Saving the world one click at a time
It's hard to imagine many other games having as much of an "event" status then when Blizzard decides to announce a game. An impeccable pedigree and an admirable-yet-frustrating love of perfectionism, it's hard to imagine living in a world where Diablo III actually is actually out. It had to come out eventually but the long running jokes about its lengthy development time, delays and Blizzard's tinkering with game mechanics left us excited and just as nervous about the sequel to one of the best and influential games around. Launch day issues set aside, Diablo III is quite the remarkable and it's one of the downright fun games to come out and more than makes up for the lull in terms of releases but even then, it isn't entirely perfect and it's hard to tell whether this'll be the same long-lasting game Diablo 2 was but it's still an enjoyable experience.
Taking place 20 years after the events of Diablo 2, the game centers on new heroes sent to investigate a fallen star crashing into the cathedral near Tristram. Inside were Deckard Cain and niece Leah who were researching the possibility of an impending apocalypse. With Leah safe in town and Cain missing, you're sent to find out what exactly crashed into the cathedral and over the course of the game's 4 acts, you learn of the demons of Hell coming to unleash its armies on the world, the battle between them and the Angels and you taking on the biggest threat of them all, Diablo himself.
Blizzard has done some really cool things to make the story feel a little bit more dynamic. Each class, now with both genders, has a voice and a personality which makes them feel more like actual characters rather than the unremarkable loot wearers of previous games. In-game cutscenes along with Blizzard's beautiful trademark CG cinematics help make the story more engaging. Followers return from previous games only this time they too have a voice and talking with them will reveal more about the back story, where they came from and why they're following you. On the other hand, the story can be disappointing where the writing at times can be fairly poor and certain twists are easily predictable. It's not the most mindblowing story in the world but the mythology, game's events and locales make up for it.
One controversial (of many) features taken out from Diablo 2 was anything to do with allocating points. Upon levelling, your stats increase automatically and you don't put points into specific skills as before with many arguing it took away from the customization the previous games alloted (or similar games of its nature like Torchlight). Most of the time however it created 2 possibilities: you either followed a build verbatim on the internet or you unintentionally screwed yourself over by putting points in the wrong places, forcing a re-roll. While on the surface Diablo 3's system looks like it gives less options, the build diversities become more apparent the farther you get and once you dig into it, the depth starts to show.
Diablo 3's system involves around the use of runes which act like modifiers for each of your 6 skills (2 mouse buttons and numbers 1-4). Getting access to specific ones as you level, the different effects tend to change combat a lot and changes to your tactics become a bit more noticeable. For example, my wizard uses a lot of Arcane Orb, a slightly slow moving projectile that deals splash damage. Only being able to turn on one rune, I can increase its damage, increase its radius, make it travel through enemies or give it a Mario Kart effect where they circle around me, causing damage to those getting too close. At first the system seems really basic but it's when you level up and get into higher difficulties does your build really start to take shape and while some skills are better versus crowds then against single types and bosses, it's a lot more free-form and inviting to experimentation then the rigid builds of Diablo 2.
You'll also pick helpful NPC's along the way which come in 2 forms: town shops and followers. The former consists of blacksmiths where you can salvage magic items for materials to make your own, jewellers where you can make socketable gems or destroy ones already inside items and regular shops which are usually just used for repairs and selling grey items. The only downside is that the loot drops you'll receive will generally be way better than anything you'll craft yourself on most occasions. However, both the jeweller and blacksmith carry their upgrades across all your characters so one at level 5 will be level 5 when you decide to roll alt's. The followers can be equipped with items, character specific items, and can be given certain skills which become useful during solo play. Being able to heal, taunts, crowd control and AoE abilities can make the game a bit more easier if you decide to brave the game yourself.
And despite Blizzard's claim that it's also meant to be optional and fun rather than the focus, Diablo 3 shines in co-op play. Having up to 4 people, questing with others is not only way more fun but makes combat feel more intense and entertaining since the enemies get tougher and figuring out how everyone's builds contributes to combat and how you can contribute yours makes for a game you must play with friends. Other helpful features include character specific loot so nobody steals your stuff, a banner acting as a fast and easy teleport and reviving fallen players which improves on Diablo 2's co-op which would feel downright irritating in comparison now.
One of the very first questions asked at last year's Blizzcon was whether the game was too easy and does the game get progressively harder. While indeed the first hour or so is meant to be a tutorial, slowly but surely the game introduces more enemy types and abilities to keep you on your toes. Coupled with the fact that health potions are on cooldown and health globes which give healing to everybody in your party, not to mention your main abilities are more resource generators rather than mana users, you'll be able to fire off more abilities and skills then before. This also means the game's way more faster and it is very much not afraid to dump legions (no pun intended) of enemies at you. Death no longer means that irritating naked corpse run from before, respawns occur at handy checkpoints and early on, repair costs are relatively low. Once you start moving around in Nightmare and up mode does the game really turn up the heat.
And yet still with all of this, Diablo 3 is not entirely without flaws and chief among is its online-only setup. There's absolutely no option to play offline if you're without internet or servers are down which makes for really annoying experiences when you actually experience lag when you're playing on your own or a game you can't even access because of server issues. One primary reason is Diablo 3 introduces an auction house where you can buy useful items, put yours up for sale, and further into the game's life cycle, buy and receive items using real money. At first it becomes easy to excuse: Diablo 2 was practically ruined by bots, hackers and people spamming their shifty websites in chat so by having a Blizzard controlled and moderated way to get gear, police anybody trying to hack its game or broadcast their websites then drop back out makes a compelling argument for its DRM. And yet more than once, I've been unable to access the game or have been lagged out of it so this is a feature you're going to have to learn to live with or just not bother which is a shame because there's a great game when you actually get to play.
Is the hype worth it? Is Diablo III a worthy successor to its predecessor and the cause of many sleepless nights? Well there's the immediate answer which is yes: combat's visceral and satisfying, story's worth playing through and questing with friends is too good to pass up. But then again 10 years on, people still play Diablo 2 and Warcraft 3 and whether this game will have that kind of staying power remains to be seen. It's hard to say whether this'll be my favorite Blizzard game (it's currently Warcraft 3) but despite its DRM, Diablo 3 was worth the wait.