Diablo 3 is a title that has been in the works at Blizzard for quite some time now, with Diablo 2, and particularly the first Diablo, stretching back into the distant and fond memories of my childhood. One of the originators of top-down hack and slash RPG combat, Diablo 3 enters with big shoes to fill for the millions of fans who likely have elevated expectations for this title. I will begin by saying that I am generally a fan of what Blizzard does, as all of their titles over the years have ranged from “amazing” to meerly “good”, and pretty much no failures under their belt. This is partially due to staying very true to what they do (while polishing and itterating like mad-men).
Right out the gate, Diablo 3 feels like an extremely polished version of Diablo 2, much in the way that Starcraft 2 became a highly polished Starcraft. The menus are some of the slickest I have seen in PC gaming, with smooth and accurate functionality that is as easy to learn as tying ones shoelace. The music is moody and drives immediate nostalgia of my time with Diablo 2. It keeps a dark yet colorful visual style, and animations, cinematics, and art blend into a visual feast, that really no one can argue is not an amazing work of art and beauty.
The story begins in the old town of Tristram – with a strange meteor striking the town, and takes the player through both familiar and unfamiliar settings as the plot unfolds and twists in uprising ways. Blizzard has done an excellent job of making the story elements minimal enough that players with little interest can skip through fairly easily and get back to the action, while players that are enjoying it get short but manageable breaks in the action to view interesting dialog, hand drawn pages of Deckard Cain’s notebook, and cinematics between acts (some of the best I have seen from Blizzard, and that is saying a lot given their history of great cinematic work).
Gameplay is fast and exciting and, even though Blizzard has given players very minimal ability to adjust characters stats this time around (the lack of placing points is a bit sad), the skill system is varied and the player is always being presented with new skill options as they progress through the experience levels (by level 30 you gain all base skills, and by 60 you have all skill “variations”). The normal difficulty seemed to be aimed more at presenting the story, and had a very low level of difficulty – allowing all players of varying skills to experience it all. Nightmare and, in particular, Hell difficulty ramp up quite a bit – and players may become frustrated at times with the kiting and trickery required to defeat some rare mobs with particularly annoying combinations of abilities. As of writing this I am almost 60, and so cannot review the “end game” or Inferno difficulty, but I don’t really consider that required to review this particular game, as I can easily predict that if you are already enjoying the game all the way to cap, you will likely spend some time farming Inferno with friends for gear.
Itemization seems varied, and follows traditional Diablo patterns (prefixes, suffixes, and various other stat modifiers generated randomly on rare, and even rarer gear). As of level 55, I have not yet personally found a Unique or Set item, though some people I know have found a few uniques. Either the drop rates are very low, or I am simply very unlucky. Some items have unusual mods such as bleed damage, fear chance, stun chance, and the like, but I have not encountered anything outrageous as of yet. Gear aimed at specific classes can have modifiers unique to that class, such as a bonus to that classes resource generation, or specific abilities.
As of launch, the PvP is not included (said to be small arena matches), so I cannot review that aspect of the game, but I will say balance will become difficult with the introduction of supported PvP, and currently balance feels somewhat off (fine for a PvE setting, but Blizzard will have to monitor this closely for PvP to have any purpose at all). Hardcore mode is also something I have not tried yet (and I remember playing 8-9 months of hardcore fondly in Diablo 2 – ending with a highlight of a mid 80s hardcore Necromancer). I can say that Dying is pretty common at the moment in Nightmare and particularly Hell, so players will likely have to build very “tanky” to even have a shot at not dying. Hardcore will likely be much harder in this outing of Diablo than ever before.
The biggest problems with Diablo 3 are two-fold: First, the addition of an auction house which trivializes the social interaction and trading that takes place within games – also making twinking FAR too easy given how cheap people sell overpowering items for. Secondly the game suffers from a lack of REAL innovation. This second one I will need to explain a bit, as it has to do with playing it safe on Blizzard’s part. This game feels more like Diablo 2.5 than Diablo 3. Diablo 2 was a huge innovation over Diablo, and went from a small town with a single randomized dungeon to a huge world spanning multiple acts and storylines. Diablo 3 feels very much like Diablo 2 in every way (other than the game technology, of course). Systems are much the same, gameplay is very similar, and all of this adds up to a very “safe” iteration, without anything new that makes the game pop in the way Diablo 2 did. This same mentality applies to Starcraft 2, and it feeling more like a Starcraft 1.5. I can’t say whether this shortcoming came along by accident or was very intentionally thought out to cater to the established market/brand.
Given all of the above, and my time with the game, Diablo III is a very worthy purchase for fans of this genre. You will get anywhere from 10 to 20 hours out of the initial play-through (depending on how much story you skip and how much optional exploration / farming you do). Beyond this, you will likely get many more hours out of nightmare and hell play-throughs (with or without buddies), and if you are still enjoying the game potentially endless farming out of Inferno. With the coming additions of PvP and likely more items over time, there should be more to do. I’m not sure if Blizzard’s more recent outings into Diablo and Starcraft will have the same lasting impact that the prior editions have (gigantic shoes to fill), but Diablo 3 is certainly a beautiful and enjoyable game that will be worth the price of admission for most people that pick it up.