Interstate 1-60: All is Normal
This is what a barbarian, a wizard and a witch doctor, intentionally prisoned into a LAN party room, wonder while copy-pasting through “Error 37” and its cousins. They are there for three days, determined to kill themselves from playing Diablo III and adequately evaluate it as something developed for years. Or at least the barbarian is, as he has GosuGamers duties the next week.
Beware! There will be spoilers.
At 1:30 a.m. the three of them log in and begin Act I – the first mile on the long interstate to level 60 and the mysterious Inferno difficulty. And this is the first chapter of my travel notes.
We all know how Act I begins and nothing has changed. The first 30 minutes till the Skeleton King are as good and as boring as they were a month ago which only irritates me more as we enter the next area. I’ve always hated the brownish-yellowy exteriors and the Fields of Misery are a bit of a design let down, speaking strictly personally. However, it is where we actually face our first near-death and real-death experiences while bashing walker trees like bosses and dying unsuspecting to the poison.
We continue on our way, beat the spider queen as the second act boss (a fight very similar to the SK encounter – beat the bitch, beat her adds, beat her some more), cross the drowned temple, the jail, the highlands (all leaving a so-so feeling in me, despite being hyped beyond high heavens and feasting on every pixel). At the end of Act I we reach Leoric’s Manor and begin our descent through the Halls of Agony – the best designed interior and area in general of Act I. Fire traps, giant cleavers, zombies walking out of burning furnaces, the color of blood and charred walls are all over the place and we search for the Butcher in exultation.
As every other boss in this game (on every difficulty!) the Butcher is a piece of cake but is the first thing we encounter with actual fight mechanics and we find ourselves kiting the bastard while resurrecting our dead wizard. We one-shot the Butcher, watch the burial of Deckard Cain and take the caravan to Act II and Lut Gholein… pardon… Caldeum.
As it is Diablo tradition, Act II is the hardest to go through. Used to charging in and delivering vengeance to hordes of enemies, we are being diligently and painfully explained that this cannot and will not go on forever. “Watch out, wasps!” and “F**k those wasps!!” are commonly heard phrases around the room. Eventually, thanks to our long forgotten gamer’s pasts and now tuned down stupidity, we reduce every Act II fight to the simplicity of the Act I ones.
Ultimately, this leaves us free to marvel at the truly stunning art design of Act II. I’ve always enjoyed Lut Gholein and its surroundings in Diablo 2 and since D3 Act II has identical feeling, it couldn’t have been otherwise. The Archives of Zoltun Kulle and the Dahlgur Oasis are the jewels of this part of the game, which, by the way, took us the longest time to beat on every difficulty.
The Maghda and Zoltun Kulle encounters are as straightforward as it gets, once again built on the beat adds -> beat boss mechanics. Not until Belial am I truly satisfied from a boss fight, although looking retrospectively to those first hours of gameplay it might’ve been a different case then. I now realize that all the excitement was from seeing new stuff, one-shotting a boss (as if it was a real challenge...) and possibly getting an achievement should the buggy system allow it.
Belial, however, was a whole different matter and I still consider him the best final act boss in the whole game. What starts as a tedious, “not again” adds plus boss encounter takes a 180 turn as Belial enters his third phase. The battle gets a strong arcade/console feeling as we run around trying to dodge the green circles that mean our death. Although haters will not avert from hating and say that Diablo should not feature any elements from God of War and the likes, we have a genuine fun. And there’s real satisfaction as we beat him and not just of the “oh, we beat him” type.
Both Act III and Act IV took us fairly little time to beat, as the acts themselves have grown shorter compared to the previous two. In Act III we were introduced to the Heralds of Pestilence and Act IV had the Morlu Incinerators – which together with the Act II wasps comprise my top three of the absolute most dreadful mobs in the entire game (although they will become a problem from nightmare on).
In terms of final boss fights, both Azmodan and Diablo are insultingly easy. Everyone that is not a cloth user can facetank Azmodan at this point and Diablo was nothing more an endurance fight with all his three phases and hell of a lot HP. Also, game designers should stop making characters fight their own shadows for good.
We look at the played time: 14 hours and some minutes, including the /afk time for making coffee and relaxingly staring at something that is not an isometric demon.
NYDRA'S FIRST OVERALL IMPRESSIONS
As we draw the final line, it’s time to pass the heavy judgment, the answer to the first sentence in the article: Is Diablo III worth it?
Several highlights need to be examined before we strike the hammer.
The Good Stuff
By the end of Act IV, you'll be level 30+ with all active skills unlocked and since this is normal and you will never ever die if a smidge of attention is paid, it means this is your opportunity to go wild. Test everything. Construct the foundations of any build you wanted to try out. Many runes and passives will still be unavailable at that point but the majority of them will become handy when you start designing Hell and Inferno builds anyway. Cast that blizzard, whirlwind through stuff, use a giant bell to blast enemies, play a witch doctor without pets and throw bombs and arrows around. Normal difficulty is giving you the carte blanche to find the playstyle that suits you. You will have all Hell and Inferno to perfect it out!
Priceless is the feeling of thinking “I wonder what this mob does” right before you are brought to zero HP in seconds. It’s certainly the main reason why playing hardcore from day one is more reckless than charging naked through a horde of giant hedgehogs.
The action is seamless, never interrupted with the old, irritating town portal heals from Diablo 2. You finish a mob, health globe your life back and proceed to the next pack. In one or two years, this game will probably get banned from Australia on charges of causing incurable addictions.
It’s ruddy beautiful! And the graphics design is fine, you old grousers.
The pieces of lore come in forms that do not disrupt the dynamics of the game. Since the Diablo franchise is known for his deep, complex and still not fully explored lore (as compared to the main game story arches which are nothing special at best), these short voiced-over excerpts are manna from heaven for the lore freaks. Additionally, every significant companion has more than a few stories to tell and I suggest you hear them out. Redditors are already speculating on the origins of certain characters.
The Bad Stuff (or Why 10/10 is Out of the Question)
The so passionately advertised grand randomization of everything is, in fact, wrapped up in a very controlling, tempering package. Every open-air level is always the same so if you wipe or need to restart, you’ll know precisely where to go. Even interior levels have patterns of randomization and after playing through an area a couple of times you will know with a devilish certainty if there’s an exit at the end of the corridor or not.
In addition to the former, there's a strong feeling of linearity in the game. The characters hop from quest to quest in an exact order and combined with the limited randomization this becomes a real problem in late nightmare/hell - bottom line it's the exact same game, only harder.
Many bosses and areas are too close to what we saw in Diablo 2. If those were one or two isolated incidents maybe I could’ve let it slide but as it is, there is no point denying what is blatantly there. Comparing D3 to D2 in short: Act 1 is Act 1. Act 2 is Act 2. Act 3 is Act 5. And Act 4 is reversed Act 4.
Let me go into more detail:
» The Tristram cathedral is now officially the most popular tourist destination in all Sanctuary.
» It’s not too big a difference whether it’s the Lut Gholein desert and the Lut Gholein tombs or the Caldeum desert and Caldeum tombs. It’s still orange and covered in sand.
» Belial and Duriel fights are strikingly similar in the sense of that there’s not much space to run around and staying on one place for more than two seconds means death.
» Diablo III Act III has the player defending a mountain fortress by destroying an organized demon army with war machines as well as their powerful overlord. He himself looks like this:
If you are wondering why this looks familiar, let me refresh your memory:
» Instead of going to the burning hells for a short, boss-heavy Act IV, you visit the high heavens for a short, boss-heavy Act IV.
The final cinematic is, for a lack of a better word, garbage. With the patriotic music on the background and Tyrael’s cheesy speech, the only thing missing was the American flag pinned atop the Crystal Arch.
The obvious flaws aside, the game is still amazing and worth every minute and every cent. It's addictive, it's challenging, it's rich on both enemies and character builds. Buy it, play it, enjoy it, talk about it. It's what I am going to do for a long time.
Expect the next chapters of this feature within the next two weeks. In them, we put the first impressions aside and focus strictly on gameplay and gameplay related issues as well as both the outstanding and questionable design decisions. How does the gaming experience change from normal to nightmare? How problematic is the aforementioned “controlled randomization”? How does Hell force you into builds? In what ways is Inferno broken, is there a real end-game in Diablo 3 and several ways to improve it.
The opinions expressed in this article do not represent those of GosuGamers.