The development process for Diablo III would be best compared to waiting for the release of the last A Song of Ice and Fire novel or Team Fortress 2. No wait, it’s pretty much worse. That’s right; it’s been 12 years since the original release of Diablo II and yesterday Blizzard would have us believe that Diablo III launched. If you don’t get the joke, you clearly aren’t familiar with ‘Error 37,’ but we’ll get into that a bit later.
First things first, though. This is part one of our Diablo III ‘review in progress’ series. Select games here at MMORPG.com will undergo a special review process where we examine the game on a week-to-week basis before delivering our final review. To keep things simple, consider this a bit of a first impressions piece.
I’ve also got to get a little something shameful out of the way before I get into the nitty gritty: I’ve never been a Diablo fan. In fact, I actively hated Diablo II when it came out because a friend of mine would just play it obsessively. I didn’t really hate it for any rational reason, I just hated coming over to his house and watching him hack away at skeletons with an axe for hours on end. I didn’t “get it”, so to speak. Fortunately, I’m now just as crazy as he was. While I didn’t catch the Diablo bug in the game’s heyday, I fell in love with the action-RPG due to my experiences with many of the series’ derivatives, such as Titan Quest, Borderlands, Torchlight, and more recently, Torchlight 2. So, no, I’m not going to spend our review process lamenting all the ways Diablo III isn’t Diablo II, because, well, it isn’t! This includes bitching about rainbows.
Diablo III didn’t get off to a great start; in fact, it got off to a horrible start. As I write this article, the servers are down for maintenance, which is pretty much par for the course over the last 24 hours. I was hoping to finish Act I by the time I put this thing together, but alas, Battle.net isn’t feeling cooperative. A lot of readers like to point out that Diablo III isn’t an MMO whenever we post an article or news post about the game, but it looks like the game shares at least one thing in common with MMOs: crap launch days. They’ve gotten better over the years, sure, but Diablo III’s launch experience hearkens back to MMO launches of old due to the widespread instability and lack of service. That ‘always online’ bit? Not such a great idea after all, eh?
Even if you aren’t playing the game, chances are you’ve heard your friends complaining about Diablo III error codes. So many error codes that you’d almost think Blizzard were reading off lottery numbers, only your prize is the fact you realized you just wasted your ’24 hour Diablo flu’ day off (as a former colleague put it) on staring at the login screen.
Fortunately, I did get to play for a couple of hours, and I’m glad to report that all of my actual playtime fits into the ‘good’ column. So far, the game (when it works) is simply awesome. I had initially settled on playing a Wizard for my first playthrough, but I went ahead with a female Barbarian. I have a thing for strong female warrior types (as a huge Conan and Frank Frazetta fan) and the female Barbarian really looks the part. She doesn’t look like some vixen with a claymore that would probably snap her in half if she tried to wield it. No, she’s a muscular babe fully decked out in war paint. I wanted to dual-wield at first, but once I got hold of a two-handed axe and sent baddies flying across the field, their trajectory clearly marked by the wake of blood splatter left behind them, well, I couldn’t go back. I spent most of my time hacking away at the same sorts of enemies, but it never really got old. The combat is just punchy and visceral. Yeah, I used that buzz word, deal with it. It’s simply true.
NOT SURE ABOUT…
I understand people are frustrated by the lack of a distinct talent tree a’ la Diablo II, and I didn’t really get it, but after just coming off of the Torchlight 2 beta, I can sort of see it now. I don’t have a problem with the way Diablo III does it. It’s pretty flexible and still allows for ‘builds,’ but I don’t feel it comes across as naturally when you play the game for the first time. Sure, I can peek ahead and think of the possibilities, but most of my character progression comes as a surprise since I’m not required to actively pay attention to it. Planning ahead just doesn’t really seem necessary. This is both a plus and a minus for me right now.
It’s not so bad, it just feels like part of my character progression is set to autopilot, where my only real conscious choices are on what pieces of gear I choose to deck myself out in (and later how I arrange my build). Imagine playing a new RPG and turning on ‘Auto Level Up,’. It sort of feels that way, even though it really isn't. The best sort of middle ground example I can come up with is Guild Wars 2. I love being able to re-arrange my build at any time, but I also have to earn the points to unlock skills, and this consideration as far as unlock priority helps me feel like I'm making important decisions.
That’s about it for this week! Hopefully Blizzard gets things in order by our next entry, because I’ve got the fever. And the only cure is more Diablo III!