Diablo 3 is finally upon us. Does it falter under the insurmountable hype around it or does it thrive in spite of it?
Especially given the time it took for Blizzard to put this game on the shelves, and the fanfare that accompanied and preceded its release, the sheer anticipation for the title couldn’t have truly been met. Add to that a host of problems ranging from server issues to problems with the auction house and you have a release marred by technical issues and high expectations. Under that barrage of fail Diablo 3 holds up well I’m glad to say, though it isn’t exactly the world changing game many were expecting.
Anyone familiar with action RPGs will instantly know what to expect here, even if they’ve never touched the Diablo series. In fact when most people describe action RPGs with any sort of loot system a standard term used is Diablo-esque. The case is certainly true here. You will fight wave after wave of baddies to level up a character class of your choice while progressing through a mostly see thru plot and gathering tons and tons of sweet loot. Isn’t that what we are all here for anyway? The delicious spoils of war shaded in different colors to represent their awesomeness? Diablo 3 has it in spades as you would expect, the game constantly showers you with rewards whilst also spacing it enough so it doesn’t seem too overwhelming.
At the beginning of the game you’ll pick from one of five classes: Monk, Barbarian, Witch Doctor, Sorcerer and Demon Hunter. As you level up your prospective class they will gain a number of skills, though it’s surprisingly light for this type of game. Usually you expect to see three or more branching trees, but here the skills are boiled down to just the useful abilities. With each ability type you’ll unlock four different skills that you can further enhance by choosing runes as you level up that alter damage, mana gained and so forth. Instead of choosing a skill tree and being stuck with your choice you will get every ability available to that class and can switch between them at will. While some might think this dumbs it down a bit I greatly appreciate the chance to try out different builds on a character instead of being nailed down to the one I thought was useful at the beginning of the game.
At first, many people were worried that the graphics of Diablo 3 would look more like World of Warcraft then their favorite series, and while the aesthetic is different, it’s one I immensely enjoy. My machine isn’t a monster, but it played Diablo 3 at the highest settings and looked fantastic without a rainbow covered unicorn involved anywhere like some were dreading. As I said the plot is there, but that certainly isn’t what most play this type of game for. Primarily the protagonist is tasked with hunting down and killing the last few prime evils that are left after the last two games. While you don’t have to have played the first two games to enjoy Diablo 3, it certainly gives more weight behind the different characters and the overall plot. There are a couple twists in the game, but it primarily proceeds in a fashion you would expect and is pretty much something to click thru for most players in order to get back to the battling. You will however adventure to plenty of different lands that are vastly different aesthetically and there is something to be said about Blizzard’s ability to send you to a new place just as you tire of the one you’re in.
Speaking of clicking you’ll be doing a lot of it in this game so start doing your finger push-ups now. Most of the time I felt this was extremely repetitious and wore on my patience. While many might be used to doing this sort of thing on the PC, indeed it’s where the genre originated from, I’ve grown used to playing these types of games on consoles. Using one finger to do mostly all of your attacking and moving, instead of a thumb stick and several buttons, seems to increase the monotony though that might just be me. I was pretty spoiled by the fantastic port of Torchlight on the 360, so to me enjoying the control scheme to that more than Diablo 3, which is basically Torchlights grand pappy gameplay wise, is very disappointing. In addition, I often found it hard to move away from an enemy sometimes, a move needed to avoid being utterly destroyed, and my character would keep attacking as I frantically clicked off to the side for him to run towards a health drop.
All of the staples are here though of a great action RPG loot fest and most are very well done. Inventory, a stumbling block in a lot of games, is particularly well done and you can warp back at any time to town to get rid of your extras. There is a blacksmith that has a rudimentary crafting interface you can participate in by spending your hard earned gold on him also. As he levels he will earn plenty of great equipment you can buy much cheaper than from a merchant and he is shared across all your characters. You can also take one of 3 NPCs adventuring with you and level them up and equip a limited amount of equipment to them.
For me though there is one pretty big stumbling block for this type of game and that is no way to look at your character up close in the game. Call me vain about my digital characters, you wouldn’t be far from the truth, but isn’t that sort of the point in this sort of game? I want to get bad ass armor and weapons and outfit them so I can see not only my damage numbers increase, but my characters stylishness increase as well. I’ve always enjoyed switching out armor types and seeing the change on my character, but if you want to do that in Diablo 3 then you’ll have to drop back out to the character selection screen which is pretty silly to me. I’ve read the numerous reasons behind this decision, but honestly none of them seem to be a good enough excuse.
This review couldn’t really be complete without addressing the giant purple elephant in the room, the one over there wearing the pink tutu. In this humble game journalist’s opinion Blizzard didn’t just drop the ball, but fumbled it and then punted it into the arms of the best runner on the other team. Always having to be logged into the internet to play the single player portion of the game is, to put it plainly, just utterly stupid. Yes, I understand that this is to dissuade pirates, but honestly it just seems like it’s punishing the people that really love the game. Don’t have internet? Guess you’ll miss out on the third iteration of a series you love. Have spotty internet coverage because you live in the country? Forget trying to make any progress. I could go on all day.
This is just a very poor idea and there has to be a million better ways to push pirates away. Of course in a great big face palm Blizzard proved all the things that could go wrong with this policy on the first week when server issues made the game completely unplayable for many people. In my playtime I experienced a few drops from a dip in my bandwidth that also ended up with me losing all my progress since my last checkpoint. To top that off I experienced some lag during my single player campaign. That last sentence still boggles my mind. The always on internet function does have one small upside and that is the fact that Blizzard has made it exceptionally easy to get teamed up with someone. You’re literally only a few clicks away from grouping with another three players and just like any other game in this vein it makes the experience much more fun.
Overall Diablo 3 is a sum of its parts, even the bad ones. On the up side we have an action RPG that is polished to a fine shine and has the pedigree of one of the best series in the genre. Many of the game mechanics, if not revolutionary, are very well done and the classes all feel different and are fun to play, Graphics and music are also a draw here though you’ll often find the latter drowned out by battle cries. Then we have the other hand which is weighed down with the negatives. The very poor idea to require internet service for its single player campaign, a ultimately throw away plot, the baffling idea to not include a way to view your character up close, and a poor launch. What does all this add up to? A solid and well-polished action RPG that you’ll probably really enjoy, that is of course unless you don’t have a solid internet service.
In that case this review is a 0 out of 5 since you’ll just be staring at a box wondering why Blizzard hates you so much.