Strangely Satisfying: Diablo III on Xbox

If you enjoyed Diablo 3 on PC, you owe it to yourself to try the Diablo 3 demo for PS3 and Xbox 360. The conversion is surprisingly fun, with some new twists. Many creative adjustments were made to make the control scheme feel at home on the dual-stick analog controller – and the end result is a solid win. The addition of the quick dodge and familiar synergy of the character abilities as assigned to the controller feels more at home on the home console than it ever did on PC.

To top it off the game looks even better than ever enlarged to your flat screen TV. The iconic two and three-quarter view and simulated 3D pops into life on the large screen, as do the richly detailed environments. Finally, although the cinematic cut scenes are not included in the demo, they are sure to amaze in high def in the full version of the game.

With the first expansion pack just around the corner, it looks like a perfect time to return to Tristram.

Rise – Diablo III Fan Review Part 2

Fire, Brimstone, Fantastic Art Direction. Thankfully, for all its traits both good and bad, Diablo 3’s success is not just skin deep.

First, the bad. While I had no issue logging in to play on the evening of launch day, reports on other forums suggest widespread technical issues spoiled the first impression of many fans. I did run into the occasional glitch my first run through, but far fewer than other recent multiplayer action-RPG titles (Fable 3 comes to mind). No doubt that not being able to log in at all would have been a big disappointment and I hope those issues are resolved now.

The classic title had it’s flaws too, and it’s back and better than ever. Blizzard shows it’s is not too big of a studio to learn something new, and brought more than polish for the occasion. It’s clear that effort went into the plot and stories of the games key characters, adding an unexpected, unobtrusive element of character development that is more than just complimentary. The way the characters interact with the player, and each other, lends to an atmosphere much more interesting than just squishing the hordes of hell (again). The dialog is tailored to the player’s class and gender, which left me eager to play the story through a second time as a different class just to see how the dialog changes. There are five classes. Well played, Blizzard.

About that polish I mentioned- they didn’t hold back there, either. Start with the easily recognized three and a quarter view, nearly 3 dimensional game field that IS Diablo. The hero is small in the center of the view, plunging into hordes of monsters and endless, dark catacombs with eerie mood lighting. No one piece of art is very detailed but as a sum make each setting seem rich, complex. The backgrounds and locations are beautiful and dynamic –  trembling, crumbling, burning and expanding as the hero faces the onslaught. Little of your surroundings are safe from the horrors of combat either, and each wall, table and pile of bones are scattered when struck with realistic physics that are a far cry from just animated crumbling rocks. It creates a very tangible dungeon experience (and more than a few potential achievements).

New to the franchise are the moving watercolor and sketch-style animated sequences that link the sub-stories of each act. They are slightly different depending on your class and gender, enhancing the sense of story. These do not replace the major cut-scenes, long a trumpet of the Blizzard franchise. While there are only four or five of the big production movie scenes, they are breathtaking and easily rival or surpass their Hollywood cousins.

To me, more impressive than the art alone was the art direction. Both prior titles suffered from repetitious environments and monsters despite being more or less random every time you play. Third time’s the charm though. Each dungeon and environment is far from just a new skin on old corridors, and are varied dramatically. Clever camera and perspective manipulation highlight certain encounters. By the third and closing fourth act, the places themselves have built a story that is more than just “tougher monsters in the next dungeon with a boss at the end”. The gorgeous music fits perfectly.

Of course, the art, plot, characters, music and creative direction might keep us playing but it’s the gameplay itself that we bought it for. It’s deceptively easy to pick up and challenging to master. The first play through on “normal” difficulty concludes somewhere around level 30 (results may vary widely based on playstyle), with level 60 being the max. After that you unlock “Nightmare” difficulty, followed by “Hell” and “Inferno”, the latter of which not even the game designers have beat. Each step up, your character starts with all the prior advancement and gear at the beginning of the story against progressively tougher foes, earning even more powerful moves and gear. Diehard fans looking for a much steeper challenge can unlock “Hardcore” mode, in which your character gets just one life to attempt the same feat – die once (even to lag), and the character is gone. Succeed and earn rare achievements, loot and bragging rights.

The combat is a blast, and the monsters and AI are well thought out. The boss encounters are hair-raising and liberally spaced throughout the story. Easily just as challenging are the “elite” monsters randomly encountered throughout the game, which at times can be hard enough to leave you rethinking your strategy while licking your wounds back at your most recent checkpoint. The challenge and AI instantly adjusts to the number of players in your group – it’s not just extra, tougher monsters either. Be prepared to learn how to work together to make effective use of complimentary skills or find yourself quickly overwhelmed by inexhaustible waves of foes. It’s thought provoking, engaging and very fun.

All in all it is a knockout hit – a badly needed success in the action RPG genre, and a big win for Blizzard.

Faithful – Diablo III First Impressions

Dress it up how you like, there is no mistaking Diablo 3’s classic roots. Blizzard plays it safe, sticking to gameplay elements, setting and storytelling that worked the first time. New players are quickly acquainted with the lore and characters at the heart of the original, most successful Diablo title.

Speaking of dressing up – Blizzard didn’t skimp. The new animated sequences are beautiful, and tailored to your character choice no less. The voice acting is above par for a Blizzard title. Better still are the ambient tracks and musical score – each lending to a rich and faithful return to Tristram and the blood-chilling catacombs that lay beneath.

Combat and character advancement is familiar and easy – perhaps the most streamlined, usable of the trilogy. Despite borrowing resource and attack synergy concepts from the massively-complex World of Warcraft playbook, the same clever style is tamed to just a few action hotkeys and your two mouse buttons. All the time you might have spent learning a more complex interface and combat system is far better spent doing what made Diablo so fun – clicking on swarms monsters to kill them.

So far, the multiplayer elements seem to combine both their own experience and lessons learned from other popular titles, as well as the familiar matchmaking of systems like XBOX Live. Players each receive individual loot without worry of competition or messy loot rolls, and grouping with others is refreshingly no-fuss and instantly fun. It is clear Blizzard put extra effort into taking the learning curve and tedium out of these key gameplay elements.

While I have only played through the first bit of the story, it is clear that the hype can be substantiated. Full review after the credits roll.


better late than mediocre

“A wizard is never late, nor is he early. He arrives precisely when he means to.”

In classic Blizzard tradition, the ship date much anticipated sequel “Diablo 3” will be pushed back until early next year, costing them a holiday release. This isn’t news to many fans though, who are used to waiting. In twenty years of genre dominance, I don’t think they have released a major title on time. Or too soon, as it were.

Here is a link to the original Diablo 3 teaser trailer, posted 2 years ago..

Diablo 3 Teaser on YouTube

Few game companies could afford to consistently miss release dates, or delay games for as long as Blizzard has delayed some of it’s titles. At a glance, it would seem that they risk releasing a game that is graphically or technically inferior to competing titles developed to leading edge standards in less time. Yet this has yet to make much of a difference, given that Blizzard titles are comparably “graphics-light” stood next to other eye-popping graphics-heavy competition.  Compare the graphics in the initial release of World of Warcraft next to a number of competing MMO titles that were out about the same time. Starwars Galaxies, Anarchy Online, Asheron’s Call 2 and EverQuest 2 were all very glossy, high end graphics productions. World of Warcraft was cartoony by comparison,  but demanded far less in terms of system requirements and as franchises go; left the competition in the dust.

It later closed the gap in terms of high end graphics support, while still allowing players like me with average hardware to enjoy the game with the extra eye-candy turned off.

Blizzard’s 180 degree turn

Blizzard recently announced it would partner with Paypal to support buying virtual assets with real world currency from other players in the upcoming “Diablo III” in-game auction house.

Read the press release here:

This is a crisp 180 degree turn for Blizzard, who has invested much effort to combat the unauthorized sale of gold, items, characters and accounts in “World of Warcraft”.

Not dissimilar to buying premium content in single player titles like “Farmville” or numerous other successful mobile titles, this will allow players the option of purchasing in-game items they might otherwise not have the time or inclination to earn themselves. It also ups the potential for reward for any player who does acquire very rare in-game content.

Fans are grumbling, but sale of gold and items in World of Warcraft persisted despite ongoing efforts by Blizzard to put a stop to it. Dedicated gold-selling players became increasingly clever, giving rise to various sophisticated tactics used to gain access to other players accounts with intent to sell the virtual belongings for easily transferable gold, which would be sold for real world currency. Such tactics included phishing scams in email or on web sites to trick players to give away their passwords, to much more aggressive malware keylogging viruses such as the one found to have infected a computer aboard the International Space Station. (see following ZDnet article).

Blizzard’s surprise change of policy towards buying gold and items may be a gamble worth taking; by giving malicious gold-sellers legitimate competition.

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