I knew that Diablo III wasn’t going to be your grandfather’s Diablo. I slogged through hours upon hours of monster slaying and loot gathering in both the original game, then the follow up Diablo II and its expansion, Lords of Destruction. But the last iteration of Diablo appeared 12 years ago. In gaming time, this represents a quantum leap in terms of graphics, sound and game design. How would this new and highly anticipated third chapter look and feel? And what, if anything, would it bring new to the table in terms of game mechanics and the all-important gaming experience?
It’s been many years after the last banishment of Diablo. You arrive, a stranger in town, following a fallen star and rumblings of strange and nefarious activities in the surrounding countryside. You’re once again introduced to the familiar Deckard Cain, and accompanied by his niece, Leah, you set out to assist the fallen angel who accompanied the star to discover his true identity and why he came to Earth. Along the way you explore the countryside of Sanctuary, a vast desert, a castle on the brink of disaster, even heaven itself. You encounter untold hordes of all variety of monsters and demons, kill them, and get their gear.
You begin Diablo III by choosing one of five character classes. I chose a Demon Hunter–a revised Assassin class from D2–that specializes in ranged weapons and trap setting. Movement is the same in all Diablo games: point and click. Holding down the mouse button results in a continuous attack. Hot buttons allow access to your slotted skills, of which you can have six equipped at any given time. One important gameplay element that isn’t clear when you first start is Elective Mode. This is disabled by default, but once turned on it allows much greater flexibility in skill management. For example, perhaps you want to have multiple defensive skills operational at the same time. Elective mode allows this; otherwise, the game restricts you to the default layout. Skills are enhanced by Runes, which are earned as the game progresses and have a huge impact on skill effectiveness. In addition, in the solo campaign you have the option of being accompanied by a variety of NPCs, which you can swap out as the game advances. You can equip and choose skills for these characters as well. Lastly, multiplayer is the meat and potatoes for many who have bought this game, and I did spend some time playing on Battle.net, developer Blizzard’s proprietary online service. In most cases I had fun, but gameplay can be unbalanced. The fastest way to level up, and gain access to the best loot, is through multiplayer.
Yes, you’ve seen this before. And despite the agro-kill-collect-rinse-repeat formula, it still works. The characters are very well actualized, as are all the elements of the game. The graphics in D3 are really gorgeous. The world is colorfully rendered. Your character whirls and leaps, hand bows blazing, traps exploding or snaring the mobs surrounding you, with an end result being a satisfying splat of Technicolor gore and guts. Monsters and the different rendered settings might elicit more than a few “oh wow” moments. In the rare cases when the mobs get you before you get them, the death penalty is extremely fair–faster weapon decay, resulting in higher repair costs. Of course, you play and replay this game for the loot. There’s a lot of it to be had, but it takes some time in-game to get the good stuff.
It’s important to point out one very critical element in playing Diablo III: the need for a constant Internet connection. You read that correctly—if you want to play, you must be online. Blizzard has been heavily criticized for this decision. I just find it annoying. This is a Tier 1 game, and you’re being asked to pay a $60 purchase price. For that kind of money I want to be able to play when and how I want. I happen to have a very fast connection, and once Blizzard was able to deal with the initial crush of players on their servers, access was not a problem (there were some nights when I couldn’t access the servers, so I couldn’t play). Whether it was anti-piracy, ease of multiplayer, or whatever, it seems unreasonable and even obnoxious to have to log online to play a solo game. I know it’s hard to believe, but there are folks, especially in a rural state like mine, that have no, or limited access to, the Internet. If you find yourself in this situation, then you’re out of luck when it comes to D3.
So is this a game worthy of your hard-earned money? It depends how much you enjoy the franchise, versus what other games you might have in queue. I enjoyed my return to Sanctuary, despite Diablo’s quirks. At least the first time. Despite playing to half the level cap of 60, I admit I lost interest in going further. The game is beautiful, and it’s easy to become distracted by all of the color, action and addictiveness of the gear hunt. There simply isn’t enough to keep me coming back for more of the same, not even the promise of that magic piece of gear. I had full intention of creating at least one level-cap character, but despite the beauty of the game, the gameplay itself has to maintain your interest. In my case, one playthrough was enough. There are simply too many other games out there awaiting us, especially this time of the year.
Publisher: Blizzard Entertainment
Developer: Blizzard Entertainment
System requirements: Windows XP/Vista/Win 7/Win 8/Mac OS 10.6.8, 2.8 GHz Pentium D/Athlon 64 X2 4400+ or better CPU, GeForce 7800 GT/Radeon X1950 Pro or better graphics card, 1 GB RAM (1.5 GB for Vista/Win7/Win 8, 2 GB for Mac), 12 GB hard-drive space, broadband Internet connection
ESRB rating: Mature
Release date: Available now