Before a copy of Diablo 3 showed up at my door, I had never even touched a Diablo game or any dungeon crawler for that matter. My money was always better spent elsewhere, it seemed. I now look back on that mindset with disappointment, because Diablo 3 is really good. Excellent, in fact.
Diablo 3 takes place 20 years after the second game’s conclusion. Or so I assume, because the world of Sanctuary is entirely new to me. Don’t worry, new players. You shouldn’t be too lost. Your character is most definitely an audience surrogate; coming from a strange land to figure out what’s up with that whole ‘falling star’ business. Every time you come across a new monster or a new concept, you get the Diablo equivalent of an audio log explaining stuff like why that Witch from Left 4 Dead is puking monsters, for example.
A lot of this stuff seems fairly basic, though. If you can’t figure out that anything that calls itself a Lord of Hell is probably a bad guy, then I wonder how you figured out a computer in the first place. The usual rules of character design are in full effect here, with horrible monsters being the things you kill and righteous Templars as your allies. There’s not much ambiguity there. Even if the particulars of these monsters are lost on the newest of players like myself, it doesn’t take much brainpower to figure out what those guys are up to. It’s the big ‘hello-I-am-only-here-for-a-big-punch-up-later-on’ characters that have more complex motives, but those characters never seem to want anything more than ultimate power. The story beats are fairly predictable, and never really entertained me. But the atmosphere and the world you’re exploring are interesting enough to overshadow the mediocre story. The music is great, everything looks great, and the talented voice actors deliver some great dialogue.
I’d go so far as to say that, when the servers weren’t screwing me over, I actually enjoyed the combat quite a bit. I played a Wizard during my main playthrough, and tinkered around with a Monk for a few levels. Both classes had responsive and diverse attacks, and from what I’ve seen of the other classes, it looks like there’s something for everyone here. Each class has weaknesses, to be sure, but you’ll quickly find the right mix of powers and equipped items to suit your combat style. As for special attacks, instead of mana usage for each class, there are unique pools for each character to use with the only major difference being how you get it back. For example, the Wizard regenerates his/her Arcane Power fairly quickly, while the Monk requires successful hits in combat to recharge Spirit.
Combat itself is fluid and easy, though, and there are certain skills that make you feel like a badass Demon Hunter or Wizard. Considering just how much combat you’ll be doing, it’s a good thing that I actually found myself exploring caves just to find more creatures to put down.
When it’s time to fight, you’re usually going up against mobs and mobs alone, so if you don’t have area of effect powers, then you’ll probably have some problems. Having a power mapped to your left mouse button can also be an issue when you’re trying to kill a particularly annoying enemy on a battlefield littered with items. You can just hold down the ‘shift’ key, but that’s not where my fingers are during a tense combat sequence. However, these problems can be fixed with the right spells (or by going into the ‘options’ menu and clicking ‘elective mode’, which I highly recommend since it allows you to choose which power is mapped to a certain key).
Death isn’t a huge issue either. When you die, you just respawn at either the last checkpoint or the last teleporter you found. Monster health and items on the battlefield remain consistent, so if you found a rare item but a skeleton warrior got the best of you, just run back over to where you died, finish off the skeleton, and pick it up. The penalty for death is your equippable items lose some durability, but you can just throw up a town portal, walk over to the nearest merchant, and repair all your items for an incredibly minimal fee.
Since Diablo 3 is all about the loot, there must be an easy way to sell all that nonsense, right? The advancements you might have gotten used to since the release of Diablo 2 are just not here; there’s not a ‘sell all non-magical items’ button or a pet that goes back to the nearest settlement to drop all your crap, for example. That’s where the aforementioned town portal comes in. Pressing ‘T’ starts the town portal opening process, which lasts about ten seconds. Once that happens, you pop back to your home base with a lasting portal that will take you back to the dungeon once you’re finished with whatever business you were working on.
Getting loot is crazy satisfying, I have to admit. Fighting your way through a particularly difficult encounter, only to see those yellow items pop up is one of the most satisfying experiences I’ve ever had as a gamer. There’s the auction house, where you can buy or sell items for real money or gold (although the real-world auction house isn’t working at the moment), so I guess if you absolutely hate fun you can just buy rare items and circumvent the entire point of Diablo 3. But the game is crazy long and has quite a bit of replay value, so if that addicting loot grind is your thing, Diablo 3 will last you a while.
Depending on your internet connection or how many people will be playing the game at the time, always-on DRM may be a huge issue. The idea that you have to rely on luck to play a game that you paid good money for seems absolutely insane to me. You also can’t pause the game and put your computer to sleep if you want a break, because there’s no way to save aside from playing to the next checkpoint. Would a ‘quicksave’ option really be that bad? I don’t want to choose between being late for work because I can’t save here or lose all the loot I’ve earned.
The DRM also can affect combat at times. Whenever the server jumps, so does your character. As I’ve mentioned before, combat is mob-based so if you don’t have a handle on things, you’ll die fast. Not being able to control where your character is going or where your attacks are directed can be a dealbreaker for some people. I know I wanted to stop playing when the servers began to fluctuate. If Blizzard ever irons out those problems, or drops DRM for offline single-player entirely, then feel free to retroactively give Diablo 3 that little boost it needs to get a perfect score.
I enjoyed my time with Diablo 3. Objectively, the game has DRM problems, but I can’t be too hard on a game where you can summon Arcane Hydras to murder Satan. That’s kind of awesome. But if you don’t want to spend the money on Diablo 3 because the DRM is absolutely nuts, then I don’t blame you. Just know that you’re missing out on some great combat, fun atmosphere, and some of the best examples of loot grinding in recent memory.
ONLY SINGLE PLAYER SCORE
Gameplay – 8.5
Graphics – 10
Story – 9.0
Control – 8.5
Replay Value – 9.0
Overall – 9.0/10
(Review copy provided by Blizzard, thanks from Velocity Gamer!)
The Great Perhaps Review — Perhaps Not
Warning: The article contains discussion on the subject of suicide. If you or someone you love is struggling, The International Association for Suicide Prevention provides contact information for help across the world.
One common piece of advice for budding comedians is to never ‘punch down’. The target of a joke should be someone of a higher status or privilege than the joke teller, rather than a person within a marginalised group, such as the poor, the disabled, or the mentally ill. While this is not a hard and fast rule to comedy success, with shows like South Park using shocking moments to illuminate larger problems within society, without a deft hand, punching down comes across as cruel or offensive. The Great Perhaps, the first title by developer Caligari Games, makes an off-colour joke about suicide in the first five minutes of the game, setting a confused tone for the rest of its three-hour playtime. While this puzzle platformer shows some potential with solid puzzle design and great art direction, its terrible writing taints the entire experience.
The initial foot-in-the-mouth moment happens in the game’s animated prologue. Kosmos is an astronaut in a space station orbiting the earth. During a typical day, his communications with Earth are suddenly cut off, and he sees black smoke spreading across the globe. The station automatically puts him into cryogenic sleep, with instructions to wake him when returning to the surface is safe. Upon awakening, he discovers that over 100 years have passed. Kosmos is in despair, realising that everyone he ever knew or loved is dead, including his wife and children. He asks the ship’s A.I., L9, to vent all the oxygen in the ship, ending his life. She refuses, saying that the task is illogical. He asks again. She tells him to ‘nut up’ and to go explore the Earth. Kosmos reacts in astonishment, not at her cruel words, but at the fact she has developed a sense of humour. Magically cured of his suicidal ideation by her sassy insults, the pair decide to go explore the Earth and see if anyone survived the apocalypse.
Those whose lives have not been touched by suicide may find difficulty understanding why this moment is so offensive. This ‘nut up’ attitude stems from this belief that those suffering are not trying hard enough to get better—that one can just think themselves happy. Men especially suffer due to social pressure on them to not express their feelings, resulting in a suicide rate three times higher than women. Telling a suicidal person to ‘nut up’ would make them more likely to go through with their plans, not laugh. Real treatment takes a lot of hard work with support from both loved ones and mental health professionals.
This monumental lack of understanding permeates the game, although thankfully not as egregiously as the initial example. The flat intonation of Kosmos’s narration initially seems inspired, a man who has stepped back from the precipice of self harm but is still deeply troubled. However, the content of the writing actually shows that he is really cured, despite the monotony of his voice. About half an hour into the journey, he and L9 encounter a man about to jump off a roof, upset that no one likes his writing. He invites Kosmos to jump with him, but Kosmos proclaims he has ‘better things to do’. A callous attitude for a man who, within the last day or so, was in the same position. He manages to help the man by showing that his book will be successful in the future, handily sidestepping any real understanding of how to defuse such a situation. One does not need to be an expert on mental illness to write about the subject, but a modicum of research, understanding, or respect would have gone a long way. The Great Perhaps seems uncertain if it wants to be mysterious or funny. One moment, Kosmos will be lamenting the downfall of humanity; the next, he is riding an ostrich. L9 switches between making jokes and acting like a cold machine. The game is disjointed and lacks the emotional weight to support the story it is trying to tell.
The gameplay of The Great Perhaps fares better than the writing. A two-dimensional sidescroller with light puzzling, akin to Inside or Limbo, the game’s unique hook is the lantern Kosmos finds that lets him briefly travel back in time. The lantern button can be pressed for a glimpse of the past world, then held down to travel into the past for 20 seconds. For the most part, this mechanic works well, using the lantern to get around locked doors, bring objects between the past and the present, travel down a metro tunnel without getting hit by a train, or eaten by mutant rats. However, in some instances, the mechanic can be fiddly. The transition between worlds is fairly slow, so for sections where one has to swap to avoid a danger, the sluggish transition is frustrating. L9 will warn the player of a danger, but she usually warns too late for the player to perform the switch and save themselves. If this shifting function was on a toggle, rather than button press to turn the lantern on then press and hold down the button again to switch worlds, a lot of frustration could be mitigated. The time in the past would also benefit from being a bit longer. Throughout the campaign, several pipe dream-type puzzles appear in the past world, with the player needing to rotate tiles to form a continuous line from point A to point B. Getting kicked out of the puzzle every 20 seconds because of the time change was annoying.
Kosmos has some finicky movement, which is not a problem during the standard object puzzles, but is an issue in the handful of chase sequences dotted through the game. One section is set in a tight apartment building that requires him to push a cart, climb on it, jump to a ladder, jump across the gap, throw rocks to knock down the next ladder, scramble up, and run up two sets of stairs before reaching freedom. An already tricky sequence is made worse by Kosmos constantly getting stuck on objects. The enemy is close behind him for the whole sequence, so the sequence has little room for error. A bit more space between Kosmos and the monster would allow for collision-based delays.
Along with an autosave, The Great Perhaps has a chapter-based system as well. This system can be helpful if the player finds themselves in a soft-lock situation, which happened once during the review playthrough. In one section of the game, Kosmos needs to prevent a bank robbery in the past. A vital object—a large stick of dynamite—managed to phase through the floor and out of existence, making progress impossible. The autosave occurred after the dynamite escaped the confines of the world, so the only option was to load from a chapter. Thankfully, this chapter system was in place, otherwise the whole game would have needed to be started over. Perhaps a ‘reset screen’ option in the pause menu could be a helpful addition to prevent this problem in the future.
The world of The Great Perhaps has a pretty, cartoon aesthetic, with the transition between the past and the present showing a stark difference in how the place has aged. Lots of menacing creatures have emerged since the fall of mankind, with two-headed rats, giant mole-like beasts, an enormous octopus, and a creepy shadowy humanoid all doing their best to bring Kosmos down. Music is similarly well crafted, with a particular highlight being the escape sequence in a collapsing underground city. Kosmos has to assemble a giant robot to escape, and with each piece he completes, the music increases in tempo and adds more instruments to the mix. On the planet’s surface, the music invokes a sad, lonely atmosphere, trying to insert the emotion this game sorely needs.
So much potential is wasted in The Great Perhaps. Puzzle design is solid throughout, but hampered with finicky controls. Art direction is outstanding, but the story that the game is trying to support flounders between ‘funny’ and serious, and is full of clichés. Offensive content notwithstanding, The Great Perhaps is a very run-of-the-mill time travel story delivered in a monotonous tone. Many adjectives could be used to describe this game, but ‘Great’ is certainly not among them.
Reviewed on PC. Also available on Linux and macOS.
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