mikelemmer's Diablo III (PC) review

A Good Upgrade, but Will It Reign?

Download Size: ~8.5 GB

Hours Played: ~40

Highest Act Reached: Act 3 out of 4, Nightmare difficulty (2nd tier)

What I'd Pay: $70

Current Price (5/22/12): $60

So, amidst all the debate and flame wars about the always-online requirement, the real-money auction house, and there being too many and/or not enough changes to the Diablo 2 formula, how does the latest in Blizzard's series of dungeon crawlers & treasure looters stack up? Given how much it cribs from Diablo 2, I've divided the review into 2 parts: the first one is for people that have never played the series, the other is for previous Diablo fans.

I've Never Played Diablo Before, Will I Like It?

Do you like killing lots of monsters? Do you like picking through tons of loot in the hopes of finding a few good upgrades and, perhaps, that one amazing piece that makes your jaw drop? Do you want it with good graphics, a decent dark tale, and easy-to-join multiplayer? Then Blizzard has you covered.

In fact, I can't think of a better game for introducing newcomers to the genre. The new skill system eschews slow, permanent character advancement in favor of a constantly-growing set of skills & variants you can change on the fly. It's easy to experiment with different builds and impossible to permanently cripple your character. Even if you sell all your equipment and start naked on the last Act, you can easily play an earlier Act instead and collect enough new loot to reoutfit yourself in a few hours.

Even the boss fights emphasize short-term tactics over long-term preparation. Gone are the days of brute-forcing a boss with a hundred potions; potions are now on a cooldown and you can't portal back mid-fight to heal. As a result, winning is more about choosing the right skills and playing smart than nailing the perfect build out of the gate and storing enough potions to win a war of attrition. I'm all for this change.

So why 4 stars and not 5? Gameplay-wise, it's too easy to settle into 2 skill builds (one for mobs, one for bosses) and stick with them for the rest of the game. There's not enough variation between Acts to encourage different builds. Policy-wise, you need to be online to play even the single-player mode. Not only is it aggravating to people with a bad connection (lag in a single-player game is lovely), but you can lose loot if you disconnect before you can pick it up. (Go ahead and laugh at the odds of that; I lost 3 rare items because I DCed after killing a boss.)

Still, those problems aren't enough to kill my interest in the game, even after playing it for 40 hours. If you like killing monsters with friends for loot, this is a good investment.

I Loved Playing Diablo 2. What Did They Do to My Beloved Franchise?

Or "Why should I play this instead of Diablo 2?"

If you're reading this, I'm assuming you're familiar with Diablo 2's gameplay. This is where I go into the differences between the 2 games.

Always-Online DRM

Even single-player mode requires a connection to Battle.net. I won't get into this too much; the rest of the Internet has already done it for me, so I figure it's either a dealbreaker for you or it isn't. If it's a dealbreaker for you, assume I gave it 2 stars and move it. If it isn't, note that although my connection to B.net has only hiccuped 2-3 times over the past 40 hours of play, one of those times was particularly aggravating: it saved the fact I killed a boss, but DCed before I could pick up the loot. I lost 3 rares in the process. Hopefully Blizzard will put in some sort of check for that kind of horrendous timing later.

Oh, and I occasionally experienced lag in a single-player game; luckily it wasn't bad too often. *grumbles*

Character Build

There's no long-term character building. Your stats are fixed and you can swap skills & variants at will (although watch out for that delay before you can actually use them). Although the old-fashioned RPer in me initially rankled at this, it grew on me after I joined a multiplayer game with another demon hunter.

"Oh crud, he has the same build as me. ...Wait, I can just change my build to compliment his!"

Don't like your build? Change it now.

Synergy-glee ensued. He went explosive bolas, I went ensnaring chains. He went short-range chakrams, I went long-range piercing arrows. I changed my build for each new game I joined. Full of ranged? I went for a survival build. Two melee to cover me? Long-range death dealer. My wizard was even more versatile; I swapped from an early melee-caster build to a long-range glass cannon to finally settling on an arcane vulnerability build. Although I prefer it, I can always switch to one of the other ones should the situation call for it.

I have bad memories of fighting all the way to Baal in Diablo 2, only to get stuck on him because my character's build wasn't good against him. (This was before they patched retraining into the game.) I am overjoyed that won't happen again. The only long-term planning you have to worry about is your equipment, and if you make the wrong choices, there's nothing a lot of grinding won't fix.

Better Boss Fights

This is a consequence of 2 important changes:

1. Health potions are now on a cooldown.

2. You can't Town Portal during a boss fight.

Town Portal won't save you now!

As a result, you can't brute force your way through a boss with potions anymore, or escape when things get dicey. In response, Blizzard made the boss fights smarter. They don't do horrendous instant damage and nuke you down almost immediately so you have to chug down health potions. (At least, not on Normal difficulty.) Their large attacks are mostly avoidable if you play smart and pay attention. And thanks to the skill changes I mentioned above, if your skill set just isn't working against that boss, you can just change it on the next attempt. Overall, fighting these bosses is much more satisfying and challenging (instead of frustrating) than in Diablo 2.

Equipment

The core component of Diablo gameplay hasn't changed much. It feels like what they've done is removed a lot of the excess and polished the rest to a shine. Charms are gone completely. You can fit more items into your inventory. There's no more strange Horadric Cube mixtures you need to look up online for the best items. "But how do I combine gems?" Well, they made a Gemcrafter shopkeeper to handle that.

"What about Gambling?" Replaced by a crafting system so you don't have to constantly reclick the shopkeeper. You need to sink money into upgrading it, but the upgrades are shared between all your characters. Personally, I like it more than constantly refreshing the gambling inventory.

Speaking of alts, they share just about everything you want them to: your Personal Stash, all your gold, and your gemcutter & crafting upgrades. It's a little tweak, but I sure appreciated it. I swear the earlier levels even drop more gold when you're playing as an alt; perhaps Blizzard doesn't want you to rely solely on your main character for gold?

My only complaint about the equipment is that it no longer boosts individual skills, although perhaps that appears in the later difficulties. (+Resist gear didn't show up until Nightmare difficulty.)

The Fluff (Graphics, Sound, Setting, Plot)

You need to ask how its graphics & sound are? It's a Blizzard game. The graphics look great (for a dark demon-ravaged world), while the music and voice acting are good at best and unobtrusive at worst.

Catmen in the desert? HOW ORIGINAL!

The setting, sadly, mostly cribs from Diablo 2 nearly Act for Act. ("Oh look, we start in the dark haunted countryside, then we move on to the desert, and oh gosh, a snow-covered fortress. What will they think of next?!") They even use the same monsters as those Acts, which was disappointing. Expanding the world from a single dungeon to a large array of areas was a selling point for Diablo 2; you can't show us more of that world in Diablo 3? For shame, Blizzard. (In their defense, Act 4 took place in an awesome new location. I just wish the other 3 Acts followed suit.)

The plot is... much better than I expected, honestly. After 3 years of gnashing my teeth about what they did to World of Warcraft's characters, Diablo 3's character arcs were a pleasant surprise. The main NPCs, your companions, and even the jeweler and blacksmith have several dialogues that elaborate on their past, how they got here, and their ties to the large, dark world of Sanctuary. This is the backdrop to a tale of death, loss, and betrayal that really puts some characters through the wringer. It's not a great story, but it's better than the "follow Diablo around and kill all demons" plot of Diablo 2.

Is it better than Diablo 2?

If you don't mind always being online, yes.

Is it worth 12 years of waiting?

Err... maybe? I'll hold off on that until I can see what Torchlight 2 does to the genre. As is, Diablo 3's a solid buy if you don't mind always being online, but it isn't a revolution or the old-school triumph Starcraft 2 was. After 40 hours, I'm beginning to feel the grind and get bored with it, but new loot & running dungeons with friends still entices me, even after 40 hours of play.

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