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Jul
16
2012

Game Review (Retrospective): Diablo 3

Diablo 3 was one of the most highly anticipated PC games of this generation. It set a new record for the fastest selling PC game ever, with more than 3.5 million sold in the first 24 hours, and it went on to sell 3 million more throughout its first week. It was originally released on May 15, 2012 in multiple territories, and everyone has, of course, weighed in with their reviews of the game. With the recent release of the 1.0.3 patch, though, this may be the time to take a retrospective look at the game as well as the controversies and changes that have followed it.


Troubled Launch

Unfortunately, it’s hard to look at Diablo 3 without seeing all the problems it had on launch day. Those 3 million people bought their game and expected to start playing it immediately, but it proved to be more than what Blizzard’s servers could handle. Jokes about “Error 37” ran rampant throughout the Internet as people who had waited for more than 12 years to play another Diablo game couldn’t get past the login screen to play a game they had legitimately purchased.

As the number of players dropped off, though, these problems smoothed out and it is now rare to hear complaints about the ability to connect to the game. On the other hand, because of the need to be online, even for a single player experience, slow or weak connections can still cause lag or latency issues during gameplay.


Always On DRM

When Blizzard announced that even the single player game would require an always-on Internet connection, it caused more than a little outcry. That meant if your ISP went out, you couldn’t play. If Blizzard did some maintenance on their servers, you couldn’t play. It wasn’t the kind of announcement many gamers wanted to hear.

The reason for this controversial decision was the planned (and only recently instituted) Real Money Auction House. Players have the opportunity to sell their virtual items for real money, and with real money on the line, Blizzard needed to implement some strict security measures. Many players called for a separation of online and offline play, especially since it hasn’t seemed to stop hackers and cheaters yet.

On a more serious note for Blizzard, this led to some problems with the governments of Korea, France, and Germany. The always-on DRM prevents the resale of the game. This goes against fair trade agreements in Korea, France, and Germany. In Korea, Blizzard’s headquarters were raided after reports that the company refused to provide refunds to consumers who complained about launch-day problems.

The Patch

Patch 1.0.3 managed to stir up even more controversy because when new users bought the game online, their copy was locked down for up to 72 hours, limiting them to Act 1, a level cap at 13, and no access to the Real Money or Gold Auction House and other features. These limitations were ostensibly put in place to deter credit card fraud, but after a very poor reception, and more customer outcry, Blizzard released patch 1.0.3a that removed the level cap and let the players advance further into the game. However, there’s still no auction house, trading, or chatting in public or game channels for up to three days.


The Actual Game

So now that we’ve addressed some of the issues that have surrounded the game, it’s time to look at the game itself. Is it actually any good? Short answer: yes. It’s a good game. In fact, it’s a great game. The “Diablo Formula,” if you will, has been addicting gamers for years. It works for a reason, and Diablo 3 puts a wonderful shine on the look and the gameplay. But if you’re looking for some revolutionary, new addition to the PC gaming industry, you probably won’t find it here.

Diablo 3 picks up the story 20 years after the events of Diablo 2, and just like its predecessor the story doesn’t actually involve your character (which always seemed odd to me). The cut scenes always involve some people who aren’t you. Your job is to just be there, slightly behind the story, ridding the land of creatures and filling your pockets with their gold.

The graphics are simply stunning. Blizzard wanted to make this game accessible to the largest number of PCs possible, though, so you can still run the game at its highest resolution and detail settings on some mid-level graphics cards. The game was originally criticized for being too bright, colorful, and cartoony, but this design choice will help the game age much better than darker or grittier graphics.

Difficulty levels continue to fluctuate, but your first play-through will be surprisingly simple. They kept the difficulty low in order to keep the attention of new players. Experienced players, however, may be put off by the lack of challenge early on.
The characters are fun, but you won’t find much that is new or original. Even the new character classes are really just a variation on or combination of things we’ve seen before. The biggest difference is the way you progress through the levels. You have less control over your character’s attributes, but at the same time, you’re not stuck with one path, and you can change the character around to fit your play style.

So in the end, it’s a good game that will have you clicking your way through hordes of demons into the wee hours of the morning, just hoping to find that one more magic item that is sure to drop if you only play for five more minutes… But the controversy around some of Blizzard’s decisions is really hard to ignore. Always online DRM means that Diablo 3 is a product and a service, and some early failures in their ability to deliver that service is going to hang over this game for a long time.

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