Diablo III Review: Blizzard's Brilliant, Blundering Wreck

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Diablo III: The Game

Diablo III isn't just a game -- it's a sequel, a social service, and a financial experiment all wrapped up in one. We've discussed the game's structure and balance in our extensive preview as well as its security problems earlier this week. The third part of the game -- the Real (Money) Auction House, or RAH -- won't debut until May 29 at the earliest and therefore won't be covered here. 

Diablo III will likely go down as one of the most polarizing games of 2012. What follows is a detailed examination of the game's best attributes and a frank discussion of its failures.

Diablo III: Graphics, Gameplay, and Design:

Act II's Caldeum, Jewel of the East

D3's gameplay is great. It retains all the addictive elements that made Diablo 2 so much fun, but streamlines and simplifies  cuts down on the frantic clicking (my tendonitis thanks you). The new skill system works and scales well. Users who complain that the new flexible skill implementation results in everyone's Wizard or Witch Doctor being the same, are wearing a blinding pair of rose colored glasses. In Classic D2, poor skill implementation, death penalties, and an inflexible skill point system meant everyone used cookie cutter builds or risked being crippled by their own poor choices farther down the road.

There are disquieting signs of improper balance testing at higher difficulty levels, but the Normal and Nightmare modes are both quite a bit of fun. On a simple, visceral level, Diablo III remains a lot of fun -- when you can play. We'll discuss that shortly.

Anyone complaining that Diablo III's art is "cartoony" or "too bright" are confusing "bright" with "Hey, we aren't limited to 16MB of graphics frame buffer and software T&L anymore!" Diablo II used a rewritten version of the first game's engine and retains the 16-bit color limitation that characterized that title. It was one of the last prominent games to feature 3dfx's Glide API, and looked better in that mode compared to Direct3D. Here's a recent screenshot of Diablo II running in forced 32-bit color mode and a Glide wrapper.

Diablo II, back when global, indistinct lighting was a feature. We barely had to re-size the screenshot.

The last generation Diablo game engine isn't dark because Blizzard set out to make some kind of definitive art statement, it's dark because the underlying engine barely qualifies as a DirectX 7 product. Player characters are just 75 pixels high. The Voodoo 3 -- a great video card for Diablo II -- had a 333 MTexels/second fill rate. The GeForce GTX 580 has a 49.4GTexel/second fill rate comparatively; so you get our drift.

Modern Diablo III. If you like the top one more, great. Go play it.

If you're nostalgic for badly dithered 64K sprites dancing in digital apoplexy, great. Go kill Fallen in Diablo II, and leave the rest of us alone. Alternately, go and visit Whimsyshire.

The secret Whimsyshire level - Like Super Mario on LSD

Yes, Diablo III has a secret unicorn/pony level, created especially for the people who complained about the game being too bright/cartoonish. Things like this are the special touches that normally make Blizzard games great. In D3, they aren't enough.

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