Diablo III: How Heavy This Axe

So many have fallen, so many more must die, cut down like wheat beneath a scythe. And though our limbs may weary of ripping, slashing, and cleaving blows – we face an endless host of foes. How heavy this axe, burden carried from birth, wrought in Stygian visions by the gods of the Earth. These are lyrics from a song called, unsurprisingly, How Heavy This Axe, by a very good metal band from Texas called The Sword. Thematically, the song is about as “Diablo” as you can get. Often described as “Conan metal”, the Sword loves topics about more classical forms of swords-and-sorcery heroes. The similarities between song and game don’t end there, though.

The Sword are a modernization of an old, but dearly loved style. Their music brings reminders of the early days of heavy metal; fans often quote how alike their albums are when compared to Black Sabbath’s early sound. Yet it is still distinctly modern, the production tricks used to make it evoke the past are true indicators of how much attention has been paid to the presentation. Diablo III is essentially the same. Blizzard has attempted that which so many other companies have attempted before – reviving a beloved IP and bringing it into the modern scene. I didn’t play D1 – only D2, so I’ll leave the better part of this particular discussion to other members of the gaming community, but I personally think they’ve done a fine job… with minor exceptions.

This morning I realized what my Diablo III experience has been like: the video game version of a Frank Frazetta painting. Pictured above is my Barbarian, Garm (named after a hound in Norse mythology that guards the gates of Hel). He totes around an axe and is followed around by a busty Enchantress. There is no regard for the property or safety of others, it is a succession of exceedingly bloody combats punctuated by the mystical unfolding of the story. It’s all very Robert E. Howard-esque and for me that’s about as good of frank-frazetta-the-destroyera compliment as I can give to a game.

On that topic, the game is gorgeous. It’s got a nice, varied color palette that is all drowned in a sort of gloomy glow. The early New Tristram levels look like they’ve been pulled straight out of some old-school Universal horror flicks. The attack effects are easy to distinguish and aesthetically pleasing, and the cinematics are exactly the quality we’ve come to expect from Blizzard. Moreover, it all runs very well due to Blizzard’s continuing experimentation with “low-fi” effects to reduce graphical strain. If you look closely at the borders of the screen or just pay attention to the animations and whatnot you’ll notice a slew of tricks and shortcuts to get the desired visual effect without burning out your graphics card. For gamers on older machines, this must seem like a blessing but it has flustered a great deal of the community. I personally think it’s a great decision. Diablo is being brought from the fairly rugged 2D world into fancy modern 3D. Heavy-handed graphical upgrades probably would’ve felt a bit too much.

I’d like to refrain from talking about the plot or the story too much as there are plenty of things to spoil early in the game, some of them very drastic events indeed. Coming into the game without prior knowledge of the Diablo plot is not advised. The story from the prior games is best described as extensive. You’ll pick up things during play as they try to stick some re-caps in for new players, but it will leave you feeling a few steps behind in the storyline department. Before playing, do yourself a favor and google some summaries. So far it’s developed nicely and the “big twist” we all see coming is still shrouded well enough to keep it interesting. We may have a spoiler-filled discussion on our next podcast, so be sure to watch the site.

My only real complaint so far is the control. The click-heavy scheme is very much a product of attempting to stay true to the originals, but (I’m not sure if I have some really skewed settings or something) I have a tough time maneuvering my barbarian in more tactically tedious situations. This has led to some really embarrassing deaths where instead of clicking to move out of the way I inadvertently click on an enemy and stand there taking that Pain Monger’s cudgel right to the face. It’s not game-breaking but I find myself struggling to get my character moving like I want on a regular basis.

This is only the initial review of Diablo III. I would like to come back and do a follow-up once I’ve beaten the game and gotten a lot more time with it – this is a game that isn’t going anywhere. Blizzard would be fools to release this and just let it go, so you can definitely expect waves of new content in the future. I’m predicting a World Editor function by Christmas and the first full expansion a few months after that. Should you be playing? Absolutely. It’s the biggest game release in (arguably) a decade. It hearkens back to a time when games were… different. That ability to tap into nostalgia probably skews my opinions, but I feel the gravity of this release tends to overshadow most of the problems of rose-tinted glasses. There has been so much hype and criticism leveled at this game from day one that I feel confident in saying my shining recommendation that you play it is not due to fond memories. Get out there and hit some stuff with an axe, just don’t hit the chickens.


Shaun Watson

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