Introduction – In The Beginning, There Was Dial Up (The Tool Of The Devil!)
Ah…the Diablo series!
How I have loved thee! I admit that since it’s inception where it was the first to offer four player cooperative RPG through Blizzard’s Battle.net service, I was enthralled. Or at least, that’s what I could recall about the very first Diablo (despite that it had a VERY nasty single player with the randomised dungeons). But here was the catch with the whole Battle.net service: dial-up was the predominant form of networking communications (before LANs and advanced forms of networking that we are spoiled with today). What does that mean to you if you have never lived in this period? Frequent communication drop-offs (disconnect) and sometimes freezing gameplay resulting in speedy catchup (extreme lag). And not just simple one second lag. I mean the kind that would induce the modern user to unexplicable rage fits. After all, the modern user has no patience. I mean seriously. You wait patiently in a checkout line for three minutes and someone is already losing their sh#@ at another customer or register. Actually, I am digressing. Since this was done by connecting to ISPs (Internet Service Providers) through analog phonelines, this meant that making and receiving calls was impossible (unless you had a classic 1990’s cell phone on hand with you). This was a good way to block out calls from telemarketers, survey takers, and the random unwanted people that would call for no good reason just to drive you nuts! All good reasons to hog the f?!@in’ phone line unless you got in trouble with the tribal elders, of course! But a situation like this would force one to only play the game solo. Which is what I did. But I digress again. Anyways, back to Diablo 3: Reaper of Souls!
If the name isn’t some kind of giveaway, you are after the Lord of Terror himself: Diablo. He is continuing to wreck havoc on humanity in new…and let’s just say “interesting” ways. I won’t say much more than that because if you aren’t familiar with the Diablo titles by now, you must’ve been under a rock! And no spoilers for you if you have been under a rock! What I will say is that Diablo himself is never one to shy away from the “manipulative bad guy who keeps getting away” trope, for sure.
Over the years, the gameplay mechanics that defined this “classic” RPG series has not changed much. Ok. I should say almost not at all. The only difference this time is that it limits what powers you can choose in each of the slots. You won’t be able to have access to them right off the bat because standard RPG conventions state that you will gain new abilities and add them to your repetoire only at specified levels. I personally preferred when they allowed you to map any skill to any button on the first Diablo III game (I played this on the PS3 when this happened) but with the Reaper of Souls expansion, they removed that ability. I mean, WTF?!? You are now forcing me to adhere to your rules, Blizzard! I take offense to that! Like a conservative that can’t own his/her religion or patriotism. How dare you tell me that my defensive spells (presuming you play the Wizard) are now strictly to the square button and the triangle button is my area of effect spell? What if I want it mapped to my L2 button or something? But the good news is that Blizzard apparently thought this through and in order to map any skill to any button, all you do is go to Options -> Gameplay -> and select Elective Mode. Kudos to you Blizzard for catching that near folly. You also get your choice of three NPC helpers to help you through the game, but you have to find them first. I get the sneaking suspicion that most of the people chose the rogue as their constant companion and I should get a survey to see if that was the case.
At any rate, the gameplay style is still the same as PC version but they “tweaked” it for the console version. Instead of point and click due to its PC/Mac origins, you just use the left analog stick to point the character in a direction and whatever enemy is highlighted in red, it will be attacked by the power assigned to the attack button you pressed afterward. Keep making your character face an attack direction and mash the attack button or buttons repeatedly until the enemy dies or the horde of enemies dies. Wash, rinse, and repeat for hundreds…no wait. Thousands of more times for hours on end. Let’s be honest. This is the “staple” gameplay mechanic that has defined the series since it’s conception. Diablo 3 has not strayed too far from that mechanic either. They made two other additions for the console version and the first is that they included a “lock-on” feature so no matter how you move, you will always attack that enemy as long as you don’t let the button go. This is indicated by a yellow triangle over the enemy that is highlighted as you press the “lock-on” button. Any attack button pressed will be directed toward the enemy with the yellow mark. Any attacks that aren’t your basic attack will require a cooldown before you can use it again. And this is where it will be divisive among players. You have one camp that will love the RPG genre and will put up with the admittedly monotonous “gameplay”. I myself love this genre and and just like to blitz my way through a horde of enemies. That is, in a Battousai the Manslayer of Japanese historical mythology kind of way. I imagine plenty of other people got bored with it and went to go play a FPS of some sort.
At any rate, the other “tweak” that was a major separation of the console version from the PC version was that they now have a dodge ability just by flicking the right-analog stick in any direction. The character will instantly do an action hero style saving leap in the direction indicated. And let’s not forget, you get rewarded for…and there is no polite way of saying this…”vandalism”. Yes, if you can destroy a certain amount of objects within a specified time, you get rewarded! In my case, I got a speed boost! You know, just in case the police happen to be on your tail for graveyard vandalism (or stealing a peak at Leah’s diary when she indicated that it is not polite to read it while you are in her room with her standing right there in your party).
I have always enjoyed the audio quality of Blizzard’s games. And Diablo 3: Reaper of Souls is no exception. The voice acting is spot on and there are many characters that have interesting quirks. The two men in Tristram’s bar come to mind for their high entertainment value. Also, the haunting and dispiriting nature of the soundtrack captures the impending hopelessness in a way that will leave you thinking that a rapture is just around the corner. Or more likely, a Hell and Heaven lead armageddon is on it’s way. In fact, I think the “BOOM” noise was from downstairs. It might be an indication that if I don’t clean up the messy exploded microwaved pizza, there WILL be an apocalypse on my life in the near future. If you don’t hear from me in the future, you will know why!
This game will easily shave hours….umm…I mean YEARS off your lifespan. While the story is decent, it was the presentation that makes the game one of Blizzard’s finest. I will forgive them for the lack of control customisation…ok. Maybe I won’t. Just this one time though!
In case you were curious as to why I didn’t cover graphics, it’s because I don’t see it as that important. I can hear many of you asking why. Well, my answer is that the medium is now using a wide array of styles from the art medium. If someone likes the Art Deco style, they will hate games with an cell-shaded anime style or modern 3D style. This in turn results in plenty of people who will downgrade a game simply because of the graphics. I am more interested in how a game can pull you into its world without the graphics. Music, audio, backstory, dialog, and lore are all important to me. You have to make me care as to why I have to do what my character is being asked to do these things. Make me care about my teammates. That’s it.
However, if the graphics are really that important to you, then more power to you! But there will be a day you will get so old, you will barely see anymore. That is when the graphics crispness will be a moot point. But anyways, Diablo 3: Reaper of Souls does pull me in and is a solid all around RPG with pretty good graphics, though it was nothing too fancy save for their jaw-dropping CG movies in between acts.
I give it 8 out of 10 hell-spawned demons and I’m certain the game would even be more enjoyable if Diablo said the following borrowed/modified dubbed line from Monokuma of Danganronpa fame:
“I look out and you know what I see? A few nephalim that aren’t dead! Major bummer! That’s why I am going to light a fire under your tucases to get things moving. Maybe a real one. Don’t tempt me!”
PS: If you want to see the short gameplay sampler I made of a wizard running around in the crypts, you can see it here.