Release Date: May 15, 2012
Developer: Blizzard Entertainment
Blizzard finally released their highly anticipated (and controversial) sequel to their revered action-RPG franchise of old, Diablo. But was the wait worth another romp through hell and back for shiny loot and bragging rights? Let’s answer that question right off the bat with a resounding ‘sure.‘
Diablo III is an isometric action-RPG set in a world where the forces of good and evil throw down in a variety of corpse-ridden, gothic architecture. The player is tasked with fulfilling a series of missions and side-quests, most of which involve annihilating hordes of the undead, in order to quell a demonic uprising once and for all. From the get-go you’re offered five different classes to choose from, such as the enigmatic Demon Hunter or unstoppable juggernaut, Ron Perlman (unofficially referred to as ‘barbarian’ by the game client for some reason). As the story unfolds, you’ll be joined by a cast whom guide you through the game with expository dialogue and even assist you in battle on your journey, should you opt to play alone.
The multiplayer aspect to Diablo III allows you to play with others throughout the game’s four act campaign. Have friends? Feel free to jump into their game and help take down a difficult boss or two. Alone in the dark and craving some social activity? Open your current session up to the public and join with a (hopefully) friendly stranger. New to the franchise is the ability to sell items on an in-game auction house.
Perhaps the single greatest source of controversy is the ‘Real Money Auction House,’ another option for gamers who would rather shell out hard-earned cash for in-game items rather than use in-game currency. As of this writing, this option has yet to be implemented into the game due its rocky launch. Fans of competitive gaming fear that the Real Money Auction House will negatively impact the upcoming player versus player mode, as players will effectively be able to ‘buy’ an unfair advantage with real world money.
So that aside, how is the game itself? Well, to be frank, it’s not worth $60. I actually own Diablo II but never sat down and played it, an admission some might deem blasphemous. However, I feel that basing my opinion of this game on its own merits is just fine. After all, for many gamers of this generation, Diablo III may be their first grim adventure through the lands of Sanctuary.
First off, the game’s difficulty is initially ridiculous. And by that I mean ridiculously juvenile. ‘Normal’ mode may as well be called ‘Rugrats’ mode because even notorious bed-wetter Chuckie would be an overqualified killing machine, feared by the demonic likes of Belial, Azmodan, and the nefarious Bobby Kotick. The final boss in the game is such a pushover that I sat in my chair in disbelief and dissatisfaction. Sure it was normal mode, but a challenge should have presented itself in some shape or form. Fortunately, upon completing the game once, you unlock the next tier in difficulty settings, suitably dubbed ‘nightmare.’
Visually, Diablo III looks good, but very little manages to truly pull me into the world. I can’t deny that some of the world’s environments were designed and crafted by a talented, driven team. However, problems begin to arise when level design conflicts with the actual flow of the visuals, often yanking the player from his or her immersion and smacking them in the face with a stick labeled “remember, you’re playing a game!” Too many of Diablo III’s ‘stages’ feel too large, in that exploring doesn’t really reward you with much of anything beyond a random event or magical chest. Blizzard’s clearly tried to submerge the player into the dreary world of Sanctuary, but outside interference from game mechanics and haphazard storytelling make engaging said player difficult.
A crafting system exists in Diablo III, and it’s… interesting, to say the least. They’re essentially money-sinks. That’s about it, really. You unlock the Blacksmith fairly early in the game and can ‘level’ him up by offering the gruff widow gold. Offering magic items to him for smelting and breaking down will grant you with various materials that he can use to craft superior gear, but the catch is that the stats on said items may be completely randomized. On one hand, you’ve got some neat new gear for your Wizard. On the other, said gear may be riddled with stats like strength and dexterity, both of which aren’t very useful for the clever sorcerer. Jewelcrafting is your second crafting option and is perhaps the only one worth blowing gold on. Some items come equipped with ‘sockets,’ allowing some manner of stat customization in the form of gems. Jewelcrafting will likely become an essential tool to level up once player versus player content is released.
Of the five classes, I played two extensively: Demon Hunter and Monk. Being a martial arts fanatic, I fancied myself the latter and took to crushing skulls with my bare hands all the way to Act 2 of Nightmare mode. I should note that by restarting the game in this mode, your skills, items, and even companions carry over — you’re just as powerful as you were at the end of the previous playthrough. However, things get interesting when you realize just how dangerous the monsters you previously took for chumps have become. Now legitimate threats, your average hellspawn can potentially floor your avatar or outright kill you.
This is what normal mode should have been. The fun factor grows exponentially as you’re finally reacting rather than holding down one button and plodding through stages half-awake. Granted, nightmare mode is nowhere close to being impossible: rather, it’s just challenging enough to keep you on your toes. A few trips to the auction house and outfitting your champion with a new weapon or bits of armor will solve any problems you may encounter, should you find yourself struggling.
Diablo III’s story is interesting and even provides a couple of nice plot twists, but the world feels empty. I don’t find myself really caring for any of the characters, especially series newcomer Leah. I blame this largely on the pacing: often, between acts, the cast is moved to different locations with merely a few lines of dialogue explaining why they’re there. It’s difficult to get a grasp for the world when so little of it is explained beyond bits of lore sprinkled throughout towns and battlefields. True, this is a Diablo game and the story takes a backseat to the action and grinding, but it’s a shame that very little is done with what is essentially an intriguing premise.
That said, my biggest gripe with the game is the ‘DRM’ Blizzard forced into it. For those unfamiliar with the term, DRM stands for Digital Rights Management. It’s usually in the form of a CD-key and used to register a game to an account or computer in an effort to prevent digital theft and piracy. Diablo III takes it a step further, forcing every user to maintain a constant internet connection in order to play the game. It can be reasoned that this is also to support many of the game’s inherent features: such as drop-in multiplayer and the auction house, and to prevent cheating via hacking of the game.
But arguably, these features could just as easily be accessed separately as their own modes of play. Imagine my frustration when playing the game, only to have my session interrupted by a sudden lag spike; my mobile monk warrior reduced to a stuttering, stationary mannequin and quickly a bloody stain on the floor as the monsters I’d been fighting seize the opportunity. Should the servers require maintenance, players won’t be able to game, even if they’re running a single player campaign. I feel this is a mighty big step backwards and does more harm than good.
The gameplay is fun but can get repetitive, even with higher tiers of difficulty. Some of the elite, stronger monsters require some thought and tact, but after beating the game you’re essentially only playing for better gear and bragging rights. Like many Blizzard games the gameplay can become addicting, but merely because of that ingrained ‘carrot on a stick’ mechanic so prevalent in games nowadays. With PVP content on the way but currently missing, I feel that as it stands, the game is actually pretty average. That isn’t bad; there’s certainly some fun to be had here and the game is exponentially more exciting (and chaotic) when playing with other people or friends. However, the shoddy story, short campaign, and endless grind for ‘phat lewtz’ leaves this gamer yearning for more.
- Combat is fun and responsive when latency isn’t involved
- Character and gear design
- Voice acting is generally pretty good
- Always online ‘DRM’ punishes legitimate consumers
- Lackluster story
- Quickly turns into a grindfest
- Sparse soundtrack