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Diablo III is finally here, and if you can get past the initial shock of playing a game with single player always-on DRM, you can experience it yourself. With five classes ranging from the Wizard, Monk, Barbarian, Demon Hunter, and Witch Doctor, there’s pretty much something for everyone here to experience — personally, I couldn’t resist the demonic gaze of the Demon Hunter.

For the purposes of this impressions piece, I have a level 30 Demon Hunter that just finished Act 4 (the final episode), but I have dabbled in every other class, and found them all fairly exciting in their own way. Join me as I muse on various aspects of Diablo III from levels 1-30, which encompasses all of the game’s Normal level difficulty.

Diablo III hits you fast and hard, and immediately sucks you into the action. Unlike Diablo I and II, which can be fairly vague in explaining everything to you in-game, D3 pretty much tells you everything you need to know at all times. That isn’t to say the game is holding your hand, as you still have to fight the denizens of hell all on your own, but it makes it easier to identify what new skills you’ve earned on a level-up, for example.

For the hardcore D2 fans who re-rolled and deleted entire characters, you don’t have to worry here: you can change all of your passive and active skills at will at any time without any penalty. Your character will trek through Normal, Nightmare, Hell, and Inferno difficulty levels, but of course, a true Diablo fan knows that the real fun of the game is found in hundreds of runs of the highest difficulty level.

The character I beat Normal mode with, and the one I have the most experience playing, is the Demon Hunter. Simply put, I think this class is probably the most fun I’ve ever had in a Diablo game. My build is basically centered around AOE damage and maneuverability. Using a smoke screen and a battle flip, I can move around the field at will, increasing my movement speed with one of my passives — it basically means that at any point, I can escape a boss characters special attack, or get out of a sticky group enemy situation. It also means that I’m a glass cannon — able to die  in mere seconds if I don’t act quickly.

At first glance only being able to use 6 skills at a time looks “dumbed down”, but that notion couldn’t be far from the truth. In essence, your character is more open to options than any other dungeon crawler to date. Using the insane amount of passive skills, you can custom tailor you build to pretty much any play style within reason. Do you want your Demon Hunter to do lots of base arrow damage, and increase your damage when you’re extremely far away? You can do that. Do you want your class to do tons of up close damage, inside the action, and have a bit more survivability? You can do that as well.

While the Monk and Barbarian classes inherently take 30% less damage than the other three, making them more survivable, every class to their own limits can make themselves bulkier. The ability to instantly change builds depending on the situation also helps heaps, and this only gets better after you’ve beaten the game and know what’s coming — making it more raid-like in nature than a typical dungeon crawler. Each class also has it’s own unique resource system. For instance, the Demon Hunter has both Hatred and Discipline, which allow him to use different types of skills. Hatred can be gained by using your standard attack (which is kind of like a Berserker class in most RPGs), and Discipline naturally regains over time (or through certain parameters depending on your setup). Having both resources to micro-manage adds to the strategy of the game, and allows you to further your build if you wish. Other classes like the Barbarian have Fury, which you gain from taking and inflicting damage (which subsides over time), or the Wizard’s standard Mana resource.

Speaking of “raids”, the boss encounters are set up to basically be just that. Instead of aimlessly following you around like most dungeon crawlers (Diablo II included), bosses will have environmental implications as well, and nearly every class has a dodging/dashing ability to quickly move out of harms way. The notion of “staying out of the fire” in a raid is present here, as is the imperative nature of constant movement. I can’t wait to see what higher level difficulties can bring, because if normal boss encounters are any indication of future fights, I’m extremely excited.

Another antiquated D2 notion, “mules”, is completely eliminated. For non-Diablo fans, “mules” were characters that were created for the sole purposes of exchanging items between characters. In order to give say, your Wizard alt a staff that you found with your Amazon, you had to make a game, have someone stay in it, quit, then come back and grab the item either on the ground (which could be lost if the game was ended), or from the other trusted player.

Thankfully this time around Blizzard not only implemented a system where all characters share the stash chest (your bank), but you share gold as well. When I say “share gold”, I literally mean that all of your characters will have a running gold purse between all of them — if you start a new level 1 character after beating the game with your main, you’ll have all of the main’s gold. This is a smart move on Blizzard’s part, as it allows you to skip the pageantry when making a new character and get right into the thick of things. Blizzard knows that you can still only find the best loot through.

The full “real money” Auction House isn’t up yet in the US (it’s set to drop on the 22nd), but I have dabbled a bit in the in-game gold currency AH. To be blunt, it’s pretty much what you’d expect out of an Auction House. There’s tons of drop-down menus to select exactly what sub-series of gear you want, and there’s tons of parameters you can input to get your perfect piece. Gold prices are extremely high right now, but I expect them to subside as the game progresses, and certain loot becomes more common. As for the effectiveness of the AH, I can safely say that I have sold a few rare items over it with hardly any effort on my part.

If it’s story you’re looking for in this iteration, I’d probably search elsewhere. Sadly, outside of some Diablo fanboy revelations (a group that I am proudly a part of), the story is extremely lacking. Other than some particularly boss action cutscenes, the narrative is both extremely predictable, and fairly droll. After your initial “oohs and ahhs” at some character reveals, there really isn’t anything to write home about. But of course, old fashioned dungeon crawlers aren’t going to give two Wirt’s Legs about the story — I’m just warning the newly converted here.

The Acts themselves however, are pretty incredible, and I can easily say that D3 is more equally yolked in terms of Act balance than the other two games (even if D1 didn’t technically have “Acts”). Each Act sort of builds up in a crescendoed manner, and the final conclusion is nothing sort of amazing in terms of the setting. Unlike Diablo II, there’s no clear “throwaway act” like Act III (at least in my opinion, and the opinion of my D2 community): everything feels equally fun and entertaining

Overall Diablo III is a pretty incredible game. I can’t say for certain whether it will have the 10+ year staying power of it’s little brother just yet, as I haven’t experienced Inferno Mode, but I’m excited to see what it can bring to the table. With a planned PVP patch and two potential expansions on the way, it’s safe to say your purchase will probably be justified in terms of the long-haul. If you’re worried about the DRM issue and whether or not Blizzard will support your characters in say, 15 years, I’d point to both Starcraft I and Warcraft III, which Blizzard is still supporting after all these years.

Also, I’d like to think that years down the line, Blizzard may implement or patch in some sort of offline play to placate people who are afraid of server loss. Of course this is all speculation, but Blizzard has a history of supporting their games, and I feel fairly comfortable with my purchase. It may be a while before my official review drops, because I want to experience everything before I pass a final judgement, but I hope this helps answer some of your questions if you’re on the fence regarding Blizzard’s latest dungeon crawler.

[As you may have heard, Diablo III is not immune to disconnecting you from the game, also known as "Error 37". In-game I haven't actually encountered this more than a few times, but it was extremely frustrating. Actually, it happened twice in a row when I was fighting the final boss, which is a fairly long encounter, and I nearly pulled my hair out, as I had to start the fight all over both times. Although Blizzard expects to have these issues ironed out as early as this week, keep in mind that this sort of thing can happen]

  1. Definitely enjoying elective mode gameplay on my level 27 barb! I’ll finish up the game solo before delving into co-op, but I haven’t suffered any disconnects or lag, so I’m super happy! I should try the AH again. None of my act 1 gear sold, but maybe my nicer stuff from act 3 will.

    I think the biggest complaints I have are the size of many places seems kinda small, and the cutscene quality seems to be a step back from WC3. Still, the amount of variety between skills chosen is fantastic!

    I think I saw on the bnet forums that RMAH is getting pushed back until they feel confident with their servers.

    Can’t wait for pvp! I don’t care for WoW style, drawn out battles in arenas; all I want is the FFA/dynamic teams chaos of duels. If Blizzard can recreate the sensation of running outside of town head first into a group of 7 other players out for blood (and ears), I’ll be very happy.

    • I’m at 42 currently with my Demon Hunter — progress! I agree with many of your points; especially in regards to the cutscenes/story.

      I just did the game’s “Cow Level” and it was a ton of fun — it’s also handled better than D2′s Cow Level, when it comes to the requirements. Overall it’s designed incredibly well in just about every facet.

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      I actually peefrr that change. This way you only have to worry about Overpower proccing when you’re already using Overpower. Monitoring it becomes no more strenuous than any other skill with a cooldown. The thing with the version of Overpower that we’re playing with right now is that it’s one of very, very few triggered skills so using it is kinda this odd half step out of synch with everything else in the game.

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