Diablo III: It’s Not World of Warcraft

Like many of you, I’m sure, I played the Diablo III open beta this weekend. I didn’t have much time with it as there were some serious server issues. Presumably Blizzard was not prepared for how many people would want to get their hands on this title. It’s one of the biggest sequels to ever be released and has already been incredibly divisive. Few games have as much to live up to as Diablo III, but few developers are as equal to such a task as Blizzard.

Well, I certainly can’t weigh in on if they managed to deliver what so many fans have been craving. I played the game for just a short while – just long enough to get a taste. But what I’ve seen so far looks great. The first thing to notice is certainly the visuals. Much like they have with all of their titles, Blizzard uses tricks to reduce strain on the system while still putting out a visually appealing product. It’s all kept at the edge of the map, but it’s there if you look hard enough. And you do have to look hard. Diablo III exists in a state of perpetual gloom. Everything is wrapped in shadow and it’s very easy to sort of lose the background areas in one amorphous blob of darkness. To break this up from time to time, the towns have warm streetlights fighting against the pallid and dark color palette. Lots of greys and blues dominate the areas around New Tristram and I think it does a very good job of building atmosphere.

The gameplay is pretty much exactly what you would expect. It plays like Diablo, but modernized. So you could argue it plays like Torchlight. These are both compliments, but there is certainly nothing revolutionary being done here. An interesting choice I found was the use of Bioshock-like audio tapes. Of course there aren’t actual tapes, but upon discovering a book you are presented with a voice actor reading what you would typically get in text. People who don’t like the “break” in the flow that is required of reading journal entries and reports will adore this, but it will irk many Diablo purists.

That is really one of the biggest concerns with Diablo III. Blizzard is a great developer that makes great games. But they’ve painted a target on their backs with the giant that is World of Warcraft. Moreover, few games have ever had so much hype or expectation riding on them. Diablo III already has so much working against it – so many opinions are already informed, many of them biased. From a very basic perspective, things look really good for now, but we won’t be able to make decisive comments for a few more weeks. Rest assured, the various forums and comment pages of the gaming world will be likened to the buzzing of so many hornets come May 15th.

Shaun Watson

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