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Avatar ImageReview: Diablo III
By: | May 24th, 2012 | PC
PC |Review

Diablo III has some big shoes to fill. Pretty much every dungeon crawler to date has copied or generously lifted elements from Diablo II, so given the series’ pedigree, Blizzard really had to bring out the big guns the third time around to ensure that they keep the legacy alive.

While at first glance Diablo III seems to be a step back from it’s predecessor, it’s actually more complicated, and ultimately, a more satisfying experience.

To clarify right off the bat, I have obtained a level 60 Demon Hunter for the purposes of this review. I have experienced Inferno and I have alts (alternate characters) of every other class at least to level 10. I wanted to provide  a more thorough review of everything that Diablo III has to offer (not just Normal Mode), so I made sure to  max out my character and experience the brand new highest difficulty level; Inferno Mode.

Super difficult levels of play aren’t the only thing Blizzard is catering to with their newest dungeon crawler, however. Diablo III offers a brand new skill system that basically turns it’s predecessor on its head. Simply put, the new system is extremely accommodating to non-hardcore players. For instance, when I showed my wife Diablo II, I had to constantly tell her not to ‘waste” skill points on certain abilities, because they were useless end-game.

I told her to “save” her points and dump them in better higher level abilities. To be blunt, it didn’t really make for a fun experience, as she had to play a certain way in order to achieve success. While I didn’t personally have a problem with it, I’m well aware that she isn’t alone in thinking that this isn’t a particularly fun method of play. Diablo III thankfully allows people of all skill levels to experiment to their heart’s content.

If you want to test out a brand new ability, you’re free to do so. If you hate it; change it. If you’re happy; keep it. You’re free to change all of your abilities at will at any time, even during combat with no penalty (so long as you’re willing to deal with the 10 second respec cooldown for each changed ability). There are no skill points to invest, or any stat-lines to modify. While people may think this constitutes a “noob friendly” or “dumbed down” system, that sentiment couldn’t be more far off the mark.

Diablo III‘s Rune System is an excellent example of how a dungeon crawler can be easy to understand on the surface, but ultimately incredible deep. To be clear, every ability in D3 can be modified by a handful of Rune abilities, which are unique to each skill: it’s basically like a modifier on the move itself. So for instance, a normal arrow can be changed into a multi-shot, or lightning bolt arrow, or a piercing arrow.

Every single skill in the game has modifiers like this, allowing you to customize your character and build exactly to your liking. On the surface, it seems as if you only have a paltry few skills, but if you experiment with different Runes, you’ll find a ton of possible combinations that would put most dungeon crawlers to shame.

I’m consistently able to change my skills at will, experimenting with different builds to my heart’s content. Even though I’m an old-school Rogue-like fan by heart, with the tried and true “stick to your build” mentality, I can still easily see the appeal of the Rune system here, and it doesn’t hurt the game in any way.

Boss fights are no longer giant kite sessions like they mostly were in Diablo II. Just like an MMO style raid, constant movement is key, and there are a number of different environmental hazards to impede your success in the middle of a big fight. While solo encounters can be a lot of fun, where the game really shines is during four player boss encounters; especially on higher difficulty levels where bosses can frequently 1-2 shot your character.

Diablo III‘s playable classes include the Demon Hunter (ranged), the Barbarian (melee/tank), the Monk (melee/support), the Witch Doctor (ranged), and the Wizard (ranged). Each class feels fairly unique, and has a ton of special abilities that set them apart from the rest. In the hundreds of public games I’ve played in, rarely have I seen the same exact builds used.

I’ve seen modified hydra summons of all shapes and sizes, and whenever I encounter another Demon Hunter, we rarely use the same abilities as each other.  While gear usually tends to be around the same aesthetic design when comparing the same class of characters, you do have the ability to dye your gear a number of different colors to give it a more personal touch.

Any Diablo fan knows that your first playthrough on Normal Mode is considered the “tutorial” for subsequent playthroughs. Just like Diablo II, D3 offers a Normal, Nightmare, and Hell level difficulty, but also adds the now infamous Inferno Mode. With each subsequent playthrough the denizens of hell are tougher and meaner, until you reach Inferno; the game’s biggest test. Inferno mode is essentially designed to take weeks, or even months to complete. In order to best Inferno, you’re tasked with grinding Hell Mode for the best loot and teaming up with your best three squad-mates to tactically take down the game’s biggest challenges.

I can safely say that if people are looking for a challenge, Act IV Hell Mode into Inferno will deliver. Just about every unique enemy that roams the map is boss-like in nature, and will require coordinate to best — that’s not even including the main bosses. Additionally, Diablo‘s classic Hardcore Mode, where your character is deleted upon your first and only death, is still intact, so when you couple it with the game’s brand new robust achievement and challenge system, there’s plenty of replay value to be found here.

Visually, the game isn’t very impressive, but it gets the job done. Although it doesn’t use the same grimdark tone that Diablo II, or even the game’s own cinematics have, the action still looks crisp and clean, and each ability looks unique on-screen. While the sound comes in crystal clear and incredible sharp, the music leaves a lot to be desired.

There’s a ton of tracks on here that I’d consider pretty solid, but nothing is even close to the classic tracks of its predecessor. It’s a shame given how long Blizzard had to work on the game’s score, but after I completed the game for the first time and heard the entire selection, I just listened to my own custom soundtrack anyway.

While the game is an incredibly fun experience overall, I do have a major problem with the game’s narrative. The story is extremely dull, and only long-term Diablo fans such as myself will get any real enjoyment out of it. Blizzard has it’s signature master crafted cinematics fully intact here, but outside of those few moments, practically everything contains as many tropes as a Saturday Morning Cartoon (and even then, sometimes a little worse).

Dialogue reads like it was written by a World of Warcraft fetch-quest writer, and most of the game’s voice actors deliver their lines like they couldn’t wait to get out of the recording studio. Thankfully, you can skip every single movie, conversation, and story segment at any point with the spacebar and escape keys, which I proceeded to do after my first completion of the game.

While some fans may find this unforgivable, I can honestly say that nearly every single dungeon crawler I’ve played also has a forgettable story (barring a few rogue-likes, which aren’t in the same dungeon crawling action genre as the Diablo series). The lack of story didn’t really bother me, because just like a fighting game, the bulk of the game is spent in combat.

It may bother casual fans who only plan on beating the game once that the story is fairly throwaway, but I personally couldn’t care less about it in a dungeon crawler. To fans of the genre, the real test is how fun the game is to replay over and over, and the story is fairly inconsequential, so long as the world is fun to be in. Still, it’s something to consider.

As you’ve no doubt heard, Diablo III has a number of issues regarding it’s “always-on DRM”. Essentially, the game requires you to connect to Blizzard’s servers to play the game. If you don’t have an internet connection, or if your connection is down; you simply cannot play the game in any capacity.

While many people will be immediately turned off by this (not only pragmatically, but by the principle of the thing), I haven’t had many major issues myself. I managed to not only beat Normal, Nightmare, and Hell with my Demon Hunter, but I beat it a number of times with my other alternate characters. I’ve only really had a handful of disconnects, and the game basically put me within five minutes of where I was when I logged back in.

One of the disconnects was during the final boss, which was a bummer (as it cancelled the fight), but ultimately the juice is very much worth the squeeze, and unless you have a super spotty network connection, it’s not nearly as bad as it seems. Of course Blizzard should be held accountable for angering it’s consumers in the first place, as this business decision has no doubt accounted for some major lost sales, and Hardcore Mode fans might be a little more than angry about a potential disconnect for their high level character.

As a complete package the game is fairly incredible, but what will the future hold? Legacy wise, the real question is whether or not Diablo III will live up to its older brother’s accomplishments. Will people still be playing the game in over ten years time? Will the PVP update be able to balance player combat with PVE in a sufficient manner without breaking the game? Will the allegedly planned two expansions provide as much replay value as Lord of Destruction?

All of these questions have yet to be answered, but out of the box, Diablo III is still a experience you won’t want to miss, regardless of your genre preferences.

This review was based on a digital copy of Diablo III for the PC.

  1. The only thing that really bothers me about Diablo 3 is the challenge. I’m sure Hell Mode and Inferno Mode will be challenging; but, I really liked that the original Diablo was just hard, right away, from the beginning. I just fought the last boss of Act 2 Nightmare Mode last night and I deliberately didn’t dodge a single attack (other than one that you absolutely must dodge), and I won without ever having to heal myself.

    On the flipside of challenge, I die a lot to normal mobs, but this is typically because of lag; I usually find that my game freezes for a few moments when large amounts of enemies come into sights, and I am dead long before I can do anything. Beyond just being agitating, it discourages me from ever trying Hardcore Mode, since a lag spike is all it’ll take for me to lose my hard work. *this* is my issue with the DRM, rather than anything else – I’ve never had any disconnects, for example.

    Also, Blacksmithing is somewhat of a joke, and I wish it were just removed from the game entirely. By the time I got to Nightmare Mode, crafted equipment costed so much money, and with a greater number of random enchants available as you go, your chances of getting a useful upgrade are much slimmer than they are on normal mode. Since starting Nightmare Mode, I’ve sank almost 100,000 gold on crafted items and have gotten zero items I find useful. Random drops are fun; random crafts are not.

    Lastly, and this is a personal gripe rather than a point against the game…I would have really liked an “old-school mode”, a la Diablo 1 or Phantasy Star Online, where everyone sees the exact same loot, and only one person can pick it up (and no way of transferring items you pick up to your alts). I think this led to people playing the game differently than they did in Diablo 3 – a lot more splitting up, and more emphasis on helping one another by trading the gear they find.

    …In spite of all these things, I am still playing the game and I do agree with all the points you’ve made in its favor. This skill system is the best I’ve ever seen…like, maybe anywhere. And, I would say it’s the main reason I don’t feel like D3 is just a marginal upgrade/step backwards from D2.

    • Don’t worry — Inferno Mode is much harder than D2 ever was — and I think I must have ran Hell Baal hundreds of times.

      In regards to the loot, I find that many party members “link” loot now (just like World of Warcraft) in chat, asking pertinent party members if they would like certain pieces.

  2. avatar James Cutter

    Amazing game, Blizzard really out did themselves with this one. Graphics <3 Gameplay <3. And I absolutely love the class distinctions in this game. Much better than the first 2 games, about damn time this came out too! Kinda expensive though, I wish Blizzard would stop making their games so expensive!

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