I Sense a Soul In Search of Answers… (Bidula’s Last Word – Diablo III)

As a cheap-ass gamer, I typically don’t buy anything upon release.

Lately, I’ve been thriving on backlogged titles picked up during the big sales on Steam or the rare used or borrowed Xbox game.  I have become exceedingly good at this, even going so far as to mooch a login so I could mess around with Minecraft in single player just for something to do (thanks, Janna).

There were three games for which I knew I would pay full retail within 2012: Mass Effect 3, Diablo III, and Bioshock: Infinite.  Now that one of those titles has been pushed back to 2013, I suppose I’ve hit my quota.  Or, I’ve got room to fit one more retail release into my budget before the year is out.  Either way, my main purchases are already done.

I knew that picking up Diablo III would certainly not be a waste of money.  If it was anything like its predecessors, I was looking at a game I would be playing hardcore for the next three months minimum, but probably off-and-on for at least a year before putting it down for a while and picking it up again six months later for another fresh playthrough.

I was not wrong.  Stay a while and listen.

Yes, this is a game I’m going to be playing for a very long time.  With a unique experience within all five classes and, of course, the ever-random maps, ever-random drops, and sporadically occurring events, it will take some time to become truly bored.

The big question which was on everyone’s mind when this was first announced was: “Is DIII going to live up to its predecessors?”  Most notably, the question was would it live up to Diablo II, which persevered within the gamer underground long after its sell-by date.

I think it has the potential to do so, however, DIII is a much more controlled experience.  Blizzard, gleaning a bit from that small-time indie MMO of theirs which is still underground and never really met with much success, has tightened the reins on this iteration of their franchise.  They have also used their MMO experience to help determine what works and what doesn’t in a good game, resulting in a list of pros and cons as long as Deckard Cain’s beard.

Firstly, Blizzard has found the sweet spot in their financial game: Expansion Packs.  WoW, over three (soon to be four, I understand) different retail expansions has taught them how to use choke points to limit progress while still keeping the player base challenged and interested.  Sure, there are level caps, but then there are achievements, tiers of armor, honor points, faction credit, heroic dungeons, 40-man raids… things like this keep a hardcore gamer interested without making more than a few simple changes to the game.  They can prove their l33t-ness without actually seeing an increase in their level.

While DIII sheds much of the MMO aspect (notably opting to drop the first “M” and just go with “MO”), it retains a lot of the tricks.  There is a level cap.  There are increasing levels of difficulty (added to give that end-game challenge).  There are, within each class, different play styles though they don’t resemble the ones in DII or WoW in the sense that you’re not limited to one specialization within a three skill tree system.  Your spec can change at any moment.  You can drag and drop abilities into your hotbar at will.  You don’t need to spend time planning how to build you character, you can do so on the fly and change it at will.  There are no more skill points, no more attribute points… instead, everything simply unlocks at certain levels and your gear can help flesh out the rest.

I’ve heard some complaints that this system is simplified.  Duly noted, however, you have to see Blizzard’s angle here.  They have the opportunity to cash in on a more casual market which may have felt alienated by the set-in-stone skill choices of the past.  Now, you can see how everything works without having to spend 50 levels getting that one skill you thought would be cool only to find out that it is about as effective as shooting rainbows and has the damage capabilities of a feather pillow at point blank range.  Hardcore vets of Diablo and WoW are used to careful build planning, where to put points, how to construct the perfect character for just what they want to do.  The option is still there, but this time you get to pick from everything instead of being limited to just that one specialization.  Every gamer has had that moment where you get to a point in the story and you mutter “damn, if only I would have spec’d up in (blank) this would be so much easier.”  Well, now that lamented lost ability is only a mouse-click away.  Not a bad thing, in my opinion, but I could see it as nails on a chalkboard to some.

You’ve also got the ascending difficulty chain, which, it seems, Blizzard is more actively encouraging this time around.  I’m a seasoned gamer but I realize that to have the most fun with things, one generally stays away from difficulty settings named “Nightmare” or “Hell”, at least on the first playthrough, to keep things more enjoyable and less frustrating.  In DIII, these settings must be unlocked by completing the game at the difficulty below.  They’re also actively encouraging total completion by making it extremely difficult to hit the level cap within normal difficulty.  From what I can see this time around, it seems as though Blizzard has wisely geared the game toward this.  With every level I progress, it seems that the game scales in difficulty to match my new capabilities much better than any past release.  This keeps things challenging and doesn’t allow for the sheer dominance provided by a second-normal playthrough on DII.  Slightly less satisfying (because you can’t just romp about one-shotting things into oblivion) but definitely more engaging.  The increase in challenge feels organic.  Natural.

The main flaw is that out of the box with a level cap seems like a ploy for more money.  Yes, I understand the marketing of it.  This is the downside of what made WoW such a great game.  Once people reach the end of that challenge phase, they’re going to get bored.  And, oh, what’s this?  Uncle Blizz just showed up with some more shit for you.  Here, have Level 70.  Here, have a bit more content.  Here, maybe a few new classes will help you stick around longer.  It’s pure genius, really.  Our culture (meaning gamer culture, of course) is so devoted that, most times, we’ll buy whatever they’re selling, damn the cost.  We just want to get some more mileage out of the game we love.

Set items, socket runes, and other aspects of DII were left out specifically for this reason.  Can’t say I blame Blizzard for doing so.  I’ll be among the first in line for the expansion (of which, Blizz says, there will be many).  My main problem with DIII, and mainly with gaming in general at this point, is the marketing and selling of incomplete games for beaucoup bux with the foreknowledge that gamers will happily plunk down US$40 more on the additional material for the game they’ve already spent US$60 buying.  This trend is rampant and it will never stop.

That’s another rant for another day…

Is DIII fun?  Yes.  Is DIII worth your money?  Absolutely.  Will I give you my B.net ID so you can play along with me?  Probably, but remember, I’m more of a single-player guy these days.  Don’t expect me to run with you every night.  I left the MMO world so that I wouldn’t have to plan my life around this stuff.

Another big question is “Will DIII run on my computer?”  The answer is yes, unless you’re running some 10-year-old shit box.  I’ve got a 4-year-old lappy running it just fine.  A little lag when the destruction gets heavy, but nothing too shocking.  I almost dropped 800+ on a new performance machine just because I thought the thing would crash my current computer.  I was pleasantly surprised to find that it runs and looks just fine, even though some of my settings are a bit lower than I would like.  If you’re in it for the game and not for the pageantry of graphics (as in, needing to see all shadows and every blade of freaking grass), then you’re good to go.  I’ll still probably end up picking up a new rig, but the ability to run DIII on my machine without issue has lengthened my time table significantly.

Bidula’s Last Word – 8.5/10  Get this game.  It’s fun as hell.

Keep fighting the good fight.

—end transmission—

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