Hello my friend, stay awhile and listen. Sixteen years ago, three heroes traveled to Tristram to investigate strange happenings under the church. They would later kill the Lord of Terror, Diablo, and try to contain his spirit within via a soulstone. Twelve years ago, Diablo gained control of the hero that tried to contain him and wandered the world releasing his brothers from their prisons. Five heroes followed and met Diablo in Hell to stop his evil plans. Two more heroes would join them afterwards to try to save the world from the brother that got away, Baal. Now, twenty years have passed. An object falls from the sky and crashes into the remains of the church in Tristram. Undead begin to rise and swarm the town of New Tristram. Evil is rising again and Blizzard Entertainment wants us all to stop it. After a twelve-year gap between Diablo 2 and 3, can Blizzard improve on a formula that inspired countless titles and spawned the phrase “Diablo-Clone”?
The number one thing anyone should know before playing buying Diablo 3 is that it requires a persistent online connection. To protect the multiplayer and achievements from cheaters and to have an extra layer of DRM protection, Blizzard makes you sign into Battle.Net before you can even get past the first screen. Those that are only raising their head from titles like Diablo 2 because Diablo 3 is out might not realize this. PC gaming is changing and making things more difficult for the player as people who tried to play during launch can attest. Due to server outages happening often, many weren’t able to play until the weekend after launch. Error 37, which many received, will go down in internet infamy with things like Windows Blue Screen Of Death and the Xbox 360’s Red Ring Of Death. Now that the servers are stabilized, things are running smoothly but new players need to know that they can’t play if their internet or Blizzard’s servers are not online.
Diablo is a simple game concept. Click your mouse on a spot and you will attack that spot if an enemy is there, if not you will just move to that spot. Kill an enemy, open a chest, destroy a barrel and items and/or gold may drop. Every click has a potential for you to get a reward. It’s a concept that has made the gambling industry millions with slot machines and it is how Blizzard made money before World Of Warcraft. An untold number of games have tried to copy it, successfully and unsuccessfully. While the concept is simple, what you build around that concept is what matters and that is where Blizzard is king.
Diablo 3 builds itself around paced battles and scripted events. You click away and hit buttons executing six skills, maintaining your health, and picking up loot. Each map is filled with small hotspots filled with hordes of enemies and scattered enemies that will lead you into those big huge fights. Typically, unless you are overpowered, those fights climax at the point that you think you are going to die and then enemies start dropping and you come out battered but hopefully alive and with some loot. Off in the horizon after the encounter is finished you will see more enemies or maybe a chest or entrance to a dungeon that will beckon you and have you saying just a little bit more into the wee hours of the morning.
You have a choice between five different character classes that can be male or female. The Barbarian, Wizard, and Demon Hunter fill the traditional roles of melee, magic, and range. The Witchdoctor is the dark magic user with voodoo styled spells and skills. The Monk mixes aura type buffs called mantras with quick and agile melee style. With online limited to four players in a game, it is almost critical in later difficulties to make sure that you build a good party that complements each other as you don’t want 4 monks all using the same buff.
If you played Diablo 2, you may have pinpointed on my saying six skills earlier. Character progression in Diablo 3 has been severely streamlined. No longer will you be placing points into stats like strength or carefully planning out specialized character builds. Skills are unlocked based on level and the only customization is 6 preset runes that can augment the skills. By default the game locks down the skills where each button (1-4 and left/right mouse) has a category and you can only choose from a skill in that category. You can turn this off by going to the options and setting elective mode to on, which allows you to place any skill in one of the six slots. Yes you are still limited to six skills at a time but there is a little more flexibility.
Bosses and quests have become more scripted events compared to Diablo 2 with the state of the game being based on quest progression. When you start a game you can go back and set the state to any quest step for quests you have completed. A lot of bosses still require you to go through multiple areas even when starting on the last step of their quest. And since the state of the game is before any waypoints that might be closer to the boss, you have to complete everything up to the boss again. This almost out right eliminates many boss runs which was a popular staple of Diablo 2 for farming items and experience. While a simple change, it drastically changes how the game will be played online. This can be a good or bad thing depending on what you expect to get out of Diablo 3.
A plus for the scripted events is that the story is more in-depth this time around. With some top-notch voice acting, NPCs in the game start to develop into characters that can be cared about. Not only did Blizzard up the ante story wise, but your mercenaries that you can hire actually have personalities in Diablo 3. They have backstories and hold conversations among themselves as they sit in town when not in use. When they are hired they will comment on what is going on while you are slaughtering. Mercenaries can only be used when you are playing solo so it is possible to miss out on their commentary entirely if you only play with other people.
There are currently four difficulties and two modes of play; Normal and Hardcore with the difficulties Normal, Nightmare, Hell, and Inferno. PVP isn’t currently in the game but is planned to be added as something special rather than turning on a flag and killing each other. The auction house is another neat feature that allows you to place items up on a global eBay bidding style system. There are plans to allow real world currency to be used a couple of weeks after launch, so if you find a sweet piece of loot you may be torn between using it or selling it to make rent.
Some of the textures in the game seem to be outdated but that is hardly noticeable once you are in the heat of battle because you will be distracted by the particle effects and physics. Bash a monster and sometimes they will just fly across the screen. Explosions, magic spells, and move animations fill the screen with so much busy action that it is hard to focus on one thing. What really adds to the move animations effectiveness is the sound effects. Smashing and exploding mixed with great animation and enemy reactions make each move and attack feel like it is causing damage even if on later difficulties the health bars aren’t moving much.
We have enjoyed and suffered many Diablo-Clones in the twelve years between Diablo 2 and 3. While still having the same addicting gameplay, new features and gaming system changes have led to something that feels fresh rather than a rehash. With Diablo 3, Blizzard proves they are still king and reminds us why the other guys are called Diablo-Clones.