Even after spending hours and hours playing it, I have a hard time believing that Diablo 3 is actually here and has actually been released. If it were any other developer besides Blizzard, I would have long ago assumed that the game had gone the way of Duke Nukem and would need some sort of last minute miracle to get it on shelves. And even then I would avoid it like it was radioactive. But this is Blizzard. They put out quality games. Even if you don’t like those games, and even if you have to wait a dozen years for the sequel, you have to admit the games they create are quality.
(Insert several gripes and counter points in the comments below.)
Blizzard’s games also inspire a special kind of fanaticism. World of Warcraft is still going strong despite sliding numbers, Starcraft and its sequel are an empire in Korea (and doing well elsewhere), and there are people still playing Diablo 2 even with the sequel out. So no matter what, there will be two types of hardcore Diablo fans right now: those that love the game, and those that hate it passionately. It is impossible to wait 12 years for a game and not have strong feelings about it one way or another. But what about the rest of us?
The truth is Diablo 3 is a great game, but it is geared for its fans first and foremost, and it takes very few risks. That is mostly a good thing, but it is going to make virgins to the franchise wonder what all the excitement has been about.
The game is also made to be played online—and not just in the sense that you need to be connected to access even the solo game, but it is made to be played cooperatively with other people. That can and will change the dynamic of Diablo 3, and will give it a life of its own that even the developers can’t fully predict. Blizzard made the meal, but it was up to the community to season it, which is why we held off our review until the game could take on a life away from its creators.
Diablo 3 should satisfy the majority of hardcore Diablo fans, but it does very little in terms of innovation. Instead of new ideas, it offers near perfection of the core mechanics and gameplay that made the series what it is today. Those new to the series may not have the same enthusiasm towards the now well-trodden dungeon crawler genre, but even they should find a lot to enjoy in what is a massive game.
The Sky is Falling
Twenty years after the events of Diablo 2, a mysterious object falls from the sky and all hell breaks loose, literally. Your character, chosen from one of five classes, comes to investigate.
The story takes place over four Acts as you travel the diverse world of Sanctuary, fighting demons, righting wrongs, etc., etc. Your objectives are always clearly marked as you progress through the fairly linear world. Each new area features some exploration with secondary objectives and hidden treasures, and there a few optional areas to explore, but the game is fairly traditional in its layout.
The quests add to the story, and the acts are broken up by impressive cinematics, but the story really is secondary to the gameplay. It will appeal to longtime fans who will appreciate the established mythology. Uncovering the story, however, will account for a very small amount of the time spent in the game.
Point, Click, Kill
If you know Diablo, then you know the gameplay for the most part. Diablo 3 follows the traditional dungeon crawler formula, but it does it very well. The mouse buttons make up the majority of your offense, with additional skills and more powerful attacks unlocking as you level up.
Each attack can be increased by runes, which unlock as you gain experience. With multiple attacks to choose from, each augmented by the weapon(s) you equip, there are dozens of offensive options for each character’s combat based on the class you choose.
The skills, which are special attacks and magic, increase the same way and are totally dependent on the type of character you play. Some are reliant on mana points, while others are timed and have a “cool down” phase. It is all pretty standard fare.
Changing the equipment, weapons, and skills on the fly is simple. The menu system is intuitive and easy to use, and it is obvious that the lessons of the previous games have been well learned. Everything operates and reacts smoothly. There really aren’t too many things that are notably absent when it comes to the controls.
The action, while true to Diablo, is going to challenge new players as it is limited, just as most hack-n-slash games are despite a more robust skill and magic system than most. The game is designed to breed a certain type of addictiveness, especially for those that enjoy hunting for new items. For others it can easily feel repetitive quickly.
Diablo 3 is a great game, but it is still going to push the patience of people looking for more complex gameplay controls. That’s just the nature of the beast, and if you aren’t already a fan of the style, Diablo 3 will do very little to convince you otherwise.
Keep it Classy
The gameplay will be determined by the class you choose: Barbarian, Demon Hunter, Monk, Wizard, and Witch Doctor. Each class represents a familiar archetype. The Barbarian is a tank, Demon Hunter is a distance fighter that uses things like crossbows, the Monk is a fast melee attacker, the Wizard relies on magic, and the Witch Doctor uses summoning magic.
Each of the characters fills a familiar role, and they all progress as you would expect. Melee characters are a bit easier to use than magic classes at first, but that is expected. An argument could be made that the melee characters are actually weaker than their magical counterparts by the later levels, but it really is as much about the skills and equipment.
There is also a hardcore mode that features a single life for your character. If you die in game, that character is gone forever. There are rewards for the risk, but the added intensity of possibly losing a character for good is compelling.
Beyond the male and female option though, there is no customization of the characters. This isn’t really something necessary, and its absence doesn’t hurt the game, but it is almost a given in RPG-based games that there would be some personalization. The armor options make the characters look different, but it is still something that you would expect.
Killing Them Softly
Playing Diablo is a team sport. The single player campaign is well done, and you will frequently find yourself travelling with AI allies to help bear the burden of saving the world, but skipping the co-op would be missing out on what the game is all about.
Joining public games is simple, and jumping into your friends’ games is as easy as hitting one button. You can also go back and replay previous levels easily enough, then invite your friends to jump in and join you. It plays well, and the individualized loot, the option to spread out or plays as a group, and the ability to jump in and out of combat is all well executed.
It is a touch disappointing that co-op play supports only four players even though there are five available classes. It would make sense to have the balance all five classes together could offer. Also notably absent is voice chat of any kind. There are plenty of good reasons for this, including the technical impurities that in-game voice chat would bring to the audio quality, but giving the option would have made sense even if it wasn’t recommended.
Leaving the communication entirely to the domain of text makes it feel like Diablo of old, but it also makes it feel a bit dated. As the action becomes hectic, you will go through long bouts of time where no one will be able to communicate at all, save for basic commands. In a game with such an emphasis on multiplayer, this is a bizarre omission.
Diablo 3 features two auction houses: The in-game gold-based house and the real cash auction house. The in-game auction is fairly straightforward, but the cash house (which is not yet available) is likely going to be the most controversial feature of this game. And the easiest to abuse.
Cash auctions are nothing new to Diablo, but this is the first time Blizzard will host those options in Diablo itself. At the moment, the cash auctions have been indefinitely delayed, but when they debut—and make no mistake, it is just a matter of time—the entire game could fundamentally shift in gradual ways.
It will be interesting to see how this plays out, especially when a Player vs. Player segment is added. You can be sure that people interested in PvP will at least consider buying equipment to help them out, forcing many others to follow suit to stay competitive or abandon the mode altogether.
The cash auctions will be worth keeping an eye on. They also run the risk of curtailing the lifespan of the game. Once people discover legendary items, what motivation will they have to keep those items when they can earn real money for them, and if you can just buy legendary armor, what point is there to continue exploring? And that doesn’t even factor in those who will take up gold farming. It is a question many games have faced, and one Diablo 3 will have to answer as well.
Diablo 3 is the answer to the prayers of Diablo players that have been waiting years for the follow up. It is addictive and deep, with enough content to last for a long, long time. It’s the natural evolution of Diablo 2, and it sharpens the gameplay to an incredible degree—gameplay that was already strong enough to keep people playing the predecessor for over a decade. In that perfection comes a lack of risks though, and after 12 years of competition, there isn’t much that feels totally fresh.
There is enough hype behind the game, and expectations have been so high that Diablo 3 is almost in the unenviable position of being either fantastic or a failure in the minds of many with very little gray area. That isn’t fair though. Diablo 3 is a great game. It probably isn’t going to rise to the legendary levels that its predecessor did, but only time will tell.
Score: 8.5 out of 10
(This game was reviewed on the PC on a copy provided by Blizzard)