Blizzard took its Diablo II formula and made it more accessible and more engaging for the average player
In my time with the Diablo series I’ve learned a few things.
For instance, I’ve delved deep into the catacombs beneath the village of Tristram, far across the blistering deserts of Lut Gholein, and high above the clouds of Mount Arreat. Through it all I’ve found out that all of these places have plenty of corpses. Search enough of these bodies and you’ll surely find a wonderful new weapon to fight the hordes of Hell.
I’ve also encountered plenty of beasts, both terrible and wondrous. From the cowardly Fallen and ghastly undead to crazed cultists and the vicious goatmen (that’s Khazra for you scholars out there). What I’ve learned is that if you kill enough of them, you’ll surely find that magical pendant that you’ve been searching for high and low.
And I’ve uncovered my fair share of dungeons and abandoned residencies, each jam-packed with chests and loose stones. Scavenge through enough of them and… well, you get the idea.
Diablo III continues Blizzard‘s epic saga of the Eternal War between demons, angels, and the mortals caught in the middle. The story unfolds in a number of ways, each more engaging than the last and done in a way that makes the player want to continue searching for more clues and backstory. Between conversations with NPCs and companions, a continuously updated bestiary, gorgeously rendered cutscenes, and plenty of extra lore found along the way, there is plenty of content to pore over and piece together.
Each of the five classes has its own background and personality complete with script and solid voice acting. Beyond this they also have a unique set of skills and specialties. The nimble demon hunter is a master of long-ranged attacks and traps, drawing on a mixture of hatred and discipline to fuel their shadowy abilities. The serene monks are masters of hand-to-hand combat and mystical spirit attacks. Barbarians are brutal combatants, wizards command the arcane forces of magic, and witch doctors have access to status-affecting and summoning abilities.
In previous games, players have been left to customize everything from the progression of stats like strength and dexterity to which abilities to learn next. This time around Blizzard has opted for a more directed growth of characters. Skill point allocation is automatic and abilities follow the same pattern. While I was turned off by the seeming theft of control over my character’s progression, it’s also understandable in that it opens up the title for play to a wider audience.
Online play, a topic of heavy contention for many people, is mostly stable but there have also been some service interruptions. I have also noticed some lag during play, predominantly when exiting the Main Menu screen. I never found it to really hinder my game, however.
What did set me back was the placement of checkpoints to track quest progression. While checkpoints are saved at key points on the map and after completing quest objectives, partial completion of an objective is not. For quests that require more than one item to be found or structure to be destroyed, Diablo III will not give you credit until you’ve done it all. Quit the game after getting two out of three and when you reload you’ll have to start right over again. This also happens for an involuntary disconnect such as loss of internet or server failure. It was frustrating to have the game’s final boss on the ropes only to have to do it all over again because of server maintenance.
Friends can pop into games at a moment’s notice and leave just as easily without interrupting the flow of your quests or story. Similarly if a friend is struggling with something in their own game, you can join them to help out without a struggle. Cross-game chat is easy and there are plenty of other chat channels to keep you entertained if you so desire.
The user interface is at times clunky and other times effective so that no clear balance is really struck. Changing your skills loadout can be a bit of an organizational nightmare, but inventory management is so much easier. Movement is still done in the classic point-and-click manner of previous Diablo titles but my fingers were itching for the simpler WASD control scheme.
Diablo’s sound composition has always been iconic through its previous iterations and the third game is no different. Background music and sound effects fit the varied terrains wonderfully and the voice actors have done a great job in bringing their characters to life. The banter back and forth between companions and the hero character is particularly enjoyable. The game’s bestiary entries and lore are also introduced to the player through voice-overs so that you can continue to slaughter demon hordes while learning about them too. Nice touch.
Character models are highly detailed and more importantly, aren’t over-used for stronger enemies. Each creature and demon feels like it has a place in the world that Blizzard has created rather than being part of the cookie-cutter creation process.
Diablo III pays homage to its legacy in many ways, but the most recognizable is the return of characters from previous games (in one form or another) such as Warriv and Gharbad the Weak. A few nods of approval were directed Blizzard’s way as I learned of the fates of many of those familiar faces.
In the end, Diablo III is another feather in Blizzard’s already impressive cap that provides a +10 to looting and demon-slaying. It improves on the standard formula set up by its predecessors, while opening up to many new players with an easier play style. Unfortunately, this also comes at the cost of player customization, a point that veteran players will no doubt look on with disgust.
While the main story is easy to find, there is plenty of background lore just waiting to be uncovered if the player wishes that provides an extra bit of discovery in a game that already rewards exploring the map to its fullest. With solid visuals and audio to back it up, Diablo III is an impressive game that continues to call the player back long after the dust has settled on their first playthrough. If for nothing else but to loot those corpses all over again.
Tested on PC
Review copy supplied