Nearly a decade in the making, Diablo 3 finally decided to grace the gaming public with its presence, and after all the login errors settled, what were we left with? A solid Diablo experience that saw upgrades to many of the core systems and a pretty, though not overwhelming, visual presentation. In the end I was satisfied but still wanting more; read on for more details.
Diablo 3 starts off twenty years after the events of the Lord of Destruction expansion pack for Diablo 2. Deckard Cain, the stalwart companion of the adventurers in Diablo 2, has been looking for a way to avert the apocalypse that only he thinks is coming with the help of his adopted niece, Leah. At this point enter the new adventurers. There are five character classes with male and female versions. Four of the classes are new to the series, though stylistically similar to classes that have come before, while the fifth is a reworked version of Diablo 2’s barbarian class. Players are thrown right into the action as they start on the road to New Tristram to discover the origin of the Falling Star, which Leah so narrowly avoided in the opening cinematic. In true Diablo fashion, the action never abates for long, only broken up every now and again by voice-acted mini-cinemas which are entirely skippable for those who only care for the action. I’ll talk more about the story later but for now let’s move on.
The core of this game is the same as the previous entries in the series. Players click their way through the landscape and combat with reckless abandon seeking greater challenges and loot. There have been some changes though. Players can assign secondary abilities to the hotbar, which was previously used for health potions. Town portal is now an ability that is automatically learned once players reach a certain point in the game, and most magic items come readily identified. Inventory has been simplified as well, as items now only take one or two slots, so it’s no longer as Tetris-y as it used to be. The talent system from Diablo 2 has been dropped in favor of a new character progression system. Players learn new abilities as they level up and continue to unlock runes for those abilities as they progress. These runes add flavor and added effects to the abilities that can entirely change the scope of the ability. Runes can be changed at any time, but a change will start a cooldown period on the ability in question. I personally enjoy these changes. While the system may appear simple at first, there is a lot of depth to it and it is much more forgiving than the Diablo 2 talent system. The old talent system may have been fun in its own way but having to restart a character because I put a talent point in the wrong place was the epitome of annoying and poor design. Diablo 3 feels like a natural evolution of the series with these changes which accommodate a wider audience than previous entries without alienating the players that want to min/max their characters.
Another returning feature is the ever increasing difficulty settings. After beating the game on Normal, players unlock Nightmare difficulty, followed by Hell and then Inferno. As the player steps up through the difficulty the loot gets better and better and the enemies get stronger and stronger. While the bosses can be quite tough at the higher difficulties, the hardest foes are the random elite monster packs that litter the maps. As the difficulty increases these packs get more and more abilities to draw from. This is where the bulk of the replayability of this game comes from, conquering the higher difficulty settings. Some people really enjoy that sort of thing, myself included on occasion, but in this game it’s not quite my cup of tea. For me, it’s the way they chose to implement the difficulty through the significantly harder elite monsters. Some combinations of powers are just annoying and exercises in frustration, which doesn’t make for fun and interesting gameplay in my opinion.
The overall presentation of the game stands up to the standards of a Blizzard title. The graphics aren’t mind blowing but the art direction is solid. The visual spirit of the Diablo universe is fairly well captured throughout the game with trips to familiar but altogether different locations. There was one segment in Act 2, the Oasis, that stood out in my mind as particularly beautiful. It blended the trademark darkness of the series with a lush and vibrant environment. This juxtaposition of beauty and danger just felt great and showed how far the game had come from its simple dungeon diving roots. I found most of the sound to be somewhat forgettable, particularly the score. While the sound effects and the voice acting were what I come to expect from Blizzard, OK but not spectacular, the score just didn’t have the gravitas that I have come to expect from their games. Certain parts of it felt suitably epic but overall it just felt underwhelming.
A big part of the previous games has been the multiplayer experience and it is largely intact in Diablo 3. Diablo 3 integrates into the RealID system that Blizzard introduced around the launch of Starcraft 2, allowing players to party up with their friends to tackle the challenges of the Burning Hells together. Blizzard also took this time to add in the BattleTag system which is a less intrusive version of RealID. Players can share their BattleTag and chat with friends across all three Blizzard titles without needing the email address linked to their account. I spent about 95% of my first playthrough with some of my WoW friends and found it to be an amazing experience. Loot is generated independently for each player so there’s no more scrambling for loot drops and items can be easily traded among party members. The game is still fun when playing solo but I found that it truly shines when playing with other people.
Now I realize that I’m an outlier on this but I am part of a minority that plays Diablo for the story. It’s an amazing dark fantasy universe with high levels of intrigue and deceit. Good seems to always have won but it is always at great cost. Before I delve into spoilers I’m going to say this, I didn’t enjoy the ending. It’s not a Mass Effect 3 disappointment where the ending made no sense for the character, but something else.
ENDING SPOILERS (HIGHLIGHT PARAGRAPH TO VIEW):
The ending felt too clean. Diablo loses, the players win, and while the black soulstone is still out there as well as Diablo’s pawn Adria, there was no great personal loss or sacrifice to get that victory. Yes, Deckard Cain dies in the first act and that is a loss to long term fans of the series but that was an inciting action to show the player how high the stakes are. Leah becomes the vessel for Diablo but she was destined to become his vessel so while her loss is sad she was never fully developed as a character anyway. Hell, no one even really mentions her in the dialog following the final boss fight. The victory felt hollow in regards to the victories earned in Diablo 1 and 2. Maybe this will be addressed in upcoming expansion packs but this ending was not in keeping with the rules of the universe as they have been laid out in that last entries into the series.
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In the end, the game was fun. It’s hard to live up to a decade of anticipation and for the most part Diablo 3 satisfied my itch for a new entry into the long running series. A number of the key systems were satisfyingly updated and the core gameplay was just as fun as ever but a few key gripes kept me from enjoying the game as much as I wanted to. The environments, while very beautiful and well done, felt like a rehash of the previous games and the ending left me unsatisfied. In the end, Diablo 3 is a very good game but it left me wanting more.
|Great visual presentation|
More user friendly
|Ending didn't sit quite right|
Replayability centers around difficulty and grinding out loot