This is a game I had been looking forward to since I got through Diablo 2 almost 12 years ago. Between that time and now, I had a chance to grow up, witnessing the ever changing growth in the video game industry. Every now and again, I'd marvel at the thought of new possibilities for the next Diablo installment and could hardly wait to see the final installment. At the time, 2002, the visuals for Diablo 2 were hardly 'dated' and I could not have disagreed more with this websites review of the game. The visual pallet was crisp, eerie, bleak, and stayed with you long after you were done playing. If we can rewind even a bit further to the first Diablo, we could also find the same downtrodden mood, dreary atmosphere and truly frightening enemy base instilled in that game. There was rain, torn plains of grass, dark caves where outside of your light radius all you could see was the faint shadow of the monsters, and all you could hear was their demon tongue speak or the occasional drip of water from a stalactite. There were dry, windless deserts, zombies that stepped towards you slowly, swamplands where it was always night time filled with exaggerated, poisonous jungle dwellers, the burning hells, dry winterscapes, and all of them felt as though they were truly war-torn by otherworldly creatures.
First and foremost, what we need to look at is what made Diablo 1 & 2 such massive achievements in gaming, and why they were fantastic without being clones of one another. Diablo one introduced 3 character classes, each with their own advantages and disadvantages that the player had to get used to in order to utilize those strengths. The second installment expanded on that and made the characters even more customizable as far as skill-set goes, creating a unique spell set for each adventurer that allowed the player to explore what kind of spells were best suited for their particular playing style. The quest system was simple, kill something, collect something, bring back to town, go out and kill some more. A simply hack and slash adventure, and this was basically true of the second installment. The memorable lines though, and what gave the installments such grit, was the gothic, down and dirty interactions you had with monsters, demons, humans. When you heard the Butcher's words echo from his room of butchered villagers "Ahh, fresh meat," it scared the ever-loving heck out of you. In Diablo 2, when you finally got to the big man himself, "Not even death can save you from me" still comes as one of the most brilliantly frightening video game dialogues I've ever come across. The quests may have been of the standard 'go kill, go get' variety, but these interactions elevated them to be better than they had to be.
Diablo 3 ignores what made the first two games excellent. As an illustrator, a basic rule of thumb is: if you want to set a dreary mood, keep your colors limited. Color-wise, throughout most of the game you'll find some form of that blue/orange affair which can be found in almost every movie poster advert out today. This is basically the most generic, overused color scheme you can find. The point of it is that it's borderline impossible to use this color scheme and have a result that looks "incorrect." It's like the Helvetica of color schemes, not to mention that the game also uses helvetica as a main typeface for much of the interface. This is another lazy, thoughtless design choice by the developers. Now, this isn't exclusive for the game, you can usually find other colors making an appearance on the screen as you do this, in addition to other typefaces. Sometimes colors may be muddied or desaturated, but more often than not, orange and blue. Everywhere. If not just those two, then it's a mess of bright colors. This isn't frightening, new, or true to the mood of past Diablo installments. The second most critical aspect of the visual presentation is the enemies. Their designs and movement are both cartoonish, and from my first viewing of the game, I knew the aesthetics of the Warcraft series had much influence on the finished product we see here today. When punching your way through monsters, the strongest in a series of blows will make them bounce. The frame rate accentuates the cartoonish display. Beyond that, the design of most of the monsters utilizes many of the dreaded cliches fans of fantasy are often subject to. The Grotesque, for example, looks like one of the concept drawings for 'Oogie Boogie' from the Nightmare Before Christmas.
Next we have the new spell and combat system for each of the characters. The choice is gone. There is no tweaking and fine tuning your character to suit your personal fighting style, it's all done for you. The point of things this time around is that you can customize to the extent of which button does what as you level up, and what kind of attribute can be added to the attacks. Say goodbye to the excitement of choosing which spell you want to power up and seeing the spell's power grow with each use. The new health system is a sore disappointment, as healing yourself is no longer as readily available as it used to be. Potions now cost huge sums of money, and there is only one kind. It always heals the same amount, and there is a cool-down time attached to both potions and spell use. This reads as little more than a cheap attempt to quickly add more challenge to the game.
Finally, much of my critique lies in the hammy, hokey dialogue. It would not be as major of an issue except that it shows up all the time. From the cringe-worthy cries of your templar ally saying such overused atrocities like "That was a worthy foe!" to the almost oxymoron-like "May the gods who have abandoned us come to your aid one last time," uttered by the town priest. Beyond the poor voice acting and dialogue lies the use of the same character icons for multiple characters, namely, the priest. A better choice would have been to simply exclude an image for the dialogues found while adventuring rather than reusing the same faces. Beyond that still, there is just too much voice work. When you take away your characters dialogue and only allow it an occasional appearance, you remember what they say, it hold greater weight and more impact. Adding conversational dialogue to you and your cpu ally creates much less tension and occasionally unnecessary comic relief, easing the atmospheric brooding mood that should be here but isn't.
The bottom line is that this is a good game. Good. Not great. Not superb. Not a must-have. Not something to be played for the next ten years such as what we had in Diablo 2. Much criticism for criticizers is that people wanted more of the same. No, like anybody awaiting a sequel, we want the same of what made Diablo 1 & 2 such excellent games. Diablo 2 was a fantastic game that was not a clone of its predecessor, but it wasn't a complete departure from it. There are elements I wanted to see, things that would make it worthy to hold the title of Diablo, and those simply aren't here. This game is a good deal of fun, but it plays more such as a fan-made game with homage to previous titles than what it should. Play it and find out for yourself, but be warned, for the die-hard fans who played previous games, you may find yourself disappointed.