REVIEW: Diablo III
Title: Diablo III
Developer: Blizzard Entertainment
Publisher: Blizzard Entertainment
TL;DR: Essential gaming for any Action RPG fan
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After an enormous wait, Diablo III is finally upon us. If you can stomach the always-online nature of the game, and have the requisite lust for loot a game such as this requires, you’ll find Diablo III to be the finest purveyor of hack-and-slash co-operative madness this side of New Tristram.
Diablo is one of those iconic titles that needs very little introduction or explanation: You’re a champion of Sanctuary fighting to save the world from the burning legions of hell, assuming the role of either the ferocious Barbarian, mystical Witch Doctor, self-confident Wizard, disciplined Monk or the crossbow-toting Demon Hunter. Each character has a vastly different personality and skill-set, making it fun to see how each reacts to various in-game events and how their abilities help them carve out a path to victory among the ungodly hordes. Diablo III retains the isometic-styled camera of its older siblings, alongside the ruthless click-to-kill control scheme which made the originals so fun.
Of course, It’s been a long time since the heyday of Diablo II: Lord of Destruction, and Blizzard have refined Diablo III’s gameplay accordingly. The most immediately noticeable difference is the inclusion of a skillbar along the bottom of the screen, reminiscent of many modern RPGs and MMOs. The implementation of a skillbar results in less frantic swapping between one or two skills, leading to much more variety in the skills being used mid-combat than in Diablo III’s predecessors where skills could only be assigned to the left and right mouse-buttons. Taking the customization even further, players can enable “Elective mode” which allows spells to be placed in any slot on the skillbar regardless of how they are categorized by default, leading to interesting combinations of casting. Want an all out offensive Barbarian that uses little in the way of defensive abilities? Go for it. Want a summoning-crazy, firebat spewing, toad hurling Witch Doctor that throws caution to the wind in the form of abandoning crowd controlling abilities? Diablo III’s got you covered.
It’s evident Blizzard have really focused on empowering the player to come up with a build that suits their own preference of play style while maintaining viability even in the harder difficulty modes. To this end, they made a contentious but wise choice in the form of the skill unlock system. When a character levels up, they immediately unlock all the abilities associated with that level — gone are the tree skills of yesterday, meaning you’ll never go down one route before realizing you don’t like it, ultimately having to create a new character just to make up for early mistakes in skill tree point allocation. The ability to swap your characters skills out on the fly means you’ll never need more than a single Witch Doctor to try out every imaginable build. That means less grinding an alt just to experiment with a build and one less wasted character slot. It also adds a level of strategy not seen in earlier Diablo games; if you know the next enemy is particularly resistant to fire, you can swap out firebats and replace it with plagued toads. Planning encounters in this way feels refreshing and gives you the edge you’ll need in the harder difficulty modes. It’s a real winner in my books.
Other user interface elements shine with the standard level of Blizzard polish. Icons are vibrant and identifiable and the globes which convey your health and resource-pool levels are particularly gorgeous, cradled as they are by stone angels and demons. Tweaks to gameplay like being able to pick up gold simply by walking over it are crucially finger-saving in an otherwise intense clicking frenzy, while health globes which replenish life when collected allow potions to be saved for the really hairy encounters (and trust me, you’ll need them).
Another new and important change to the formula comes in the form of the Auction House. Due to the way loot is generated in Diablo III, it’s far less likely that an item you discover will be the ‘perfect’ one for your particular build. In Diablo II, getting an item not suited to your class was reason enough to either drop it and save the inventory space, or immediately sell it to a vendor. Now you can post your unwanted gear on the auction house and earn potentially hundreds of thousands of gold pieces. In a new economy where gold actually has value, one man’s trash is another man’s coveted loot, it would seem.
You essentially HAVE to be using the auction house to find gear properly tuned to your character in the higher difficultly modes, but you’ll get by perfectly fine in normal and nightmare by using what you find out in the field. It’s pretty exciting to scroll endless lists of randomly generated equipment to find that one piece of gear exquisitely tailored to your build.
It’s pretty important to note that the changes made to how loot is generated were implemented to keep Diablo III’s gold-driven economy afloat. In Diablo II, players had to contend with the greedy clicking-fingers of team mates, as well as an overall lower drop rate. In Diablo III, because loot dropped is unique to you, your friends are unable to see or claim them it as their own: you are exposed to a far greater amount of loot. If the numbers dictated you were to constantly find amazing gear, the auction house would become saturated with fantastic equipment and the economy would suffer. So: it’s more difficult to find amazing stuff on your own, but it’s easy to get excited over a drop that is no good for you when you realise it’ll net you a fortune in the auction house, allowing you to buy exactly what you DO need for your own character in turn.
The only real quirk in Diablo 3′s item generation is in the viability of the game’s Legendary equipment as useful gear. Significantly rarer than all other types of loot, legendary pieces of equipment have unique in-game models and descriptive text but are on average far worse from a stat perspective than even your garden-variety magical items. Though they still sell for outlandish prices on the auction house, they are likely being sent into the stashes of unwitting players who assume the “legendary” affix is a reflection of the item’s potency. It seems odd to make an item far rarer and more unique than any other, but have them so underwhelming that they merit little more than saving in the stash as a collectable keepsake; in some instances, Legendary weapons are too weak to kill even the creature that dropped them. Thankfully, Blizzard recently made a community post explaining their intentions regarding the nature of legendary items, and stated they intend to buff legendary items, so it seems a remedy to these complaints are already in the works.
Now, the elephant in the room – Diablo III’s necessity for a connection to play. In interviews, Jay Wilson (lead designer) has insisted that Blizzard has never seen Diablo as a single player game; it’s a game about slaying monsters with your friends. Diablo pioneered the Battle.Net service and hassle-free online cooperative play, and I have personally never sought to play a Diablo game solo, but the fact remains that if you don’t have stable Internet your gaming experience might suffer. This is one of those polarising points that could be argued back and forth endlessly. Dropping into a friend’s game is ridiculously easy, and the social features of Battle.Net are especially appealing. It does mean Diablo III is subject to to periods of scheduled maintenance much like an MMORPG might be, and just when this maintenance is due to take place is often poorly communicated by Blizzard. Nobody wants to be stuck on the log-in screen, but Blizzard has also announced their intent to be much more verbal regarding down times.
Diablo III is gorgeous. A noisy minority complained that the game had adopted a cartoony and colourful design, but having played through every act multiple times I can attest that the dark atmosphere of Sanctuary maintains a feeling of authenticity and sense of place throughout. Particularly impressive are the scenes in which you stand high above some distant vista, be it far above the city of Caldeum gazing down upon on the market bazaar or standing outside Mad King Leoric’s manor and spying the iconic Tristram Cathedral on the horizon. The game’s presentation is generally fantastic, with clever tricks used to make levels appear more visually arresting. Snow and arrows fly across the screen in one particular conflict, while heat rising from molten pools give off distortion in another, making the painterly environments come alive.
Far from just looking pretty, Diablo III’s levels are also utilized to create a challenge for the player. Enemies crawl from hidden spaces, or slide down unreachable cliff tops to engage you in combat, all of which is so much more exciting than simply finding a monster stood awkwardly in a cave scratching its head. The monsters are injected with personality and menace through wonderful animation and sound design, and the demon horde is truly a character unto itself.
Spell effects, particularly those of the Witch Doctor, are sublime. Firebombs erupt into screaming, clawing humanoid forms while Mass Confusion projects an image of the spiritual warrior into the midst of enemies, sending them frenzied into combat with one another. The Barbarian, too, packs a real punch with every ability. When characters level up, a wave of energy is released, sending demons flying backward in all directions — it’s incredibly rewarding, especially if you level up just as death was beginning to seem inevitable, and a great example of how physics are utilized throughout the game.
Unsurprisingly for a Blizzard title at this point, the sound design and music is also great. Themes evocative of the famous Tristram guitar tinkle throughout the first act, while other acts take on more distinct personalities of their own. The ambiance of dungeons is dark and oppressive, and towns murmur with the chatter of their inhabitants.
If cinematics are a big draw for you, you won’t find yourself disappointed here. Some of Blizzard’s best cinematic work to date are featured throughout, depicting pivotal plot moments in eye-widening fidelity and superbly orchestrated scenes.
Of course, Diablo III isn’t perfect. Some plot moments too important to be spoiled here come across contrived and one particular point feels as though it wasn’t given the gravity it deserved, but it’s still remarkably easy to fall into the world of Sanctuary even if you haven’t followed the story beforehand. More depth and exposition is provided through countless journals and texts scattered throughout the world, all of which are voice acted meaning you can brush up without having to stop the slaughter.
Diablo III’s villains are decidedly more chatty, and for some this may feel like too much. Much of the “presence” of Diablo II’s prime evils came from the sheer lack of it – they were never seen, or heard of, but you followed constantly in the wake up their destruction until finally you caught up and sent them to their doom. In Diablo III you are constantly heckled by the taunts of evil, which can make finally conquering them satisfying but does often leave you wondering why Azmodan, purportedly hell’s finest tactician, is telling you his plans in minute detail.
It took Diablo II a long time to get its loot system and other elements right, and the game saw similar lashback from fans worried that Blizzard wouldn’t deliver on promises. Diablo III has only just released, and Blizzard has already began taking the steps to address community concerns as quickly as possible. If the online requirement doesn’t sit right with you, you might be better off sitting this one out. Otherwise, you’d be amiss to miss out on this definitive action RPG.
- The long awaited return of an excellent Blizzard series
- Looks, sounds and plays beautifully
- Auction House opens up a whole new world of loot
Betrayal can never be forgiven…
- Online requirement is not viable for everyone
- It’ll be a few patches before systems are completely ironed out
- Some crucial plot points not treated with the gravity they deserve
Diablo III is full of misery, death, and demons though it isn’t particularly violent. If fantasy violence is a problem, you might want to steer clear.