Diablo 3’s Darkening of Tristram event is a sincere, if underwhelming, effort

Diablo recreated inside of Diablo 3 sounds like an interesting way to pay homage to a game that probably half – if not more – of the world’s gamers probably have fond memories of. In theory, it’s an excellent idea. In practice, though, having actually played through the thing, it’s more miss than hit.

If you need to get to Ye Olde Tristram, go to Diablo 3’s Act 1 in Adventure Mode and take the waypoint to the old ruins. Run south until you come to the well and you’ll see a shiny blue portal hanging in the air. Step through and lo – suddenly everything is grimdark and pixellated, and your character has forgotten how to run because everybody only walked back then.

Almost instantly, though, it’s as familiar as it is alien. When you enter the ruined, pixellated town of Tristram – if you’ve played the original Diablo – you’ll see some similarities. The ruins of the houses are exactly where they should be: Griswold’s place, Ogden’s, Pepin’s, they’re all ruined shells of their formers selves with corpses lying exactly where their living selves were standing. Wander east and you’ll come to Adria’s hut (no corpse, obviously) and further up north is the entrance to the cathedral.

The layout is the same but the problem is that Blizzard had to use the tileset that is already in Diablo 3. So it looks nothing at all like this:

The river isn’t anywhere near as narrow, the map doesn’t feel anywhere near as small or claustrophobic. It feels sprawling in a way that was just never part of the old Diablo.

Second, and a distinct problem for me personally, is the transition between different major sections of the dungeon. Going from the grey-blue stone of the upper levels of the cathedral to the dark brown, earthy tones of the catacombs was striking. I instantly knew that I was much deeper in the dungeon and, the further down I went, the more there was a sense of moving beyond the civilised, man-made cathedral and towards something dark and terrible and primordial.

Even the entrance into the caves in the original Diablo, with my warrior muttering ‘It’s hot down here’, a point driven home by rivers of burning lava everywhere made for a striking visual change after the dark, oppressive upper levels of the cathedral.

Diablo 3’s event has none of that. The caves are dark and grimy, a regular cave level that you’ll find pretty much anywhere else in Diablo 3 with nothing of the visual impact that the original had. And in much the same way, the sections of the cathedral are meant to represent hell just look like any old dungeon, just with slightly more fire and bloody metal spikes scattered about.

The game also suffers from Diablo 3’s easy difficulty. I ran through the dungeon once on my Paragon level 109 Barbarian and I’m in the process of doing it again with a brand new Monk. I have two pieces of the Immortal King’s Call on my Barbarian so my Ancients basically cleared the dungeon for me. The only time I was really challenged was at the Butcher. On Torment 3, I was one-shot – he took one look at me, swung his cleaver, and instantly pushed alllll of my shit in. That was the first time the event actually triggered the Nostalgia Effect; I have so many memories of being murdered by him. In start contrast, though, Diablo didn’t even kill me once – so clearly the Butcher should be running the place.

It wasn’t much tougher on a new character on normal, even without using Paragon points. My monk had a fairly easy time of it, breezing through the first eight or nine levels until I finally got bored of the entire thing and left to play Overwatch.

It’s not all bad, though. My favourite moment was when I stumbled onto the Chamber of the Blind, something I had actually forgotten was in the original Diablo. It was easily one of my favourite levels of the original game, oppressively dark, with invisible monsters coming at you from all sides, turning visible for long enough enough to give you a couple of solid whacks and running away to vanish into mist the moment you took a swing at them.

It was also fun to see items that I remember so fondly – Arkaine’s Valor, Griswold’s Legacy, the original Butcher’s Cleaver, the Ring of Truth, the Empyrean Band. But Blizzard missed a beat by making them thoroughly useless to any endgame character, so my Barbarian now has a stash full of rubbish just because I feel like hanging onto the items for a while. What should have been done was have them scale based on your character’s level and the game’s difficulty so they’re usable after the event – I’d love to walk around Diablo 3 in Arkaine’s Valor and the Undead Crown, while dual wielding Griswold’s Legacy and the Butcher’s Cleaver.

But, really, there wasn’t much else that was really fun about the event. There was – for me, at least – a very particular absence of feels. Honestly, if I really want to play Diablo, I’ll just go play Diablo. There’s no reason for me to play the version that Diablo 3 offers because there’s literally no incentive to do so.

So, to sum this up …

I can see what Blizzard was trying to do. Problem is, the systems and art style of Diablo 3 make it literally impossible to achieve exactly what they wanted. But I’m also not one of those people who thinks that a Diablo remaster was required on the 20th Anniversary. Heck, just make it free for a day, toss in a widescreen patch, and tell everyone to download it and experience the game that started it all.

But if Blizzard really wanted to go all the way and show players what Diablo would be like inside of Diablo 3, there’s actually a shining example they should have paid some attention to: Doom. Bethesda went and plonked the original Doom’s levels in the new Doom and it is glorious. This is what it looks like:

If Blizzard’s goal was nostalgia, they really should have taken their cues from Doom. Each level was a secret, scattered throughout the game, and stumbling onto each one was a huge kick. Not only were they entertaining to play, but it was a hugely surreal experience, stepping from new Doom’s gorgeous graphics into old Doom’s all too familiar, pixellated places.

By contrast, the Darkening of Tristram doesn’t live up to any of the hype that Blizzard attempted to generate around it because it doesn’t look like Diablo, it doesn’t play like Diablo, and it doesn’t feel like Diablo. It’s simply Diablo 3 with an graphical filter slapped on top with none of the atmosphere, tension, and difficulty that made the original Diablo so much fun to play.

The only real bright spot about the event is the fact that it was free. Because if I had paid actual money for this event, by the Seven Lords of the Abyss, I would have been pissed.

Trevor Coelho

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