Playlist 2012: Diablo III

Diablo III PC | Blizzard Entertainment | June

Diablo 3, Wizard

You are an all powerful being. No one in this land has seen somebody so skilled in combat, so exotic and foreign, and you’re just in time because its people need your help. The undead and other monstrosities are invading the countryside, though they are no match for you: you are the offspring of angels and demons, imbued with their grace and destruction. Eventually you will meet foes far more cunning, more brute, and less merciful. But allies can join you, new weapons can be crafted from the remains of battles, and your fighting style can adapt to any situation. You will have the sweet satisfaction of bones crunching beneath your weight, of magic falling from your hands. You will tell others about your adventures, and grow rich off the spoils of war.

But you will never find that nameless sword, in the cave it was said to have been laid to rest. You will bring your bounties to every blacksmith, but they will craft you a blade duller than before. You will never restore the lands you hope to chart, because they will erase your journey through them. You will be told tales of valor that have no bearing on the quest you will set thousands of footsteps on. You will look like everybody else. You will do this forever, because you are in gamer hell.

Paradise, lost.

Diablo III has a lot on its plate: it’s the sequel to the most celebrated game within its genre, but back then games didn’t quite have the concerns of today’s online-multiplayer scene. Since the days of Diablo II over a decade ago, Blizzard has learned a lot about player behavior in an online space and the benefits of networking technology. They’ve learned that, regardless of its design, a game can only handle a certain volume of players before it might need to adapt, and that patching critical changes doesn’t mean waiting for an expansion pack. They’ve learned that high-end graphics do not directly result in a larger community–in fact, lower end graphics have made it possible for their games to perform on a wider spectrum of computers. They’ve learned that players want their time spent in synthetic worlds to feel increasingly meaningful, and that having access to their valuables on an account-wide basis (lists of friends, hard to acquire items, character profiles, etc.) is worth offering. Blizzard has done a lot of work to make sure Diablo III has all of the above.

At its core, Diablo III may seem like a dungeon crawler in Blizzard’s finest visual and aural skin, but it’s also fitting itself into a much more complex gaming landscape. No longer do players simply expect an engrossing adventure, but also an ecosystem for it to thrive within. Blizzard’s trademark IV-drip of rewards and progress notifications has been fully embraced by the Diablo universe, perhaps in the hopes that it will loop players’ attention in the same way many MMO’s do. But with so much attention paid to those characteristics, it’s left many parts of Diablo III feeling uninspired even when these elements seem so un-apologetically drawn from World of Warcraft. Even though WoW is head-to-toe in addictive gameplay loops that make you feel like you’re racing ahead when you’re really just inching along, it also knew how to fill the moments between combat, collection and exposition. It knew the appeal of adventure, of growing accustomed to the landscape and feeling a sense of connection between each environment, of having a character who is built from the ground up to look and feel like few other players–but you don’t have to be a giant to offer all of the above. I found myself looking for these sorts of moments in Diablo III, and feeling disappointed the more I realized they wouldn’t be on their way anytime soon.

Diablo III still gets a lot of things right, most of all its use of Battle.net and the Real ID system. Getting in and out of campaigns, going between single & multiplayer arrangements and keeping in touch with friends is seamless and dependable in a way that cooperative games will be looking up to for years. Unfortunately, this isn’t what I care most about when I’m playing the game itself. As significant as they are, these perks remain peripheral to the actual experience.

I can’t shake the feeling that Diablo III is somewhat of a super-mod of WoW, or perhaps the engine it runs on. From the auction house, to the flow of conversations and the user-interface, to character progression, the two have a lot of common DNA. There’s nothing wrong with taking so much of what made WoW successful and distilling it into a more intimate faster-paced experience. Hell, WoW would be wise to consider lifting what Diablo III does for combat to make its character classes feel more physically connected to their fighting styles. But I wish it would have ran with its influence even more when Diablo‘s model can go in so many directions that WoW simply can’t due to its scale. The systems that made an action RPG in 2000 tick are not all the ones that fuel 2012’s, and even though Diablo III took a number of risks to raise the stakes and provide me with more user-friendly options, I found it creatively stuck somewhere in between then and now.

Diablo 3It’s hard not to be swooned by Diablo III at first blush: its animations and sound design are top-notch, its classes feel unique from one another and the sense of power it instills in you is lightning in a bottle. But perhaps it’s worth letting some of that lightning out when you can.

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