Diablo is almost universally recognized in gaming circles as the golden standard by which loot based action RPGs are measured. Blizzard created a masterpiece with Diablo and then used their magical Horadric Cube to transmute the wildly successful Diablo II, which took everything from its predecessor and gave it a facelift. Now with 11 years in the making, Blizzard has taken the Diablo franchise and has added new features and simplified the gameplay in other ways. So how does Diablo III measure up?
Diablo games and games of this genre in general have typically been about two things: killing hordes of enemies and collecting better loot and treasures. What sets Diablo apart is immediately evident upon logging in to play the game. Yes, you must be logged online to play the game, which some gamers will moan and begrudge because the first two games featured offline play. Once you get past this downside, however, the Blizzard shine and polish that gamers have come to expect is apparent. The UI is easy to interact with and very user friendly. A handy social box at the bottom right of the screen allows the player to interact with their Blizzard friends. Players can chat with their friends in World of Warcraft, Starcraft II, or Diablo III. Players can also inspect the profile of their friends and view their characters, achievements, and player gear. Games are easy to hop into; with the simple click of a button a player can join their friend’s game. There is also a tab for the new auction house system from the main menu
Creating your character will let the player choose which class to play as. The classes include a Barbarian, Witch Doctor, Monk, Demon Hunter, and Wizard. Players can also choose the gender of their character, a welcome feature not found in the previous two installments. After choosing a name, the player is then thrust into the world of Diablo III.
Players can play solo or with up to three other players in public games. The public game system is very user friendly and allows for short gaming sessions. Through the use of checkpoints and quests, players can revisit their favorite sections of the game or jump straight into a match made game with other players. The social tab comes in handy here, where players can connect with their friends or get into contact with that great group of adventurers they just played with.
The most important part of Diablo III, and the part that really shines, is the gameplay. Each class has a unique set of skills that can be equipped and altered with runes at each level up. The player no longer selects skills along a skill tree, and no longer allocates stat points upon level up. While initially this can be seen as a downside, the new skill and rune system allows for many exciting types of gameplay. The skills and runes can be switched on the fly, allowing for many different strategies. Eventually up to four skills slots can be customized according to skill type. If the player wants full customization options for their skills, they need to turn on the “elective mode” in the gameplay options.
Achievements are new to the world of Diablo, and they are another welcome addition to the game. While not mandatory, achievements for accomplishing impressive feats or simply making progress in the game unlock new banner sigils and designs, which can be used to customize the player’s banner. The banner appears in the town hubs and is the point at which other players can warp to that player. Another fun aspect of the achievements is that they are broadcast for the friends of the player to see. This adds for some friendly banter among adventurers.
Loot is the driving force of Diablo III, and the game throws it at the player in spades. When enemies are defeated, randomized loot, gold, and items are dropped for the player. Initially, this is fun and rewarding, and the instant gratification level is high from the better loot that is found as the player progresses. In the later difficulties, unfortunately, most of the loot is so randomized that the player is left with a feeling that they are on a never ending quest to increase their damage per second or other key stats rather than find that totally awesome and unique weapon. Gear quickly becomes so homogenized per class that most of what is found is useless vendor trash. The ultimate difficulty level of the game, Inferno, is designed so that only those with the best gear can proceed, and in turn, find the best item drops. This drives the player to use the gold or real money auction house in order to properly gear themselves to survive in Inferno. This is where the game hits a sour note.
The end game, Inferno, is difficult not simply because it is challenging, but the elite mobs and bosses are so punishing that one shot deaths are a common occurrence. The cost of repairs to player equipment upon death drives the player to spend any gold that they may have earned on mandatory repairs. What spectacular items they do find can be sold on the auction house for more gold in order to buy marginally better equipment in the hopes of making any sort of progress past Act II. What the game fosters is an environment in which the player is driven to the real money auction house in order to proceed in the game. This system comes with its own set of problems.
While the auction houses are user friendly and feature a useful filtering system for item modifiers, they do not feature a sort by bid cost or time left in auction filter. This makes scouring the auction house a chore, and players usually end up using the buyout feature because of hassle involved with finding items. Blizzard receives a cut of the profits, and one must to simply wonder if these features were not intentionally left out in order to drive the auction house buyout profits up.
The game does feature some interesting concepts new to the franchise. There is an upgradeable blacksmith shop where one can fashion new magical items, or dismantle their magical items for materials in order to craft new randomized rare items. There is also an upgradeable jeweler who can turn your lesser gems into increasingly more powerful ones. These gems can be inserted into equipment to do anything from increasing attributes to increasing the amount of gold that enemies drop. While the blacksmith and jeweler seem like interesting concepts, the risk/reward is too high for using them and it is ultimately a better use of time to run through the acts in hopes of finding the best loot. Blizzard does have potential to expand upon these areas in the future, however.
Visually and aurally, Diablo III is a masterpiece. The monsters are all very interesting, grotesque, and quite varied. The colors simply pop out of the screen, and there are countless creatures, explosions, and skills going off at any given moment. The combat looks fantastic, and the environments are arguably more impressive. From dark catacombs to Eastern themed palaces, castle ramparts to grimy sewers, and the depths of hell to the gardens of heaven, the environments of Diablo III are an absolute treat to behold. There is so much careful attention to detail in the backgrounds. Skirmishes can be seen in the distance when high up, and things that go bump in the night slither in the dark. It is all very polished and creative for this type of genre. The soundtrack, while primarily consisting of atmospheric and orchestral flourishes, does the job perfectly of transporting the player into the fleshed out world of Diablo III. Sound effects are also top notch, featuring many different sounds from the various creatures, skills, and other noises. The dialogue is fully voice acted, and while not exceptionally remarkable, certainly does the job.
The story of Diablo III is your typical fantasy-fare featuring prophecy, ultimate doom, and a benevolent being helping the protagonist. What was rather annoying about the story that wasn’t featured in previous installments of the series was the amount of forced dialogue. Luckily, the dialogue is easily skipped by pressing escape, so that no one has to suffer through it in subsequent playthroughs. The story is pretty forgettable, however there are some interesting tidbits and pieces of lore found in journals and notes scattered throughout the game. These factoids were voice acted and some were pretty interesting and even times humorous. Ultimately, if more of the story and lore was left to the player to discover of their own will, the story would have been more bearable and similar to the minimalist approach of the previous installments.
Inferno difficulty and auction houses aside, the meat of the gameplay of Diablo III is a rewarding experience. Progression is made relatively quickly and better gear is found all the way up through Hell difficulty. This leaves most players very satisfied in terms of bang for their buck. With the promise of expansions, PVP, and constant patching, Diablo III may very well improve in some of its weaker areas. If the track record of previous Blizzard games is an indication, we can expect to see many welcome changes to Diablo III over the course of its life. Even without these changes, Diablo III is a welcome addition to the series and a great entry into the genre for players of any skill level to jump into.