On demons and their coming third age.

Saturday, June 28, 2008
As I'm sure most of you are aware, Blizzard officially announced Diablo III this morning to the delight of many a squealing fan. I've seen the trailers and the gameplay footage and it all looks very polished. Then again, this is Blizzard we're speaking of, and I can't think of a single game of theirs that wasn't polished. Any game from Blizzard that showed signs of failing has been axed or made to quietly disappear.

The footage I've seen shows a streamlined experience as opposed to the clickfest I often found Diablo I&II to be. The overall picture they've painted has shades of World of Warcraft in it's hotkey bound abilities and aesthetic design. The gameplay preview mentions surprisingly little in actual gameplay mechanics and particulars, focusing most of it's attention on reassuring us that everything we remember about the Diablo series still exists. In a nutshell, the narrator says something to the effect of "Diablo III looks really good. We have lots of enemies, new abilities, in-game quest events, and a witch doctor class that can spit locusts. Neat, huh?"

Yet, when you watch the trailer carefully, you can spot a few other elements not really spoken of. The destructible environment looks to have been handled more carefully than just incorporating set piece destruction (i.e. knock a wall over onto a horde of zombies). A short wall collapsed when a dead enemy struck it at high speed, sending the corpse tumbling down to the level below. Another enemy, reduced to a skeleton, disturbs the grass as it rolls down a hill. Tables shatter, bookcases are emptied, etc.

The preview only shows two classes in action. The returning barbarian, wielder of giant weapons and hulk-esqe smasher of things large and small and the new witch doctor, a summoner of disease and powerful creatures. Of the two, I found the witch doctor the most interesting. He acts as a combat controller class, suited mostly to manipulating the odds with fear and confusion. The ability to infuse your summoned pets with disease efects is nice, though all I really want to do is summon that wall of zombies over and over again.

Enemies also seem to have a few new tricks up their sleeves. If you watch the gameplay preview, at about 7 minutes in you can see a ghoul crawling towards the character after losing it's legs to a strong attack. Others will unleash a horde of lesser enemies when they die. If a giant bloated frankenstein isn't freaky enough, how about one filled with what look like giant eels?

The effects I saw during the preview were very impressive. Watching enemies explode in a spray of blood or be eaten away to a skeleton is a sight to behold. Everything moves fluidly and dynamically according to the terrain. Even the grass is rendered in exquisite detail, something I've yet to see from a top-down game of it's nature. Every little detail is there and it's all been treated with care. But we should be careful with what we take away from this.

The game isn't finished. It's been in development for about four years now and it's obvious they've been planning this announcement for a while. We ought to take this preview with a grain of salt. This was a prepared demo meant to build hype for a game still in development. What we see here should in no way become the benchmark for our expectations. I've seen this thing happen before. Early gameplay footage creates a mystique for a game that ends up falling far short of what it brought us to expect. Mass Effect comes to mind. We were shown a deep and intuitive combat system, and a smooth, realistic graphical experience. Corners were cut and the finished product was a far cry from what we saw.

I'm not saying you shouldn't be impressed by what Blizzard has on offer here. I have yet to see a product of theirs deliver anything less than what was promised. I've played every game they've ever put out and had little complaint to offer in retrospect. Hopefully, the game we see here is the same Diablo III we'll take home sometime in the future. In the meantime, be excited, by all means, but don't lose your head.