Diablo in Diablo III works well despite itself

Check your expectations. The Darkening Of Tristam, the free, time-limited new mini-campaign recently added to Diablo 3 [official site], is most certainly not the full-on Diablo 1 (number added merely for clarity) we hoped for. Nor is it a meaningful bolt-on for those D3 die-hards who crave another hit of over-statted loot. If, however, you are a filthy casual, it’s a refreshingly straightforward, aesthetically-tweaked way to return to an otherwise bloated game.

Here’s the deal. The Darkening Of Tristam is only available in Diablo III’s ‘adventure’ mode, which requires that you both own and have completed Act V from the Reaper of Souls expansion pack. Presuming you have, you can find a new rift waiting for you in the Old Tristram area, which will transport you to the new stuff. However, said rift will purportedly disappear at the end of this month, set to return again next year.

The most immediate change is that a 3D game from 2012 tries to look like a 2D game from 1996. This seems inherently unwise – surely better to recreate D1’s gloomier, Doomier aesthetic in gleaming 2016-o-vision than use a filter to try and make it look like it’s running in 640×480? But no, maximum nostalgia is the goal here.

The effect can look lousy and lovely by turns. The generally increased darkness does, to some extent, make this feel a touch more like olden Diablos, and the deliberately jerkier movement (the player character has fewer degrees of rotation and changed animations) gives it a lovely Harryhausen vibe that’s missing from the ultra-slick D3 proper. However, the pixel filter looks a lot like some rendering mode you’d turn on in a SNES emulator then turn off again ten minutes later. It’s… OK, but it ain’t fooling anyone.

You also get a faux-retro overhaul of the UI and some ‘classic’ sounds in there. It’s a wonky old package all told, but I must admit it feels rather nice, it feels like a thing – as compared to D3 vanilla, which is so glossy and flashy that it almost falls into a weird sort of over-produced blandness.

Sadly, the critical failure is that, underneath this remember-the-90s sleeve-tugging, the ‘new’ dungeon just isn’t interesting. You get sixteen levels of gothic-demonic architecture that are meant to ape the cathedral descent of the original Diablo, but in reality just make for a couple of hours of indistinguishable floors, from which a few semi-new bosses sporadically burst.

Not that Diablo 1 was/is exactly a fountain of variety (Diablo II holds up far better), but this is still the faintly ridiculous pinata of Diablo III, not the ever so slightly survivalish, more punitive Diablo. Most enemies and items are simply returning D3 stuff, and skills and mechanics wise it’s identical to the main game. This is Diablo III wearing its dad’s old hat, and that’s about it. You can’t kid yourself that this is somehow a different game to D3 – either the less ideal straight-up D1 remake or the more ideal revisiting and improving. It’s Diablo III with a skin. It is not un-fun, but it’s brief and perfunctory.

However! I’ve not played Diablo III in earnest for quite some time. Diving back into it is somewhat overwhelming – all these modes and seasons and costume add-ons and pets and God help me if I want to try and remember my loot’n’skill priorities for my level 50-ish main character.

There are various options for the frightened and tired player to dodge this tidal wave of stuff, from starting a whole new campaign to sticking to do random dungeoneering of Adventure mode, but there’s much to be said for The Darkening Of Tristram as a short, self-contained experience.

As it stands, Diablo III is a bloody long game about essentially doing the same thing forever, and I don’t think I’m alone in saying that neither the patience or the time sufficient to replay the thing are guaranteed.

In this new mode, I got to do a couple of hours of monster-splatting with a brand-new character (you can use an existing one if you like, but you’ll make it last ten minutes rather than a couple of hours), with a pleasing visual darkness to it, a final fight against a certain big red bastard and got rewarded with a certain cutscene.

Yes, my character can continue on doing standard D3 stuff afterwards if I so wish, but that’s something I can leave for another day. I appreciate the completeness of this. And people who are hooked on special loot and followers and whatnot get some new gimmes, like a Butcher pet and special cleaver.

The Darkening Of Tristram is a wobbly affair, and certainly not the full-fat remake we perhaps deludedly hoped for. Even so, this is the sort of direction I’d like to see Diablo III continue to head in – self-contained vignettes, brief but complete experiences for the time-starved, and mercifully free from the tiresome barrage of stony-faced lore that bogs down the main campaign. Clearly, Diablo III is going to be around for quite a few years yet; I don’t have any interest in playing the campaign again, but I’d totally come back for annual (or more) jaunts like this.

The Darkening Of Tristram is available now, as part of Diablo III’s 2.4.3 patch. It is due to disappear at the end of the month.

31 Comments

  1. Arathorn says:

    “You get sixteen levels of gothic-demonic architecture that are meant to ape the cathedral descent of the original Diablo, but in reality just make for a couple of hours of indistinguishable floors, from which a few semi-new bosses sporadically burst.”
    My memory might be a little rusty on this, but that does sound a lot like the original Diablo. I tried replaying it a couple of years ago and I only encountered endless reskins of just a couple of different enemies in very same-y levels, with a few mini-bosses in between for “variety”.

    I don’t think it aged very well.

    • Xocrates says:

      Except the levels here are tiny compared to the original and there are no quests or story (though it references most of them). There literally is nothing to do here other than grind through the dungeon, which is not that interesting and badly mimics the original.

      Even accepting that the original game did not age that well, this fails to live up to it.

      This is a not particularly impressive “retro” mod for Diablo 3.

      • paddymaxson says:

        So are they not doing a full remake then?

        Ugh…At least there’s The Lord of Terror for Neverwinter Nights if you want a slightly more up to date Diablo remake =/

    • frightlever says:

      “My memory might be a little rusty on this, but that does sound a lot like the original Diablo. I tried replaying it a couple of years ago and I only encountered endless reskins of just a couple of different enemies in very same-y levels, with a few mini-bosses in between for “variety”.”

      Yeah, basically the original was a fairly faithful roguelike.

      • TillEulenspiegel says:

        Exactly! It’s one of a tiny handful of games that can accurately be described as a real-time roguelike. It has plenty of issues, but regardless it’s a radically different design from both D2 and D3. Strong story/atmosphere tho.

        The Diablo 3 event is a pointless heap of shit. They could have at least recreated the quests and made some new environments. Instead, it’s the laziest thing imaginable.

  2. FuriKuri says:

    For those new or returning players (since it sorta reads in this manner in the article) – ditch playing the campaign entirely and switch to adventure mode and blast through some rifts. It is infintely more fun and rewarding and contains approx. 90% less terrible, terrible writing to boot. You’ll need the expansion pack though.

    I’d also recommend starting off with a seasonal character and work your way through the season journey. It provides a constant drip-feed of short term goals which will net you a full gear set for your char at 70 (always your first step to doing megadamage).

    As for Diablo 1 mode; it’s pretty much what I expected, i.e. overblown to say the least. Very little content for a D3 vet, but it was fun to see Acid Beasts show up in the lower levels of the dungeon. Also for that mind melt moment when you head back to town and are plunged back into a world of graphical fidelity.

  3. Drib says:

    I’ve played through it twice and I’m reasonably certain the dungeon is not random generated. Enemy placement maybe somewhat, but the actual dungeons were the same both times (on different characters).

    Also playing a higher level character levels all the crap up, it still takes a while to plow through it.

    But it’s a nice little nostalgia thing. They have all the old set pieces like ‘halls of the blind’ and everything, even the Optic Amulet from it.

    For a free nostalgia trip, it was fun times. It wasn’t diablo 1, but it was still a fun little laugh.

    • nu1mlock says:

      I’ve played through it three times, two of which h were with the same character but once with a friend.

      The dungeons were different each time.

  4. lglethal says:

    Urggh! The Butcher is, apart from Diablo and the Cow King, the only boss I can even remember from Diablo 1. And he was a right bastard to kill. Died plenty of times to him. And now he’s a pet. Urghh!

    • Mr. Perfect says:

      The butcher was comically simple once you realize he couldn’t open doors. I’d just find a door next to a grated wall, lock him on the other side and then spend what felt like five minutes pretending my warrior knew how to fire a bow.

      The Skeleton King was always so much worse. He’d just revive all of his skeleton minions as I cut them down, it was easy to get overwhelmed.

  5. Mr. Perfect says:

    Not that Diablo 1 was/is exactly a fountain of variety (Diablo II holds up far better), but this is still the faintly ridiculous pinata of Diablo III, not the ever so slightly survivalish, more punitive Diablo.

    I think you’ve just hit on why Diablo 1 is something I still dust off and play about once a year. It looks terrible, but it’s still hard. In D1 letting anything get within melee range of your Sorcerer was scary, but in D3 the Wizard can be up to his neck in monsters twice his size and it’s no big deal. You just activate some power and they’re all reduced to meaty little chunks on the floor. I can still remember kiting Death Knights around the Hell levels with my warrior because I needed to loose a couple and get the odds down to 1 on 1.

    • Drib says:

      You just activate some power and they’re all reduced to meaty little chunks on the floor.

      This is my biggest problem with D3. I played through again, as a crusader, to unlock the adventure mode.

      I don’t think I ever got below half health.

      Any time anything got the slightest bit of a roadblock, I just right clicked instead of left clicking, or hit all four number keys.

      It is the easiest, most bland game I can imagine.

      • Moraven says:

        Expert/Master makes leveling a new character far more interesting.

        Normal/Hard are there so that anyone can jump in and play.

      • Sian says:

        “It is the easiest, most bland game I can imagine.”

        Well, having recently played WoW for the first time since The Burning Crusade, I can tell you I don’t have to imagine a more easy, bland game. Maybe Legion is as good as it’s made out to be, but the stuff before that poses no challenge whatsoever and is mindnumbingly boring.

        But I don’t really disagree with your sentiment. I only played the free part of D3, and it failed to grab me for the reasons you mentioned. Sure, it’s only the start of the game, and maybe it does get better later and with higher difficulties, but Blizzard might want to consider offering interested players a taste of that too.

        • Vickers says:

          After 5 years I’m amazed there are still people who call Diablo 3 an easy game (who actively play this game) that haven’t realized the point of the game is pushing torment levels and Greater Rifts. It’s like someone who hits max level in take your pick MMO and thinking they beat the game.

      • Michael Anson says:

        Have you played on a Torment difficulty yet? It gets pretty impressively difficult now.

    • Michael Anson says:

      I think you should give the game another chance. Try starting a game from Torment 6, and you should find the difficulty you’re looking for. They revamped the difficulty settings entirely a while back.

      • djvecchitto says:

        Until you reach level 70, you can’t do any of the torment difficulties – only easy, medium, hard, or expert. And all four of those, even expert, are very, VERY easy (d3 on easy might literally be the easiest game ever made). D3 is a very strange and broken game for new players.

        • TheSkiGeek says:

          They changed the difficulty scaling a while back on PC so it’s relative to your character level; there’s no “easy” anymore, and “expert” or higher right out of the gate on a new character can get quite difficult (although it can also become pretty easy if you get lucky with weapon drops).

          If you’re making a new seasonal character and you’ve unlocked the higher difficulties, you can jump right to extremely high difficulty if you want. Anything beyond Master or maybe Torment 1 is pretty much impossible without a big pile of legendary/set items.

  6. Laurentius says:

    I hate this graphical filter and I don’t understand thought process behind it. Game actually looks worse and more pixelated then original D1. It’s not any good by today’s standard but in compariosn to this shitty filter it got clean and sharp look. This is what bothers me, older games were not made to be pixalated, actually despite lower resolutions graphics artist were often able to mitigate pixelation. Blizzard games of that era were really fine graphically and still holds up: Warcraft2, Diablo, Starcraft1. Today Blizzard does not even respect its own legacy, presenting modern audience that one of their hit as way more graphically shitty then it actually ism pathetic.

  7. Someoldguy says:

    “As it stands, Diablo III is a bloody long game about essentially doing the same thing forever, and I don’t think I’m alone in saying that neither the patience or the time sufficient to replay the thing are guaranteed.”

    You’re not. I lost patience with it before even completing it once. So. Much. Repetition. To reference another of RPS’ recent posts, this was one game I managed to walk away from reasonably early when I realised I wasn’t getting the hype or enjoying the experience.

  8. GemFire81 says:

    Ok I played it and here are my thoughts, for anyone that cares. My first impressions were that it looks really good and is a lot of fun. Once hitting the 10th floor I unfortunately have to say that this feels like a waste of recourses. The juicy stuff that a lot of people miss from diablo and diablo 2 was the gameplay not the graphics. This dungeon that they added , while looking cool at first quickly starts to feel like more mindless diablo 3 mob grinding. Diablo 3 in general for some reason just feels like shallow mindless mob grinding. I WANT to find a boss or area where I keep dyeing over and over and I have to give up and go grind mobs to find better gear then come back and whoop that bosses ass or finally make it threw a tough area. Yet almost all modern games have removed that from their games and replaced it with just mindless clicking. This is just that, more mindless clicking. A total waste of time. Sorry Blizz but you need to stop playing it safe. Add 3 brand new charaters at once instead of one or add Arenas or a Moba style PvP mode. Stop worrying about perfect balance and just start adding depth and content not 2 more hours of bullshit. I seriously hate people that complain about balance or graphics , thanks for making them waste 90% of their resources on crap instead of more game.

  9. racccoon says:

    I don’t think this works. I went back on the other day and its not that great a game. so i uninstalled d3 yet again!
    I think Diablo 1 is the best game!
    I played it recently and loved it!
    The reason why blizzard have done this add to diablo 3 is that they have lost control of diablo 1.
    Its no longer a game they own! even though they do on paper, they have not cared for it at all they just let it slide away, Blizzard have neglected it for far to long its now no longer a game they can produce!
    So it now in the hands of the internet.

    • gruia says:

      i agree man
      D1 > D2 > D3 .
      with each expansion it took a hit. less immersion less grit less motivation to plow ahead .

  10. Michael Anson says:

    I find it interesting that people are taking this opportunity to complain about things that are no longer relevant in the current game (being “too easy”) or saying that the quality of the update isn’t what it should be. It’s a free addition to a 4 year old game as a nod to a 20 year old game that offers some variety from the base game and a few cosmetic items. I wonder if these same people complain when given other free things…

    • Sandepande says:

      Yeah but if you want praise for free things they have to be as good as, or slightly better than, a paid thing.

      The more a thing costs, the more valuable it is…

    • thelastpointer says:

      Yeah, I’m not sure what everybody’s expectation is here. It’s a nice little nod, not a faithful recreation of Diablo1 in Diablo3. I don’t even think it was marketed as such; a developer actually said that the interface was done by an excited artist in their free time.

      Complaining about the difficulty is somewhat pointless now, though you do have to fully level up a character once to unlock torment difficulties. I think that’s reasonable, but people might disagree.

    • Xocrates says:

      Free shit is still shit though.

      Whether the update was well intentioned or not (and for what it’s worth, I think it was), there are valid complaints to be made. Context matters, but being free is not an excuse to avoid criticism.

  11. Kiytan says:

    I played it through twice (once with a new character, once with a max level/well geared one)It was ok. I think most peoples frustration with it comes from the fact they’d rather the time had been spent adding stuff to the core game, or at least stuff that wasn’t just going to be available 1/12th of the year.

  12. Foosnark says:

    It was an amusing diversion that made me think for a couple of minutes about finding my old D1 disc and seeing what kind of shambles it would be on a modern PC.

    Goat Yoda… I mean, Gharbad the Weak really got the shaft though. He was my favorite character from D1, but I disintegrate beamed him in about 1/3 of a second.

  13. Vickers says:

    I appreciate what they’re doing here but I’d much rather have the long anticipated HD Diablo 2/Starcraft with full battle.net compatibility. I installed Diablo 2 a while back but got instantly turned off by the fact that you have to log into your character like every 3 months or it’ll get deleted. Aint nobody got time for that