Diablo 3

Diablo III PC Review

It has been twelve years since Diablo II arrived on PC systems. Hitting in 2000, it was met with critical acclaim from the press, creating legions of gamers into diehard fans who succumbed to its addictive and rewarding gameplay. It was so popular that companies tried to jump on the bandwagon by creating countless copies of the formula, some good and some god damn awful. These games became known as Diablo clones, and clones they were, as they could never quite capture the essence of everything that made Diablo II an instant hit.

There’s no denying that Blizzard is known for great games, and when the news of Diablo III finally surfaced the fans went nuts. The pre-release hype was raised to eleven, yet with so much expected, some fans could only be disappointed when they had a clear idea of what the next instalment would like and it turned out to be different than what they had envisioned. That’s what has happened to Diablo III. A game this big can’t simply please every hardcore fan of the second game, but even after the changes it’s hard to call Diablo III anything other than a fantastic game.

You’ve all probably heard by now how Diablo III’s launch went tits up at the start. I was there to experience the European launch of Diablo III and it took me over an hour and 30 minutes to finally login and start playing the game. People are questioning why the game – which a fair amount of people play by themselves first – requires logging into servers. When Lag crops up when you’re playing on your own, and with server disconnections sometimes causing you to lose between 5-15 minutes worth of progression, I can understand why people are complaining at the launch of the game. Right now, most of the problems seemed to be ironed out and the game is now providing a smooth experience. If this is Blizzard’s way to prevent people cheating on Diablo III, I’m fine with having to login and always be online to be protected – just as long as it works. It’s a shame that it wasn’t a smooth launch.

Enough of the deleterious Diablo III talk – let me explain to you what the game is and why it’s damn good. The soul of the Diablo series and why it’s so loved isn’t its story or graphics, but the pure focus on gameplay. You can simply call Diablo III a game that is all about the combat, dungeon raiding and the continuous loot you keep discovering, be it from killing foes or opening chests. There’s an addictive mentality about receiving new sparkly weapons and other goodies for your character every 5-10 minutes that makes you just want to keep playing that little bit more – that little bit more turning into another hour or two. I can tell you I haven’t had much sleep since I started playing Diablo III.

A quick look at the games makes it seem that Diablo III is, well, just another Diablo game. You’re still viewing the action from a similar isometric viewpoint, you’re still clicking constantly to move your character around the environments (although you can hold it to move), and you’re still clicking on items to pick them up and clicking on enemies to pummel them. Once you hit your first level upgrade, the changes to the Diablo formula become apparent.

With Blizzard becoming a household name due to the incredible successor of World of Warcraft, the game design of Diablo III has changed to be more streamlined, allowing new players who don’t know all that much about the Diablo series (1.2 million players cam from free copies due to the World of Warcraft year subscription deal) to grasp the game quickly. This change hasn’t settled that well with some of the super hardcore fans of Diablo II. Alas, gone is the distribution of skill points and attribute points; now each specialised class – be it the hard hitting Barbarian, the ranger style Demon Hunter, the magic using Wizard, the Kung-Fu master Monk or the spider throwing Witch Doctor – is locked to a specific growth in attributes. Skills now unlock at specific levels rather than players picking a skill from a skill tree. I feel this gives excitement to the player when you level up, knowing you’re going to unlock a new move to use.

Every character has a primary and secondary attack that is assigned to the right and left mouse buttons. Defensive skills and other class specific skills are tagged to shortcut keys. Using moves requires a metre exclusive to that class; for example, my Witch Doctor uses Mana and my Wizard uses Arcane. However, regardless of class, you have to be aware of the metre as skill usage drains it, and you must wait before it automatically fills again. This is why mana potions are absent from the game, a noticeable change in gameplay compared to Diablo II.

As you make your way to the maximum level of 60, you’ll unlock plenty of skills for these different groups. Skills also have runes that modify them in some way, generally buffing to help you fight against hordes of enemies, single targets or just to heal your character. You can change these runes and skills whenever you want, but you can only normally have one skill from each type equipped to the skill bar unless you turn on “elective mode,” a feature that lets you equip whatever six skills you want, no matter the type. This flexibility allows people to play around with different skills without having to create a new character or collect respect points like you had to do in Diablo II. It’s all just that much more user friendly and less annoying.

Although saying that, it is a little weird that some characters never use their equipped weapons. My first run through the game was with a Witch Doctor and since all their attacks don’t use weapons, she never used her swords, bow or axes. Weapons are now a sort of decoration (unless a melee character), with stats that affect your skills rather than tools to attack the demon hellspawn.

All the changes aren’t just to characters either. You can teleport to town anytime you want with the unlimited usable town portal. A stash of scrolls is no longer needed to identify rare items. Now all you do is right click and wait a couple of seconds. Auto usable health blobs can be found on the ground and potions in your inventory have cool down timers.  Those hardcore fans might be in a hissy fit, but I see it as removing the obstacles that delayed or frustrated you from doing what you truly wanted – bash enemies and get loot. This entirely new process accelerates the game and keeps you in the action longer. That’s something I can’t complain about.

Looking at Diablo III as a typical RPG makes the 17 hours to finish the main storyline unimpressive. You see, just leaving after that won’t let you experience all of what Diablo III is. After beating the game, you’ll unlock Nightmare difficulty, a mode made for characters that have just normally beaten. Beating that unlocks Hell and beating that unlocks the last difficulty, Inferno, a difficulty made for level 60 characters with top tier equipment. Increasing the difficulty means newer, harder enemies, but players are also rewarded with much better and rarer loot, once again playing into that addiction of forever finding new armour pieces and weaponry. It’s some sort of Barbie-dress-up-drug Blizzard has managed to wrap me in, and I don’t want to stop till I’m geared with the best the game has to offer. Multiply all this by each of the classes, and you can see players spending weeks and months trapped under the influence of shiny loot. The crow from Demon’s Souls would have a field day here.

Playing the game on your own is fun, which I did myself on the first playthrough to go through the story at my own pace. Once that’s over, you should undoubtedly play this game with friends or random people to elevate the enjoyment to all new heights. The well-placed friends list can be accessed and a buddy can be joined within seconds. Same goes for strangers; just open the list, pick a quest and off you go.

Co-op has shrunken from eight players to four with Diablo III, but I never felt like I was missing having more players. Four was enough to still be able to keep an eye on everything that was going on between my party members. Loot is kept client side, so every player will find his or her own loot to pick up, essentially giving you have four chances to find legendary equipment. If someone finds an item that’s better for a partner, he can transfer it by dropping it to the ground. Items appear on the server side when that happens. Playing in co-op means the enemies also have increased strength to compensate for the extra players. If I was to pick a problem with cooperative play, it would be that you can only communicate via text; disappointingly, there’s no voice support.

One of the last key new features of Diablo III is Blizzard’s inclusion of the auction house. Players can take advantage of their rare loot and sell them on this virtual eBay for gold. At the time of this review, the auction house is gold only, but soon you’ll be able to buy and sell items using real world currency. I’m not sure what to think of this, and after hearing news of some accounts being hacked, I don’t think I’ll ever use real money to buy items. I guess if you’re wealthy, you probably won’t care much about spending real money on some of the best loots in the game, but it seems to spoil some of the fun if you ask me.

Every part of Diablo III’s presentation is top quality. The game looks beautiful, with environments that express the game designers’ artwork, like paintings jumping to life from a canvas as they entomb you in atmosphere. It’s nice to see your character change attire throughout the game, as every piece of equipment is modelled fittingly to your class. For the type of game it is, a game where you’re constantly looking from above, it’s one of the best looking ones on the market today. It’s just a shame you can’t manually zoom in and out at the percentage you want. You’re stuck with fully zoomed in or out. Voice work is brilliant, and there’s personality throughout as your hero and the computer assisted characters banter between one another. Sound effects are good enough that every impact caused in combat feels heavy hitting, but I never felt that the soundtrack had any memorable songs and was often drowned by the combat.

It’s rare for a game that has spent so long being developed to be ultimately fantastic, yet Blizzard has done that with Diablo III. You could put a downer on it and say that it hasn’t pushed the genre forward, and, in truth, there’s nothing new here that hasn’t been seen already. If you’ve come to see innovation, you’re playing the wrong game. But if you want to see a smashing example of how to do a dungeon crawler, Diablo III is the place to go to live out your looting dreams. It’s deep, highly contagious and contains unlimited amounts of fun, and Diablo III opens its palms to welcome anyone to dabble in its addictive gameplay. Be careful though – you just might never be released from this demon’s grip.

9 out of 10