Growing up I spent many hours playing fighting games with my brother and our friends who lived just up the road from us. We only owned a few titles, Street Fighter 2 Turbo being among them, but we’d always try our hand at others when we got the chance to rent them. Killer Instinct was one of our rental favourites, the announcer’s overacting coupled with the weird and wonderful cast kept us entertained for hours on end. I can vaguely remember Killer Instinct Gold but I think it was overshadowed heavily by Goldeneye 007 which consumed the vast amount of time I spent on that console. So of course I was intrigued when I saw it was getting a revamp although, if I’m honest, I never thought to try it until it released on Steam.
Much to my surprise the Killer Instinct you see today is actually a 4 year old game, having been released on Xbox One back in 2013. A free to play version of it was released through the Windows store last year and it was only this year when the Steam version got released. This particular version comes loaded with all the DLC that has been released over the game’s life and also adds support for Windows 7, something the Windows Store version didn’t have. At its core though Killer Instinct is still the same game it was 4 years ago, just with a bunch more characters and few game modes that tempt you to open up your wallet to appease the microtransaction gods.
As you’d expect from a game that was released so long ago the graphics are pretty far behind the mark, even by fighting game standards. Killer Instinct uses Double Helix Games’ in-house HEX engine and is the developer’s third release based on it. The game does manage to look quite good during high action scenes, the high amount of motion blur and other effects culminating in a visual spectacle that feels like what I was seeing back when I was playing the original all those years ago. It’s not all roses though as there seems to be some commands that will freeze the action for a good couple seconds. Whether my PC is to blame for this or not is a question I’ll leave up to the reader but, for comparison’s sake, I had no such issues with Tekken 7.
Reading up on the game’s history it appears that getting into Killer Instinct now means having missed out on a large section of what the game was. When I burled it up for the first time I looked for the standard “fight your way through everyone” campaign mode but none was to be found. Instead I was directed to the Shadow Lords mode which was added in sometime late last year. Looking into it further it seems like the regular campaign missions were part of previous seasons and, as far as I can see, aren’t available to play anymore. It’s a bit of shame since this is supposedly a reboot of the lore of the world, something which I didn’t pay much attention to when I played the original all those years ago.
Killer Instinct manages to feel very familiar, bringing back its trademark fighting style that no game has really attempted to replicate. The game’s simulation engine runs at 90 fps whilst capping the frame rate to 60 fps, ensuring that input lag is kept to a staggeringly low 81ms. This translates into a brutally fast pace, favouring long chain hit streaks and well timed c-c-c-combo (sorry) breakers. The entire original Killer Instinct cast makes a return along with another 18 characters, most of which haven’t featured in any other game previous. Whilst all of them have their own signature moves, power ups and special abilities the game’s construction means that, unfortunately, a lot of them start to feel very similar after a while.
You see if you want to win fights, either in the single player modes or (I assume, more on this in a tick) in multi, you’re going to want to be pulling off long combos. Whilst each character’s opener’s and combos has their advantages/disadvantages (Spinal’s, for instance, being incredibly fast but not particularly damaging) there’s just not as much variety in how the combat plays out. For the most part it goes opener -> combo -> finisher, with a breaker or two in there and maybe a shadow move to finish things off. I’m willing to admit that this view may be born out of the fact that I didn’t spend as long as I used to playing games like this and the mechanical depth might show itself more in the multi.
That, however, is where we run into another issue.
With the game now being 4 years old the player base isn’t as big as it used to be. Indeed the Steam version averages a measly 100ish players at the best of times and, even with cross-play enabled, I could not for the life of me get an online match. Part of the attraction of fighting games is seeing how you match up against others and, like I mentioned in my Tekken 7 review, without that there’s not much to keep you coming back. Sure, the Shadow Lords mode is interesting if you’re into that kind of Roguelike perpetual mission thing, but after grinding that for an hour or so it felt like I was just being pushed to buy some Ki Gold so I could actually get some progression. Had I played this game back when it initially released, either on Xbox One or on the PC, my experience may have been very different.
Killer Instinct captures the essence of what made the original great with it’s lighting fast game pace, ridiculous combos and over-acted narration. Coming in at this point, where the game has been out for nearly 4 years, however feels like coming to a party long after its started to wind down. Reading up on the game’s history shows that much of what I’m seeing now would have been fantastic when it was first released. However today, with a dwindling player base and much of the content no longer available, it feels like a shell of what it could be. Had I still my bunch of fighting game friends I could see the fun extending for a few more hours but even then, without a bustling online community, there is little more to keep you coming back. It’s a shame but, hopefully, the developers have made enough from this instalment to make another. If they do I’ll be sure to be there on launch day as I’d hate to repeat this experience again.
Killer Instinct is available on Xbox One and PC right now for $29.99. Game was played on the PC (with a controller!) with a total of 2 hours play time and 2% of the achievements unlocked.
There’s a lot of observed phenomena in the world which the only evidence we have of it occurring is from numerous first hand accounts. Whilst these can make for interesting stories, potentially leading to scientific theories to explain said phenomena, the plural of anecdote isn’t data and unfortunately that means they’re rarely the subject of rigorous study. However sometimes serendipity strikes and the right people just happen to be in the right place with the right equipment to capture solid proof of a phenomena, solidifying all those anecdotes with a solid scientific narrative.
And today we now have proof that ball lightning exists:
The video might not look like much but it’s a combination of high-speed video (the little ball on the left) and a spectrograph that details the composition of the spectra coming off the light source. This video was made possible by the fact that Chinese researches were at the Qinghai Plateau to observe regular old cloud to ground lightning and just so happened to catch a ball lightning event in action. The spectrograph allowed them to determine the composition of the ball as well and it closely matched that of soil. This is the first supporting evidence we have of the theory that ball lightning is actually vaporized silicon from the soil as the element, when heated, does seem to act an awful lot like ball lightning.
Interestingly though this only gives credence to one reported type of ball lightning as there have been reports of other types, specifically ones that move horizontally and others that don’t touch the ground at all. Considering how long it took us just to get this observation I wouldn’t be holding my breath to see the other types confirmed any time soon but this does open up the possibility of more research being done in the area. If anything it shows that some weird, random phenomena that have been reported elsewhere might be worth investigation, even if its just to confirm or deny that they exist.
16 years, that’s how long its been since the first release of Diablo yet I can still remember some of the moments with it fondly. I can remember the first time I wandered down to that level and physically leaping out of my seat when the butcher first growled “Aaaahhhhh fresh meat!” when I dared enter his lair. I spent many hours attempting to get further and further into the dungeons and only after pairing up with people I had never met before online was I able to progress further and ultimately defeat Diablo. My time with its sequel released 4 years later was a much more social affair with many LANs dedicated to pushing our characters through the 99 levels that it offered to us. Today I find myself back in that same world again, playing through a world that’s been with me almost all of my gamer life. One that I’ve become very fond of.
Diablo 3 takes place 20 years after the events of Diablo 2. Deckard Cain and his niece, Leah, are investigating an old prophecy that’s foreboding a great conflict between man and the terrors of hell. During his investigation a star falls from the sky towards Deckard and his niece and destroys much of the cathedral leaving only a hole into which Deckard falls. You, known only as The Nephalem, have come to investigate the falling star and arrive at the town of New Tristram to find it under siege from the undead. So begins your long journey, one that draws many parallels to the past releases.
There’s something to be said about Blizzard’s approach to the visual and auditory nature of all of their games. They’re never on the cutting edge of graphics (which I was very thankful for as half of my time with the game was spent on an almost 2 year old MacBook Pro) but they never feel as dated as other games who attempt the same style do. Their heavy use of stylization, clever lighting effects and heavy use of perspective makes the low poly graphics feel like they’re a lot more detailed than they actually are. This also means that in heavy battle situations even those with modest computers won’t be playing through a slideshow, something that has always worked in Blizzard’s favor.
Like all their games the accompanying music, foley and cinematic cut scenes help to elevate the Diablo experience further. Blizzard really are no slouch when it comes to making cut scenes that are tear-inducingly beautiful and the ones in Diablo are no exception to this rule. Russell Brower, the man behind nearly all of the music in Blizzard games of the past decade, has done a fantastic job with Diablo 3’s music which aptly sets the mood for the entire game (bar one level, but I’ll get to that later). The voice acting is also done well although I felt the dialogue was a bit of a let down in some parts but that’s no fault of the voice actors.
Combat takes wild swings from being a breeze where you feel like an unstoppable killing machine to the disastrous lows where you spend 10 minutes and many deaths trying to beat a single enemy or elite pack. Granted for the vast majority of the game (everything up to Act III/IV hell for me) you probably won’t struggle bar getting a pack/elite with a rather nasty combination. Even then it’s usually a quick change of skills and a repair away from being a walk in the park again. Failing that all you’ll need to do is take a quick trip to the auction house to be able to elevate yourself out of the current rut you’re in, so long as you’ve got the requisite cash of course.
The itemization in Diablo 3 seems to work well in the beginning with upgrades dropping left, right and center. However as you progress through the levels you’ll notice that upgrades start to come further in between, leaving you wondering what the deal is. For the most part its because up until Inferno difficulty most items that drop will be below your level and thus won’t be much of an upgrade. The auction house goes a long way to mitigate this, as does the fact that there are no soulbound items, but that also means you’re somewhat reliant on it should you want to progress at a reasonable rate. Granted this isn’t that bad since semi-decent upgrades can be had for a pittance if you’re willing to search and wait but it is starkly different to the way it was in the previous installments in the Diablo series.
The gem system is back but instead of relying on the Horadric cube to do all your combining and upgrading of gems you instead have your very own artisan that can do the upgrades for you (for a fee, of course). To get better gems you have to pay to train him and as you progress further you’ll need to seek out additional items in order to upgrade him and the gems he creates for you. Gems are also infinitely resusable which is a welcome change as now you can spend quite a lot on crafting good gems and not have to ditch them when you get a gear upgrade (or delay that upgrade because of the gems). This also means that the secondary market for gems is somewhat non-existent as all you need is a friend who’s run Inferno once or twice to come into your game and shower you gems they don’t need but are godly to you.
The crafting system starts off as being a wonderful alternative gear path allowing you to convert unwanted items into crafting materials that can then be used to craft items. All of the items are random however meaning that there’s a very high chance that you’ll create a piece of equipment that you’ll have no use for (which can then be turned back into mats again, if you so desire). Since the investment cost at the lower levels is, funnily enough, low you can quite easily create multiple items and usually get a hit that’s an upgrade. Additionally you can also train the blacksmith to create items that are a higher level than what you can current use, giving you something to look forward to as you level. I did exactly this all the way up to level 30 or so, and that’s when crafting started to fall apart.
The investment cost at higher levels starts to consume all of your available gold should you chose to keep pursuing it. Additionally the material requirements start to ramp up as well meaning that you can craft fewer and fewer items the further you progress. This means that chance starts to play a much bigger factor in whether crafting is worth it or not and in my experience it stats to lose its luster very quickly after level 30 or so. The base idea of the crafting system is sound what it needs is some finessing to make it less prone to rolls of the dice when the investment required for crafting each item is so high. If you’re an action house wunderkid this might not be so much of a problem, but not everyone who plays this game is.
The talent system has been streamlined extensively, taking heavy cues from the improvements that had been made in the upcoming World Of Warcraft Mists of Panderia expansion. Instead of the typical talent tree with 3 different play styles segmented neatly by the different tabs they dwell on Diablo 3 instead goes for an ability based system, allowing you to pick and choose the abilities you want to use and then augment them in specific ways. This streamlined approach appears at first glance appears to be a vast simplification of the traditional RPG system, one that had the potential to remove a lot of the diversity from the game. The actual result is far from that with Blizzard reporting that the most common build is only used by approximately 0.7% of players. Even with my extensive amount of play time in this game I’m still finding myself experimenting with different skills to see if they’ll give me an edge in damage or survivability, something that I had only thought would be possible with traditional talent systems.
Many of the set pieces feel like they are done either for the fans or in spite of them. Much of the game feels a lot like its predecessor with the progression through levels (town/rural -> desert -> keep -> heaven/hell) being eerily similar. Thankfully the environments feel fresh and distinct from their counterparts in Diablo 2 so it doesn’t feel like they’re just 3D renderings of the former 2D sprite based environments. The rainbow unicorn level (I.E. the not “cow level”) is one that was obviously done in reaction to fan’s bellyaching around Diablo 3 being too colourful when compared to its predecessor. This is the one place where the music is just plain wrong but that’s just part of the whole experience of this particular level.
The story of Diablo 3 is definitely above the level I’ve come to expect from most AAA games that only have it as a side note to the main game of multiplayer but somewhat lacking in what I’ve come to expect from Blizzard. The Diablo world, and its current incarnation, is not short of lore and back story for nearly every main character and NPC that you come across. However, and this may be because of the character class I played or not, I never really felt any empathy for the characters apart from Deckard Cain (the only one who I can remember being in past Diablo games). I also never really felt any driving motivation for my character either, mostly because of the way he interacted with the main protagonists.
Whilst a lot of the NPCs would show fear and doubt my character never showed a lick of hesitation when it came to talking down to prime evils or even supposed members of high society. After a while it started to sound more like bravado than anything else which was only compounded by the fact that many of the other characters acted somewhat irrationally towards him (like Azmodan saying at every turn that I would fail, even after I had completely decimated his army). The other classes might have been better but this combined with the lack of empathy for any of the characters meant that I didn’t really care that much for the story. I don’t hate it, I’m just indifferent to it.
So it’s at this point in the review where I look back at the game and ask myself “well, was it fun?”. The beginning stages of Diablo are very enjoyable especially as you get your first rare drop or you completely kit yourself out in blues for the first time. It gets a whole lot better with friends too as the multiplayer experience has been streamlined and integrated perfectly. Still I couldn’t help that feeling I had in the back of my mind, one that I used to get when I was playing World of Warcraft at max level. Sometimes I feel compelled just to do things for the sake of doing them and towards the end as I was approaching 60 I started to wonder why I was doing it. Granted this was at the end of a probable 20 hour binge over the course of the last 4 days, so I was probably just burnt out on playing.
Diablo 3 feels like a game that was made for the fans. The settings and the gameplay instantly dredge up that nostalgia feeling whilst keeping the experience fresh and exciting. Whilst I don’t believe there’s nothing in this game for those who haven’t played before their experience won’t be the same as that of long time fans of the series. I’m not sure if I’ll roll another character but I’ll definitely be joining my friends when we set out to conquer Inferno mode.
Diablo 3 is available on PC right now for $89.99. Game was played through the Normal, Nightmare and Hell difficulties with the Monk class reaching level 60 with around 32 hours of total play time.