Where is your copy of Diablo 3? It's not on your computer. It never will be. It is in the cloud, with all its virtual spoils streaming live over the Internet. So if your connection crashes — or if Blizzard's servers do — you'll lose items and saved progress.
All thanks to Diablo 3's new auction house. You can sell items you find or craft within the game for real-world money (or in-game money, but who cares about that?). Meanwhile, Blizzard gets a cut of your sales. Putting the game in the cloud makes items harder to hack for unscrupulous would-be vendors; it also makes the game itself nigh-impossible to pirate. Plus, it emphasizes online co-operative play; once you're logged in, you may as well play with strangers, right?
Meanwhile, in the 12 years since Diablo 2 came out, games have changed. We've seen Mass Effect and Dragon Age emphasizing dialogue and narrative choice in RPGs, not to mention character design and customization. We've fallen deep into the rich, layered worlds of Fallout and Skyrim and dreamed of never leaving them. We've seen new and better approaches to RPG-style leveling and item organization in Borderlands. And perhaps Diablo 3 hoped to grab at the corners of some of these concepts, with its new user-friendly leveling system, its options for both male and female variants on every character class, its nigh-infinite item variations.
The loss of the old extra-customizable leveling trees of Diablo 2 means less Googling for stats advice and more actual demon-fighting, but the new level system has been so oversimplified that Diablo 3's characters can scarcely be customized. Skill settings can be switched at any time to render oneself identical to one's teammate, provided you each play as the same character class. This, too, must intend to point players to the game's auction house; only the items and armor you find (or purchase) will change your stats and make your character unique.
What beautiful trickery! For Diablo 3 is beautiful, an expansive and colorful world that stands out in a sea of more "realistic" gray-brown Skyrims and Call of Dutys. Underground dungeons, desert oases, and sweeping valleys overflow with hordes of undead zombies and rainbow-colored demons, each in a mad rush to face off against your heroes' electric turquoise aura or splashes of fire. But will the colorful display be enough to distract you from what's missing?
Perhaps Diablo 3's lack of a single-player offline mode — in particular, the developers' insistence that the game plays better with a team of friends, rather than by oneself — hopes to distract us from the fact that the game's creative aspects fall short. The cut-scenes have visual sparkle, and the voice actors do their damnedest, but the game's dialogue and pacing lack the narrative urgency and fear necessary to make the dead really come to life.
A group of fun friends will breathe life into every dungeon, and the vibrant battle sequences will not fail to engage you, as you discover and try out new skills and items at every turn. The item customizing systems that the game revolves around do rival the cleverest cult-like pyramid schemes; you'll find yourself collecting and crafting deep into the night whether you like it or not. But at the end of the day, Diablo 3 is little more than a well-crafted pinball machine: vibrant, predictable, designed to addict you, but still hopelessly outdated in a world where games can, and have, done better. Gamers will be playing this one for years, regardless. We just won't have much to say about it.