Diablo III: A Comprehensive Review

Most of the time when one tells you to “go to hell,” its not considered to be the nicest thing to hear. In this instance however, I would not only tell all of you to go to hell, but that you must go to hell.

The Diablo franchise is one of the biggest fantasy RPG franchises out there rivaled only by The Elder Scrolls Series. The last title, Diablo II was a massive success and really set the bar high for the sequal Diablo III. So did Diablo III hit the mark?

Definitely. Not only did the title live up to the spirit of its predecessor, it exceeded it in many ways. The visuals are excellent, the action amazing, and the overall presentation of the game is exquisite.

Storyline: 

With a significant back-story to work on, Diablo III throws in to the world of Sanctuary, and again centers around the unlucky town of Tristram. The game starts out with a “fallen star” that lands square on the cathedral of Tristam. The character you play comes to investigate the strange object. Without revealing plot details I can tell you this: I found the story line good, but slightly disappointing and convoluted.

If you don’t know anything about the back-story to the Diablo series at all, I would highly recommend doing some reading before playing. It is hard to catch up on all the different “Lords of Hell,” Angels and others. That being said, I still found the story to be not as good as it really could of been. It wasn’t predictable but the plot twists weren’t as surprising as I thought they would be. Also, it didn’t vary much from the “kill this evil lord dude in this location.” Great story-line but could have been handled a lot better.

Visuals:

The visuals are excellent for a third person RPG with an isometric viewpoint. The interaction with the environment is a nice addition, and your characters look awesome as they acquire gear and levels. Ability graphics are extremely well made. When I drop a meteor on a demon’s head, it really looks like a huge sphere of fire and brimstone is raining death upon the land. Blizzard’s in-house graphics engine does justice to Diablo III. The enviroments have a great appearnce as well.

The game’s four acts take you from haunted countryside, to desert, to castle under siege and a trip to hell, to heaven itself. The monsters and feel of each act is definitely distinctive. When I am in the Hell part of Act 3, i feel like i’m in hell. The same applies to all of the other environments as well. An epic feel accompanies the areas of the game especially Heaven and Hell.

Overall, I would say the visuals of Diablo III are excellent. Most people criticise the game for its similar look and feel to Diablo II, but that’s the point. Blizzard obviously would never diverge from the model of isometric hack-and-slash. To ask anything else from them would ruin the franchise outright.

Gameplay:

Diablo III stayed true to being a hack-and-slash RPG. Much left mouse button mashing is to be had while playing this game. Diablo III includes 5 distinct classes just like Diablo II but with some key differences.

Firstly, each class in Diablo III has a unique resource instead of the traditional mana. For example, The Barbarian uses fury which is generated in combat and degenerates over time if not used.

More importantly, the traditional skill trees have been removed in favor of skill runes. A skill rune is a specific modifier on an ability. The wizard for example can modify his/her magic missile to slow enemies or hit multiple enemies. It sounds like the options for unique builds has been lessened by the introduction of skill runes but the opposite could not be truer. Each skill has 5 distinct skill runes and each class has a few dozen abilities. The possibilities here are endless. The swapping of skill runes is a breeze as opposed to the old system having to reset entire skill trees. The abilities themselves are incredibly varied as well.

Speaking on difficulty, it widely varies act to act. Act 1 is a breeze, Act 2 is the hardest in my opinion, and in Acts 3 and 4, you feel like an unstoppable badass. When you beat the game first time around it doesn’t just end there as well. You will be around level 30 the first time you beat the game. You can beat it three more times on three more successively difficult modes, Nightmare, Hell and Inferno. The four difficulties greatly increases the replayability of the game. The encounters get more complex as well.

Each game map is randomly generated with random mini bosses (monsters with yellow or purple names), dungeons and mini quests. Each play through feels pretty different from the next but you get a sense of been there done that after a while. Evem singleplayer and multiplayer aspects are totally unique as well.

In Diablo III Bizzard has opted for a holistic approach to the expierences of single and multi player. The constant online connection requirement allows for anyone who is anyone to instantly jump into my solo campaign and help me if I am stuck on a certain part. Most people criticize this aspect of the release but I think its genius, and its great for the player in the long run.

Conclusion: 

Diablo III is an amazing gaming experience loaded with intense action, an interesting storyline, and a classic hack and slash feel while still being modern and up to date. Go to hell. I guarantee you will not regret the experience.

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E3 2012: What to Expect from the Major Players

E3 is the biggest commercial video game convention in the world, and its coming back to the LA Convention Center on June 5. It’s not open to the public, as only those who work for games companies and the press are allowed in. E3 always focuses on the big announcements such as consoles and games. Other than that its almost a vacation for those who attend. The booths are worked by models instead of the companies employees, and all the big upcoming games have demos for attendees to play through.

This year’s convention should be interesting, as many big games are rumored to be announced along with the possibility of hearing a few tidbits about next generation consoles.

Every year the three console manufacturers (Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo) hold large shows at or near E3 to showcase their newest games and hardware. Here’s what to expect from each of them this year.

Sony:

Sony showcasing the Vita at E3 2011.

Sony is in an unusual predicament. Despite the broad success of the PS3, things aren’t looking good for Sony. Why? The Vita isn’t selling. The last few years Sony have had plenty of new bits of hardware to show off from the PlayStation Move to the Vita, but this year don’t expect anything like that. However, Sony has said that it plans on announcing 20 new gaming experiences this year, but has not hinted at what they will be. A few rumors have gone around saying that Sony is ready to announce the PS4, but don’t expect any of that to be true. The PS3 still has a lot of life left in it, and Sony isn’t going to spoil that profitability. Even though it is very unlikely to happen this year, the PS4 should be announced and sold before its competitors. Why? Because of the Xbox 360. Last time, Microsoft had their console release earlier than Sony’s and Sony lost out on a lot of customers that way, so don’t plan on them letting it happen again.

Nintendo:

Nintendo unveils the Wii U at E3 2011.

Nintendo is rarely much on surprises at E3. The Wii U will be put on a pedestal as Nintendo showcases both first and third-party software. The tablet will quite the workout as Nintendo shows off every bit of its design and possible uses. Also, don’t be surprised to hear more from third-party games for the Wii. Though the Wii isn’t the juggernaut it was a few years ago, it still holds a huge following and there are several franchises who could be showing up late to the party.

Also, many third-party developers will be present to show off what they’ve done with Wii U. These will be the games that are used in hardware demos showcasing the Wii U’s potential. Unfortunately, these games usually don’t see much success and are delayed for ages because of the ambition behind them. By the time they come out, the technology is dated and the console no longer feels new.

Microsoft:

Microsoft showing off the Kinect Hub at E3 2011.

Many believe that Microsoft will be unveiling their next console, but I find it highly unlikely. The 360 is just too popular. Many quality games are still in development and the Xbox 360 is living out its prime. However, don’t be surprised to hear the occasional hint at next-gen software. Halo 4 will be showcased along with many third-party games and new appearances from major franchises.

Microsoft will also be showcasing Kinect, and now that better Kinect games are being made, more franchises will be giving it a try in their next game. Whether it be through full Kinect compatibility, or simply using it for special abilities or many games, more developers are looking into the Kinect than ever before.

Rocksteady Studios: “Three or Four” Easter Eggs yet to be Uncovered in Batman: Arkham City

A surprise encounter with Killer Croc hidden in his sewer cell.

Superheroes and villains in video games are notorious for leaving behind interesting and sometimes hard to find easter eggs. From The Fantastic 4’s building in the PS1 release of  Spider-Man, to the hint of a sequel almost never found in Batman: Arkham Asylum, crime fighters often leave shout outs to their friends and creators in their path.

Batman: Arkham City is no different. With subtle hints of future story lines and nostalgia, players find more and more easter eggs around every corner. So far gamers have discovered bits and pieces of Scarecrow’s future plans for Arkham, his secret codes found in radio signals, and even Azrael looking down on a young Bruce Wayne (I assume he must have known Batman’s true name all this time).

Harley Quinn’s (positive) pregnancy test. No telling what that kid will do.

Even though so much was almost immediately found by Batman fans, Rocksteady says there are a few left that no one has reported finding. They have not given any clues as to what these easter eggs are, or where they are located. Rocksteady simply stated that not all of them have been found, and that they are probably extremely subtle hints.

So, what are these mysterious hidden easter eggs? Could be anything. Perhaps there’s another preview of the next game hidden somewhere deep in Arkham, or maybe another unseen villain stalking Batman somewhere in the game.

The Computer Adventure Era In All Its Glory: Beneath a Steel Sky

Beneath a Steel Sky is set in an intriguing future Australia, full of people to meet and places to explore.

In a dystopian future of Australia, Robert Foster has been living outside of the city with a group seen as savages in a wilderness known only as “The Gap”. He has been here ever since he was involved in a helicopter crash as a child, when the man he now calls grandfather found and took care of him. Robert was the only one to survive the crash. The crew aboard? Dead. His mother? Dead. He is left here to live out his days in the wilderness, until a fateful day that changes everything.

Beneath a Steel Sky is a rare game. It comes from the lost era of computer-based adventure games from the 90’s. Launched in 1994, its now 18 years old, but still feels relevant to present day tastes. The game is fully voice acted, so you are every bit as engrossed in the story as with most modern games. However, Beneath a Steel Sky is written much more effectively than many other games. The plot dialogue is very well written and voiced, often changing the pace from mystery and intrigue to humor and more lighthearted moments in perfect rhythm.

Robert Foster is one day picked up by the city’s military, and is flown away by helicopter while watching his adopted family and friends die as a bomb is detonated. He is taken back to the city, until yet another crash takes place, which he of course survives. Foster meets every possible sort of person in the city, and uncovers a deep mystery of a council ran by a man who fused his mind with a computer named LINC.Along the way Robert also has his best friend with him, a robot named Joey. Joey is a sarcastic, humorous character that often lightens the moment, like many of the games other characters.

Robert posing as an inspector as security looks for him.

The puzzles found in Beneath a Steel Sky are always well thought out, and do a good job at balancing difficulty without too much frustration. Nearly every screen is filled with people to talk to and items to interact with, and the solution to most puzzles require real-world logic.

Beneath a Steel Sky is a great play, and lucky for you, its now free. Create an account on GOG and you will find it available for free download. Also, you can find an updated version with a few new features on iOS. However, if you’ve never played the game before I suggest playing it on your PC first, the iOS version takes away some of the thrill of the first play through, and is only a better choice for fans of the game.

Beneath a Steel Sky is one of the greatest adventure games made, and with a copy of it now available for free, there’s no excuse to keep you from downloading a great play. The game’s story and puzzles will certainly keep you busy, and the humorous dialogue will stick with you for a while. Beneath a Steel Sky is truly a classic.

The car with its own driver’s license: Google’s self-driving car approved for Nevada roads

From I Robot to The Jetsons, a vehicle that can drive itself has been a dream shared by much of the world, and one that has finally come true. For years, different universities, robotic labs, and others have entered into competitions striving to make a safe self-driven car that could be used in day-to-day life. Finally, someone has made that dream a reality.

Google’s Prius showing off its new autonomous car license plate (red background and infinity symbol).

Google’s self-driving Toyota Prius has been approved for use in Nevada, and has even been given its own license. However, the Prius didn’t just show up at the DMV to take its road test, an entire new piece of legislation had to be passed.

For years there has been a growing pressure on government to seriously evaluate autonomous cars as a viable new type of transportation (taxi services, shipping, etc.), but it took a little pushing from a large corporation instead. Google pushed Nevada’s government for some time to finally take a look at legislation allowing their Prius to hit the open road unmanned.

So, how would Google prove that its car should be allowed on the roads? Well, it might help that the car drives itself better than most humans would. In fact, it has currently driven 140,000 miles with no accidents (accept being bumped from behind at a stoplight), much better than the average teenager that states willingly hand out licenses to.

The Prius taking an inaugural ride down the Vegas Strip (and apparently following a truck advertising “Hot Babes”.

Finally, the legislation passed, and the Prius took a day to celebrate by having an inaugural cruise down the Vegas Strip (and not getting into nearly as much trouble as the average person would). The engineers responsible for the car of course rejoiced as well at their creations success.

Are autonomous cars the future of transportation? Possibly. However, I believe though it has many advantages, many people,  would opt to drive themselves instead. Not because of a distrust for a computer driven car, but for the love of driving that so many people share.

Sega: It’s Time to Adapt

Sega Corporation is known as the home of Sonic the Hedgehog, Virtua Fighter, House of the Dead, and many more. Sega is also one of the greatest console manufacturers of the past, including creations like the Sega Genesis, Game Gear, Saturn and more.

After making the Dreamcast, Sega gracefully bowed out of the console contest, and began making games for former competitor’s consoles. Although there have been a few good games since then, lately reviews and support have plummeted. Currently Sega is holding on to fans with long running franchises and characters  with games such as Sonic, Phantasy Star Online, and Super Monkey Ball all having new additions in development right now.

Even though they still have a fairly fan base, Sega seems to believe that completely new ideas aren’t necessary anymore, and that remaking the same game over and over is good enough. Many companies who like Sega who used to be industry leaders often do the same thing by simply holding on to old franchises and fading away due to money issues, but Sega doesn’t exactly have many.

Sonic the Hedgehog, a once great franchise that seems to fall more with each new release.

In 2009 Sega reported having 2,600 employees, and in 2011 had a revenue of $4.9 billion. Personally, I don’t see why such a well to do corporation could possibly decide to stop manufacturing new franchises, characters, and creativity altogether.

Sega, it is time to adapt to the modern video game market. You no longer have any AAA franchises to compete with, and it’s time to start over. You certainly have the money to start a new franchise, or perhaps even buy a promising young studio to help bring fresh new ideas into development.

While it may sound like I don’t approve of Sega keeping older franchises, to be honest, I love many of them. I still own and occasionally play Sonic the Hedgehog 1, 2, and 3 on the Sega Genesis. My problem is how the games are being treated now, because they are not made at near the same level that they once were.

Sega brought us some of the greatest games of the past, but it seems they’ve called it quits. I wish Sega would try to once again reinvent the current game market, but for some reason they do not deem it fit to try, and that is why they will be forgotten.

Say goodbye to your social life: Preview of The Elder Scrolls Online

A look inside of the many shops across Tamriel.

Welcome back to Tamriel, where you spent a good chunk of the winter months exploring the cold and unforgiving province of Skyrim in the heat of a civil war that will be remembered for ages. You’ve explored dungeons, joined the Thief’s Guild, and stopped the return of one of histories most dangerous creatures. Now, Zenimax Online takes the reigns of one of video games most respected franchises with the new mmorpg, The Elder Scrolls Online.

Zenimax Online is the sister company of the only other studio to develop an Elder Scrolls title, Bethesda. Zenimax is known as the owner of id Software, which is known for landmark titles such as DOOM and Quake.

If you have indeed played any of the Elder Scrolls series, you know just how amazing the game is. Walking for miles and just exploring, finding hidden dungeons, trying to obliterate enemies that stand before you, and learning of Tamriel’s deep lore are memorable moments to players. Now, imagine that experience with friends, exploring the vast land of Tamriel, fighting Storm Atronachs, defeating Daedra, and even battling against enemy players in an epic mmorpg

So, how well will a primarily first person rpg full of lone exploration translate to the mmo world? Well, Zenimax has stated that it is trying to perfectly balance the game so that both long time Elder Scrolls players and gamers accustomed to World of Warcraft and the sort will be pleased.

Zenimax Online is bringing a lot to the table, going back 1,000 years before the events of Skyrim, and including features such as fully voiced NPC conversations instead of the bland scrolling text seen in the average mmorpg. The combat, which of course is one of the Elder Scrolls staples, is a bit different from the main series. This is to be expected since real-time combat is nearly impossible in an mmorpg, which means Zenimax will be using a more standard formula. Though latency changes the combat (and graphics as well), many points of the series will remain intact.

Combat will be styled like a traditional mmo due to networking limitations, but many ideas from the original series will be used.

Long time fans of the series will be happy to know that Zenimax is borrowing many ideas from the installments. Don’t be surprised to see random events while on your way across the land much like those found in Skyrim before. Also, while exploring Tamriel, you’ll sometimes stumble across a new cave or dungeon that doesn’t appear on the map (unlike many other mmo games that automatically add nearly all locations to a players map at the start of the game).

Now, if you’re still on the fence about whether or not you’d actually enjoy this game,  the only way you’ll actually be able to find out is by trying it yourself. According to Digital Trends, “The game itself will start as subscription based game, which isn’t surprising, but will become a free to play mmo over the course of time”. So as this juggernaut of an mmo’s release date (TBA 2013)  draws nearer, don’t be too surprised to hear talk of dethroning World of Warcraft, and possibly succeeding where others have failed to do so.