What was fun to kill in Diablo II? The corrupted rogues of the Cold Plains must have been a favorite. Pale as chalk, these demonic women would sprint after you with spears until you turned around and gave ‘em a few good swipes of the axe. Each girl reeled back from the killing blow, her tortured soul tearing from her chest, the pull of the spirit so strong that it left her corpse suspended in thin air – just for a fleeting moment – as gold coins gushed onto the grass below. And she’d scream, but it always sounded euphoric, like a sigh of relief from that half second orgy of carnage.
The appeal of such games has always been hard put into words, aside from their sadistic simplicity. Kill things, take the things they drop, and pound your chest when they drop something awesome. While Diablo III makes both subtle and significant changes to this idea, it still follows the same fundamental formula. Twitch your index finger through legions of hell spawn until the source is traced to the devil himself, and then do it all again on the increasing difficulty levels of Nightmare, Hell, and Inferno. It’s all here, to an almost nostalgic tee, so what’s fun to kill in Diablo III?
Difficult to say, unfortunately. Not that Diablo III doesn’t satisfy on the most basic levels dungeon hacking, in fact it has plenty to go around. It’s killing floors are constructed to impressive heights, from warmly lit cathedrals with harrowing buttresses, to sandy caverns where silhouetted arachnids can be seen stringing down from the camera’s ceiling. There’s much work to be done in these mouth watering and destructible environments, even some pretty spells to throw around, but killing? It’s a term Diablo III doesn’t take too seriously.
Because it feels rather superficial. Enter a haunted crypt, for example, only to be greeted by pudgy ghost men with shovels, a cuter enemy among other comparable caricatures. Those other minions– like the evil cultists, serpents, and goat men – look more menacing, but succumb to a goofy display of ragdoll physics as their corpses lazily flop across the floor. And while concentrating a beam of arcane energy through a line of demons at the gates of heaven sounds juicy, the destruction ends in little more than a poof of sparks.
Bit by bit there’s a very juvenile atmosphere being fabricated here, pushed along by an intrusive form of storytelling. It comes in great quantity, in drawn out explanations and winded lines, with cheesy speeches about doom and destruction and featuring villains of the “bwhaha” sort. Few were expecting anything at all from this department, admittedly, but Diablo III sinks to levels where it’s legitimately unclear if it’s intentionally mocking its own genre. Using the powerful spacebar spell will skip past all the nonsense, but such a parody is infectious. Slaying the devil himself as he recites lines that would stir laughter from anyone isn’t exactly epic, nor does the game’s difficulty make these encounters any more memorable.
It’s a lack of intimidation that holds steady throughout the entire leveling experience. A difficulty spike would be expected when moving from Normal to Nightmare, but it decides to stay consistently mild. Even in Hell, there are only a few instances where a randomly generated miniboss will force you to consider a strategy. True enough, it may have you running back to your corpse a few times, or causing friends to frantically attempt at reviving each other as they evade lasers, fire balls, and ice explosions from the elite creature. But even these encounters, while hilarious, end up feeling much like fodder – or chores without reward.
It’s because people will gradually realize these creatures never carry loot worth getting excited over. Even after those dexterous boss fights that have you dodging pools of poison and grates of fire, the dropped reward never matches the battle’s intensity. Like the unchanging difficulty, gear quality improves at an almost static interval, inching up your overall damage per second rating over the course of several playthroughs. There is nothing to pound your chest about here; perhaps at most a worthwhile drop will raise an eyebrow.
This means a lot of trash loot to pick up, too, where useless gear can be salvaged at the town blacksmith. But after hammering every magical item you find to bits of magical dust in hopes of creating something useful, the product of your craft is equally worthless — a very expensive process that ultimately yields nothing (bless the first wave of players who had to figure that out). It’s largely due to an online auction house being at your fingertips, and so crafting a chest piece with 6 random attributes seems like an awfully poor investment compared to getting exactly what you need at more competitive prices.
The idea that gear will be equally lame for everyone is a concept that applies to skills as well. Each level gained unlocks new spells and abilities — or different selectable variations – automatically. So while every Wizard technically has the same available arsenal of spells, the pull is that only 6 skills can mapped at a time to suit current circumstances. The resulting problem is that no situation demands for enough strategy that this ever matters; at least until you’re through the better portion of the game’s three of four difficulty levels. Choosing to summon a hail of ice upon your enemies or to shoot lighting through their ranks is irrelevant apart from which particle effects you fancy more.
Assuming dialogue is skipped, that means 20-30 hours of leveling until the game even begins to work, 20-30 hours before you even need to be concerned about the skills you’ve mapped to the controls. That roughly amounts to beating the game 3 times over – on Normal, Nightmare, and Hell difficulties — until you see any semblance of difference between your Demon Hunter and your friend’s Demon Hunter. It’s only at the cap of level 60 that you’re forced to think like a gamer again, and it’s thanks to the brick wall called Inferno.
Here the game almost breaks, seemingly at the mercy of its own algorithms – and it’s refreshing. The smallest of minions will suddenly eat chunks of your health, and the elite monsters roaming the game’s dungeons become the stuff of nightmares. The rare drops here are immense improvements over what dropped in the previous difficulties, and the game encourages you choose a flexible skill layout to win them. With each elite defeated, you’ll enjoy an increased chance of looting valuable items, so long as you don’t change your spell selection.
But it only solidifies the feeling that prior to Inferno was a game that continuously promised nothing to its players. And while the final challenge takes shape of a true game, it’s hardly a perfect dungeon crawler itself. It’s now prohibitively difficult in areas, towards certain character classes more than others, showing little evidence of proper testing. And the skill system, though coming to strategical fruition, now demands everyone use the same viable set ups anyways, at least until better gear provides room for creativity. It’s a gruesome grind, though one where the godly character of your dreams finally lies in reach.
So to better answer the question — of what’s fun to kill in Diablo III — the award would probably go to the zombie that greets your entrance to the game. A clean bash from the Barbarian will send it flying apart in pieces, perhaps a good 10 yards back thanks to the physics engine. The death of the pathetic creature looks a bit silly, and sure, you’re not expecting it to drop anything good – but it stood as a promise of better things to come. And he’ll be seen again after each difficulty, his promise becoming emptier and emptier, a rotting piece of flesh with no love to stitch him – or the game he mopes in – together. It’s not his fault, though. The poor guy.
Love it or Hate it: Caution