2012-05-21

Diablo III – It’s A Good Game, But Should You Play It?

by Yo Snyder

Diablo 3 was one
of the most anticipated games in recent history. Diablo 2 was widely celebrated and was very popular, and
understandably so. It was a great game, with excellent multiplayer options, and
long lasting replayability. Due to the popularity, Blizzard was dedicated to
updating the game for the better part of a decade. As a matter of fact, the most recent patch
for Diablo 2 was released in October
of 2011. That’s mighty incredible for any game in the industry, especially on
that’s been out for over a decade. Plus, as a Christian, a game about killing
demons in a war between Heaven and Hell is certainly fascinating material.

At the start of the game, the player will choose a class to
play. There are five different classes to choose from. The Barbarian is a warrior who uses physical
attacks. The Monk excels at martial arts. The Demon Hunter is a ranged class
that uses bows and crossbows, as well as traps. The Witch Doctor uses poisons
and other voodoo to hoodoo their enemies. Lastly, the Wizard is a pretty
traditional magic class, who flings fireballs. The best gear stats for each
character are laid out plainly in the character screen, so the player knows
what kind of gear to equip for the maximum damage. For my review, I chose to
play a Demon Hunter, which I can say was a very good choice.

Diablo 3 is about the last lords of Hell
invading the world.  They are making a
play for the throne of Heaven, which angels fiercely protect. The final boss
fight is against the character, Diablo, the villain of the game. The main goal in
the story is to reach and subsequently defeat him. The story begins in New
Tristram, a town near the older town of Old Tristram from the first Diablo. The player is presented with a
cutscene following a monk named Deckard Cain, and his niece named Leah. Deckard is explaining his belief that the forces of Hell are
on the move, and that an invasion is immanent. Leah is doubtful, thinking her
uncle is simply a madman who believes in things that are never going to pass. No
sooner do they begin to leave the chapel than a meteor crashes through the
center of the building, creating a giant glowing crater. Uncle Deckard is
thought lost in the crater.

I find it incredible that only five minutes into this game
we already have an interesting example of Christian life. We are told to always
be on the lookout for the return of Christ as it could come at any moment, as a
thief in the night. Leah portrayed an attitude of disbelief, but the monk was firm
in his faith, and it pays off in the story. We must be resolute, even when we
are criticized, when our peers cast doubt on our faith.

The cutscenes are as beautiful as ever. Blizzard has done an
incredible job of crafting character animations, movements, facial gestures, hair
movement, etc. The music is also top notch. As we’ve come to expect with any
Blizzard game, the soundtrack is breathtaking. Tracks range from classical guitars, to full orchestras. Some of the cutscenes
are stylized motion-comics, with brown and sepia tones. I’m glad to report that
the narration and voice acting rarely seems campy or forced. You will likely find
better acting in Diablo 3 than in
most movies that will come out this summer.

Once I got control over my character, I began to fight my
way to the town of New Tristram. I soon discovered that the town is being
invaded by the undead. Once I protected the gates of town, I was directed to Leah
for my first quest. I was sent to explore the area around New Tristram and even
visit some ruins in Old Tristram. I ventured into to the dark labyrinths
beneath the chapel, the cemetery, and some caves under the fields. There is a
large amount of exploration to be had, and revealing the entire map became a
very real goal for me. I soon discovered a waypoint, a portal that would allow
my character to move between distant locations and the town more easily
(Thankfully, because the bags fill up with junk I’ve collected from all of the
foes I’ve eliminated). Soon, I received a town portal ability which allows me
to travel back to town from any point, and then go back to the same location
that I was in. This allows for very easy and convenient selling of junk gear,
crafting, and repairing, and doesn’t really impact player progression.  

The zones have a very gloomy atmosphere, thick with tension.
The visuals in Diablo 3 are dark and
gritty. There are angels, demons, evil critters, evil trees, and all manner of
zombies. The game is rated M for mature (meaning for 17 and older) by the ESRB,
and rightly so. Not only are the visuals very dark, there are many dark themes
in this game as well. Many of the characters are put into horrible positions, and
they are forced to make impossible choices. Yet through the darkness, the light
shines all the more. There is a great amount of fictional spiritual material
that can be used to open conversations and discuss real spiritual issues.
Saving Leah’s uncle was a noble tale of self-sacrifice, and this theme is
continually played out in Diablo 3.

The graphics are very gorgeous. The weather effects and the
environments make the zones seem to flow very well. The architecture for the
castles, dungeons, chapels, towns, ruins are really intricate and interesting.
The ruins of the sunken city were breathtaking, and even in Act 2, when the
player reaches the desert, the visuals are stunning. I often joke that I don’t
want to play in the desert in my video games because I live there! Yet, even
the desert in the game was beautiful and the wind added some great texture and
layer to the game. Many of the environments are destructible, which adds a lot
of fun to exploring.

The Templar is the first “Follower” character that the
player meets in the game, and has quickly become one of my favorites. While
fighting, he will randomly interact with the player’s chosen character in
pre-scripted conversations. He really got my attention the first time he said “My
faith armors me against fear.” I kept listening for more bits of wisdom, and I
also caught the following scripted exchange between my character and the
Templar.

Templar: I do not
understand how evil walks in the day. Should it not fear the light?

My character: If it is truly evil, it does not care.

Templar: But the light is both a literal and figurative foe
of evil!

It reminds me of 1 John 1:7 which says “But if we walk in
the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the
blood of Jesus, his son, purifies us of all sin.” The light of Christ is the
natural enemy of sin. If we stand in the light of Christ by acknowledging his
sacrifice, his payment for our sin, his light covers our sin. It’s as if it’s
been burned away by his light. His light cleanses us!

I’m very impressed with the AI of the non-player characters.
These characters follow the player’s character around, and are remarkably not
frustrating, as most AI can be. I rarely had to go off to find my companion,
and if we ran into a huge pack of enemies that needed to be dealt with more
strategically, they would run away with me instead of staying and fighting.

Skills are awarded every few levels. Aggressive skills are tied
to the left and right mouse buttons, and defensive skills are used with the
keyboard keys. There are six different skill slots, making the player choose the
skills that they want to use in a particular slot. Skills can be modified with runes
which are progressively unlocked as the player levels up. Each rune has specific
and unique advantages for the skills they apply to. The whole system is
designed to be customizable to how the player wants to play, instead of
requiring specific skills to be the best. I can pick between arrows, grenades,
or throwing knives, depending on how I want to play my character. In all, it’s
a very good system that makes for an even more engaging game.

The crafting system is very simple and straightforward, and actually
is more enjoyable for it. Instead of being required to craft loads of items you’ll
never use to level up, you simply pay gold for the ability to craft the next
few items. If you don’t need items, there’s no need to craft them. When a piece
of gear isn’t dropping for my character, there is almost always an option to
craft it. However, crafting is also expensive, and the more it’s leveled, the
more gold it costs to advance it to the next level.  

The difficulty in the game ramps up in a way that makes it
easy to start playing, but progressively more difficult. It becomes more and
more important to make sure that the character is equipped with the best gear
they have, and to get the right stats. As I get further along, there is more
and more danger and I seem to die more often. There are checkpoints that save
progress quite frequently, so I’ve never lost much time. Normally, the
checkpoint is quite near where I died. There are many fights that are difficult
to solo, even with a non-player follower character. Much of the fun of Diablo is playing with friends to fight
through really tough bosses that drop really good gear. The better gear a
player has, the more they will contribute to the group they are playing with. One
of the things that has kept people playing Diablo
2
, and will likely keep people playing Diablo
3
for a very long time, is the promise of getting new gear to use with
friends in tougher dungeons. The new Battle ID system Blizzard has implemented
makes grouping really easy. I was able to jump into a friend’s games within
just a few seconds. My only frustration with this happened the first time I
joined another game. I joined my wife’s game to help her find her way through a
room, and I lost all of the progress I made on my quest and had to start the
quest over. There wasn’t really a clear warning that this would happen, as
those checkpoints saved my progress quite frequently.

There are also multiple difficulty levels in the game, with
“Hardcore” being the toughest. Once you play a character to level 10, the
hardcore option unlocks. If you play at the Hardcore setting, death is
permanent. This means if you die at level 5 or level 30, your character is dead
all the same. This adds a special level of caution to the game that will make
the player think through their actions even more. It’s a really cool idea, and
I honestly think more games could benefit from a permanent death option. It
harkens back to the start of modern gaming, with games that were simply over
when they were over.

A new feature in Diablo
3
that fans have been very split over is the real money auction house. The
idea is that the player can sell their super rare drops on the auction house
for real money, and other players can buy that gear through a real money
transaction. Blizzard has learned over the years through WoW that people will
always try to exploit in game items with real life money. This is their first
attempt at making a feature that better controls the problem. Blizzard also
recognizes the opportunity to make a little extra cash on the side couldn’t
hurt. That being said, many players are upset because this does have the
ability to turn the game toward a pay to win scenario. Since the feature has been
delayed from the intended late May date, we won’t know if this feature is
actually something good or bad for the game. Only time will tell if players
will actually use it. If it takes off, it could set a precedent for other
games, and give players the ability to make some side money playing the games
they are already playing. It’s certainly an interesting idea that could have
dubious results.

If you’re a parent, and are concerned about your kids
playing Diablo 3, there are a few
things that I can suggest. First, understand that if your child is a gamer,
this is something their friends will very likely be playing (especially if your
kids are older). It’s important to help set the context for something like this,
and help provide meaning to the concepts presented in game. Be invested in what
your kids are playing, and be involved in helping them to understand that the
world of Diablo is a fictional world,
but has elements that are certainly pulled from the Bible. Know your kids’
strengths. The Bible tells us to test all things, and also tells us that we are
not given to a spirit of fear, but of sound mind and judgement. Diablo 3 is a video game with a very
dark setting. But it’s easier to shine a light in dark places, and your kids
might very well have the ability to use the angels, demons, Templar’s quotes,
etc. to begin discussions of spiritual matters with their friends. If that’s
who your kids are, I think they’ll do OK with Diablo 3.

As a gamer, Diablo 3
is quite the masterpiece. An exceptional amount of care has been put into
making sure this is a great game that will have longevity and replayability. Aside
from some technical issues during the first couple days after it went live, and
the uncertainty of the real money auction house, I still feel very comfortable
giving Diablo 3 a 6/7 for being an
outstanding gaming achievement. The gamer could do far worse this summer than
spending their time in Diablo 3.

Score: 6 of 7