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Diablo III [Review]

Overall Feeling: 

Diablo III is what I would personally consider a solid ‘meets expectations’. It does exactly what’s expected of it, which was, to be fair, a lot. However, the whole thing feels a little ‘safe’ and doesn’t push the franchise as far as Blizzard managed to go with their other game series, in specific StarCraft II.  

The Pros: 

+The game scales well, meaning almost anyone can play it.

+The inclusion of Nightmare, Hell, Inferno and the Hardcore Mode mean there’s plenty of options for replay.

+Each character is unique and viable. Everyone has opportunity to develop a character to their play style that’s fun and personalized.

+The multiplayer experience is seamless, jumping between games to meet up with friends is not only easy, but elemental. 

The Cons: 

-The story of the game is pretty short at around 6 hours.

-A lot of the game’s features are cribbed from either previous iterations of the franchise, or Blizzards library of other games.

-Everything feels a little ‘safe’ no boundaries felt like they were pushed or even tested. Rating : 

Let’s be honest, the ‘dungeon crawler’ genre has become kind of over-saturated at this point. For years now, 16 of them in fact, people have been doing what they can to capture a little bit of the magic that Blizzard unleashed on the world with the original Diablo games. Now, 11 years after the release of the franchise’s last bit of content (Lords of Destruction) we finally have a true successor to the game that defined ‘dungeon crawler’ and the hype surrounding the game has been surreal. Does it, however, meet with the lofty expectations that we’d set for the game ourselves?

I’m sure, because I know a lot of them, that people are confident of Blizzard’s release of Diablo III meeting, and even exceeding the hype that was set forwards for it. My friend’s list is teeming with massive amounts of players all hours of the day (seriously, I’ve been online at every conceivable hour of the day and the lowest I’ve seen the list is 4 people). For myself personally though, I would have to say Diablo III “meets expectations.” Of course, the expectations going in where high, maybe not as high as some, but I at least expected this to be a game that I could lock myself away with for days on end, and to that point the game has shown itself to be a smashing success.

What I wasn’t expecting though, was that the game just kind of meets what I was looking for it. It is still pretty grind-tastic, and the combat is as simple as ever, with your mouse being 95% of all your actions. Of course there are additional skills you bind to keys as you progress (four additional hotkeys for skills in total beyond the mouse’s left and right bound ‘attack’ skills). But the majority of your play session is still wielded via clicking for movement, combat, and collection. It’s a concept that I had, in the past, referred to as ‘elegant’ because it was a system that was so simple that you barely even noticed it. In the days of Diablo I and II I found myself not really realizing how much was getting done with a simple click of a mouse… even though we’ve all made fun of the fact that we’re hammering at a mouse button continually.

Diablo III picks up the story of Sanctuary a full 20 years down the road from the events of the previous game, Diablo II. The game begins with Deckard Cain, scholar and guardian of niece Leah, pouring over old tomes for signs of the impending ‘end game’. While I hate talking story at length, because it’s generally something that players get to know at their own pace, I will say that it rounds out the lineage of Diablo quite nicely, though it did feel a little bit short. There are four acts to the game, and clearing them (the first time through on the game’s lowest difficulty setting) takes about 6 hours (assuming you just plug through the story and don’t waste too much time dungeon diving for side-quests and loot).

After you’ve completed your first run-through though an additional difficulty level is unlocked: Nightmare. This restarts the game for you, with an increased difficulty that seems to scale the game appropriately for the character that you’ve built up through your original play through (level 30ish). Beyond that there are three more challenges still: Hell, the game’s ‘hard’ mode and Inferno which serves as the game’s highest difficulty level; plus the option of adding on ‘Hardcore Mode’ in which if your character ever dies, they remain permanently dead (no resurrections). With these many options for ratcheting up the difficulty it’s hard to call Diablo ‘short’, but I do feel it fair to mention that for people only looking to ‘complete’ Diablo, 6 hours is a wickedly short story for the game… if you’re not into loot, character progression, and auctioning (now for real money!) then you might find the game somewhat lacking.

Speaking of the auction house, it does seem prevalent to mention the ‘real money’ system. While it’s not currently available, if you’re not familiar with the concept, it’s basically Blizzard getting around the people that have been selling in-game items outside of for Diablo and World of Warcraft for years by directly injecting the platform to do it safely into the game itself. Players will be able to sell their items via the auction house in-game for real money, instead of just gold. It’s a system that Blizzard is hoping to keep the game a little cleaner, more honest, and to ward off gold-farmers and their ilk.

Through both form and function Diablo seems to crib, more than a few pages, from its online brethren World of Warcraft. Item linking, crafting, skill selection/progression, and the auction house all feel a little WoW-ish, and it was easy to see (through playing with people online) how many people were familiar with WoW and knew how to utilize the features included, and who had never spent any time in Azeroth.  Not to mention that on launch day some of their servers were even cannibalized for the third installment of the Diablo series. It make sense, considering the game’s heavy lean towards multiplayer online, Diablo has quickly become what I guess can be termed as a game that sheds the first M in the traditional MMO genre, becoming a limited, but still very multiplayer/online focused game with groups of no more than four players. The concept, eventually, will be expanded upon as well when a patch is provided, down the road, to incorporate PvP into the game.

In speaking of ‘borrowing’ the game also does a good job of porting over concepts of the previous game’s character classes, but tweaking them slightly to make them ‘new’.  The Barbarian and Monk are direct ports, with upgraded skillsets that keep them new and interesting, while the remaining character classes all received new play styles and names, but retain some element of their predecessors. The Witch Doctor, a class based around summoning of all manner of beast and ghoul, is a shiny new take on the Necromancer from D2, the Demon Hunter, a blend of the Amazon and Assassin classes, servers as the game’s DPS extraordinaire, utilizing a series of traps and ranged attacks for both offence and defense, and the Wizard is pretty darn close to being a Sorcerer with a name change, featuring all sorts of magical spells for dealing mass damage in the late-game.   

In what, I would say, is the game’s single greatest strength Blizzard has managed to make all five character classes unique and powerful in their own way. I, as someone that generally rolls DPS by default, went straight for the Demon Hunter and never really looked back. I had a ton of fun dumping cart-loads of arrows down range and clearing massive waves of attackers, to the point where I almost felt like the class was over-powered… However, in talking with other players of the game, all using their own preferred class, it seemed the feeling was mutual. Regardless of what class you wind up playing, no matter what your preferred play-style is, the game seems to reward you, generously, for your alliances. Everyone that I’ve spoken to so far claims that their class is the best, because the game is structured in such a way that, if you play your class correctly, you can be the biggest bad-ass in the realm and talk up your character/skill selection choices very easily… which makes me yearn for the PvP patch that we’ll eventually be getting, because I cannot wait to see some of this talk backed up with some fire-fights online, and to see which classes truly do have the advantage over the others.

Lastly, I’d like to comment on the game’s over-all esthetic. While I won’t get into the whole history/evolution of the game’s graphical design (that was a good 2-hour talk at GDC) I will say that having had the opportunity to watch how the game has evolved over the last few years, the end result is pretty impressive. The game itself is made to scale quite widely, ensuring that the maximum audience is breached, regardless of their hardware. The game has a ‘low fx’ mode that means the game can run on almost any system, thanks, in part, to the fact that all the game was rendered in ‘1.5’ dimensional models. Essentially if you rotated the world three-quarters to the left or right, you’d see that there’s no back-half to the game. It keeps everything light-weight, and makes it easier for systems to run, the focus, for the gameplay at least, was to keep everything more artistic feeling, like a hand painted work of art, rather than a graphically intensive machine-killer. It’s a cool idea, and works well, but is in stark contrast of the game’s cut-scenes which look like the kind of thing we’d expect to see super-computers pumping out five years from now… the attention to detail and rendering of the characters in their full 3D format is nothing short of jaw-dropping. The only problem I have with the two being so drastically different is it kind of makes me wish that my system was being tested a little more thoroughly by the game itself, if Blizzard is capable of cut-scenes that ridiculously realistic.

Overall the game is exactly what we, as fans of the franchise, would have expected and asked of Blizzard, given the opportunity. It advances the story from the previous games in a logical way, provides a couple of twists and turns along the way, allows us to build unique and interesting character classes that are individually our own and feel personal on almost every level, and, most importantly, provides that classic Blizzard ‘platform’ where people will be running quests/characters for the next several years and trading/buying items back and forth together via the auction house. Fans of Diablo, or dungeon crawlers in general, have likely already picked up the game and will claim it as their new home, so to those lingering few who’ve not yet picked it up, I would say: why not? Even at the base level it’s an incredibly solid experience for a group of you, and your three friends, to have a solid experience with characters that you can instantly, and permanently, link with. 

A review copy of this game was provided by the publisher.

Diablo III
Publisher: Blizzard Entertainment
Developer: Blizzard Entertainment
Platforms: PC (review) and Mac
Release Date: May 15, 2012
Price: $59.99 ($99.99 Collector's Edition)