Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Diablo 3 (Xbox 360) review - The Devil is in the details

The Diablo series has been called one of the greatest RPG franchises in the PC gaming world. Diablo I focused heavily on your character's development and tweaking to make the ultimate warrior, and Diablo II did that on an even greater scale. Diablo III moved away from that aspect a bit, which unfortunately lessens the full experience, but not overly so.

One of the many difficult things about porting a PC game to consoles is dealing with the graphics reduction. Diablo is no different in that regard as the graphics have lost some glamor. The environments look beautifully crafted, the dungeons give off a very real sense of danger lurking behind every door, and the wastelands and forests are eerily calm until a large group of monsters burst from the ground. In close is where the game fails to deliver on textures. Characters look almost waxy and monsters have a shaded look to their edges, making them seem more cartoon than they already are. However, these aren't really noticeable unless you are spending mass amounts of time looking at your character up close instead of fighting the hordes of hell. On a TV screen in the living room these differences are minute to the point of invisible, however being close to a computer monitor may let those small detractions creep up to cause a more prominent issue.

Another possible problem lies in the controls. PC gamers are used to the 'point-n-click' method that has served them well for over a decade in the Diablo world. Unlike the graphics issue though, the control change is actually a huge blessing. The ease of controlling your character through the joystick and having all of your attacks mapped to individual buttons comes across as an extremely easy transition. The ability to evade by moving the right stick makes your character more agile, which is key especially when using ranged characters for when monsters are getting too close. Dodging to use better angles and hit-n-run tactics are made simple with this addition. There are a few downsides in regards to aiming though. The click method worked very well for targeting individual enemies and you were not constantly trying to re-acquire your target. Console gamers will have to deal with the very annoying targeting system by holding the left trigger. You don't always get the enemy you want, and there is no way to scroll through targets beyond letting the trigger go, turning, and trying again. Melee characters don't suffer from this, as they just wade into the center and start swinging, so ranged characters will have to make sure they don't get trashed by a non-targeted attack on your side.

Luckily, Blizzard skipped the experimentation phase with the Auction House for the console version. With the removal of the Auction House, loot drops have been given a much needed boost and have been tailored to the players rather than extremely random and useless items. It's not uncommon to make a run through the whole game and find 4-5 legendary artifacts, if not more. These drop beyond the standard large boss-fight drops that always occur, and can be a huge boost to your character without getting into the 'real money' aspect that has plagued the PC forums. The larger percentage of drops does not make you feel like your character is extremely overpowered though, which is a very good thing. Running through Nightmare mode with a level 6 Witch Doctor would kind of ruin the game.

The best way to play the game is most definitely in co-op. Not only does the loot get better, but your experience climbs faster, and the baddies are leveled higher as well. Taking on a Boss fight in a team of 4 is immensely satisfying, and allows you to view other characters in action. Loot drops are also player relevant. Each player sees their own loot drop, that way there is no mad scramble for that legendary piece of equipment. The gold is also yours to pick up as you wish. Experience is shared, but players have to be in the vicinity of each other to cash in on that. The game allows you to go your separate ways in case you each take a direction to find the exit, but rewards you for sticking together. Warping to another player via their banner (located in the safe-hub) is an excellent way to regroup faster.

Where the game doesn't excel is in the RPG elements. Diablo III removes the classic gameplay genre and puts a dungeon-crawler in it's place. Without a way to design a character to truly make them your own, they become bland fairly quickly. The mantras and different attack change-ups work well, but they merely attempt to mask the fact that the character building system has been very poorly redesigned. Gone are the specialty characters that made Diablo II so much fun to experiment with. It's not a total loss, however. While the characters have been made more streamlined, they also allow you to understand how to use them easier. You can quickly and immediately change your attack combos and figure out what fits your playing style. For die-hard enthusiasts, this is a big no-no, but for the more casual players interested in a good hack-n-slash, this works very well.

Diablo III is a long game. Rushing through, a single playthrough may take you around 12 hours, but if you are really a dungeon crawler, looking through all of the passageways and 100% those maps you are looking at around 25 hours. Combine that with 4 unlockable difficulties and 5 characters, the game will quickly became a black-hole for your free time. The story is fairly shallow but interesting enough to want to listen the first go around. More casual gamers will find themselves fairly content to stick with one playthrough, and dedicated crawlers will find themselves mashing the "A" button for weeks on end. What the game ultimately lacks in story it definitely makes up for in gameplay, and while there are some changes I did not like to see, there were quite a few additions that felt like a god-send. If you're a more casual gamer I would say rent it, unless you foresee yourself occasionally wanting to play a great dungeon crawler, and with Diablo being one of the most addictive games out there, that's sure to happen. For the more dedicated RPG fans, while this game does lack some of the skill tree enjoyment from previous titles, you will definitely find yourself putting in at least a couple hundred hours out of this game.

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