Diablo 3 is sort of like the Duke Nukem of RPGs – the last entry in the series came at the beginning of the last decade, and it’s been coming for about 13 years now. So, what’s the biggest difference between the two, besides their genres? Well, this one is still developed by the original company, Blizzard, and is not a bad game at all. Diablo 3 is an epic continuation of the battle between Heaven, Hell, and the mortal realm of Sanctuary. In many ways it has lived up to the hype, and in many others it is quite a bit different than Diablo 2. All issues with the game aside, if you like fast-paced, hack n’ slash, action-RPGs then you will find a lot to love here.
Before the game starts you can customize your banner (of which you will unlock different designs as you play) and choose a character. I say “choose a character” and not “design a character” because there are next to no customization elements present. You choose the class and gender that is all. This is still a step up from Diablo 2, where you only chose the class.
Once you are in, the story picks up twenty years after the Prime Evils were defeated and banished from the world of Sanctuary. The opening cinematic shows Deckard Cain and his niece, Leah, in the Chapel of Tristram as something falls from the sky. After crashing down and making a huge crater, Deckard Cain is nowhere to be found. The game begins with your hero traveling to find out what’s happening, and then the story begins to unfold from there.
Overall the story is intensely enjoyable with a great hook and concept to keep you intrigued from start to finish. If you are a longtime fan of the series like me, then you can easily enjoy the references to past events. If you are new to the serious, I highly recommend reading up on the events of the past game and the general lore of the franchise itself. You will not be disappointed; the war between Heaven and Hell is anything but boring.
That being said, it starts out great, and the final Act is a thrilling conclusion to the game with a really great final boss, but the entire game doesn’t keep that same pace. The middle third or so of the game really goes into a lull and seems to drag on for far too long. The game can be completed on Normal difficulty in about 20 hours, give or take depending on how thorough or quick you are, and if you play with others. But the chunk in the middle could have been paced a little bit better. The story is a grand tale of the most epic proportions, but it is ultimately just an excuse for you to go slay a few hundred more demons.
Ultimately the game really does maintain great pacing throughout, never truly getting impossibly difficult as long as your skills have been improving along with your character’s. This is also a testament to the super-tight gameplay Blizzard crafted for Diablo 3. However, if you’re not a fan of the genre, or at least interested in this style of game, combat will get very repetitive very fast. This is very much the same combat you should be used to by now (click until your mouse breaks) but they have expanded it, in some ways, from Diablo 2, but also truncated some of the deeper features. While this is a review of just Diablo 3, it is necessary to compare it to the previous game because a) it has been over a decade, so seeing how it compares is crucial and b) it is important to know for many of the longtime fans.
For example, in Diablo 2 you mapped skills to the left and right mouse buttons. In Diablo 3, you also get numbers 1-4, so this is a great addition. However, they removed two features that would have been nice for players obsessed with balancing their stats. First, when you level up the game automatically assigns you attribute points based on your class. This means you no longer get to customize how many points you put into which attributes. This is not a major folly, because it does keep the game balanced and prevents your from breaking your character halfway through the game. Thankfully this fault is mitigated by the use of gems, but more on that later.
Secondly, when you level up, you no longer get to actually choose which skills you want to take, or even which skills you want to improve. Let me explain this further. In a lot of RPGs, Diablo 2 included, when you leveled up you picked from a few different “trees” of skills which ones you wanted to learn. In Diablo 3, which skills you learn, is entirely out of your hands and automatically chosen by the game itself.
Furthermore, when you level up, you don’t get to improve any of your current skills either. Let’s say you had already learned all of the skills you were interested in, in Diablo 2 and other games, you can then spend your skill points on improving existing skills. Instead, in Diablo 3, the game pre-determines which skills are improved and when. There is also a “rune” system where you unlock optional enhancements for every skill, so you can choose to make them behave in different ways. All of this goes to improving the balance of the game and making it more accessible, but at the cost of customization. It seems like they could have given players the option of automatic or elective mode, which they did do thankfully for one feature.
I didn’t even discover this until I was halfway through the game, but you do get a bit of skill customization. The hotbar is laid out with the numbers 1-4 on the left, and then left mouse and right mouse buttons near the middle. In the skill menu, as shown above, you get 6 categories. For this example, I am showing my Wizard character. She has Primary, Secondary, Conjuration, Force, Mastery, and Defensive skills that are all mapped to a specific button. In the default non-elective mode, you are limited to one skill from each of those categories. However, if you enable elective mode, you can assign each of the six slots using any combination of all of your skills. This drastically changes the way the game is played! So, make sure you activate this option if you want more control over your loadout.
Continuing down the road of negativity, are many non-gameplay related elements. First off, you are always required to be connected to the internet in order to play this game, whether it be single or multiplayer. They did this to protect themselves and the game, as a form of DRM. However, this tremendously limits the experience. A game like Diablo can be played for long stretches of time, but it can also be played in short 20 minutes bursts if you want to. Let’s say you’re on vacation with your laptop and have no internet – you cannot play. Let’s say you don’t have a good connection – plan on experiencing lots of lag (even in single player) or not being able to connect at all.
I understand that they are eventually going to implement the ability to spend and earn real money in the auction house (which is not available at launch,) but I feel like, as a gamer, I should be able to play the game offline for single player mode. This brings up another crucial issue: what happens if the servers go down? As we saw on launch night, thousands of players tried to log on at the exact same moment and caused the game to crash. This means that even those individuals that wanted to play in single player mode could not play. There is no excuse for this, the game has been in development for over a decade, they have had beta tests, and they knew how many people preordered the game.
Another absent feature is the PvP. Obviously they announced months ago that it would not be available at launch, but this is not an excuse. You should ask yourself: Am I even getting a complete product? They are charging the same price as if it was a fully featured and fully functional game, but leaving out the two most highly touted features, forcing you to be connected to the internet to play, and experiencing frequent server issues within the first week of release. Even though those two features are being added “soon” and free of charge, none of this is excusable.
Blizzard did implement a few great new features as well, including the auction house. When you purchase an item from the auction house, you may send it directly to your stash, which is also where your gold will go if you sell something or are outbid and have your gold refunded. This is a really nice addition, and is recommended for all players looking for certain gems and other specific items. This same auction house will later be updated to include the option of spending real money (which Blizzard does take a portion of the revenue from all sales.) There is also a new crafting system in the game as well. Each magical item you find (colored blue or better) can be broken down into raw materials. Once you accumulate enough materials, you can start crafting.
In order to craft items you have to train your crafting ability (accomplished by spending gold at the Blacksmith) and spend resources + gold. You can eventually craft extremely powerful gear that may be better than what you are wearing, or at least worth posting in the auction house. Furthermore, the game now features gem crafting. By combining lesser gems, you can eventually create flawless and perfect tier gems. For the most part, the gem system is very similar to Diablo 2; you can find items with “empty sockets” and fill them with gems that imbue different effects.
The gem system, however, does leave a bit to be desired. It doesn’t seem to make your weapons and/or armor glow anymore, and there are also not very many effects. Each type of gem only has three different effects: one for if it is put in a helmet, one for a weapon, and one for everything else. It would have been nice if they added different effects for chest, leg, shoulder, accessory, etc to really add more depth to the game. Thankfully, though, gems are a godsend for those that miss attribute customization.
Since you can no longer assign which attribute points you spend where when leveling up, you can just socket gems that grant whichever attribute you are after. This is great, but it would have been nice to at least have the option of both.
Graphically you can’t ask for a whole lot more in this genre. The charcters models look pretty nice when you zoom in on them, and the environments are incredible. I even saw a rainbow across a river and waterfall at one point, it definitely looks nice. This is especially amazing because for the most part the game maintained a high FPS and looked great all the way through. The particle and spell effects are especially beautiful to look at. Another point should be made to mention the CG cutscenes. While these aren’t as popular these days, there are a few in this game. They are hands down the most beautiful and well-done I have ever seen in a game; absolutely stunning.
The sound design, as always in Blizzard products, is top-notch. Each musical track is expertly crafted, and really portrays the mood of each area in the game. All of the nasty creatures shriek and moan in unique ways, and if you play with the lights off and headphones in, there are some pretty creepy moments and sounds. There really isn’t much room for improvement in this department.
As expected, the multiplayer works great. After you login, you have a few different options for what type of game you want to play, or if you want to jump to a specific mission or section of the game (assuming you have reached it.) If you are playing single player, you may choose to allow any of your friends to easily join into your game at any point, and vice versa for you joining their games. Additionally, you can open it up to the public (similar to Borderlands or Saints Row) so that anyone can find and join your game. Playing with others infinitely improves the experience, adding in more monsters, more loot, and more fun. Thankfully they employed a loot system that generates different loot for each player so you don’t have to worry about rolling for loot or anything like that. While playing, there is also a constant chat box in the lower left corner, so you can join a general chat channel, a class specific chat channel, speak with your party, or even a trade channel for negotiating items.
If you have no friends, or would rather just play alone, you can hire followers once again. In a lot of ways they are improved from Diablo 2, in that they all have actual personalities. Personally, I chose to have the Templar with me the entire game once I found him because as a Wizard, he was a good compliment. Throughout the game they chime in during story moments, while fighting enemies, and are actually helpful. Each of them have their own distinct personalities, and I really enjoyed having him tag along for the adventure. You can even assign a few different items to them, as well as choose a few skills that they take after they level up. If you are playing with other humans in your party, however, then you cannot have any followers.
In the end, Diablo 3 is undeniably a good game. It is extremely polished, expertly balanced, and disgustingly fun. While Blizzard did take out some of the deeper elements to character leveling, temporarily excluded promised features, and restricted the way you play the game; Diablo 3 is one hell of a good time.
This review was based on a physical retail copy of the game for the PC provided by Blizzard.