Monday, May 28, 2012

Diablo 3 - Video Review

Diablo 3 Review - Hell and Back Again

Score : 8.75 / 10
Diablo 3
Developer: Blizzard Entertainment
Publisher: Blizzard Entertainment
Release Date: May 15th, 2012

  • Addictive feeling of dungeon crawling is alive and well
  • Randomized dungeons provide huge amount of content to explore
  • Ability customization offers multiple builds to fit each playstyle
  • Jaw dropping cinematic sequences
  • Repeated cycle can wear thin after a time
  • Item identification proves pointless
  • Must have active internet connection to play single player
Chances are if you had a computer with an internet connection back in 2000 you were crawling through dungeons in Diablo 2. Its simple, but satisfying gameplay was easy to pick up and hard to put down. The major success sparked outcry for a sequel, which has been nothing short of dangled in front of the teeming masses for a long time. After plenty of slideshow presentations, delays, and cinematic teasers; Diablo 3 finally graces the gaming world with its presence. The third title in franchise delivers the classic experience that fans have come to adore, and has plenty of content to last for another decade.

Stay a While and Listen

Twenty years after the events of Diablo 2, Deckard Cain is investigating ancient records and text when he disappears after a mysterious falling star engulfs the cathedral. The star not only draws the attention of the local town, but brings the dead back to life. The player arrives to investigate the falling star, and after meeting Deckard Cain's niece, sets out on a series of events that unveils something much bigger than anyone had hoped . The story chains together the typical themes of sacrifice, betrayal, and greed amongst all the bloodshed. While most of the "sudden twists" are pretty well expected, the various journal entries and extensive lore are enough to provide an interesting tale.

Visually, Diablo 3 holds up well enough. Cinematic sequences are stunning in detail and quality, and entice you to keep playing to see the rest. Some of the more vivid backdrops like the blue hue of the fallen star crater or full-scale war help in bringing the world around you to life, but the jagged character models pale in comparison to the top notch cinematic interludes. It's almost like you are playing a modern title one minute, and a dated one the next.

These small nuances in visuals are made up for with quality sound design. Every swing of your sword or conjuration of a spell is audibly pleasing, and makes taking out multiple foes as appealing to hear as it is to see. Voice actors are spot on in their roles, giving welcome personality to not only the story based NPCs, but your three quirky companions in single player. Soft, yet haunting background music give every world and dungeon a personality of its own, and emphasize that feeling of a foreboding danger around every corner.

Click...Click, Click....Click

Diablo is simple to get the hang of, but complex enough to warrant some preparation at the later difficulties. Practically all of the gameplay mechanics such as movement or attacking are done with the click of the mouse, with the exception of hotbar skills you acquire at later levels. Want to move? Click there. Want to attack that guy? Click him. Want to open that treasure chest? guessed it. The trouble with this arises when there are foes that take up half of the screen, and can block your attempt to flee.

Quests are given out in local towns, and from there you can set off into the vast fields and deserts to complete the specified objective. While there are a multitude of quests, most of these simply involve you going from point A to point B, fighting through hordes of enemies to an eventual boss. Along this path are plenty of opportunities to stray away and locate hidden items, discover chests, and battle elite foes. Looking in unexplored areas of the map or diving into a cave that is not part of the objective usually pay off in the end, and begin the addictive cycle of hunting every last corner of a dungeon for the most loot you can scrounge together.

The biggest appeal of all this is that every dungeon you enter is completely randomized. Playing through the same area twice can yield not only new pathways, but new opportunities for loot, and new elite monsters to encounter. Where one event was closed with the first character you create, the next could stumble upon an entire two level dungeon.  It furthers the unexpected feel of the game, and offers plenty of replay value for your multiple runs through the Acts.

A Hero all My Own

You begin the game by choosing one of five classes; Barbarian, Demon Hunter, Witch Doctor, Monk, or Wizard. Each has its own specialty, with classes like the Barbarian excelling at melee combat and witch doctors utilizing pets to gain the upper hand. Regardless of your choice, Diablo 3 excels in letting you customize your character as you see fit. Each character will eventually unlock a move to complete their hotbar, but have the ability to join a "rune" to that specific attack for the payoff effect. You can customize a tank to have certain attacks boost his health or a two-hander DPS can have each critical hits do bonus damage. This level of customization ensures that when you run into an identical class on a server, you will have different play styles to match your preference, and opens up hybrid classes like a melee mage or ranged barbarian.

The most satisfying aspect of Diablo is equipping your character with loot, and there is plenty to go around in this title. Uncommon drops are plentiful, and rare drops usually accompany the defeat of a much tougher adversary. The best part is that your loot is your own, so you do not have to worry about any stranger taking your rare drops. There are always new pieces that are better than your current equipment, and the multiple gem slots and materials can assist in crafting an optimal set for the tougher difficulties.

Enemies start off simple enough, but soon become much more menacing. The standard trash mobs range from lowly peons, to heavy hitting brutes, to ranged casters. Boss battles will occur at the end of most dungeons, and while a few vary, the most strategy you can use is "stay out of the bad stuff" and "run when that big move comes". Random elite mobs will also block your path, and their abilities fluctuate per your difficulty. These range from single power Normal mode elites like Jailers that can root you in place, to Nightmare mode dual power elites like arcane nightmares that can drop lasers and fear you into additional mobs. These can prove especially challenging on the latter difficulties, bordering that line between legitimate and incredibly annoying as fights occasionally evolve into a game of tag just to survive. Though death is easily rectified, that repair bill can add up...

Friends with Benefits

While taking the solo path is enjoyable, the multiplayer for the game is the best way to play. With every hero that joins your group, the minions of hell grow stronger. With a group of four, the boss fights and elites require a bit of coordination, and makes their defeat even more satisfying. However, when you have a big group the wide radius of spells and explosions can make deciphering friend from foe difficult. There are a total of four difficulties that you will want to bring some friends along for as the friendly AI lacks any real impact, even if they are fully equipped in rare items.

Coupled with the base game is an online auction house. Functioning like that of previous Blizzard games, all items are up for grabs, and you have the ability to both bid or auction off rare items that are of no use to you. There is an even a real-money auction house that is in the works, allowing Diablo 3 to help payoff a bit in the end.

Diablo 3 features plenty of difficulties to keep you coming back for more. After completing the game on normal you can replay the game through three other difficulties; Nightmare, Hell, and Inferno. In these difficulties, enemies hit harder, and the random elites you encounter have more than one power to halt your progress. The tougher the difficulty, the bigger the payout; as the higher tier items will only drop in these difficulties. Despite what you may initially think, you can technically progress by yourself through all three of these difficulties.


Diablo 3 sticks close to its roots in terms of gameplay, but holds up well enough. The simple combat and varying difficulties ensure that both casuals and hardcore crowd have plenty to explore. While it would have been nice to have seen some of the promised features like a player vs player arena and mystic artisan crafting, their addition in a later patch can only improve the content offered. With minimal server lag after the rocky first week, Diablo 3 is an addictive and entertaining experience that offers twelve more years of hack and slash goodness.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Fable Heroes - Video Review

Fable Heroes Review - From Hero to Zero

Score : 5.25 / 10
Fable Heroes
Xbox Live Arcade
Developer: Lionhead Studios
Publisher: Microsoft
Release Date: May 2nd, 2012

  • Gold can carry over to upcoming Fable: Legends
  • Simple controls make it easy to pick up
  • Monopoly inspired leveling system offers an interesting way to level up
  • Everything that makes Fable great is absent
  • Repetitive nature of the combat loses appeal quickly
  • Enemy and friendly AI are incredibly stupid
  • Very short lived with only 6 real stages
Fable Heroes isn't the first venture by Lionhead Studios to craft an Xbox Live Arcade title. The previous Fable Pub Games brought early access to a few mini-games that were genuinely entertaining, while also netting you gold to carry over for Fable II. Fable Heroes tries the same thing, but instead of a simple minigame, it is a full fledged 2D side scrolling beat em up. The result is a game that takes everything that made Fable so great, and tosses it to the wind for an uninspired, bland adventure.

There Once Were Some Dolls...

Despite an established lore that is three games in, Fable Heroes has no real story. There is no dialogue or cinematic cutscenes to introduce anything of importance. You simply pick from one of four default Heroes and drop into a 2D world. You essentially take of tour of iconic cities or areas from the Fable universe, hacking your way through waves of enemies with no real purpose. Fans of Fable will be quick to recognize the hero doll inspired characters and themes from the previous games mixed into this title, but there is little reason behind all the adorable bloodshed.

Visually the overall detail of character models and environments falls short, but the toy influenced ambiance works well for the game. Cartoonish figures explode into coins and Hobbes with Santa hats blatantly charge toward your swings. The generally childlike style melds with the upbeat soundtrack, giving off a Saturday morning cartoon feel. Oddly absent is the renown villager humor that makes Fable so entertaining, and I found myself yearning for the classic one-liners of a garden gnome.

Button Basher

Fable: Heroes is simple to pick up and even simpler to master. Like all classic side scrollers, you navigate a map from stage to stage, making your through waves of mobs to your goal. There is one button for a regular attack, one for a flurry or charged attack for increased damage, and one area attack at the expense of a sliver off your health. Depending on your character your base attacks could be ranged or melee distance, as magic users and pistols are best utilized at a distance. If you've ever even glanced at a side scrolling beat em up, you will quickly get the hang of things.

Enemies range from the notorious Hobbes, to Balverines, and even Hollowmen...but each one acts exactly like its predecessor. A wave will spawn, charge toward you, die, and then spawn again. There is no real tactical approach besides gauging how much health you have available for an area attack, as dodging completely nullifies any damage that can come your way. After leveling up and bringing a few friends along, even on the hardest difficulty Fable: Heroes is laughably easy. Especially since death only results in your ghost still being able to attack, but unable to pick up coins.

In each level you collect large sums of currency which add up to dice rolls. These are carried over to "leveling" your character. You roll the dice, which can land on a square that pertains to either combat, specific enemy types, or a rate on how much currency you gain from killing monsters. You can purchase one ability per turn and have the potential to teleport around to different squares or save your turn for later. It's an interesting way to level up, but can be irritating when you are missing one move but cannot land on the desired space.

Choose Wisely?

Fable was all about choice, and Fable: Heroes somehow manages to utilize it in the worst manner possible. Near the end of each stage you are given a choice to travel one of two paths. One will always lead to a boss fight...which is basically a good 4 minutes of you hitting, dodging, and hitting again. The bosses do not ever change pattern, as they always telegraph their moves, spawn minions, and smash around periodically.

The other option is always a minigame, and even these prove bland and uninspiring. Most involve either mashing a button continuously or running around in an arena trying not to die...which turns out to be easier than it sounds. I never thought I would actually miss the job minigames from Fable III, but I would much rather have a pint pouring contest than suffer through kicking chickens into a goal.

The other big element of Fable was morality, which again proves pointless. You will find chests marked with a good or evil sign that can have a positive or negative effect on a random team member that wears off after a minute. That satisfaction of crafting a hero as a noble warrior or heartless vigilante are all but gone in this game.

Tag Team, Back Again

The friendly AI in the game border somewhere between completely idiotic and blatant jerks as they run gleefully into a boss's attack or steal all the health and gold they can find while you fend off the never ending hordes. If you are going in solo, expect to carry most of your team to the finish line, even if they are maxed out in leveling.

Needless to say, Fable: Heroes is a better experience with three fellow human counterparts, and luckily the game does offer drop in/drop out local multiplayer in addition to an Xbox Live option. Though the hosted sessions can be fairly laggy depending on the game, you'll be glad to have someone competent at your side. Unfortunately the human competition also means less coins and dice rolls to level up your AI team.


There is a harder difficulty, stage medals with leaderboards, and "Dark Albion" feature that makes the few levels offered a bit more challenging, but it's not enough to save Fable: Heroes. The boring gameplay and uninspiring level design makes the game tolerable at best for even the most diehard of Fable fans. If anything I found myself wanting to play Fable III so I could remember what fun I actually had with the franchise. A few years ago this could have been a decent spinoff but compared to the other games out there...these are the lamest heroes ever.