perjantai 5. syyskuuta 2014

REVIEW - Diablo III: Reaper of Souls - Ultimate Evil Edition | PS4 | 2014

GENRE(S): Action / Adventure / RPG / Roguelike
RELEASED: August 14, 2014
AVAILABLE ON: PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One
DEVELOPER(S): Blizzard Entertainment
PUBLISHER(S): Blizzard Entertainment

Following The Elder Scrolls and Fallout, it's the third major RPG franchise to make its first console outing with its third major installment. While you might've not heard the name pass by everyone's lips quite as often as its two "predecessors"; Diablo, released on PC on New Year's Eve, 1996, is one of the most successful computer RPG's of all time. It has also been named Blizzard Entertainment's true breakthrough on the PC before the time of Warcraft III, and especially World of Warcraft. Diablo II, released in the summer of 2000, went on to become one of the best-selling PC games of all time, and one of the first games of the 21st century to have several different special editions made available at launch. The same team that made Diablo II - Blizzard North - started working on Diablo III as early as 2001, but nearly 20 staff members left in 2003 to found two new studios, and the division was ultimately disbanded in 2005, because reportedly the remaining developers' work on this particular game did not please shareholders (I've always wanted to say that!). The development of Diablo III was passed on to whoever had the time in the midst of the growing World of Warcraft trend, and as expected, even though the game was formally announced in the summer of 2008, the expecting audience was still forced to wait for another four years. Lead designers Josh Mosqueira (Company of Heroes), Jay Wilson (Warhammer) and Leonard Boyarsky (Fallout) finally unleashed the hell beast on May 15th, 2012, and although the game became the fastest-selling PC game of all time, and both fans and critics' reception to the game seemed overwhelmingly positive, it was to change when critics began picking on version 1.0's several apparent flaws (mandatory online authentication, lack of interesting and/or rewarding content beyond the single-player campaign, tedious character development, etc.). Blizzard listened to what people had to say, constantly, and put out several patches on a regular basis, and finally, as the greatest surprise of them all, a console version of Diablo III, for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 - while it wasn't exactly a huge success, it was praised for its innovative gameplay solutions to not make it feel any less than the PC game, and it was even called the superior version of Diablo III by critics (cue a wave of nerd rage from the master race). So, Blizzard continued to patch the game, and in March 2014, they released an expansion pack by the name of Reaper of Souls. This expansion pack, which also contained some modifications to the details of the base game, was a huge success and many critics felt the entirety of Reaper of Souls was exactly what Diablo III needed to become the game they waited for over a decade. A fully patched Diablo III and Reaper of Souls were merged together for a second console release - and the first of the new generation - named Diablo III: Reaper of Souls - Ultimate Evil Edition. After years of just reading and hearing about Diablo and its greatness, I headed to GameStop, got myself this new PS4 edition, and spent two weeks clashing through its main campaign. How do I find it? Considering the similarity of the backstory between me and the game, could this be a new Fallout or Skyrim for me?

The devil you know

Michael Gough : Deckard Cain
Jennifer Hale : Leah
Jonathan Adams : Tyrael
Alyson Reed : Adria
Sumalee Montano : Eirena the Enchantress
Troy Baker : Lyndon the Scoundrel
Dominic Keating : Kormac the Templar
Simon Templeman : Haedric the Blacksmith
James Hong : Covetous Shen the Jeweler
Gaille Heldeman : Myriam Jahzia the Mystic

A few notes first. As has been the case for a couple of games in the last few weeks, this isn't really a review of Diablo III, but this specific edition which apparently is very different from the original base game - which I have absolutely no experience of, I implore you to keep that in mind while you're reading this, and I myself am trying my best to not make too many references to the original Diablo III to not confuse you any further. Secondly, since I do not have a PlayStation Plus account to merely enable online play, or other ways to get familiar with how the game works out in co-op, this conclusion's strictly based on the single-player experience and post-game content. Thanks.

20 years after a group of adventurers put an end to Diablo's reign of terror on his very own doorstep in Hell, a meteor strikes New Tristram. A mysterious traveler, armed to the teeth and loaded with both hatred for demons and deep compassion for mankind, arrives to investigate and finds that the Lords of Hell are indeed returning for another attempt to conquer the world of humans, with Diablo, thought to have been dead for decades, somehow holding the strings. Accompanied by an angel sworn to justice, and a girl with mysterious powers looking to avenge her uncle, the stranger sets out on a long journey to bring down the Lords of Hell one by one.

Westmarch after midnight.
I might've mentioned before that even though I never was much of a PC player - I have definitely mentioned THAT before - I still subscribed to a magazine that was exclusively dedicated to PC games at the time the original Diablo came out. This was because at that time, I had a strange interest in PC games, and I myself underlined what many of the master race keep telling us today: the PC had great, and great-looking games that could have never worked on consoles, not at that time. They had great graphics you could never emulate to a console game. You had a fixed capacity for a console game; on the PC, it was always about the size of the hard drive, and if it wasn't enough, you could always replace the damn thing. Why I never became a PC player boils down to two reasons; in reality you needed a lot more than a new hard drive to make an immediately functional gaming apparatus out of your PC. Today, it's a lot easier; all new PC's come with optimal, easily modifiable specs, and they're a lot cheaper, I think, but the memory of the late 90's still haunts me. The second reason? Back at that time, your only choices for controls in most games were a mouse and keyboard. Well, in games like this they just might work, but in games that even now are everyday for me - platformers, third-person shooters etc.? No, can't see that happening. Ever. I see the benefits of the PC as a gaming system much clearer now than I ever have, and hell, maybe if I was born a few years later than I did, things would be different. But I wasn't, and I'm happy with how things are now - I'm all in for consoles. Thank jeebs game developers are beginning to feel that way too, we're at that point where console games are almost just as modifiable as PC games, and there are not a whole lot of PC exclusives around anymore.

Just some trivia that is elementary to any real game geek, but might surprise a few of the younger folk, especially if they never played any console games; long before Warcraft and Diablo, Blizzard Entertainment was founded in 1991 under the name Silicon & Synapse. During their time as S & S, they developed two cult 16-bit games. The first was The Lost Vikings, an action-oriented, innovative puzzle game that was based on the idea of having several characters with unique abilities. The second was Rock n' Roll Racing, an extremely entertaining, futuristic racing game that played out to classic rock and metal in MIDI. After changing their name to Blizzard Entertainment, they made the greatest (and most underappreciated) cinematic platformer of the time, Blackthorne (known as Blackhawk in European territories, later made a free download by the way). After a couple of licensed games off Justice League's back, and a sequel to The Lost Vikings, Blizzard just disappeared... from the sight of us console gamers. They were working extra-hard for the PC. Warcraft, StarCraft, finally the case of that one little MMO game they could've just retired after... from console cult to international PC success, how about that? Oh yeah, lest we forget, there was this one game called Diablo.

Going back to my previous subject, I first spotted Diablo as the lead review of an early 1997 issue of that magazine. I didn't really have an understanding of the division between a console-style RPG and a computer-style RPG at that time, as I was still a genre newbie to begin with. Whatever Diablo was, it looked amazing. It looked so sharp, so delightfully dark, so gothic. On top of all, it got something like 86-87 out of a possible 100. It was the perfect time for such a game to appeal to me, as I was very much into extreme metal and all things doomy and gloomy. I didn't even OWN a PC at the time, so a thought of playing the game didn't stick on me all that much though. In 2000, when they released Diablo II, I did have a PC but I no longer subscribed to the magazine and got the mere notion of the game's release through word-of-mouth. In a rare lapse, I got myself a PC game called Nox around that time, and I loved it. I was one of the core members of a Final Fantasy messaging forum at the time, and I started a topic where I praised Nox to high heaven. Then one of my (real-life) friends responded with something like "Yeah, it's a decent game, but it's basically a Diablo copy/parody. Nothing special." Whoa... this game was a mere COPY of Diablo, really? I still refrained from joining "the club" (I hate calling 'em the master race), but that sentence really stuck on me. That guy is known to have extremely negative opinions on some of the best games in the world - and extreme opinions in general - but I couldn't help it, I was very intrigued by what the Diablo franchise might have in store for the future. And then, they finally announced Diablo III, and not only the game, but a console release. I put it off for a long time, out of the way of releases that were much more important to me, but when they announced a complete package for the PlayStation 4, I could no longer resist the temptation to find out what the hell this devil's all about. Well, it turned out that Diablo isn't quite the culture shock Fallout was for me, but it definitely appeals to me on every level I expected it to. It hooked me much faster than Fallout, but didn't actually grow on me with quite the same volume.

Instead of dabbling in the science of 3D, Diablo III retains the isometric view of its predecessors; it's like the first two games remade in HD. There are a few nice 3D effects, such as enemies jumping from "behind" the screen towards the playable character (how to explain that better...?), and the CGI cutscenes are a whole different world of their own, they look simply incredible down to the very last detail, in the core sense of "incredible". I have absolutely no complaints of the general old-school look, and neither should you. This is one game with level design you can't even comment on, 'cause the levels are generated on the go - meaning they're different every time you play, even every time you load the game after a hard reset. Besides the obvious fun factor, this unfortunately means that you can't really save inside dungeons or the surrounding areas; your equipment and level are saved, but you're thrown back to the nearest human settlement, with a portal back to the area you quit the game in, but which is completely different when you go back; it might even have whole different stuff available. Even the equipment is completely randomized. For example, a mere description of an item available at a blacksmith's hovel could result in dozens of different items, some better and some worse. So, even though the game doesn't really boast on initial character customization, Diablo III is a very customizable experience. I'll tell you all about it soon - most of it, at least.

Co-op fun (?).
The game has some great music in store, scored by Emmy-award winning Russell Brower - who's also worked on several Blizzard games including StarCraft and World of Warcraft - assisted by Derek Duke and Glenn Stafford. The sound effects are on the forefront and they sound fantastic in full-blown surround. The voice actors make the best of the part unoriginal, part goofy, wholly unimportant story; many voiceover veterans are there to contribute to the return of Diablo (Simon Templeman plays a good guy! What the...?). I'm a bit disturbed how much Deckard Cain - a very familiar character to long-time fans, I presume - sounds like Tom Hardy's Bane in The Dark Knight Rises.

Diablo III's basic concept is very simple. You kill everything non-human that moves or doesn't move. You break stuff. You level up and gain new active and passive skills to kill demons, as well as different runes to accommodate or even totally change those skills for both better and worse. Different classes use different resources for their offensive and defensive skills. For example, the Demon Hunter's special offensive skills use "Hatred", which replenishes when you use standard attacks. The indirect, evasive and defensive skills use "Discipline", which replenishes over time. You gather loot, both equipment and accessories to upgrade your equipment, as well as gold to fundamentally gain access to custom-made equipment and accessories. You advance through five different "acts" (the Reaper of Souls expansion being "Act V"), which basically means five different settings around the world of Sanctuary and beyond, starting from the franchise's capital of New Tristram. Again, everything but the main settlements in the game changes on each playthrough - the dungeon maps and the maps of the surrounding areas. The goal of a true Diablo player is to have a Level 70 character - development is possible in two different game modes - of each of the six classes: Barbarian, Wizard, Witch Doctor, Monk, Demon Hunter, and the extra class added through the expansion, Crusader. I'm no expert, but Demon Hunter might be a good place to start, as all of his/her attacks are ranged, he/she specializes in traps, and he/she has access to some of the game's most devastating special attacks. I usually start out as a Warrior or some derivative, in this case Barbarian, but Demon Hunter sounded the most appealing. And turned out to be a quite fun class to play, too, mostly thanks to how playing as a Demon Hunter granted easy access for such a beginner as I.

So let's start from the top. Concerning your character, the game lets you decide on exactly three things: gender, class, name. That's it. Since your character appears in both dialogue portraits and cutscenes, I guess it would be kind of stupid to have a completely customizable face, and you never see your character close up during gameplay, but it's an initial disappointment; one so infatuated with the role-playing genre for the last decade can't help it. Then comes the first big decision: difficulty level. Whatever you might decide, the level of difficulty changes with the tides all the time; different difficulty levels grant you different perks, such as extra experience points on higher levels, but the actual difficulty of the game depends on a whole bulk of things. The enemies themselves, the special properties of your equipment, how you assign skills and how you use them. For example, being such a newbie to the franchise, I started out on Normal - the base difficulty, and the easiest of them all. It took me a while to learn the game's basics, but once I did, and once I leveled up and got my first full set of equipment, the game quickly turned ultra-easy. I switched to Hard, and the same thing happened; there was some slight challenge at first, getting used to tougher enemies, but it got easy real quick. I switched to Expert, and although most of the game turned into a walk in the park once more, I suffered my first random cases of death, as well as my first defeats in the hands of a certain boss or two. A few of the bosses are tough sons of bitches, who are there to laugh at your pathetic boasts of how you just killed their whole army of lackeys. They're there to remind you that as easy as it sometimes seems, Diablo III is not to be taken for granted. As much as you may accomplish by simply button-mashing your way through overwhelming waves of 100+ enemies, there are difficult moments during which you need to keep a level head - and in these cases, your chosen difficulty level has a huge effect. I have to admit that at one point, I had no choice but to switch back from Expert to Hard to be able to kill one of the toughest bosses, and even then I was on my last legs. Getting killed on the field is nothing, you are able to respawn immediately with the cost of your armor set's durability - and even that can be fixed by a quick trip to town - but if you get killed by a boss, you need to start the fight over.

In case you're laughing right now, and still think Diablo III is a(n exceptionally bloody) walk in the park, try out the hardest difficulty level with a Hardcore character. The Hardcore Mode apparently originated in Diablo II; you can play Hardcore on any difficulty level, but real players go for a high one. Hardcore characters die once, they die for good, and you need to start the whole game over, whether it's for simply leveling up in an online game, adventuring either online or offline, rift-running, or playing through the single-player campaign. Imagine getting your Hardcore ass handed to you by the final boss of Act V. That's brutal, but the player's very own choice (read: mistake). One way to manipulate the difficulty level of the game yourself is to simply change your skill set; only one skill from a skill tree, accommodated by the rune of your choice, can be assigned to a button at a time. The way I see it, you gain the BEST skills in the game very early. The new skills and runes you get via leveling up aren't necessarily better; using them sometimes makes the game much harder. The game encourages you to be bold and experimental with the skills, it basically encourages you to push the envelope. If you can't take the heat, you can always switch back to a lower difficulty level, or assume a more comfortable skill set... again, except if you're Hardcore. A.k.a. "Dead on arrival".

Might get lonely in a dark dungeon. Get a
Reaper of Souls ousts and in turn, brings in a huge bulk of content not present in the original version of the game (rather fact than unwanted reference), most essentially content for post-completion. The Adventure Mode is unlocked after you beat both the base game and Reaper of Souls, and allows you to build up your character to the very hilt in a free-roam through each of the five acts. You can replay any quests if you want, but the most essential things to take note of are Bounties and Rifts. Bounty hunts send you to specific locations to take care of elite monsters that you might've encountered during your single-player campaign, at least in this case the difficulty level of the fights is tweaked a bit higher. You usually gain an enormous amount of experience points and rare crafting materials from conquering the bounties, and sometimes, keystones to unlock Rifts. The Rifts are a Diablo enthusiast and challenge-mongers' sweetest dream as well as their worst nightmare; they're randomized arenas or dungeons filled with hordes of elite monsters, and a huge boost in pride at the very least waiting at the end of just a single one.

Since I don't have immediate access to some of the features that are the heart of Diablo III to a lot of folk, I have just one more thing on my list before briefly going to the ultimate ups and downs of the game: NPC's. First, well highlighted among useless townsfolk is a group of merchants and artisans. The merchants really have no use. Sure, in the early goings of the game, you might benefit from getting your weapons and armor from the many shops, but in no time, you'll start to find the best equipment from the field, and in no time, you'll also be able to customize your equipment. That's where the artisans step in. A couple of main quests into the game, you'll bump into your court blacksmith. By using crafting materials and some hard currency, you can teach your hammering pet to build better sets of equipment - by better, I mean the basic values for attack and defense. There are also the extra properties of the equipment to consider. For example, while a weapon might have high base damage, it might not have nothing extra, while a much weaker weapon might have fundamental perks for your character, such as huge boosts for your dexterity and vitality attributes. Dabbling with the equipment is one of the best traits of Diablo III, but it can admittedly get quite frustrating when you get new boots every passing minute. Something of the sort will happen, and since all the equipment is randomized, you need to check 'em every time. There might be some true treasures there. Oh yeah, and you can also have your equipment fixed - for example after being defeated and getting that durability penalty - for pennies, at the blacksmith or any merchant.

A long while later, you'll bump into a jeweler, who you can train the same way as you train the blacksmith, to work on the jewels you find to make better jewels, and fit them to any weapons or equipment that have sockets for them. With the attribute points depending on the quality of the jewels, they have fixed upgrade types for each type of equipment; for example, one might raise damage when stuck to a weapon, defense when slapped onto your helmet, and dexterity when decorating anything else. Reaper of Souls comes with one more artisan, the Mystic, who can both transmogrify (transform) your equipment to any look you like best from a list, and most essentially, "enchant", a.k.a. replace any of the extra properties with another one, which again, in accordance to the game's code, is completely randomized; you get a list of properties, with the original property on that list, but even if you decide to keep that property after all, you still lose the gold and materials you've spent on the enchantment.

Diablo III certainly doesn't come without party members, or Followers, as they put it. There are three different characters who you'll meet at three different points of the main quest, each with their own special talents and classifications: a Templar knight, a mage, and a scoundrel who's like a mix of Robin Hood and Casanova. Keeping a Follower along is completely optional, double that for a character who can summon companions to help 'em out, but I like constantly having someone around, especially a character who's both hellishly strong and able to heal you if you're stricken by bad luck and get surrounded by a horde of usually small and annoying enemies. Here's to the Templar, then. You can equip your Followers with their basic needs - that's a main hand and off-hand weapon - a special accessory exclusive to his/her class, and pairings of passive skills are unlocked at certain level marks, from which you may choose one. Just in case you wouldn't notice that they've gained new skills, the Followers pester you with random quotes until you realized they've leveled up. Great thinking by the developers there - seems unimportant, but it's really a fantastic detail. Here we get to what most rocks about Diablo III, and what most sucks about it. It's funny that it all boils down to the same thing - the game itself.

Rapid killing and efficient vandalism results in
cool, temporary perks such as EXP and speed
The character development of Diablo III, albeit very streamlined, pleases me greatly. I find great joy in exploring randomized dungeons and finding new, randomized loot to reflect upon and upgrade. I enjoy watching my basically naked character gradually turn into a horn-headed, tank-armoured angel of death. What I don't fully enjoy is the killing. Can't believe I said that, but it's true on my account, that once you've beaten the game and head into Reaper of Souls slipstreamed into this version of the game, the endless battles do start to taste a little bit like wood, especially in my case 'cause I figured out that I'm still using almost the same skill and rune set I've been using for the duration of the whole game, just because it's the best one, it grants the most familiar, therefore comfortable playthrough process. Not sure what the case is with other classes just yet, but I'd go out on a limb here and guess it's pretty much the same thing. At some occasions I actually cursed at my own being; I had hacked my way through a dungeon, right up to the exit, and then I noticed a foggy corner on the other side of the dungeon, meaning I had missed it. There couldn't be anything I couldn't afford to lose, not in this sort of randomized game, but I just had to make my way all the way back there because of my sometimes extremely stupid principles of perfectionism, to bump into yet another battle with an elite who had a crappy weapon not even suitable for my class up his ass. Your own natural perfectionism might basically turn out the greatest flaw of the game. Act III, taking place in one castle, is a total slump that lasts for way too long, it heavily contrasts on the first two acts which take place in cities and their surrounding areas. It calls for hundreds of repetitive enemy waves and running back-and-forth. I think Reaper of Souls actually had the most interesting and diverse setting out of all the acts - once again a rare expansion pack that actually makes the game better; again, it's just unfortunate that by that point, the constant battle has very likely taken some toll on you.

If it's killing you like, then killing's what you get, and if you take the equipment roulette out of the account, that's all there is to Diablo III. The story's not much to get excited about, although it does have some potential ideas, and there's not a hint of the same interaction, excitement for exploration or even a few puzzles the very best Western RPG's of recent years have had; of course, calling Diablo III an RPG is a gamer's personal decision. A buddy at work calls Diablo a hack 'n' slash, with no experience of games that I perceive hack 'n' slash, which are some of my favourite games of all time, but now that I think of it, there's no better way to describe this digitalized killing spree. Diablo III works great as what it is and represents, but if you're anything like me, you should carefully think of the dosage and not go for the usual RPG binge; through your eyes, the game might fall for the same reasons it originally rose. Recommendable for mass murderers above all.

+ Looks great and vintage
+ The slaughter sounds great and the few musical cues are epic
+ Nice control layout
+ Dabbling with equipment
+ Totally different classes and randomized elements work towards a replayable game...
+ ...As well as the dynamic difficulty level which depends on the player for a large part
+ The post-completion content of this expanded edition should keep the initially disappointed die-hards happy
+ The killing's fun...

- ...Up to a point where it becomes standard and repetitive; I can't play this game without a strict dosage, not after the first playthrough. Fast hook, soft hold.
- While it lives by its own rules, which is very respectable, the RPG fan in me expected more; initial customization, general interaction and path-choices, and some gameplay-related features which have made Western role-playing so exciting in the last decade
- The story's not very good despite its moments
- Act III (one fourth of the base game) is too confined, the worst slump of the game in every way
- Silly (albeit explicable) saving system

< 8.7 >

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