Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Diablo 3 Review

So, I have to admit, I was not that excited about Diablo 3. I had played a lot of Diablo 2, the original. I hadn't really played the expansion. But I had lost countless hours of my 7th-8th grade years doing Mephisto and Diablo runs on Nightmare and Hell. Those were great times. But I wasn't sure I wanted to repeat this whole experience. I figured, how could a game that was more or less the same game be fun a second time around? I played Torchlight earlier this year and got pretty far into it. I got close to finishing it, but not all the way. It honestly got kind of repetitive after a while. It was literally just going deeper and deeper into the dungeon. You never came out and went to a different place. The environments changed, but you just kept going deeper. Regardless, I enjoyed it, but I wasn't super pumped to play Diablo 3 or anything. I knew the internet was though.

However, when my friend Marc decided that the game would be more fun if played with friends and offered to pitch in to buy it for me, I was hesitant to say no. "I mean, it might be really fun with friends", I contemplated, so I decided to take him up on his offer. And boy am I glad I did. This game is the most fun  I've had playing a game for a long time. It's addicting, engaging and accesible while being surprisingly complex and deep. Blizzard could have produced a game that coasted on the phenomenal success on Diablo 2's name and sold millions of copies regardless if the game was good or not. However, they not only matched the success of Diablo 2, but I think they have surpassed it. The fun polished final product suggests that the creators and development team really took the time to study what made Diablo 2 work so well and along the way they fixed a lot of what was wrong with it and created a fantastic game that will raise the bar for both Action RPGs and sequels in general.

One of the best parts of Diablo 3 is the whole aesthetic appeal of the game. The art direction of the game is simply incredible. The look of Azmodan, Diablo and the whole High Heavens are just really really cool looking. The atmosphere is incredible in this game and one of the ways they achieve this is through the graphics. They are warm, detailed and add a lot of depth to the game while not being a simple gimmick. Your character progresses through a variety of environments even in the first Act and one of the things that I really liked was the detail they put into the space outside the explorable map. You know, the place that you can't get to. They fill it with rich textures of swamps, mountains, dungeons and a variety of other background pieces. It really helps add to the feeling that you are a part of a living, breathing world, and immersion is one effect Blizzard achieves with flying colors. What is also great is that the game actually sorta scale. I know that when I get home to my real desktop computer, I should be able to crank the graphics up and play it beautifully, but I can play it pretty well on my Macbook Air. I do get frame rate slowdowns when in particularly busy fights, but nothing that I can't handle.

When I said they did not simply piggy back off the success of the old game, I wasn't kidding. Underneath, it is still the same game as it was before, and Blizzard even subtly acknowledges this. In Diablo 2, you went from Tristram to a desert level from Act 1 to Act 2 and this is the very thing you do in Diablo 3. It's a subtle reminder that this is still the game you know and love. However, they have corrected many of the problems that plagued the original Diablo 2. Firstly, they have now moved on to everyone getting their own loot in multiplayer. No longer are the people with slower internet connections and slower computers at a disadvantage when the boss dies. Everyone will get something. However, they left in the system of being able to drop items to trade. Without that feature, the game probably wouldn't feel like Diablo. Additionally, they decided to do away with Scrolls of Town Portal and Identity. Some will say that this was part of the game, but I want to commend Blizzard on it. That is a feature that was characteristic of the series, but not in a good way. There were few things that were more annoying than when you were out in the wilderness and you realized that you had forgotten to buy Town Portal scrolls. They made an executive decision and it makes the game much more fun. You spend less time doing tedious activities and more time slaying hordes of monsters, which is the most fun aspect of this game.

The choice to include health orbs was a wise one as well. It makes the game less about collecting potions and rewards killing monsters instead of buying stuff. It adds to the fast paced nature of the game and keeps your character moving forward, never losing momentum. The pacing of this game is superb as well. The acts go quickly enough that you do not get bored, but they last long enough to finish in an extended sitting. This all helps the momentum of the game never really stop until you finish the game on normal setting.

In the Original Diablo 2, there were 5 classes, with 2 more added in the expansion. With 12 years of development, Blizzard surely could have come up with some more classes. Instead, they opted to make each character have a variety of play-styles. Good news is, is that this gamble succeeded. Each character has about 15-20 spells, but only 6 can be actively at one time. What this forces the player to do is to think about what sort of role you want to fill. As a Wizard, I could either be a living bomb, opting to pick spells that AOE out from my character, or I could choose to be a single target ranged killer, or a AOE at range role. However, these are all decided on the fly and leads to incredible depth to the classes. Not only can you only use 6 spells of an available 30, each spell has about 7 different runes for each one. And you guessed it correctly, you can only have 1 rune per 1 spell. This leads to thousands, if not millions, of different combinations that are possible for each class. You unlock the available 6 slots for actions by level 10 or so, providing good time for you to experiment with the interactions between all your spells as you level and take on more monsters. The game is easy to pick up, but provides incredible depth and complexity if you choose to partake in it. And what is great, is that the spells you unlock first stay relevant throughout the game, as the damage scales based on weapon damage, not a set number. This means the spell you used at level 1 is going to be roughly just as good as the one you get at 30. There will simply be situational differences that dictate their use instead of numerical ones. Too often do games pick up a mechanic and ditch it later on because something new and fancy came along. Diablo keeps all of its content fresh consistently, and this is a considerable feat.

All of this great gameplay works well playing even by yourself. But where the game's most fun times are to had are online. They say bad pizza is great with friends, and so it comes to no surprise that great pizza is incredible with friends. Multi-player online with Diablo 3 are an absolute blast, and are among the best times I've ever had playing a game online, rivaling the days of Halo 2, Team Fortress 2, WoW and Gears of War. When you get 4 players into a game and you are all hacking and slashing your way through hordes of enemies, they are few things that have made me as happy. And since everyone has their own loot, there is never any fights over loot, only better chances that someone in your party got something that your character can use.

What is going to be impossible to predict of this game is the legacy of. No review could have anticipated the massive overwhelmingly positive reaction to the online play of Diablo 2. The game has inspired millions of people, in multiple ways. It inspired a bunch of kids who grew up playing it to make games like that when they grew up. It also inspired industry designers who saw the success of Diablo and looked to copy it. It paved the way for games like Torchlight and Titan Quest, even if Diablo wasn't the original Action RPG. It made it marketable and the proof of that is in the sales numbers and longevity of its continued play. Will Diablo see such continued play for the next 10 years? Or will it be a flash in the pan game that people cease to play after the hype dies down. There is no way to tell.

Diablo 3 makes extremely good use of a limited amount of material. They re-use astonishingly well. They use a limited number of levels, classes, skills and stories, yet they make it continually fresh. They have delivered a game that is accessible, simple, complex, addicting, beautiful, and social without departing radically from the Diablo franchise. Blizzard has raised the bar yet again with this iteration of the series and has proved once again that they, along with Valve, can consistently put out high quality, polished games, even if it takes forever. It really makes me feel like it was worth the wait.


  1. Diablo 3
  2. WoW

Technical Mechanisms, Video Games and Art: A Reflection on Reviews

The industry of reviews has an ongoing debate, perpetuated by the nature of the medium, about how much a good video game review talks about the technical mechanisms of the game it reviews. Shawn Elliot (ex-GFW and current Irrational Games) contests (in the GFW show of October 25th 2007) that in any other medium of art criticism, a good reviewer seldom talks about the medium itself when discussing the merits of the piece of art. He goes on and says that most video game reviewers become unnecessarily fixated at the technical aspects of the game and forget to add if they liked the game or not. I liked what he had to say and I began to think about what he had said. In the kind of review he is referring to, they describe the game itself and then they decide that the piece is good enough of a "review" fit for publication. It isn't.

A good review, whether it be music, movie or an event, will describe the thing firstly with objective facts. The aspect that separates an average review from a good review is whether or not the reviewer will then turn around and describe their own subjective reaction to those facts. There is nothing wrong with being subjective. As humans, everything will be biased in one way or another. It is impossible to avoid this reality. What we can do then is recognize that we will all be biased and write subjectively. It is then the duty of the reader to know that the review is subjective and take that into account when reading it. However, I think that Elliott makes a couple missteps in his statement. Firstly, I believe a good reviewer considers the form of the art medium in a good review and comments upon it. Secondly, I also believe that video games are an unique art form, as their existence predicates itself on the existence of technology, therefore rely on it working correctly, and because of this, the form of video games can have a significant influence on the content of it.

To start off, it is important to define what I mean by the term "technical mechanisms". In the broadest sense, they are they systematic pieces that frame the game, and allow it to be engaged. They can be easily observable parts like controls, video resolution, frame rates, and graphics quality, as well as more intangible aspects like, delivery methods, menu layout or how the multi-player system is setup. These can be considered "form". The other side, we have "content". These are things like, story, game mechanics or level design. These two aspects, form and content, constitute all art in the world, across all mediums. They are in books, movies, music, dancing, architecture, painting, sculpture and any other art form you can imagine. However, some of the difference lies in how much you can separate the two from each other. It's a largely fruitless exercise (since form cannot exist without content, and vice versa), but it may help it understand what can be considered form, and what can be content. For a book, the form is the page layout, the font type, the sentence layout on the page, and the placement of words upon the page, among other things. The content is the story. Now, the tricky part comes when you try to separate the two. Is there story without chapters? Does the story change when you change the page layout? The more important question would then be, "Does your experience change?". If you look to an art like dancing, it is impossible to see the dance without the form. You cannot separate the form of the dancer from the content of the dance. But that doesn't mean both form and content don't exist in this medium. It just means that the two appear differently in each different medium and affects the experience of each medium in different ways. Now, how does art use that form to create meaning?

A lot of good artists utilize the medium itself in order to convey meaning and to not discuss this is to miss some of the message they are trying to convey. Jonathan Safran Foer is a writer in particular that uses the medium of the printed book to create a subtle, multi-layered message. James Joyce uses this as well in Ulysses (the last chapter is five sentences long, spanning 50 pages, mirroring the stream of consciousness style of thought). Arguably, sentence count and length could be considered a "technical" aspect of the book. If you read, "this chapter has 5 sentences and they are 30 words in length", that is pretty similar to hearing "there are 10 levels in the game" and hearing, "the graphics are using Unreal Engine" is close to hearing, "the book has a 12 point font". These are both instances where the form of the medium can be used to shape the content of it. If the font of a book uses Times New Roman versus Sandscript, there is probably a reason behind it. The printer had to decided which one to chose, so it's not an accident. Additionally, while books are regionalized and can be printed on a variety of page sizes and font sizes, consider for a moment if that wasn't true. What if there was only edition of the book, and the font was small and hard to read. This would greatly impact the experience one has with the book. If the "great review" looks to explain your experience with the art object, mentioning that it was physically hard to read would make that experience different. Video games only have one graphics engine, one controls scheme and one frame rate. It is impossible to distinguish form from content in the medium of video games for this reason. If the story and mechanics was transplanted into another "shell" of a video game, maybe it would be different and better, but most of us would consider that a different game. The form of video games is important for the experience.

This is similarly experimented with in other art modes. Great filmmakers tinker with the format of film, changing color filters, film speeds, sound qualities and other aspects that can greatly influence how we experience the film. Music does this as well. When Elliott says that great reviewers don't talk about the technical aspects of the medium, I think he is mistaken. I believe they do. I just think it's in a tone that is different from the tone we usually get when reading about scholarly things like music and movies. Those are art forms that are widely recognized and accepted, so consequently, there are statistically going to be more mature writers who write on the subject. Video games journalism and critique is still in its infancy and still has a long way to go. Video games have traditionally been a field dominated by male, immature nerds. Not until recently has it been cool to play video games. And even now, most of the people who are devoted enough to video games are not usually the ones who write about them. This may be an unfair characterization, but I feel like most of the people who play video games go into Math and Science fields, though that demographic is changing. Because of this, I think that the pieces that we traditionally get written about video games reflect that trend. They tend to be more technical and structured and tend to talk more about objective facts more than subjective interpretations.

While I think this is not the way to get the video games industry taken seriously, I think we should recognize that the form (re: technical aspects) of the video game influences the medium of video games more than most other forms of art. If a movie was hard to play for your DVD player, or the CD also skipped at a certain moment, you would mark it down. Consequently, if a video games' graphics make it hard on the eyes, or if the frame rates are not good enough to beat a level because it lags too much, its going to make the game less enjoyable. There is a level of nit pickiness that goes in video games journalism that is unacceptable, but I think that it is fair to mark down a video game if the graphics are truly abominable and they influence the game experience. Half Life 1's graphics now are not the best, but they do not hinder the game play in any way. You can still play that game and enjoy it, even after playing games in the modern era. But if you got a game on Xbox 360 (a system you cannot upgrade) and it cannot play the game smoothly, the game should not be forgiven because the mechanics behind those graphics might be clever. Like I said, in many instances, the form of the medium influences the content dramatically.

Don't get me wrong though. I think Shawn Elliott is a very intelligent guy and his views on video games are sorely missed, as he now works in the industry and cannot comment on them much anymore. I do agree with him in that a lot of reviewers in industry pass off paltry attempts for reviews, dwelling on petty technicalities and pretend to be objective. Those reviews will never move past 10th grade high school level. The guise of "objectivity" will severely limit the writers ability to express the experience of the game itself. The review is suppose to tell you if a game is good or bad, not a rap sheet of technical bullet points, so by its very definition, it will be subjective. However, I think that a good review will mention these technical aspects, but will comment upon how the developers use those technical mechanics to create atmospherical aesthetic and captivating gameplay. I think that a careful line must be walked between these two, as failing to mention the interaction of form and content will miss some of the message that the artist is trying to convey, and therefore will not accurately reflect the experience one has with the art object, be it music, movies or video games.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

New Updates

Over at my WoW blogger.
World of Warcraft Blog Link
This includes character portraits that I am way too proud of. Go check it out!


  1. WoW

Saturday, May 05, 2012

Living the Dream

I wanna be you

Friday, May 04, 2012


Daniel did a great thing the other day and paid for a month of WoW for me. Yay!

I was playing it and it was weird. Going to take some getting use to again. And remembering what I was even doing in that game.

  1. World of Warcraft

Wednesday, May 02, 2012


I use to write here a lot. Especially in high school. And if you take out the "I think" and "I like" that I use every other sentence, and make it more assertive, its not too bad. Some decent observations in there. Especially under the tag: Game Theory.


  1. Oblivion
  2. Company of Heroes