The DigestVideo

Games Of May 2012: Diablo III

Great taste, less fulfilling.

By John Teti • June 12, 2012

If you missed it, check out yesterday’s episode, in which we apply The Digest’s chat-and-chew magic to Max Payne 3.

This month’s edition of The Digest continues as Drew Toal and I move on from Max Payne 3 to talk about the month’s other big “three,” Diablo III. Maybe you can tell that I was hungry when we shot this episode, because I bounced from one empty-calories food metaphor to another until finally settling on the one that’s right in front of our faces. And then I went and played some Diablo III, because I have no willpower when it comes to sugary treats or sugary games.

Share this with your friends and enemies

Write a scintillating comment

1,704 Responses to “Games Of May 2012: Diablo III

  1. Cloks says:

    I can’t decide what my favorite parts of Diablo III are: having to beat normal mode to have a character powerful enough for the challenging parts, rewards doled out in such a trickle that it forces you to use the cash shop, the same maps repeated over and over with minor differences or the fact that there’s essentially no strategy beyond picking the same basic moves and finding the most powerful weapons you can afford.

    • root (1ltc) says:

      The latter part is among the primary issues I have with the game, the others being:

      The wide berth of space between where attacks are shown in the game and the area which they actually affect. 

      The lack of end game content, and randomized content. So many parts of the game require farming of identical set piece areas. Once you beat Inferno Act 4, what else is there to do?

      I’ve put enough time into the game that every additional hour I sink into it makes me feel increasingly guilty and worthless.

      • Cloks says:

        I found that switching the in-game music down to a whimper and turning on a podcast makes me feel like I’m actually doing something.

        I guess some more content could be found in trying for some of the harder achievements; I had the most fun in the game just trying to get the ones for completing each act in less than an hour apiece.

    • frogandbanjo says:

      D3 is almost the equivalent of getting Ms. Pac-Man as a sequel to Pac-Man after waiting 11 years (or more like 25-30, given how much more slowly the technology was progressing back when Pac-Man was first released.)

      I say “almost” because – as tremendously flawed as D2 was – D3 actually manages to do some things even worse. On top of that, the Auction House – combined with a simpler itemization system than D2 – pulls back the veil so that basically every single D3 player can see the horrendous grind coming before they even settle down into it.

      The CGI in the cutscenes is way better though. And the sound is top-notch. And, uh… the skill/rune system had potential. If Blizzard had thoroughly tested the endgame and iterated each class’s abilities a lot more, it might’ve realized as much of that potential as it could have, given D3’s horrendously limited interface. But they didn’t. So, nope.

  2. obiwanchernobi says:

    I can’t listen to people talk about food three days before payday when I’m broke. You’re really gettin’ on my shit list here John. First you tempt me with doughnuts and now this…

  3. Maudib says:

    What more innovation do you need than the mana liquid changing colors for each class?

  4. HobbesMkii says:

    I have no idea how to mod things, having failed to get past JAVA way back when I was attempting to be a computer science major, but I’d always dreamed about creating a Diablo II total conversion with a completely different story and setting. I feel like there’s something about the dungeon crawl that calls for a really proper story.

    • Swadian Knight says:

      You know what’s really sad? The real money auction house and the absence of an offline single player mode most likely means that Blizzard will not allow players to mod Diablo III. 

      They’re essentially doing away with one of the most attractive perks of PC gaming.

      • HobbesMkii says:

        I’d never thought about that. Yeah, that’s probably pretty true. There weren’t a lot of great mods for Diablo II, though, so perhaps it’s not a huge loss.

        • Swadian Knight says:

          I don’t know. I worry about it ’cause Diablo III is kind of a big deal, and I’m sure the success (or failure) of its new business model will impact the industry as a whole eventually.

    • KidvanDanzig says:

      There are some really fantastic mods for D2 that, if they don’t qualify for “Total Conversion” status, are quite close. Look up Eastern Suns.

  5. sirslud says:

    A PC game in a box? How quaint!

    I’m a monk. I will punch your face in. If you ask me, the allure of Diablo is the polish – as you move through the game, the different collapsible props you encounter, the ramping up of level and art design. You always wanna see what the scripting engine is capable of because they keep upping the ante. To wit, is this the first digest where John actually references the sound design of a game? That’s classic Blizzard polish right there – I assert that sound design is the red headed stepchild of game production.

    • caspiancomic says:

      Yeah, one of the things I wanted to touch on from the video is the mention of sound design. When you get a tried-and-true formula game, it’s the details that tend to separate the wheat from the chaff, and things like a unique aesthetic, stirring music, or memorable sound design can mean the difference between a game being a classic or a bargain bin stuffer. When you think about FPSs, for example, how powerful your gun feels when you shoot it is a big (but subtle) determining factor in how fun a game is. If your weapon feels weightless and weak, you’ll have less fun than if your gun weapon feels like firing a fork of lightning out of a shotgun. Attention to detail in sound design is a criminally undernourished element of game design and criticism, I think.

    • dreadguacamole says:

        I agree with this (and @caspiancomic:disqus above). Blizzard has poured bucketloads of sweat on how to make each class’ attacks seem really powerful, and the feedback from the powers is incredibly tactile. Not just due to sound design, but also the physics and particle effects, and the way enemies die in entertainingly gory ways (it reminded me a bit of fallout 1 and 2 in that sense).
       This has a huge effect on how enjoyable the game is. Now, if I only could combine this level of polish with the gameplay from Torchlight…

  6. Enkidum says:

    Blizzard has always written some shit-ass stories. Oldie but goodie question that got brought up: how willing are you to trade gameplay for story? 

    Diablo might not be the best example of this, but take something like Starcraft II, which has a paint-by-the-numbers story with some truly awful voice acting from several main characters, but REALLY deep gameplay that you can literally dedicate your life to. In that case, it strikes me that the best way to treat the game is as something like high-speed chess, and so the lack of a decent story really doesn’t matter. 

    These days I’m a lot less willing to forgive that if the gameplay is shallower, which is one of the reasons I have no real interest in Diablo III (despite having played and enjoyed II). I know I’d like the experience, but to continue stealing John’s ideas, I can’t subsist on Twinkies, no matter how well-made. (Actually, I kind of hate Twinkies.) But if you attached the same basic mechanics to a game with a more interesting story, I might be all over that.

    • dreadguacamole says:

        I’ve got a pretty good tolerance for bad stories if the game is good. But I will facepalm frequently (literally!) while playing it, and whine/make fun of the writing on the internet.

       What gets me is – why do people insist on telling stories when they’re so shit at it? Do Blizzard really think their writing is that good? To use your example, they put in segments on the Starcraft 2 where all you can do is interact with their horribly overwritten cliches. What the hell?
       Prevailing wisdom seems to be that games *need* huge, loud, blockbuster-style stories at this point, so we get them. Sometimes the devs get lucky or hire good writers, but most of the time we get Diablo 3, any given CoD, Prototype or Arkham City*.

       (As an aside, when I brought this point up over at the prototype 2 thread, someone mentioned that having a story/highly recognizable characters, no matter how shitty, is one of the easiest ways to differentiate your game from the rest, which I thought was both brilliant and hilarious.)

       My stance is that stories are nice to have, and are one of the aspects I most enjoy when done well (I’m currently replaying Mask of the Betrayer, for example) – but they’re not necessary. Games are unique in that they allow us to build a story around play, which is something AAA gaming is choosing to ignore at the moment.

      • Enkidum says:

        All very true. The dialogue options in SC2 almost decreased my enjoyment of the game (but let’s face it, the multiplayer is really what the game’s about). Is Arkham City that bad? I’d heard good things.

        I think one of the problems with game writing is that most developers seem to think that writing = words. Which is certainly true for books, but isn’t even true for film – you can have a brilliantly-scripted scene (or even movie) which has almost no words (cf. something recent like Valhalla Rising , which is obviously very precisely written, but largely silent). So many games seem to operate in a universe where the gameplay and the story are two totally separate elements – the whole notion of cutscenes is the strongest example of this. Valve is probably the AAA company that falls into this trap the least, Halflife II and the Portals being great examples of games that weave your action into the story, as opposed to dialogue trees and cutscenes. (And something like Braid or Bastion would be really rare examples where the gameplay itself or the scenery is part of the story.)

        Then again, sometimes cutscenes and dialogue trees are done well. Bioware puts enough effort into its words, and giving you a certain amount of control over which words get said, that it feels much more like a “real” story. But Christ, there’s a lot of shit out there. Then again, good stories, and novel ways of weaving story and game together, are expensive, and not really  necessary in order to make a pile of money. And as we both said, we’re willing to shell out the cash if the gameplay is good.

        • Merve says:

          Arkham City is totally ridiculous and over-the-top, bitch. Just when you think it can’t get any more ridiculous, the game throws another crazy twist at you, bitch. It seems as if the game is always trying to outdo itself, and it suffers as a result, bitch. The game also has too many characters and side plots, so it often feels as if it lacks focus, bitch. It gets even worse if you do a lot of the side missions, because then you’ll forget what’s going on in the main plot, bitch. In addition to that, because the game was made to get a T rating from the ESRB, the dialogue sometimes feels clunky, bitch. The overuse of a certain gendered insult becomes wearying after a while, bitch.

        • dreadguacamole says:

           Windig Refn is on a roll on well written movies where very little is said, isn’t he? I’m holding out for a badass, existential Logan’s Run…

           And Arkham City is a pretty good game. It’s just, well –  @Merve:disqus says it a lot better than I could In addition to all the stuff he mentions: it maintains a consistently immature tone while shooting for a gritty mature tone, it’s thoroughly unpleasant (it’s supposed to be that way, sure, but that doesn’t make it any easier to endure when there’s no deeper meaning to be had.) and after all the batshit (tee-hee!) insanity that goes on during the main game, the final series of reveals are extremely, almost hilariously, underwhelming.

        • Enkidum says:

          @Merve2:disqus @dreadguacamole:disqus Thanks for the clarification, bitch.

        • Merve says:

          Just to second what @dreadguacamole:disqus said, Arkham City is by no means a bad game; I enjoyed it quite a lot, actually. It nails the feeling of being Batman, of swooping through the city, fighting thugs, and using gadgets. But when it comes to the story, it’s best viewed as unintentional comedy.

        • Enkidum says:

          @Merve2:disqus Yeah, I have AA and haven’t played through it yet, but my understanding is it has fantastic gameplay which is generally improved on by AC.

        • root (1ltc) says:

          Merve, you are no longer allowed to transcribe telegrams.

    • GhaleonQ says:

      While I’d love to be selfish enough to play only those video games with objectively impressive stories, you know, I’d like to play more than 5 a generation.

      I admit that all I require is a good millieu.  If the developer’s elevator pitch is original or intriguing, I’ll forgive a TON of mediocre gameplay.  I’d apply that to new series and old.  Take Demon’s Castle Dracula: The Stolen Seal/Castlevania: Order Of Ecclesia.  70 percent of the game, aesthetics, gameplay, and story, is tried-and-true.  However (to focus on the story bits), the narrative structure, the return to a properly gothic tone, amazing character designs that support the dialogue, and the focus on the long-forgotten religious aspect of the series was a signal to me.  “Hey, they’re carving out a unique space with this one.”  The same goes for fighting games (Bakumatsu Romance/The Last Blade), puzzle (Wonder 3/3 Wonders) or shoot-’em-ups (Panzer Dragoon).  Honestly, I’d take a falling block puzzle game with a moving, 10-minute long story over something legitimately creative, gameplay-wise, like A.D.K.’s Twinkle Star Sprites series.

      I know that I’m in the minority, though.  People think that they want developed narratives in all games, but their line comes much sooner.  Super Mario platformers been crushingly generic since the Wii/DS.  I want nothing more than for the charm/stories of any non-platforming Super Mario game (the role-playing ones, Luigi’s Mansion, Yoshi, Wario Land, Super Princess Peach, Donkey Kong, anything) to be transposed to the platformers.  Even Super Mario Galaxy’s turned out to be too much for msot people, though.  Make with the jumping, I guess?  Personally, a funny, clever tale would do more to warm my heart than the _th remix of Above Ground from Super Mario Brothers 1.

    • Pgoodso says:

      (mild to serious SPOILERS)

      I feel like the stories from their first forays into modern gaming (the original Starcraft and Diablo, Diablo 2) actually had some narrative oomph. Characters had complete arcs (such as they were), and the worlds themselves were interesting and new. Or, at least, the story was beside the point enough that it could be separated from the game and enjoyed separately (like the entire story of Diablo 2 being told in the between act cinematics). Nowadays, the formula is “Which of our characters or properties can we make go insane, even against established lore, so that the player can kill something vaguely recognizable at the end of this campaign?” Kerrigan’s super obvious betrayals in Brood War, almost every living character in Warcraft 3 besides Thrall and Jaina going crazy or racist just to provide the player with an enemy, and now, the fates of Tyrael, Adria and Leah being super-foreshadowed but being treated like crazy cool twists/reveals, it’s like they’re writing Starcraft/Diablo/Warcraft fan fiction now, instead of writing anything worthwhile.

      Also, someone at Blizzard has a problem with women. I can think of only one female main character in their games that isn’t eventually somehow corrupted by evil or involved in subterfuge, Jaina Proudmoore, and she’s just a generically “good guy” character. From Garona all the way up to Adria and Leah, they’ve really latched onto the idea of a backstabbing female and run with it.

  7. Captain_Internet says:

    It’s not THAT fun. 

    Normal difficultly is a complete bore. There’s no challenge- the enemies are all weak and stupid. You don’t even need a grand array of tactics- even when you do get some new and interesting powers, on Normal difficulty the only tactic you need is ‘click on monster until it is dead using the most powerful weapon you have’. 

    From time to time you get to compare some numbers and listen to Kormac’s voice actor do his Sean Bean impression. Then it’s back to the grind.Now, Nightmare and Hell do make things a lot more entertaining, but to get there you have to play through normal, which takes around 20 – 25 hours. And you have to do that for every character you create. 

    Thus, having fun in this game comes at a price: if you want to play all the classes, you must endure 100 – 125 hours of boredom.

    Good games don’t do that. 

    Also the DRM is horrible.

    • The_Misanthrope says:

       To be honest, I would rather just play Desktop Dungeons than  any iteration of Diablo any day.  At least in DD every click is important, as it may be your last.

  8. The_Misanthrope says:

    On the subject of things that are not Diablo III:

    (I spent the entirety of that video expecting Ashton Kutcher to come out and tell me that I’ve been “punk’d”.)

  9. Shain Eighmey says:

    This is the conversation I’ve been wanting to have about Diablo 3! It is indeed very enjoyable despite the fact that it is possibly the most iterative advancement of any game in recent memory. The main difference seems to be that it makes simple actions feel rewarding. 

    Some games demand very complicated working of button pressing and team work to get spectacular results, but with Diablo 3 all one has to do is left click. Of course, there is more if you bother to look more into it, but it ultimately comes back to the fact that a single left click made in Diablo 3 is probably the most rewarding average click in any game, and they give you so many clicks to make!

  10. Raging Bear says:

    With Torchlight II around the corner, it seems to me like the only reason to buy Diablo III is if you really want to pay a $40 premium to experience the most famously disruptive DRM in history. Otherwise (and for what it’s worth, given that I’ve played the first Torchlight but no Diablos), they look to offer quite similar gameplay.

    Torchlight II even captures some of that release date mystery, what with still being due “Summer 2012.”

    • Aurora Boreanaz says:

      But having lag spikes and disconnections in a single player game is FUN, isn’t it?

      No?  What, then, is YOUR idea of fun?

      Diablo 3 is a good “popcorn” game (food analogy again…if it was already used in the video I apologize, can’t watch it right now).  Good in small amounts, but gets boring fast.

  11. grizzledyoungman says:

    First time commenter here.  Love the site and the thoughtful, often hilarious perspective you have (especially on the violence at E3).

    Given that, I’m surprised your review didn’t talk more about how gameplay has been simplified, with the ultimate goal of compelling the player to rely heavily on the Auction House.  Once the RMAH comes online, players will have a strong incentive to pay money in order to continue enjoying the game.

    In that sense, D3 feels much less like a computer game and more like a social media game.  Something that is easy to get hooked on, and naturally encourages you to pay money in-game. 

    Now I don’t really mind paying $60 for a twinkie, if it’s a really good twinkie.  But $60 for a game that plays like a prettied-up freemium tablet game?  I’m luke, and I’d say the ethics of this sort of business model/gameplay interaction are worth thinking about.

    EDIT: For those of you who are curious, I came across a handsome little video essay that neatly explains the gameplay simplification I was referring to. Link here:

    • Enkidum says:

      “In that sense, D3 feels much less like a computer game and more like a social media game.  Something that is easy to get hooked on, and naturally encourages you to pay money in-game.”

      Yeah, and clearly that’s one of the ways gaming is going to go, because the money’s there – Zynga’s proved that a thousand times over, and TF2 now shows that even the saintly Valve isn’t immune. I just hope that there’s enough of us paying for more traditional games that they manage to survive in the face of this high-profit addiction model.

  12. ToddG says:

    I like the idea of commenting on this article more than actually doing it.

  13. Tony_Reaves says:

    I love the contrast between these 2 guys. In future videos, you should heighten their differences for a buddy-cop movie effect.