Blizzard’s said it before when asked about a release date for one of its blockbusters, and they’ll probably say it again: “It’s done when it’s done.” The entertainment juggernaut has crafted some of the most popular PC titles to date, including the social phenomenon World or Warcraft and the multiplayer mainstay StarCraft. Refusing to supply release dates for its game-changing pieces of software has been frustrating for both journalists and fans, but it’s difficult to argue with the company’s exemplary track record. Sure, nothing releases “perfect,” but the majority of Blizzard’s products have felt “done.”
Now we have Diablo III, a game over 10 years in the making. As a follow-up to one of Blizzard’s most highly touted creations, the expectations for the third entry have been supremely steep. Diablo, which many people still enjoy today, was revolutionary for its time. That time, though, wasn’t exactly yesterday. Games obviously inspired by the click-happy RPG have added much to the recipe, so for Diablo III to reclaim the crown, it had to really be something big. More of the same would probably do most of the job, but in classic Blizzard fashion, the developer took an entire decade to craft a full-bodied experience with an expansive campaign, deep RPG system, solid multiplayer infrastructure, and endless supply of loot. The problem? Diablo III did not ship as a complete product.
What Blizzard initially promised for the game was quite impressive: a fully featured campaign, player-versus-player action, auction houses that use both in-game gold and real money, and much, much more. It’s difficult to deny how daunting the task starts to sound when it’s compiled into a list, but with the Blizzard mentality of the development process, the team really had all the time in the world. When the game did finally ship last week to millions of anxious, work-skipping fans, I can’t honestly say they got the promised package. The auction house that accepts real money won’t be available until May 29, the PvP mode is missing and has no projected release date, and for many players, a connection to a single-player game couldn’t be established. Even if you wanted to explore the beautiful yet sinister world of Diablo III by your lonesome, the option just wasn’t there due to server overflow and a multitude of errors.
Is what’s available for your cash right now impressive? Absolutely. This isn’t a review or critical analysis of the quality of the game. I don’t own a PC that can run Diablo III, and while I’ve heard mostly fantastic things from friends in the industry about what’s playable now, I can’t slap a number on something I haven’t experienced firsthand. It’s not the quality in question, but the completeness of the product. We live in a time where games can be shipped with issues and continually patched until they’re satisfactory, yet it’s not often that we see titles with hefty pieces absent that were intended for launch. DLC that enhances the experience post-release is one thing, but knowingly giving fans most of a game with the promise that the rest will be out soon is something I just can’t encourage.
Let’s pretend that Call of Duty: Black Ops II releases tomorrow. You have your pre-order all paid and ready, head to your local Gamestop, and nab a fresh copy from the overly persistent store clerk attempting to sell you a pre-order for Medal of Honor: Warfighter. After politely denying his demands, you pop the game into you 360 and realize that the cooperative zombies mode is grayed out, with an unlock date of “late 2012” slapped over it. The rest of the game is there, and man, it’s something special. The campaign knocks it out of the park, and you know you’ll be spending months leveling up online. It’s a fantastic package, but not a finished product. Even if Treyarch comes out and tells you a few weeks before release that this significant section of the game won’t be done, which Blizzard has done here with Diablo III, it still means that the publisher and developer are shipping a mostly complete game with the promise that they’ll finish it later. But It’s not a lack of confidence in their ability to wrap up the rest of the product the makes me denounce this move – it’s the standard that’s being set for the rest of the industry.
Free or not, it’s a questionable practice. DLC and updates via internet access have done fantastic things for video games, but there needs to be limits. If a game advertised with three major components ships with two, that’s a problem. It doesn’t matter if a developer surprises its fans with its absence or shines a light on the missing feature – it doesn’t excuse this style of distribution. Diablo III has taken ages to develop, and I understand that fans have been chomping at the bit to sink their teeth into it, but Blizzard’s success with this maneuver continues to open ominous doors. Asura’s Wrath, a Capcom title released earlier this year, essentially locked the true finale until a few months after the game shipped. While that may be a sickening move in itself, what makes it feel even more criminal is the content’s $7 price tag. If both Blizzard and Capcom can ship and find success with unfinished content, there’s little stopping other publishers from following suit.
The connection issues, while unfortunate, irk me in a different manner than the missing pieces of the Diablo III puzzle. Should Blizzard, the company behind the massive World of Warcraft, be releasing a game plagued by day-one errors and server breakdown? Probably not. I understand that all types of pre-order records were broken with this game, and there were certainly plenty of people attempting to access it as soon the decade-long wait ended. Yet, the developer had a rough projection of early numbers and has some of the most online experience out there. Diablo III has been huge, but with pre-orders so accurately anticipating the type of traffic a game will bring, the amount and severity of online issues has been puzzling.
Connection problems happen, but since Diablo III requires consistent ties to the internet, people who just wanted to experience this dark world all by their lonesome were left out in the cold. Does the thought of purchasing a game, installing it and not being able to even enjoy the single-player content seem crazy to you? It should. This persistent connection works for something like World of Warcraft where players sign up knowing they’ll need some sort of internet access, but with both of the original Diablo games finding so much success as solo experiences, Blizzard would have had to do much more marketing to portray the third installment as a core, online title. If fear of cheating is to blame since there’s now a real-money auction house, maybe that specific feature should just stay out of the product. While an interesting concept, many PC gamers without an internet connection or experiencing these errors would trade it in a heartbeat to just play the game offline. If things would have gone smoothly from the get go, maybe this wouldn’t be an issue worth bringing up. They would have gotten away with it if it wasn’t for those pesky, unstable servers.
One of the main reasons I’ve wanted my own souped-up PC is to enjoy Blizzard’s titles – namely, Diablo III. I think the core experience that the developer has created looks and, according to many people I trust, plays fantastically. I would never discount all the hard work these talented people have put into a game that’s been in development for so long, but as someone who wants a full product for my money, I cannot condone how Diablo III was released. Maybe fans really don’t care since they can finally experience the many worlds within the adventure, but being a fan of Blizzard in the past, I’m sad to see the studio break its own mantra.