outdoor areas of Act II & Act III. The second half of Act III is a huge disappointment in terms of graphical detail and level design, as compared to it's first half. The biggest missed opportunity with D3's level design is that it hardly explores the added depth that the 3D graphics and gameplay provides. Act III's "sin tower" dungeon would have benefitted greatly from depth exploration, instead of it's alternate map load-out of the next level (lower floor) of the tower. Players want to seamlessly descend/ascend a tower without loading a separate map, because that is how a tower opporates in real life.

Diablo III
Physics + Destructable Environments = Fun Enemy Kills!
Too bad the reward doesn't reflect the effort in skilled execution.

From a level design perspective, the second half of Act III and all of Act IV isn't randomized enough. This makes the process of traversing these areas monotonous after visiting each of it's 1-5 differing layouts for the nth time. Blizzard incorporated randomized events as a partial answer to instances where level layouts cannot be highly randomized. However, the number of randomized events drops as a player pushes through the later acts. Act III and Act IV would have benefitted greatly from additional random events, especially the "sin tower" locations. To Blizzard's credit they opted to increase the frequency of elite enemy encounters in order to provide an ideal end-game farming location. All-in-all, the first half of Act III is D3's most impressive collection graphical moments, while the second half of Act III is D3's worst.

An Enemy Led the Composition

Just as the physics engine enhanced the satisfation of combat, so does D3's audio. In D3 the player will feel the combat, thanks in large part to the audio. The sound that emanates from my monk's fist, as it explodes a demon into a red radial shockwave of guts, punches my eardrums with the full force of the blow itself. It is highly encouraged that the player utilizes a 5.1 (or better) surround sound system, because D3 will take full advantage of it. Without a doubt, Act IV is one of Blizzard's greatest audio achievements. The vicious screams of Act IV's denizens will simultaneously haunt and thrill you. I want to know how many baby pigs Blizzard had to slaughter in order to create such vile screams. A nice finishing touch at the end of an adrenaline inducing bloodbath is the victory cry that echos from your character. "Feel the wrath of Ytar!" indeed...

The environmental sounds in D3 provide all of the subtle cues that one would expect, but do not come close to D2's jungle environment. Some of the environments, like the second half of Act III, could have used additional atmospheric sounds that induce fear and suffering. Something along the lines of the rape and ruin of angels, perhaps? Voice-acting is a mixed bag, which I have already detailed above. The only substantial complaint with D3's audio is it's broken music. Since launch day D3's music cannot be heard through my PC, and at least three other PCs that I have used. None of my tests, which include alternate speaker configurations, in-game volume adjustments, or driver updates, have found a work around to this issue. It is unfortunate that most of my friends and I have to play D3 with it's music disabled, while deferring to a personal music collection. There are some exceptions to this issue like the starting screen music, or the ending credits.

Better to Reign with Gameplay

If you aren't seasoned enough to have experienced Diablo, D2:LoD, or any of the following games: Dungeon Siege, Torchlight, Sacred, Divine Divinity, Baldur's Gate, Bastion, or Dungeon Fighter Online; then an explanation of D3's gameplay is required before I start peeling away D3's gameplay layers. The gameplay of D3 centers around the presentation of the game world through an isometric camera angle. The camera is fixed at this angle, with your character always situated at it's center focus-point. Unlike various simulation and real-time strategy games (Sim City and Total Annihilation) that also utilize an isometric camera view, the player cannot rotate or move D3's camera. In fact, the only control that the player has with the camera is the ability to zoom in or out, for the purpose of getting a closer view of their character. Through this fixed perspective the player retains the tactical combat awareness of RTS games. This allows the player to quickly analyze an active battle engagement along with the environment layout, to decide where their character should be repositioned for optimized survivability and enemy dispatching. The isometric perspective streamlines the action and keeps the player's focus on the combat. This in-turn allows the designers to significantly speed up the combat and increase the active number of engaged enemies; leading to the defining point of this "Action RPG" genre.

Diablo III
The isometric vantage point allows for quick assessment of any combat engagement.
The correct reponse to this engagement is RUN LIKE HELL!!!

With this perspective in mind, an understanding of character control amidst combat, is needed. To move their character the player "clicks" on the terrain, environmental objects, or enemies. Depending on what on-screen object the player "clicked" on, their character will either move to that location or attack/interact with the object in that location. In the case of an enemy, sometimes multiple "clicks" or character attacks are needed to kill a creature. Depending on your character's class, equiped weapon, and their skill assignment to the particular mouse-button that was "clicked", a different means of killing said creature will occur. For example my female witch doctor, named Voodoo, has the skill Poison Dart set to the "left mouse-button". If I were to "left-click" on terrain, Voodoo would shamble over to that terrain location. But, if I were to "left-click" on an enemy, Voodoo would stand her ground and proceed to launch a ranged Poison Dart attack in the direction of the "clicked" enemy. I must then continue to launch poisonous darts across the screen until all nearby enemies have been vaporized. While this is occuring I must actively monitor and manage Voodoo's health and resource pools, to prevent getting into vulnerable combat situations or death.

Diablo III
Just like in real life, if you run out of the red stuff, you die!

In typical Action-RPG games, a "resource pool" (usually known as mana) serves as a secondary meter that the player must manage prior to, and during combat engagements. Typically, this mana pool limits the number of skills that can be used by the player, over a relatively short period of time. Most resource pools, like mana, will regenerate over time, allowing low mana costing skills to become more "spammable" than the higher mana costing skills. This concept of resource management has been an RPG staple since the early D&D (Dungeons & Dragons) days. In D2:LoD, the assassin class included a unique twist on typical resource management systems. In addition to the mana pool the assassin also had to manage another resource known as "combo points". Blizzard took this concept a step further in WoW by creating additional resource management systems, which better suited the play-style of the assigned character class (mana for casters, rage for warriors, energy and combo points for rogues, etc). With D3, each of the five playable classes have their own unique resource management systems. These unique resource management systems further enhance the unique play-style of the D3 classes; further expanding the Diablo franchise, while distinguishing itself from other Action-RPGs.

Each of the five different classes in D3 must manage their respective resource pool in a unique way. Voodoo (witch doctor) utilizes mana. Mana is a slow regenerating resource pool that increases it's maximum available capacity as Voodoo levels up. The benefit with mana is it's large reservior pool. If Voodoo encounters an exceptionally difficult opponent, she has the option to exhaust the entire reserve of mana in order to dispatch this opponent. The obvious drawback to this tactic is the vulnerable out-of-mana (OOM) state that Voodoo would be left in, if the enemy is not defeated. In a perfect world the mana cost for skills would remain the same as Voodoo's mana pool grows with her level. This would provide the player with an expectancy that the current maximum number of skill uses before becoming OOM, would increase by a calculatable amount once their character's mana pool has grown by 'x' points. As a simplified example (ignoring mana regeneration): Voodoo has a maximum mana pool size of 100, while Voodoo's Poison Dart skill requires 10 mana per use. This would grant Voodoo 10 consecutive uses of the Poison Dart skill. If Voodoo were to level up or equip an item that provides 20 additional maximum mana points, then Voodoo should be able to launch a total of 12 Poison Darts. Unfortunately for witch doctors, the mana cost for skills slightly increases as they level up. This makes mana cost calculations difficult to instinctively evaluate from level 1-59. This is the only small unintuitive oddity that I found with the mana system. The other class resource systems employ a more static approach.

Diablo III
DING! The new Paragon leveling system increases replayability after reaching level 60.

For the remaining classes, their unique resource management systems cannot be found in games outside of D3. My male barbarian, named Poundcake, uses a resource management system called "fury", similar to the "rage" system that was designed for WoW. Fury plays to Poundcake's strength in melee, allowing the build up of fury points as he receives incoming attacks. Fury also builds up when Poundcake utilizes fury generating skills like "Bash". Unlike mana, the maximum fury points (100) remains the same between level 1-60, only increasing through skill or equipment allocation. There are numerous fury spending skills available to Poundcake that offer greater benefits for their cost, most noticeable is the significant increase to the amount of damage that would be dealt. When Poundcake is not spilling the blood of his brutilized foes (ie: out of combat), his built up fury will start to subside, until the pool drains empty. Keeping Poundcake engaged in battle satisfies his battle hunger, retains his fury, and maximizes his KPS (kills per second).

Both monk and demon hunter classes have their own collections of resource generator/spender skills. While the wizard substitues generator skills for signature skills that costs no arcane power. A monk utilizes a non-depleting and non-regenerating resource called spirit. Arcane power, utilized by the wizard, is the fastest regenerating resource in the game. Meanwhile, the greedy demon hunter has two separate resource pools called hatred and discipline, which operate independent of each other. The demon hunter's generator skills fill their fast regenerating hatred resource. The demon hunter fuels their spender skills with hatred (for damage-dealing), or the slow regenerate-only discipline resource (for survivability and maneuverability).

Diablo III
The 'elective mode' and 'advanced tooltips' options should have been enabled by default. D3 is more complex with these disabled.

Each of these resource systems change the play-style of the associated class. As a monk, the amount of spirit available after a battle finishes is the same as your starting spirit for the next. A wizard must weave their signature skills with their high-cost high-damage skills for efficient and sustained DPS (damage per second). Finally, with the demon hunter's hatred and discipline, the player must keep battle awareness regarding their position. Since discipline can only be replenished through slow regeneration, discipline spending skills must be used strictly for emergency situations. The uniquity of these resource systems brilliantly define and distinguish each class. These differing play-styles provides a significant appeal for any player to level multiple character classes.

Presents from the Poison-Darted

The greatest pleasure in the Diablo franchise is the random reward of blood-drenched gear that bursts out of the bowels of the recently slain. These presents are the primary purpose for the continued onslaught of demon slaying long after reaching the max level 60. Through this loot system, the player is motivated to push into the harder difficulties (completion of one difficulty leads to the unlocking of the next) with the promise of loot-fever. Beyond the aesthetic changes to a player's character, the quality of a player's equiped gear entirely dictates their ability to push through the Nightmare, Hell, and Inferno difficulties. If a player wanted to hit level 60, which would unlock all of their character's skills, then they must get through to the end of Hell difficulty. Getting to this point does require a good degree of player skill for enemy-kiting and hazard avoidence. However, without the proper gear for improved primary stats, health, armor, and resistences, the player will eventually hit a difficulty spike known as a "brick wall". More so than previous Diablo games, D3 requires an understanding and obedience of it's randomized loot system.

Diablo III
The reward for slaying a Boss or Elite enemy encounter. Stacking more '+gold find' gear allows for awesome 2-3K gold piles.

The dropped loot from enemies, treasures, and broken objects, have differing qualities depending on the item's text coloring; which defines it's rarity. Grey and white colored loot (all discovered items are generically referred to as "loot") indicate that the item is absolute junk. These treasures should get entirely replaced within the first hour of playing a new character. Beyond the first hour, these colors should be ignored for the remainder of them game, as they offer no benefits to your character, or for vending. All other dropped loot provides a certain number of randomized "affixes" for the beneficial properties of the dropped gear. Blue (magical) items will generally have 1-3 affixes, yellow (rare) have 3-6, and orange/green (legendary) have 4-9 along with green's set bonuses. As an example, a blue armor chest piece with 3 affixes could reward the player with +strength, +vitality, and +fire resistance, or, randomized affixes of +life regeneration, +attacker takes damage, and +gold find. The intensity of each individual affixes' value depends on the dropped item's level, with some added randomization to the value's statistical range. If the aforementioned chest piece is a level 20 item, then it's randomized property values will reflect significantly smaller numbers than a level 50 chest piece. There is a huge number of different affix types, when coupled with the intense randomization of these affixes, which add to the uniquity of every dropped gear. Unfortunately, the intense range for each affix's randomized value creates the BIGGEST PROBLEM with D3.

Diablo III
Stacking more '+magic find' gear allows for increasing yellow item drops. But, these will likely get vendered for 1-3K gold.

The problem with the randomized loot system in D3 is with it's over randomization. Specifically, the potential value range for any particular affix is to large. From the above chest piece example, there exists a possibility where all three affix values are at their lowest possible values for their respective ranges. In other games like WoW, there exists a concept known as "item budget". With a hypothetical "item budget", randomized affixes that rolled on the lower end of it's value range would be complimented by an affix that has rolled on the higher end. This would hypotheically keep the item within its balance budget. In D3 there is no balanced "item budget" system. It is highly possible that a level 52 item could offer a better benefit than a level 60 item. Possibilities like the aforemention triple low-rolled affix values, along with the highly randomized affixes, results in a plethora of unrewarded item-farming sessions.

Diablo III
Identifying these rares should be exciting. Instead, the cooldown just makes it tedious since all of these items will likely get vendered.

Time for some arbitrary numbers! For comparison purposes, each item below has rolled the same affixes. In addition, both items share the same item level, which means their potential value ranges are the same. The numbers below are for example purposes only, and do not reflect the in-game results.

Potential item level 60 value range for, Dexterity: 35-120
Potential item level 60 value range for, Vitality: 40-150
Potential item level 60 value range for, Arcane Resistance: 25-50
Potential item level 60 value range for, Life Regeneration: 100-250

Rare Chest Piece at item level 60 (good rolls):
+113 Dex, +138 Vit, +44 Arcane Resist, +233 Regen

Rare Chest Piece at item level 60 (bad rolls):
+42 Dex, +60 Vit, +28 Arcane Resist, +104 Regen

The randomization is not balanced, therefore, loot-farming is not fun.

Diablo III
Randomization like this significantly hurts what should be the funnest part of D3, getting phat loot.
Oh, and that unidentified legendary to the right rolled badly too! So it got salvaged for an achievement.

Each of the bad roll affix values above, could result in an item that has worst overall appeal than a "good roll" chest piece at item level 52. Because of this, at level 60 you will get into the habit of vending 99.9% of the dropped blue items. As for the rare items, those precious yellows, you will quickly realize that only 5% of those dropped are actually worth selling on the auction house. Did you notice how I said auction house, instead of indicating that the item is an upgrade to your gear? The rarity of receiving a good roll item is further hurt by the primary stat value which each class depends on. So, of the 5% yellows that are decent, only 25% of them will have affixes that are meant for your class (ie: strength for Poundcake, intelligence for Voodoo, +Critical Damage% for demon hunters). I recently spent an entire weekend farming all of Act II & III on inferno difficulty, twice, with absolutely no upgrades for my monk. This is a fundamental problem that simply can not be solved by increasing the frequency of dropped yellows, which Blizzard has done multiple times. The inclusion of a paragon system, although an overall welcomed addition, further masks the randomization problem. The lack of a self-regulating item budget system, along with the super randomized affixes, and their value ranges, results in a greater dependence on the implemented auction house system.

Diablo III
Using the Auction House is a requirement in D3. Thankfully it is well implemented.

Blizzard A.H. (So Glad for the Randomness)

As a new edition to the Diablo franchise, Blizzard has included an Auction House system. By utilizing the auction house, a player can easily search for specific upgrades to individual items. The auction house allows a player to search for items that contain up to 6 desired affix properties. In addition to these affixes, the player can dictate the minimum values for each affix. The auction house eases the search for item upgrades, removing as much randomized chance as possible. In fact, it is nearly impossible to make significant progress in D3 without using the auction house. This over-reliance on the auction house hurts the late game loot-finding experience. There is nothing fun about vending 50 yellow items, while hoping that the two or three kept will sell on the auction house. The worst part about this auction house over-reliance, is that Blizzard has less incentive to fixing it.

Diablo III
Blizzard's ROIReturn On Investment for D3 is the Real-Money Auction House.

Along with the buying and selling of auction house items using D3's gold currency, Blizzard has also included a real-money auction house. The real-money auction house offers players an alternate method for acquiring upgraded gear without the need to farm for items or gold. In addition, the real-money auction house offers an incentive for players to farm items with the hopes of selling them for real money. With every transaction on either auction house Blizzard takes a 15% cut of the sale. For the gold auction house this helps to curve inflation. With the real-money auction house Blizzard is profiting 15% of every transaction that occurs. Therefore, Blizzard has a monetized incentive to have players obtain item upgrades from the auction house. By applying the basic economic theory of supply and demand, an increase to the fequency of receiving an appealingnormalizing some of the affix random value ranges item (supply) could lead to lower reliance (demand) on the auction houses. Which would certainly cut into Blizzard's profits.

A Skilled Witch Doctor Lit the Season

The biggest gameplay change from previous Diablo games is the innovative flexible skill assignment system, and the improved controls to support it. Unlike D2 and other RPG character customization systems (ex: Borderlands, Too Human, Dragon Age, Fallout 3, etc), D3 provides a player with flexibility to change their 6 activated and 3 passive skills at any point during their play session. As the player levels their character from 1-30, new skills become available. This allows the player the ability to experiment with each skill, identifying their combat feasibility without wasting any potentially limited resources (ie: Skill Points). Adding further depth to each of the activated skills are the unique rune augmentations that can be applied to them. Each of the 19-22 activated skills, for any particular class, have five different rune augmentations that can be applied. For Voodoo's Poison Dart skill I can assign one of these five runes to further modify it. For example, the Splinters rune decreases the damage that Poison Dart deals, but shoots three darts instead of one. The Spined Dart rune returns a small amount of mana back if the dart hits an enemy. Numbing Dart slows the movement speed of hit enemies, which allows for eased kiting of hard-hitting enemies. These runes start to unlock for your character starting around level 6, and will continue to unlock until reaching level 60.

With every newly gained level in D3, your character is rewarded with new skills and/or runes to experiment with. With every gained level I found myself changing the current load-out of skills; testing the newest addition in order to determine it's feasibility in combat. Sometimes a newly aquired skill or rune is so substantial that you will change your entire play style for the character. Voodoo's initial skill assignment centered around the summoning and sacrificing of Zombie Dogs as her primary method for obliterating foes. By the time Voodoo was nearing the completion of nightmare difficulty, she was a Spirit Barrage and Haunt using Soul Harvester. This freedom to experiment solved a major drawback to D2's skill tree. D2's skill tree system forced a player to focus their skill points on maximizing a small handful of skills to be used throughout the entire game. Also, there was no the ability to change the allocation of these skill points. If a player wanted to change their necromancer from a "summoner" build, to a "bone spear" build, the player had to create and level up another necromancer character. Even comtemporary games (Skyrim) fall into this permanent character customization restriction. Some modern-day RPGs have included the ability for a player to re-specialize their character. With D3, Blizzard designed a skill system that innovates and renovates the industry standard they themselves built 12 years ago.

Thank Blizzard for the Stuttering

The most important feature in the Diablo franchise is it's multiplayer. In D2 up to 8 players were able to join forces against the denizens of hell, or against each other. D2 allowed for LAN based multiplayer, or free online access to Blizzard's servers. Characters created offline could not be taken online, and characters created on remained online-only. For D3 Blizzard incorporated a mandatory online requirement. From the starting screen in D3, akin to Starcraft 2, all players must log into their account. Created characters are only separated between normal and "hardcore" modes. At any point during a single-player play session, the player can invite up to 3 others to immediately join/assist in the action. This streamlined drop-in and drop-op multiplayer is a welcomed result of the always online design decision. For a handful of reasons, however, this online requirement is both a blessing and a curse.

Diablo III
An already tricky encounter has been made worse due to server-side lag. Note that I am in single-player mode.

One of the problems with the always online connection is the frequent stuttering, known as rubber-banding, that randomly occurs. Character rubber-banding is the involuntary short-distance teleportation of your character to a location that was just recently traversed. Rubber-banding is almost always a result of network communication issues, or server-side congestion. When D3 first launched, rubber-banding occured frequently, and in tense combat situations would likely result in character death. Since then, Blizzard has issued numerous fixes to reduce rubber-banding's frequency and mitigate it's effect. However, for slower internet connections rubberbanding may still be an unconquerable foe.

The biggest issue that I have with Blizzard's online design is the reduced player size for multiplayer cooperative sessions. D3 limits multiplayer to just 4 total people in a session. This is a substantial reduction compared to D2's 8 player limit. This design change was likely a result of Blizzard's flirtation with the idea of releasing D3 on gaming consoles. As a result, my regiment of Diablo veterans must leave behind two of our comrades before adventuring. Just knowing that our 6-man team can never play D3 together has hurt our overall morale. The impact is so great that we have only banded together in a 4-player session, once. Because of this limitation, the last thought on our collective minds is to recruit new squad members. With only four party members to adventure with, Blizzard has significantly limited the ability for players to share their D3 experience with each other.

The Enjoyable Elements of Diablo III, which were not discussed above...

Diablo III
Achievements are a nice touch. Blacksmithing could have been too...

Areas where Diablo III could be improved, beyond what was discussed above...

Diablo III
The little to no reward bonus for a 26 kill massacre is disappointing.
Why should I put in the effort for a 40 or 50 kill massacre?

At the End of the Daze

Like the album referenced throughout this review, and the review itself, Diablo III is an overly complex and over-developed game that has failed to live up to fan expectations. Blizzard's decade long development cycle is, in large part, to blame for Diablo III's bloated hype. The longterm success and fan-proclaimed sanctity of Diablo II appears to have instilled fear in the Diablo III development team. The multiple revisions that Diablo III has gone through strongly suggests that the development team lacked confidence in many of their initial design decisions. Because of this weakness, Blizzard has taken a safer design route and cautiously mimicked elements from the franchise's past. The end result is Blizzard's failure to abide by the sequel game design philosophy of thirds. A more accurate design philosophy for Diablo III would involve three fifths familiar content and gameplay, one fifth improvements and fixes to sub-stellar content and gameplay, and one fifth new content and gameplay. I can understand why fans of past Diablo games want more, instead of: more of the same.

For all those whom have never experienced a Diablo-style game before, Diablo III will WOW you in the first 15 minutes of playing. Diablo III continues it's WOW factor straight through the 15-20 hour completion of normal difficulty. The entertainment quality of Diablo III's first 15-20 hour playthrough is well worth it's $60 price of admission. Realistically, almost anyone who picks up Diablo III will likely be entertained for far longer than this. To this end, I can find no better modern PC game to recommend, for gamers of any type, than Diablo III. Especially gamers that want an equally entertaining multiplayer experience.

Diablo III is not a perfect game. There are many gameplay features and (some) bugs, like blacksmithing and music, which needs to be addressed. However, Blizzard's long history of continuous patching, rebalancing, and new gameplay enhancements (ie: D2's synergy) should be taken into consideration when quantifying Diablo III. Just over three months after it's release, Blizzard included new gameplay features like the Paragon system, which, alongside balancing changes, has already improved the longterm quality of Diablo III. Even the overly randomized loot system that I identified as a significant issue up above, could be rectified with a patch. It is inevitable that Diablo III will mature into a significantly better game than it's initial release. Because, above all other things, aside from money, Blizzard passionately cares about each of their franchises, and Blizzard certainly cares about the opinions of their customers/fans.

Review Scoring System: 64-bit
Class MemberBit AllocationBit SignificanceValue
Gameplay1 bits2^631 out of 1
Multiplayer4 bits2^5910 out of 15
Control3 bits2^567 out of 7
Innovation4 bits2^529 out of 15
Value6 bits2^4655 out of 63
Graphics12 bits2^343604 out of 4095
Audio16 bits2^1858,982 out of 65,535
Story18 bits2^0157,285 out of 262,143
Total0xD79D F853 999A 6665
(In Base 10)15,536,847,327,441,086,053
Out of18,446,744,073,709,551,615
Potential Achieved84.2254%
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