Ah, Diablo, my childhood friend and rival. I have been waiting for this third installment of the game for about ten years, it was beginning to feel like a lost hope. After Diablo III was officially announced, hope was restored once again and I anticipated with the eagerness of my youth once again. Diablo III is here and is truly worthy of the moniker. While not quite up to par with Diablo II, it must be noted that D2 took about four years to get to the game it is today. Constant patching and additions to the gameplay, as well as a wonderful expansion led to the greatness of the middle child of the series and its proud place upon many PC gamer’s shelves. So let’s not get carried away and assume this iteration of Diablo III is the final product!
It is known that I had some issues with the infrastructure of the game at launch, but the Blizzard wizards are quickly tying up all the really awful loose ends on that side of things. I will put away my complaints about the launch and review the game itself without the bias of the anger I felt that fateful day.
First of all, let me say that this game is Diablo through and through. There is the same dark, brutal atmosphere. The feeling of man’s surprising survival amidst the ocean of bloodthirsty creatures that roam the very fields we till. Old characters steadfastly stand against the sickening throng with new characters emerging to fight alongside them. With just as much passion for the fall of evil incarnate as the likes of Deckard Cain and Adria The Witch have, the new entrants into the roster have a big role to play in the events to come. The lore is deep, deeper than either of the other Diablo games have dared to venture, and explores everyone from the most epic characters to the followers you can hire on your road to victory. The expansive story of the game doesn’t assume that you know anything about the universe either. You would not have had to play the first two Diablo games in order to understand what is going on in this iteration, assuming that you talk to everyone who bears an asterisk (the sign that someone wants to talk about their situation) and you don’t just barrel through the game, hitting space to get past those talky bits.
With that said, the story in the first act seems to be a lot more powerful and moving than in the later acts of the game. Though the story grows more epic as the game comes to it’s inevitable conclusion, there was nothing that touched me more than the final movie of act 1 as you transcend to the next. I’m not sure if I ever thought about Diablo having an emotional storyline before, but I expected more personalization and a greater form of storytelling from then on out, which didn’t happen except in my interactions with some of the lesser characters.
For people new to the series, there are no Elves and Dwarves in the world of Diablo, not even an orc. What you can expect to find are unique creatures, such as Quill Rats (huge porcupine-like creatures,) and some of the most gruesome undead you’ve ever seen. An example of this might be the Unburied, which are made up of mass graves which have gained sentience and risen to exact vengeance upon the world for the disrespect they’ve suffered in not being allowed proper burials. These you get to slay en mass in environments reminiscent of the landscapes of Hyboria mixed with some solid dungeon design. Angels and Demons fight for dominance over the world, lending a slightly Catholic feel to the overarching storyline, though with an aesthetic that is anything but reminiscent of the classic imaginings of the supernatural which you might find in museums and galleries.
The game is rendered in 3D as anybody with an internet connection is likely to know, but it clutches to the same basic point and click control scheme that the original two (sprite-based 2D games) utilized so well. There isn’t much that changes about the basic gameplay, with the use of a hotkey bar that allows you to equip abilities into each of the slots and a resource that can be used for the more powerful attacks each character can pull off. The isometric view of the landscape is also familiar. The devil is in the details, as it were, since that’s where most of the changes have taken place. Blizzard has successfully implemented changes while keeping a strong handle on what made the game fun in the first place.
There are five different classes: The ever-present Barbarian and Sorcerer classes make their return with Demon Hunters, Monks, and Witch Doctors casting down the legions of hell right alongside them. Each of the classes have obvious roles once you take a look at their skill trees, but can also be specced on the fly to fit any situation that they encounter or to fill a hole in the party. Yes, characters can be customized on the fly. No more spending skill points to increase your Raise Skeleton, skills are unlocked in a linear progression and are bound to certain hotkeys. For instance, Sorsha The Barbarian can have either the ability to cast a spear and pull and enemy towards her or she can sprint forwards, damaging and knocking down everything in her path. Both of these skills are bound to my Might hotkey, which is 2 on my keyboard, so it’s an either/or situation. Blizzard has been busy making sure that your characters are fully customizable but yet are varied, rounded characters which can not only pull enemies but can also dish out some damage too.
Each of these abilities also has runes which can be locked onto them. Do not confuse these runes with the old Rune Word system of Diablo II, they are entirely different mechanics. Anyway, let’s say I wanted to equip Furious Charge into my Might slot, I now have the option, via equipping a rune, to either increase the damage I do when charging enemies, or to decrease the cooldown between charges, allowing me to use the ability more often. This is also an either/or situation, since only one rune can be equipped on an ability at once. That is to say, each ability can have one rune equipped, making several runes which can be equipped on your character at once. None of the runes are supposed to be necessarily more powerful than others, (though balance issues have arisen which Blizzard is taking steps to fix,) so it’s all really just a matter of preference and party necessity which abilities and runes you will have equipped at any given time. It sounds convoluted, but I assure you that it’s as easy as picking which pasta you’d like to have with the mushroom sauce you’re making for dinner.
Now, trying to fill every hole in your defence can be hard whilst playing through the game solo. That’s why Blizzard has brought back Followers, NPC warriors which fight alongside you and relieve you of healing, or controlling, or whatever they have been specced to do. Therein lies the main difference between the Mercenary characters in Diablo II and the Followers of our time. Followers level up, and as they do, they gain access to abilities. At certain levels, you will get to choose between two abilities for your Follower. You can respec them at any time, but it costs gold to do that, so they lack the on the fly customizability of fully-fledged characters. Through them, you find out about the order of the Templars and the personal stories of the Enchantress and Scoundrel over the course of the game in small incremental conversation pieces.
There some changes from the preceding game which should be noted regarding the point and click targeting. Once enemies are moused over, they appear outlined so that you know who you are targeting. Clicking an enemy will first move you into range and then attack with your chosen ability, this is standard and expected. Subsequent attacks on non-cooldown abilities follow if the mouse button is held down, which is also expected. One difference here is the mouseover sequential targeting: Other enemies in close proximity to the original target can be targeted without lifting the mouse button and simply by mousing over to the next enemy. This comes in very handy when smashing through wave after wave of demonic goatmen. One complaint that I have with this system is that the mouseover-outline can be confusing. This is mainly due to it being the same colour when active as it is when not using an ability. Since the mouseover sequential targeting only works for enemies within certain proximities from each other, I sometimes find myself holding down the mouse button on an enemy and standing there like an idiot, not attacking. It’s not a big deal to click again, but often in the heat of battle, I am watching my cooldown abilities or my allies’ lifebars instead of my actual character, so I end up standing there for a few seconds without noticing. This can be fatal!
On the whole, Diablo III is a great experience for anyone ever. It is fast and furious, there is strategy involved in choosing your abilities and party members, and the story is deep and fairly moving. The replay value is high thanks to the multiple difficulty levels which are unlocked after every successive playthrough, which bring more loot and more dangerous enemies. Just be sure only to buy this game if you have a persistent internet connection since there is no offline play, even for single player!