Diablo 3: What A Difference A Day Makes…

Dinah Washington’s crooning version of this song comes to mind when I think of Diablo 3. What a difference a day does make. Or a year. Or indeed a decade. You see, I remember when the first Diablo released, and I played the dark and gothic first few levels in a shareware version (remember shareware?). I remember the collective joy at Diablo 2’s release that allowed us to traverse a vast and diverse landscape rather than just deep and dark dungeons, and the confusing finale in Lord of Destruction. I also remember Diablo 3’s seemingly troubled release.
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I’ve given the game a break and have just recently returned to it, so let me first detail some of my initial impressions of this new game from Blizzard. I noticed the game lacked a great deal of substance compared to its predecessors, and its style departed from the gothic/horror feel to a more cinematic World of Warcraft-y feel.  There were also some things that stood out glaringly to me that I couldn’t ignore.

  • The Story

I found myself cringing, scoffing at the story. It seemed so corny, so reductive, so cliche that I felt torn from the game like someone waking me from a dream and thrusting me into bad television. What happened to the epic feel that the previous games had? Where was that horrific mystery, and the enticement to overcome my revulsion to the enemy and dark setting and forge ahead into darkness? And what of my character? He (or she) seems more like a henchman than a hero, making no decisions except which jewelry to wear while pwning undead faces.
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It’s true that none of the Diablo games will ever be elected as the next great American novel, and my heroes in previous games were no less secondary to the story. Heck, in Diablo 2 my hero spent the majority of the game chasing the real main characters Marius, Diablo, and Baal, while I watched the true metastory play out in FMVs. So, there’s nothing novel about Diablo 3’s powerful characters being little more than hired muscle for the NPCs.

  • The Soundtrack

Yes, and I know it’s a nitpicky thing to have beef with. I never knew how integral the soundtracks were to the overall experience until I played Diablo 3 and barely noticed there was a soundtrack. I have distinct and specific memories from the previous games such as entering Tristram’s dungeon for the first time hearing the shrill chorus wail in holy terror while foreboding percussion echoed the footsteps of the undead legions below. My young mind was petrified by the distant sounds of painful moaning and crying babies.  Then there was when I entered the Harem beneath Lut Gholein to fight of demonic invaders while listening to a woman singing hauntingly beautiful Sanskrit lyrics with an industrial instrumental accompaniment. I have no memories such as this in Diablo 3, yet anyway.

In fact, having a strong soundtrack could probably have distracted me from the sometimes frustrating story. The previous games’ music could make a story about teddy bears fighting unicorns seem darkly interesting.

  • Always Online

This aspect bothers me in principle.  Diablo 3 at heart is a single player game with a multiplayer option (even though the multiplayer option is what really skyrocketed the previous games). Being forced into an internet connection is heavy-handed and unfair, and those who wish to play this game off the grid will be disappointed. However, I have played MMOs for years and am desensitized to this a bit. Even though I only play multiplayer only part of the time, I barely notice the online component, except for signing in. Again, the principle bothers me, but practically I don’t have much else to say.
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So now, over a year after its release I’ve come back on the eve of its first expansion “Reaper of Souls”. It promises a few new features that somewhat excite me to explore, and there is even some possibility of more expansions. The Auction House feature, which utilizes in game and real world currency, is on its last couple days of existence as I write this. I never used it but I’m glad to see that the game itself will become the primary source of gear. And we have some new patches that are paving the way for the expansion.

Gameplay is smoother across the board now, in all ways. My hiatus has softened my negative opinions a bit, either because of better perspective or overall jadedness. I’m cringing less at the story, and I’m actually intrigued more now by all the little bits of reference to previous games that make the whole series seem more interconnected that just episodic.

As always, the skill system is just as satisfying as ever, and this is perhaps Diablo 3’s most notable feature. Gone are the days of regret and apprehension that came with spending your precious skill points irrevocably. Now you can switch out builds on the fly for that tricky fight, adjust your skills to fit your multiplayer party, or just shake things up when your skills get a bit stale. I’m even using Youtube less and less to play older Diablo music in an attempt to get used to the current soundtrack more (but that will be a long struggle).

Perhaps I needed a day or so, but I think I can take Diablo 3 for what it is, and with a new expansion coming, maybe my faith in this series will be restored.

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