I don't think I can think of another game that has delivered the combination of highs and lows that Diablo III's present me with. It's been like a drug-fuelled road-trip to hell, something you'd see in a bio-pic about Hunter S. Thompson. I've experienced transcendental highs of gaming, and, mere moments later, the kind of crushing comedowns that would normally see one hospitalised or slammed straight back onto medication.
Damn you Blizzard. You give me a great buzz, and then harsh the fuck out of it.
Polsihed - nicely polished...
Let's riff, to start with, on the good side of Diablo. There's not denying that for such a seemingly simple game, Blizzard certainly took its time in between Lord of Destruction, the Diablo II expansion, and Diablo III. In fact, how do you manage to spend this long on a game that has, effectively, just one mechanic (that is, click on shit until it stops moving and vomits up loot)?
Well, the answer to that lies in the rumour that the game's been technically finished for years, and that it's spent a good portion of the remaining time getting polished to a deep, shiny lustre of addictive gaming. In fact, at its best, I daresay that length of time is entirely justified.
The mechanics may be simple, but Diablo III's skilling process shows a lot of depth. At every level you're unlocking a new skill, a new skill slot, or a new rune to beef up one of those skills. Sometimes this may not involve any real decision-making, like when you get one skill in a new slot - I mean, of course you're going to take it. But even after only a few levels, you really start to feel like you can shape your character in all kinds of interesting ways. This counts double when you start to play co-operatively, and you discover the kinds of synergies you can unlock between classes. I've spent most of my playthrough so far with my Barbarian, accompanied by my partner's Wizard - between the two of us, we can keep a mess of enemies stun-locked, at arm’s length, and always in a world of pain.
When you throw in the expected ultra-wide variety of gear, both general and class-specific, there's almost too much choice. But then, that's part of the fun of the game, coming up with kooky builds like a sword and shield-bearing wizard, or a dual-dagger man-mountain of a barbarian. And this gear drops plentifully enough, and is started adequately enough, that each new combo of sword, armour, and whatever can immediately be felt in its impact on the game.
Blizzard's well known for releasing games that can run on just about anything, but while the graphics of Diablo III are simple, they're still very pretty. The way elements are layered onto a scene is almost painterly, especially when it comes to way the palette of any given region - and there are a lot of them - is coloured. The game sounds great, too, from the music to the voice talent, and the feedback you get in combat means that even when you can barely see the action for blood, magic, and raining loot, you still have a pretty good idea of what's going on.
And man, is this a big - and not in a good way - but.
All of the above is great and all, but in a very fundamental way despite the years of effort, in both balance, coding, and creative work by the Blizzard team, the game's greatness can come drastically and violently undone in mere seconds. Picture the author as a gamer, merrily (hell, gaily!) clicking away with his Hardcore character. He (playing a she, 'cause man, is the male Demon-hunter ugly as all get out) is being careful, because once your Hardcore dies, that's it - no respawns, no access to all the juicy, boosted loot.
So, clicking, but clicking carefully...
Until, without warning, you start rubber-banding, your ping goes through the roof, and through no fault of the author... PERMADEATH, motherfucker. With a character I've no intention of taking online. Alternately picture the author smiling giddily at a really juicy loot drop - a Rare at level 11! - and then having the game disconnect, only to then roll back to the last checkpoint, losing the Rare - and it was for the right class, even!
And all of this can be laid right at Blizzard’s feet, for removing any offline capability. In a very real way, while you might think you own Diablo III and only ever intend to play it what looks like ‘single player’ mode, you do not own your save game, or even your characters. You can’t even control the safety of your last checkpoint, because monsters respawn when you log back on; you can’t even go back to town to log out, because checkpoints only exist in the outside world.
This kind of thing would be bad enough where it the fault of bad judgement or error, but Blizzard knows perfectly well what it’s doing; and I think it’s pretty much a hair’s breadth from being inexcusable.
That said, while I’m loathe to admit it, I do keep coming back to the game, despite every now and then wanting to slap an Epic Fail badge on it. When it works smoothly, it’s a hell of a creation. Just... I’ll have my fingers crossed next time I log on.