Editor note: this is the translation of the Romanian review that was posted on May 23.
It’s three in the morning in my party’s second day of playing and the third Diablo that our heroes just bashed down makes one final pirouette before crashing on a pillow of dust. It’s a morbid picture, seeing the Prime Evil getting bullied like that, left bloody on the cold marble floors of Heaven, after a tirade of clicks, keys and screams that mash together on Skype in a mix of loud shrieks that echo in three lofts spread throughout Europe.
Everyone who’s involved has a deja-vu feeling that has been lasting for the past 30 hours – we’ve done this before at one point. It was about twelve years ago – sure, we were different people entirely and didn’t know anything about one another, but we’d been trapped in a similar (though lonelier) experience. Blizzard’s new policy in regard to the offline single-player mode (or lack thereof) brought us to this point, in which even if we wanted to solo the war on (The Lord of) Terror and his many relatives, we still have to stay connected.
Many were put off by that – and not just because of its eventual instabilities and problems that their ISP might have, but because we had to put up with the notorious number 37 upon launch. Our group managed to connect after an hour and a half and we got on with it, sporting nothing more than a vague impression from the beta and really excited about what lay before us.
Assassin: I too waited for an hour and a half until I could connect to Battle.Net and play for a couple of hours. I was lucky to have other things on my plate at the time, otherwise I might have reacted as harshly as some members on our forum. And when I think about the players who took time off work or called in sick to have enough time to play Diablo III…
Bossman: I didn’t have any sort of illusions that I would play on launch day, because I had seen what had happened during the open beta test. Even so, I didn’t expect Blizzard to mess up so badly, especially considering the amount of experience they’ve amassed over the years. Especiallynow that they also enforced their vision that you have to always stay connected in order to play the single-player campaign (a debatable idea to say the least, but more on that at late).
Zuluf: What we were about to see can be described through the words of a second act NPC from the previous game: „Some say the taste of [Diablo III] is bittersweet, but I find it to my liking.” Despite the growing tensions (justified by the Error 37 and the irreparable flaw of not having an offline single-player mode), me and Mangodash (a guildmate from WoW and now a co-leveller in Diablo III) were pleasantly impressed by the explosive mechanics, the fluent unveiling of the game’s content and varied decor.
Without a doubt, Diablo III is a Blizzard certified game – it has a certain high-end production value that just sweats through its ergonomic interface, the epic fantasy cut scenes and the visual impact that a clever and attractive design will always have while not burning down more modest systems.
On the other hand, the story is a pastiche of recycled clichés that Blizzard games love more and more lately, delivered with sometimes sketchy voice acting and with a flavor that’s dampened compared to what Diablo II smelled like. My impression of Sanctuary, formed by previous games and the first published Diablo book (which is also the only one I’ve read) is a desolate one, in which doubts and obsessions in a character’s mind make anyone a possible portal to the underworld. The happenings usually have a more serious tone than the encounters we face in the current game, sporting a Disney outfit, delivering typical henchman lines about her master, Belial, before she proceeds to torturing people like she’s moonlighting in a gulag.
Bossman: what I thought was weird about the story in Diablo III, aside from the clichés already mentioned, was the fact that the writers played the „it’s always been part of the plan” card to explain everything. I’m surprised they were so naive (just so I don’t use harsher terms) as to think that anyone would take their explanation that everything that happened in the previous games was actually all part of Diablo’s master plan.
Sure, hack and slash games typically don’t have impressive stories, because it takes a very light motivation to get someone to slaughter entire hordes of minions, but we’re not really talking about a debutant studio trying to balance its first title, nor a short production cycle that would justify an excuse such as „there was not enough time for more.”
Additionally, I thought there was a visible difference in quality between the first two acts and the last two, not just in terms of pacing. It’s as if from act 3 onward the producers suddenly ran out of time and quickly stitched something together so they wouldn’t get lynched by the angry fans waiting for the launch day.
Zuluf: these things used to be found more frequently in Warcraft games. In fact, I’m under the vague impression that the canons got slightly reversed: Warcraft lately seems to be more serious and more in the vein of „save the entire world”, while the new Diablo has all these funny subplots, secondary storylines with puns included and an encyclopedia of creatures described either in a caricaturized oriental voice, or the old man tone that Deckard Cain hilariously spreads his knowledge in. And Leah, one of the main characters, is the flawless girlfriend archetype, with her hair falling over her eyes and the delicate, photographic features of a Final Fantasy female protagonist.
Sure, maybe things evolve and it certainly can’t be said that Diablo looks bad, the only discrepancy is in the content of the color palette and lighting, both in the literal sense as well as in terms of symbols. The series’ recurrent theme, hope in humanity, is much more prevalent this time around. I suppose it’s a matter of taste, but I would have wished that the script didn’t have to use cheap tricks to say what it has to say. Even Marius, the cinematic narrator from Diablo II, had a more mature and authentic discourse than the overused expressions that make themselves heard in the new four acts.
Bossman: even so, I appreciated that the three followers – the Templar, Scoundrel and Enchantress – alongside the secondary characters, have their own stories waiting for be discovered if you have the patience to listen to what they have to say. Yes, I know, said stories aren’t really monuments of originality, but the way they fit in and the various comments your companions make when following you gives them enough volume to surpass the collective pixels label NPCs from these kind of games usually fall under.
Then again, I’m the kind of player who collects everything not bolted to the background and listens and reads everything and everything in the game world. Exploring all of these dungeons, cellars, caverns and so forth, I started to grasp the cogwheels animating the world of Sanctuary. I wonder what the people who finished the game in under 10 hours understood from the bits of story they glimpsed?