The Same Old Formula But Still Extremely Addicting
Back in the day the Diablo series had started a revolution. While you had plenty of in depth role playing games such as Baldurs Gate, Fallout or Planescape Torment - the genre of action RPG’s had not been explored. Ever since that first run into the shadowy cathedrals under Tristram we’ve been clicking away for colored loot drops. Now, years later Diablo 3 is finally out to introduce a whole new generation to the wonders of loot lust. If you have played Diablo 2 and enjoyed it greatly, then you already know what you’re getting into to a fault. If you’re coming into this series fresh from the tales of what a great game it’s predecessor was but you never had a chance to experience the magic yourself, then you’re really in for a treat.
Diablo 3 centers around that nefarious titular demon that is literally hell bent on destroying the world. The poor denizens of Sanctuary should have moved ages ago as the amount of apocalyptic mayhem that keeps recurring in the area is outrageous. The level of writing in Diablo 3 is nothing to write home about, and follows a pretty standard formula which can’t be said for the beautifully rendered cinematics where Blizzard have once again outdone themselves with. If you’re an oldschool fan then you will meet some series regulars such as Deckard Cain and the angel Tyriel, as well as exploring old tombs of the Horadrim - sadly there are no Horadrim Cubes anywhere to be found! What is interesting to note is that the player now has a journal log in which you can read up on all the lore you collect throughout your numerous playthroughs which is a welcome addition for those that want to dig a little deeper into the world. While I won’t go into the details of the story - suffice it to say there are demons, an impending apocalypse and all sorts of diabolical machinations at play that the player character has to overcome through sheer slaughter.
Graphically Diablo has certainly taken a huge leap forward, although not far enough in my opinion. Being in various phases of development for the better of 10 years I’m sure time has played against the Blizzard team in that regard, although I’m not entirely sure if they wouldn’t have gone for this look regardless. Characters are no longer 2D sprites but fully rendered 3D polygons that move in a likewise 3D modeled world. The textures can get muddy when viewed up close and while the world does have a nice graphical continuity you would expect a little more from a game that came out in 2012. Strangely despite the move to the third dimension you are still locked into an isometric view without the ability to swivel or move the camera in any way apart from a very close zoom that serves only to check out your character up close as it’s not a viable option play from. Some might argue the game is too bright and there are even very well crafted mods (DarkD3 Mod) that will help you achieve a darker tone for the game through various DirectX shenanigans - be warned that the use of such mods can still technically fall under hacking and Blizzard has been hazy at best in giving an answer to the legality of using such tools. Don’t be mistaken, the game looks good, but from such a huge developer and so much time and resources that were poured into the the title, it is strange to see such a modest graphical look against the backdrop of an industry thats constantly pushing the boundaries of visual presentation.
At the onset of your adventure you’re presented with a choice of class as well as a the new addition of being able to choose the gender of your would-be hero. The Barbarian and Wizard classes make a comeback from previous Diablo games playing much like their predecessors did being a pure melee and pure magical ranged characters, making use of adrenaline and mana respectively. The remaining three choices, Monk, Witch Doctor and Demon Hunter are hybrid amalgamations of other classes from the past. The Monk uses auras which are now called mantras much like the absent Paladin class used to, but he specializes in fast hand to hand combat like the Diablo 2 expansion Assassin character did to fuels his spirit bar. The Witch Doctor is a summoner ranged character that has the ability to conjure up various beasts and powerful area of attack spells and is reminiscent of mostly the Necromancer and a little bit Druid. The Demon Hunter class is unique in that it uses two resources that fill up independently and are used for defensive and offensive abilities - it is an extremely powerful ranged character (currently a favorite for taking on the highest difficulty level due to it’s high damage output) that makes use of bows and one handed crossbows to attack from afar similar to the Amazon class from the past.
Each class you choose has a unique set of skills that you unlock by leveling up mainly via murder of demonic hordes. Although you achieve experience for completing quests, it is usually insignificant at higher levels. One of the new and welcome ideas that Blizzard has introduced into the Diablo franchise is the freedom of choosing your skills at will. In the past you were presented with a skill tree that had branching paths which you had to carefully decided on. Very often you’d find yourself with a character build that just wasn’t cutting it on the higher difficulties because you allocated points into abilities that didn’t complement one another very well - or you simply realized too late in the game that you’d much rather use a shield and sword rather than two handing weapons. Those sort of mishaps would inevitably force you to restart and begin an entire character anew. What Diablo 3 does instead is introduce a completely editable skill system. There are four main categories that vary from character to character but usually resemble something along the lines of Primary Attacks, Secondary Attacks, Passive Abilities and Character Unique abilities. Skills are unlocked through level progression in each category and each skill possess’ modifiers called Runes that you unlock in a likewise level progressing manner. For instance you might have a primary attack ability, and at your level that single ability might have three Runes to choose from, each modifying it in a slightly different way. Your level 1 Rune might add additional damage to the attack while the level 5 Rune you unlock will add an area fire effect to each hit. You can only have one Rune selected at a time but seeing as every skill has 6 Runes to choose from that unlock at various levels from 1 to 60 the combinations seem endless. Where the beauty of the completely editable skill system comes into play is that you can pick and choose which skills and runes you wish to use at will. You’re never locked into anything permanently and changing abilities only incurs a small cooldown before you can use that ability again. While on one hand this shortens replayability of the game as once you level up a single character you never have to make a second one of that class again apart from seeing the aesthetic differences of male vs female armor - on the other hand you can now experience all a certain class has to offer without having to obsess over the fact that you didn’t choose a certain skill in the past and it would have completely changed how you’re playing. Essentially it eliminates regret and I think it’s an excellent addition.
The core of Diablo gameplay is sheer repetition. You are presented with four acts that you’ll spend the bulk of your time conquering at various difficulty levels of which there are four - Normal, Nightmare, Hell and the infamous Inferno. Within each act you make your way through a linear path of quests that have you delving into forsaken lands or forlorn ruins to retrieve magical artifacts or confront nefarious beasts of hell. While adventuring you will always have a main hub world populated with various vendors that repair your items or take unwanted trash loot off your hands. Each act features a unique setting, from dark and misty wildlands of Sanctuary to the bright sprawling deserts of Caldeum - although to veterans of the series the order at which these areas change might seem strangely familiar. You go out from the safety of your hub and enter the hostile territories plowing through anything that gets in your way and picking up loots dropped by stronger packs of named creatures. While there is always a goal you are working towards achieving, that can often take a backseat to the hunt for great new gear. Every enemy drops something in the game and it will take a bit of time to get used to not just picking everything off the ground like some beggar scrounging for scraps. Unlike past titles you no longer need to buy scrolls for teleporting or identifying objects as those are abilities you can use at will with no cool downs or limitations so selling off your findings is easier than ever.
Ultimately your goal is to become the biggest and baddest warrior that can go toe to toe with anything the game throws at you without blinking an eye and this can only be achieved by accumulating the best possible equipment you can find. You can choose to play along with 3 other friends or random strangers from the ineterwebs and enemy life scales to the highest level player in your party. Interestingly there are no shared portals anymore, as each adventurer creates his own unique Town Portal that only he can see. What is also individual is loot, which is generated for every player in his or her game separately. When a friend clicks a chest it will spew out the goods on your screen but they will be completely different than what your friend sees. This is another great move on Blizzards part as in the past deciding on who gets the rare drops in even a party of close friends was a nightmare of it’s own. Aiding you in the journey to becoming the worlds greatest demon slayer is the newly added Auction House wherein you can purchase various items for ingame gold or real world currency. The Auction House can certainly save you a ton of time as it has various filters that help you not only find the best items for your class and level range but at the best price possible. While you might encounter some great piece of rare loot by playing through the campaign - personally most of my loot was bought at reasonable prices through the Auction House. Selling and buying can get inherently addicting as I’d often find myself logging into Diablo 3 on my work laptop that while it couldn’t play the game very well, allowed me to auction off my unused gear and look for great deals on new pieces of equipment I’d use later that day when I came home from work. Among other new noteworthy additions is a new social interface that lets you see when friends are logging in and let you easily join their game in progress. You can comb through player profiles and even inspect their characters to see exactly what the stats on their weapons are and what skills do they have equipped. There is a robust Achievement database for you to fulfill and getting the little popups when you complete one is just as satisfying as in any other competitive service such as Steam, Xbox Live or PSN.
Diablo 3 is an extremely addicting game. It is also a very good game. That said I think it’s important to make a distinction between returning and new players. While I had a lot of fun playing with friends making my way through the increasing difficulty levels - I couldn’t shake a heavy feeling of deja vu throughout. With such an established franchise and so much time between now and Diablo 2 I expected Blizzard to make much bigger changes to the formula. At heart Diablo 3 is basically just Diablo 2 with nicer graphics and a few new changes added here and there. I never quite got the feeling that Diablo has finally broken into the new generation. In fact very often it disappointingly feels like a newly released game thats already a few years behind the times. This doesn’t change the fact that the core gameplay is still as addicting as ever, but the overall effect is a bit underwhelming in the end. With literally 10 years in development one begins to wonder what took this long to make. We were seeing balancing patches being released only weeks after launch. The real money Auction House was not ready for a month after release and the PVP aspect is still absent with no release date in sight which technically makes Diablo 3 an unfinished retail product. Of course no one is saying that the absence of PVP is completely ruining your single player experience, but you also can’t shrug off the fact that Blizzard just went ahead and said “hey you guys buy this now and we’ll get around to putting it in eventually” which seems unheard of in the industry and somewhat audacious. I won’t even get into the entire DRM issue apart from saying that it doesn’t do the game any favors and at the heart of the matter it will make playing this game impossible without a constant internet connection. The argument that Diablo isn’t a single player game is completely ridiculous and I won’t even address it.
At the end of the day if you loved Diablo 2 you will really enjoy Diablo 3. If you have never played this series before then you could potentially lose a large chunk of your life to this title as it’s a very slippery slope of getting sucked into “just one more dungeon, just one more quest” and the constant hunt for shiny yellow rares on the ground. While disappointed by the lack of forward progress in the series I can’t deny that the game had me glued to my desk for several weeks, replaying the same chapters on increasing difficulty settings despite knowing better what a pointless cycle it is. Although already showing some wrinkles, Diablo 3 still manages to stand tall as the defining action RPG experience on the market.