Review: Diablo III
Diablo III is finally out! You can now leave the hype train and proceed to play one of the most anticipated games of the year, if not the past few years for PC gamers. There was a lot of concern about some of the particular paths the developers took the series. There’s an auction house that allows you to buy and sell loot for real money, something Blizzard has banned users for doing in the past. They’ve taken out the ability to play offline single player, even removing the guest account you could use for internet outages. And keeping with StarCraft II‘s formula, they’ve also removed LAN support. You’re really locked into Battle.net with your purchase.
Being a major Diablo fan myself, I felt the burn from Blizzard/Activision on these changes. They’re forcing us to move into a very ugly gaming era. An era that reeks of gaming used to maximize profits rather than balancing profit with fun. With so much being removed and ‘consolized‘, I doubted I’d even purchase the game. Then I was invited to the closed beta. I played a little over 15 hours, exploring as much of the world as I could every few hours a day. At first, I used the beta to confirm my belief that the series was dead and Torchlight 2 was the true sequel to Diablo II. I mean, most of the team that’s working on Torchlight 2 are the creators of the original Diablo series. But as the beta was tweaked and patched, I felt Blizzard fixed the most of my major concerns.
Diablo III plays much like you’d expect if you’ve played the series. It’s an isometric hack-and-slash filled with monsters, darkness, and treasure. You’ll spend the majority of your time holding down the mouse button (or clicking continuously), slaying demonic foes at will. You have a right-click for special moves that use up your mana/rage/hatred. You’re constantly on the quest to find better gear and level up. It’s everything you’ve loved about Diablo in the past. However, there’s been some changes that may take a while to adjust to.
The stat system is completely redone. Instead of carefully picking your stats for every level, everything’s done automatically in the background. For example, if you’re playing a barbarian and level up, you’ll automatically gain the stat points a barbarian would pick. The skill tree is also redone. For every other level, you’ll unlock a point for your skill tree. It’s all standardized now in terms of choices, unless you’re experimenting with runes. They’ve not only simplified the skill tree, but they’ve made it pointless to worry about what skills you pick. You now need to worry about which runes will effect whatever skill you’ve chosen. This will be a blessing for some and a step backwards for others. One of the most common advantages I’ve read from players in support of the change is that you won’t have to waste time re-rolling a character if you mistakenly put a skill point or stat in the wrong place. Does it work? Time will have to be the judge of it. Currently, it’s not that big of a deal when you’re actually playing the game. It just looks a lot worst on paper.
Changes to the town portals and the addition of health orbs were a concern when first announced. This is one change I feel needs some work. Health orbs drop from random creatures after death is presented to them. You simply walk over a health orb to use it. But now that you have health orbs, you’re not allowed to spam health potions. They’ve prevented spamming by setting up a time limit on health potion usage. It’s really hard to keep your health going with just orbs if you’re being overpowered in an overlord or boss battle. Previously, you would stock up on health potions and use those throughout the battle. I don’t really see the problem with using health potions as a means to fight but apparently someone at Blizzard did. Again, time will tell if this is a good move or not.
As stated, there’s been changes to the use of town portals. You no longer have to find town portal scrolls. It’s in your belt stash and is easily selected whenever you need it. There’s a five second delay on casting a portal so you can’t just drop them instantly anymore. This really is a good trade off since carrying around a load of scrolls in your tiny inventory can become burdensome.
Speaking of your inventory, Diablo III manages to keep things tidy for less conservative inventory junkies. You’ll no longer have to worry about picking up a bastard sword that takes up three slots in your inventory. Everything is a single icon, much like World of Warcraft‘s inventory system. Returning is also the stash (or bank) in towns that allow you to store gear or gems you’re not ready to part with. It’s limited in space at first but with enough gold, you can easily buy more space. And to prove Diablo III really wants you to have more inventory space, the collectable and inventory-heavy charms are missing. And good riddance!
Anyone that’s into Diablo continues playing for the treasure hunting. Gear is much like Diablo II and World of Warcraft. Rare loot drops are measured by difficulty and the number of party members you’re playing with. You’ll find similar tier color gear to establish visually what rarity each item holds. Certain items are able to be modified using gems. If you find an item you no longer need or want, your hands aren’t tied to the low price a local town’s merchant will offer. Now you have an option to destroy it at a blacksmith for materials to build your own items. And if that wasn’t enough, you’ll now be able to either sell it for in-game gold or real life money on Blizzard’s auction house. It works the same way as World of Warcraft‘s auction house, only with the option to turn a profit. You’ll find an item, set your price, and wait for those dollar bills to roll in.
Currently, Player vs. Player is not enabled, which is a shame. Some have complained that Blizzard is releasing an unfinished product. This isn’t true. PvP is not the main reason you’ll be picking up Diablo and if you are, you’re doing it wrong. Diablo‘s core is about leveling, epic treasure hunts, co-op play with friends, and more treasure hunts. If you’re waiting it out on the side lines for this one feature, then good luck. Most of us are going to grind the mess out of gear and leave you in the dust in a match.
Now that we’ve established some of the changes, let’s get down to how some of the characters play. Being a warrior-type since the beginning of my trials in Tristram, I chose the barbarian class to start my first playthrough. It feels really rewarding to smash demon faces and have their bodies fly across the map. It actually feels like you’re hitting characters with intense rage. The barbarian has a rage meter for his special abilities, much like mana for spell casters. He simply builds his rage by fighting. This sound familiar? It’s the same system World of Warcraft uses for their warriors. Also like World of Warcraft, you have an action bar for casting different moves or spells using your number keys. When I first played and noticed this, as well as the many other Warcraft changes, I felt like I was playing a lite version of World of Warcraft set in the Diablo universe. It even shares the same questing style as Warcraft. However, just because World of Warcraft has a good easy-to-use system is not really a reason to knock the game. It works. When I need to quickly cast a snare, pressing 1 is much easier than scrolling through alternative mouse actions.
I’ve played through each class, up until Act I at least. You’ll choose from the barbarian, the witch doctor, the monk, the wizard, and the demon hunter. Every character is unique and well-balanced. A heavy-hitting barbarian might be great against bosses while a wizard will be best against a mob of demons. The real excitement comes from teaming up with others using Battle.net. When you party up with three other people all using separate characters, you witness the differences between each class. The few games I’ve played on Battle.net have all been with different characters and each time I felt like I was playing a different style, switching between tank to support.
In terms of graphics and sounds, the game isn’t too taxing on a system. It’s about as hardware heavy as World of Warcraft. In fact, it seems that the graphics engine isn’t too far off from World of Warcraft‘s, particularly the look of the Undead zones. It’s a bit cartoony, yes, and some may prefer to how Diablo III‘s early, early stages looked. But the slightly cartoony atmosphere doesn’t take away from the darkness that you’ll experience. There’s still a lot of eye-candy to be had. The sounds are top notch, with great voice acting during the story (yes, there’s much more story this time). When you cast something that annihilates the area around you either by magic or a mighty swing, the boom adds to the experience. It makes you feel like you’re really taking the trash out.
Diablo III is a very difficult game. They’ve brought back the hardcore mode. This means dying removes your character from the server and starting over. I’m a little excited about jumping into this mode just for the rush as I haven’t touched it outside of the beta. It’s a relief they’ve maintained the extreme difficulty with all the rumors of it being simplified for a probably console release. There’s still loads of enemies to plow through and tons of mini-bosses to waste before killing off the main bosses. The game will last you about a day if you’re just playing through to beat it. This is on-par with the previous Diablo titles. It’s the replay value is what makes this series so valuable.
If you’re still not sure about Diablo III, try to locate a starter kit from someone to play up until the Skeleton King. As much as I wanted to boycott this game from all the unfriendly customer changes, it’s really hard to not to like the game once you start playing. It will be interesting to see how well Torchlight 2 does since it’s already giving the Diablo community a nod with single player, co-op via LAN, and mods. The healthy competition may fix Blizzard’s fan-based “mistakes” in the future.
TL;DR: Diablo III is very much Diablo III. It’s not completely revamped to an unrecognizable mess. It’s not completely a World of Warcraft Lite, although it shares many similarities. It’s an authentic experience in the world of Diablo.