After 11 or so long years, Blizzard have graced us with the next chapter of the Diablo story and mouse buttons around the world have been getting a workout.
Lets look past the launch day problems created by Blizzard and Diablo III (D3) and focus on whether or not the game is actually any good.
If you missed the first two installments you might feel like you’ve come into the theatre halfway and it may take a while to wrap your head around what’s happening. If you did play either or both of the first two, you will be delighted to see familiar faces, enemies, sounds and voices.
Diablo III takes place twenty years after the events of Diablo II. After destroying Baal, the last of the Prime Evils of Hell and the bringing of salvation to humanity by the archangel Tyrael, everything seemed to be at peace for the first time in ages. Diablo is dead, you killed him twice and smashed his soul stone along with the other two Prime Evils Mephisto and Baal. Only 2 demons remain: Belial and Azmodan.
Unfortunately, the good times appear to be over for Sanctuary. As Diablo III begins, Deckard Cain (voiced again by Michael Gough) is pouring over ancient tomes inside of an old dilapidated cathedral standing in the remains of Old Tristram, prophesying about how the ‘End Times’ may be closer than what was once believed. Some sort of ‘Star’ is seen falling from the heavens above and crashes into the cathedral, creating a flaming hole where Deckard Cain was standing. His niece, Leah, witnesses Cain’s disappearance and hurries to New Tristram to try and get help.
Blizzard have always been known for their cinematic storytelling and Diablo III does not disappoint. From the opening scenes the tone is set; Deckard Cain is getting on in the years and has been spending them feverishly reading texts about the coming end of days.
You’ll get the standard in-game cut scenes all throughout that help with telling the story and all the dialogue is voice acted. Through your travels you may come across journal entries. These add more information to your codex. While most games will populate your codex with information as you play, in D3 you have the option of listening to them, this is useful in keeping the flow of gameplay, if learning more about the lore of Sanctuary interests you.
Most of the twists in the story you can see coming, especially if you have knowledge of the earlier games. You don’t really care that some parts are obvious, the story is well told and there are enough little extras to find to fulfill that extra experience.
Many of the locations echo old areas, Old Tristram, deserts, swamps and the battlements of a stronghold to name a few. And much like with Starcraft 2, you’ll meet updated 3D versions of mobs you know and love. Enemies will come out of the environment giving that feeling of depth sometimes lost in top down dungeon crawlers.
Character design is beautiful, as you get new gear it will change what your character looks like. While I was able to find myself a cool Fez, unfortunately I have yet to find myself a Bow-tie. Spells and abilities look amazing when they shoot across the screen and into a swarm of enemies.
There are a number of death animations as well, heads can fly across the map, creatures may just explode or blood and fire may rain down on the landscape. The gurgles and bloody gore are appropriate for the brutality of this game. With multiple players the screen can get quite hectic with spells, bells and poisonous frogs being thrown around to cause chaos. You will need a pretty good rig to run this game properly.
Abilities will also have their animations and textures changed when you customize them with ‘Runes’. For example I went from summoning a fiery red hydra that shot fireballs at my enemies to a green ‘poison’ hydra that caused different kinds of damage.
As with previous games there are multiple difficulty settings, each one must be unlocked by completing the previous and adhering to the level requirement. Normal is your basic fare and shouldn’t present too much trouble. This gives you less stress to focus on the storyline and basic grasp of how to play the game. After you have an idea of how it all works, I recommend turning on “Elective Mode” so you can customise the skills that are saved to your hot keys to a higher degree. I don’t believe this was ever explained in any tool tips but is required for most higher end builds.
This game is definitely more forgiving: unlike Diablo II where you had to go back to your corpse and collect your gear, in D3 you re-spawn at the last checkpoint with a durability reduction on your armour that costs gold to repair. I’m glad that we no longer have to make such a long run back to our corpses but the relatively low repair costs and abundance of gold mean that ‘as many deaths as required’ is a viable strategy for beating difficult monsters. However, Blizzard have already announced that a future patch will likely increase the cost of repairs, in an attempt to make the ‘death-zerg’ a less appealing option.
Difficulty will ramp up as allies join your party up to a total of four players. In single player, you can choose to play alone or with an NPC companion but after the first play through I really found their repetitive dialogue to become quite tiresome.
Dropping in and out of a friend’s game is very smooth, there is even a teleportation system that allows you to ‘port’ to your friend’s character from the starting town. I felt the four player party limit was a bit small especially when there are five classes, it must be hard to implement a difficulty system that scales properly per person depending on Normal, Nightmare and so on but what happened to the large Diablo II servers we have seen in the past?
Ignoring the problems that were faced on launch day we still need to focus on the fact that to play this single player you still need a permanent Internet connection. If you are to be disconnected you may lose some progress or more importantly may lose that shiny new item you found. Because of the random nature of the loot you are unlikely to get that same item again. These are much fewer issues now but being unsure how often the server saves your characters inventory I have found items and progress missing even after portaling back to town before logging out.
Oceanic players will need to play on ‘The Americas’ region which means latency around 200-300ms.
Gear is random and exclusive to you, no longer do you need to rush to an item and pick it up before your so-called allies. Part of the fun in this game is having those times when you finally get a good piece of gear that is an upgrade. More likely however because of the random nature, you’ll get an item that is better off vendored or given to an ally.
If you think the item is worthwhile though, you can sell it on the Auction House. The Auction House is separated by region and can be toggled between gold or Real Currency, either way Blizzard takes a 15% cut of anything sold. There are some good deals to be had, but I found it can make the game a little easy to just spend a couple thousand gold to outfit your character for another 10 levels.
Blizzard have designed this game around keeping players coming back and playing multiple times. If you start an area again with a friend or on the next difficulty, you’ll find that the map has changed somewhat. Key areas will look the same but mini dungeons or side-quests may be relocated.
The first and second acts feel well laid out with dungeons leading up to the bosses/sub-bosses. The acts themselves seem a little out of balance with the final act feeling quite short compared to the rest.
The game is certainly fun and keeps dragging me back to grind some more. I’m excited to see the last few abilities and runes open up. The multiplayer is seamless and it is clearly what they are going for with the focus on being connected constantly. This is emphasized by the lack of story depth and with three quarters of the game intended to be replaying the one campaign.
Diablo III is more forgiving in items, skill builds and difficulty mechanics and this will let newbies to the genre have a decent enough time. The game looks great and has taken the dungeon crawler to a new level. The constant connection required to play can be frustrating but understandable to keep things fair and stop cheating.
The coming arena/pvp looks interesting but Diablo III feels too much like World of Warcraft with the focus on repeating end game content for loot. Until there is an expansion that adds to the story in a meaningful way, Diablo has become a sometimes game played only if friends are online.