Diablo III – A Solid Return to the Franchise With Addicting Gameplay and Some Story Issues

Diablo III

    My general rule for games and shows is that I have to finish watching them or playing them before I do a review. This is a big reason why I don’t tend to as many game reviews. I’m a completionist on games that have an actual ending. Luckily “Diablo III” does and with it the chance to review the 3 aspects of a game that I will be judging upon. Story, gameplay and the overall experience of the game as a whole.

    I have been a big fan of the Diablo Franchise since the first game, which was one of the first games I ever beat. I still remember saving the game right before I faced Diablo and returning to my save to kill him multiple times with my warrior who I had got his mana high enough to lay down a bunch of fire walls that destroyed the minions surrounding Diablo and brought down his health. Besides Starcraft and Warcraft II, Diablo was my introduction to the great worlds that Blizzard has created, and I look forward to going back and reviewing more of those classic games as well as the expansion to this game, “Reaper of Souls.” Suffice to say I am a huge fan of these Universes (Though I think Warcraft went downhill after “The Frozen Throne”) and can’t wait to return and review the games.

   The story of Diablo III takes place after the destruction of the Soulstone at the end of “Diablo II: Lord of Destruction” and the world has gone quite as evil starts to rise again as the mysterious Black Soulstone arrives on the scene and a mysterious figure falls from the sky leading the Hero go and investigate the incident in New Tristam and meeting up with Leah and her Uncle Deckard Cain who have been investigating the surrounding events.

The Gameplay: Pros – Exploration – The exploration aspect is one of the great things about all of the games of the Diablo Franchise. The maps are expansive but not boring since there is always a dungeon to raid or an event to take place in that keeps you on your toes and gives you a chance to try out new tactics or see another part of the world.

Rewards – The reward system is fantastic. From getting different flags with symbols, winning achievements and of course gear for your character so you can tackle the next area or a more difficult area. The rewards reward you for challenging yourself and pushing your limits.

Combat – I play Witch Doctor as my main and I much prefer his mixture of spell and pet based combat. The Demon Hunter is my secondary in Diablo III pre- “Reaper of Souls” and I found her combat style still fun, but a bit too slow for me. The Witch Doctor rewards quickness and taking on as many enemies as possible which I enjoy.

Skills – The game has both active and passive skills. I have a pet based Witch Doctor so the skills I chose were to strengthen pet life or give me more pets be it stronger gargantuans, more fetishes or more zombie dogs. Besides that I play him somewhat like a mage and enjoy using fire based abilities. Each character has a diverse range of skills and options too and it is much clearer on what they and how they can work together than in “Diablo II.”

Okay – Most Boss Battles – Most boss battles were easy but the ones that provided a challenge were a lot of fun. The Butcher and King Leoric when I first started took a lot to take down and the Belial fight was fun too even though he couldn’t touch me. Some of the minor bosses in the High Heavens were fun too. Overall the bosses could have been more challenging and been given more area attacks or abilities that would not down half you health automatically. That would have helped with their threat and made the game more fun.

Difficulty – The difficulty was normal in my first playthrough which was too easy for me. I beat the game really fast. After I increased it by two I had a bit more of a challenge, Act Bosses weren’t any harder though, only mini-bosses and Elites. That is why I’m putting difficulty at okay. Difficulty should be across the board…Act Bosses should be more difficult than mini-bosses and Elites.

The Story: Pros – The World – The world is fantastic and in this we get to explore Sanctuary, Hell and the High Heavens…which is a first since in the past games the only places you could explore were Hell and all over Sanctuary.

New Tristam – New Tristam is a great gothic area that I greatly enjoyed as we got see King Leoric return and learn his tragic backstory (he is another pro, I liked the whole drama surrounding his corruption and how his son was the hero from the first Diablo who became Diablo). The zombies and cultists give it an amazing gothic feel and there is so much history. The fact that this is the only Act with Deckard Cain helps too.

Caldeum – Caldeum is a lot of fun as you get to help refugees and deal with the Cultist and Belial threat. The world has a lot of history to it and here is where you start to learn about the Nephalem and meet the awesome mad character Zolton Kulle (another amazing character who is pretty much immortal and created the Black Soulstone) and visiting his prison to get him back his body is a lot of fun.

Bastion’s Keep – Like in “Lord of Destruction,” this area is one giant siege that you have to fight back before facing the one responsible in their lair. You see the destruction of war in this and a lot of characters you aren’t able to save as demons swoop out of the air to carry warriors away. You feel Azmodan bringing his full force in this one and it makes for a fun act.

The High Heavens – The High Heavens is where you learn most angels hate you and it is only when you save some of them that they come around and see you are helping free the world from Diablo. Diablo almost wins in this and it is great seeing what a corrupted Heaven would look like.

The Characters – The characters are one of the strongest parts of the Diablo Franchise, especially the villains as often they are given tragic or distinct motivations that make them a lot of fun to face.

King Leoric – The King is back and in this we learn he started going mad after a failed war against Westmarch and how is corrupt adviser (Who you fight after Leoric in the first game) is a big reason why he’s losing it. I felt bad for him and as you go to face him you see everything he’s lost as all the dead shells who you fight were once humans and men who served under him before he lost everything to Diablo.

Zolton Kulle – This guy is fun and hilarious. He’s sarcastic, he mocks those who trapped him and he keeps his deal up until the end. I wish he was a follower since his witty remarks are a nice break from the genuine feelings from your followers or Leah.

Maghda – Maghda has a great design and has butterflies wings from creatures carrying her. She is a threat throughout Act 1 and 2 and a constant presence. She also kills Deckard Cain cementing her as a more relevant bad than a lot of others you face. Her fight was hard too when I raised the difficulty by 2 as she had adds over the entire map and they were changing into stronger figures so it was a race to kill her in time. I wish the Act end bosses had been that challenging.

Adria – Adria is Leah’s mother and a witch who hooked up with the Dark Wanderer (Diablo) from the last game. Her story ends abruptly when she turns Leah into Diablo using the Black Soulstone and we never get her full motivation. I liked her journal though as it showed that there was persecution she faced to a degree and her being outside of town showed her to be an outcast.

Belial – Belial corrupts New Tristam and Caldeum. My issue with his story is that Maghda is his only real minion outside of those she raises and his reveal of being the child Emperor wasn’t that smart of a plan for the Lord of Lies. Belial’s Act should have been an investigation with more NPC interaction and with the option of Belial outricking you. I think that would have made for a better first fight as he could have defeated you if you didn’t find out who he was in time or if you accused the wrong person. After all of that there could be the minion and true form fight. I still liked design and location and the fact that he had a follower who you faced all through Act 1. It made him more of a threat.

Azmodan – Azmodan is the strategist of Hell and manged to overthrow the Prime Evils when he and Belial took over. He does a great job causing destruction but should have shown up in Caldeum. He isn’t even on the stage until after Belial is defeated and since he’s defeated in one act we never get to see his full threat. His design and minions are great though and it is a long Act to finally take him down.

Diablo – Diablo is back as the Prime Evil and holds all 7 Evils within him. It is cool that he becomes this, though I wish it had been shown better in appearance and in the final fight. Diablo is a character with plans within plans and that is why the games are named after him I think. He always finds a way to live, which makes him a good antagonist.

Imperius – Imperius is the leader of Heaven and hates humanity and those who defend humanity because of the demon blood that exists in all humans. He doesn’t change either and it is only when Diablo incapacitates him that you are able to save Heaven. I like his stubborness though as Diablo II only had angels helping unless they’d been turned into a demon.

Deckard Cain – Cain has a small role in this and helps you fight Leoric before he is killed off by Maghda. It was great seeing him again but I get why he had to die as it pushes Leah to desperation leaving her open for her mother to corrupt and maker her Diablo’s vessel.

Tyrael – Tyrael is the Angel of Justice from the last game who destroyed the Worldstone to save Sanctuary. He ends up leaving the Council of Angels when they choose to sit back and his arc is reclaiming his place in Heaven as a defender of humanity as he becomes mortal and the first Act is him figuring out who he is and working to stop the Evils.

The Player Character – The player character is fantastic. I loved the Witch Doctor lore and how he is character who calls upon the dead in the unformed lands for his power. He is a smart character with good intentions who is a bit of a paladin in mentality but quick to anger (this applies to all the player characters I think) which sets up them becoming the new Dark Wanderer and vessel of Diablo or a Prime Evil if Blizzard chooses to take that route.

Okay – Leah – Leah is an idea, not a bad idea though I hate the “Anti-Christ” meme of her being the child of Diablo so Diablo can possess her. That I found uncreative and Leah doesn’t help. She’s well meaning but beyond caring for her uncle and figuring out her powers she doesn’t feel fully fleshed out, so I’m putting her at okay.

Followers – The followers each have unique stories but I felt that they should have had more outside of their quests. I like when they interact with one another but they should have been given more quests outside of the one you get for loyalty. I also would have liked more followers as each of them could have been a much greater exploration of the regions of the world in each Act.

Cons – The Villain Taunts – The villain taunts are annoying and especially after killing a lot of minions and mini-bosses rang false. There was no danger of them winning and in the case of Azmodan I was literally attacking him in his home. Belial at least had the excuse of not having home field advantage (Same with Diablo in the High Heavens and he seemed about to win at least). I would have liked to see more lasting damage to the world if they were doing taunts like if every time they taunt the room you are in a no-name npc dies from the voice. That way it would show just how powerful these villains still are.

  This was a gamer that I kept coming back too and have already beaten twice with my Witch Doctor. There is so much replay value in this game and that was even before I bought “Reaper of Souls” which only increased the overall replay value. Each of the heroes has a different play style and within that play style so much you can accomplish with gear and different builds. The story is also interesting enough that I like seeing villains and characters again. The weakest parts are Leah, Adria and Diablo. Adria’s backstory and her going to Diablo should have been fleshed out this game as well as where Diablo was the whole time and how she was able to bring him out and make him the Prime Evil. Besides these issues though, the story knows exactly what it is and even though I would have preferred the bosses be a lot more difficult in my playthroughs (even as I increased the difficulty, only certain bosses ever gave me much of a challenge as my Witch Doctor). It is still a game for any lover of gothic, blizzard or RPG games.

Final Score: 9 / 10. Solidly great and one of my favorite games.

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Delicatessen (1991): A Surreal Exploration of the Desperate and the Strange

JDelicatessen poster

     “Delicatessen” is a great surrealist French film. The film by the directors’ own omissions said it was inspired by Terry Gilliam, and you definitely get that feel as Gilliam’s work is extremely surreal.  But, because it’s surreal it does make it a little harder to review, especially as the story functions as an ensemble story, so a few arcs get lots in the process of the exploration of different characters. This is the only thing that keeps the film from being great since the rest is very solid.

    “Delicatessen” was directed by Marco Caro and Jean-Pierre Jeunet who also wrote the screenplay along with Gilles Adrian and produced by Claudie Ossard.

     The story takes place in post-apocalyptic France in a rundown apartment where the Butcher (Jean-Claude Dreyfus) sends a call out for help and kills whomever arrives in order to feed the tenants and keep the peace. Things change though when the former clown Louison (Dominique Pinon) arrives and the Butcher Clapet, his daughter Julie (Marie-Laure Dougnac) and tenants become charged by Louison, causing tension to rise as each knows that they all still need to eat and worry that the Butcher will choose them instead.

The Pros: The World – The apartment that the story takes place in has a wonderful dark humor to it. Everyone there has been driven mad by the world ending and it comes out in different ways…From a man harassing a woman to make her think she hears voices, to a deaf woman walking around with cans tied to her so she can be found, to the newest tenant who is a clown and the fact that most of them are cannibals. There are also the Troglodistes who are vegetarians living underground who take on missions for people who may them in corn.

The Humor – There are some great comedic moments in this film. From the butcher having sex and the springs springing in time to Louison painting and other people working around the apartment building. There is also a moment where it looks like Louison has been be-headed but you soon learn he was just preparing for a performance he was going to put on (made all the more ironic in how most people there want to eat him).

Cinematography – This film is beautiful in how it was filmed. The scenes are desolate and dark while at the same time keeping true to the name. Red is a common color showing that the Butcher is the one who keeps the peace and does it by murder and the tenants eating his kills. Even in desolation there is hope though as seen by how the Louison and Julie relationship is portrayed, showing romance in the dark. Darius Khondji did a great job.

The Butcher – Jean-Claude Dreyfus plays a wonderful mad man who reminded me so much of Sweeney Todd. He is a man who has embraced his madness but still has some good in him deeply buried. Sadly we only see that good in relation to his daughter but all that changes when he gives into social pressure to kill Louison, which in the end leads to him killing himself accidentally in his attempt to kill Louison. This was a tough role to do as he has to be terrifying and sympathetic, just like Sweeney Todd.

Louison – This actor was also in “Amelie” and Dominique Pinon was perfect in this role. He isn’t attractive but he is adorable and his face is the perfect face for a clown, as he has a wide mouth and his head is a little big. This in turn fits with the surrealist feel of the apartment and time and time again he shows the world around him kindness even when he rarely receives any. He is kind, though doesn’t think things through. We see his kindness in creating soap bubbles for the kids in the apartment and how he’ll listen to anyone but how he isn’t all that aware that everyone is a cannibal for the most part and when the mistress asks him to dance he does it without thinking about Julie which leads to Julie walking in on them. Regardless, he is a complex character and a fun character to watch.

Julie – Julie is shy but can be hard and driven when she needs to be. She is the only one who stands up to her father and is the one who tries to save Louison. She is haunted by what her father does and wants to live in a different world. Her greatest escape is through music and she is talented in it as well as being a much more active agent than Louison who is passive. Marie-Laure Dougnac is fantastic!

The Romance – Jean Pierre-Jeunet is one of my favorite directors and one of the few who can pull of romances well. He did it in “Amelie” and he does it here with Julie and Louison. They are both innocent in their own way and figuring things out as romance is so new to both of them. They act (Julie on her Cello, Louison as the clown) as a way to connect to themselves and others and from this their romance blossoms as they have respect for one another too. This is powerful and ends with Julie seeking to Troglodistes to save Louison from her father.

The Troglodistes – The Trogs are great. They are also insane, but good and run like a military operation who great fear the landdwellers as they live in the sewers. They have some great scenes with Julie and we see how desperate they are for supplies when she convinces them by telling them her father has corn in his room. This is enough to convince them to save Louison. They are the only good humans in this world besides Julie and Louison too.

The Flood and Final Scene – When the Butcher and tenants are trying to kill Louison he ends up flooding the bathroom and when the door is open all the water washes away the people trying to get to himself and Julie. It’s a great scene that symbolizes the washing away of the old mentality…and in the end there is a new beginning after the Butcher is gone as Julie and Louison play music on top of the apartment building.

Okay: The Other Tenants – Most of the other tenants don’t feel fleshed out. There is the working class guy whose grandmother gets eaten, the man who makes devices that create animal sounds (he is the one harassing the mad woman) and his son and also the mistress of the Butcher. None of them really change though, which is why I can’t put them as a pro. They are unique characters, but in an ensemble show characters must change to keep it interesting. Even surrealist stories still need an arc for their characters of some kind.

The Cons: Plot Holes – At one point the Butcher is thinking about redemption and how circumstances made him what he is based of what he heard Louison telling Julie. This is never picked up again and the next time he’s trying to kill Louison. The other major plot hole is Julie sees Louison dancing with the Mistress, but they never address it. Both these issues are never touched on again which makes the ending and final fight come on suddenly. This was a major con as they could have gone somewhere, the movie wasn’t long so this wasn’t left out due to lack of time.

     This was a really good film that I definitely recommend. It does have issues, like the plot holes but it is still a very fun ride and the cinematography and strangeness of the tenants make for some wonderful experiences. Jean-Pierre Juenet has done it again and after seeing this I want to see more of his films and more of the surrealist films from France and elsewhere in the world. This film was beautiful, even with the plot hole issues and it is worth checking out.

Final Score: 9 / 10. Solidly great in the end.