Angels and demons collide for loot.
The moment I booted up Diablo III on my computer I could tell two things: It was another polished game by Blizzard Entertainment, and I had a new addiction on my hands. After spending over 30 hours slaying demonic beasts, gearing up my heroes, and clearing dungeons with friends, I can safely say that my intuition was correct.
Yes, it’s true that Diablo III has suffered from server issues since launch. This comes as a bit of a surprise since the game was tested for months on end by some of the world’s finest. The server crashes and disconnects have damaged the experience for a few people, but what goes unsaid is that it is a game meant for the long haul. There’s no subscription fee, and even then this is an experience that may last you hundreds, if not thousands, of hours. The online connection requirement instigated the issue, but on the plus side the game will—hopefully—not be destroyed by cheaters like the previous two games.
Diablo III doesn’t waste time with getting you into the game for your first time. There’s no choosing a server, a race, or even how your character looks. Instead, you have a choice out of five different classes and whether your character is male or female. While the limited options might come across as unappealing, it plays directly into the theme that defines the game: focus.
From the moment your character spawns in the game world, the experience is well-centered and doesn’t waste time with fluff—which is appropriate for a game named Diablo. You’re either destroying groups of enemies and picking up loot or you’re on the main menu purchasing and selling items on the auction house. Travel is quick, and the flow is linear but pushes you forward. That’s not to say that exploration isn’t rewarded, though. There are quite a few side missions that you can come across which triggers events that lead to extra gold and experience. However, the extras are far from numerous.
What Diablo III does very well is make what is typically a hardcore genre open to a wider audience. The combat experience is smooth and satisfying no matter which of the five classes you choose. What is probably the most supportive quality to the game’s entertainment is how enjoyable many of the class abilities are to use. On my demon hunter, I get excited every time I lead a group of enemies into a trap before barraging them with multi-shot and rapid fire. My monk is equally as enjoyable with its quick attacks, group-supporting auras and heals, and area-of-effect attacks that are flashier than Prince’s wardrobe.
However, not all skills are equal. Each class has its fair share of underpowered abilities that are best to be shoved aside in the higher difficulties. While this is to be expected from a new and somewhat inheritably imbalanced game, the skills are the only real form of customization. There are no skill trees like in Diablo II, and the only tweaking you will do is changing out your active and passive skills on the go. While it comes across as lacking in customization, the interchangeable skills, which you should be switching based on your situation, aren’t far off from the false complexities found in games like Diablo II or World of Warcraft, where cookie-cutter specs reign supreme. Diablo III focuses right on the point and allows you to make a couple big decisions rather than a lot of minor ones.
A compelling story has forced its way into the heart of the game. Much of the narrative is driven by conversations which aren’t always consistent in quality, but the cut-scenes more than make up for it. There are several videos scattered within the game’s four acts, and each of them are state-of-the-art as you would expect from Blizzard. Within layers of dialogue, lore, and cut-scenes—all of which are voice acted well—is a story that’s easy to follow and full of moments that are not only memorable but keep you involved.
The journey through Diablo III is much more of a smooth ride as opposed to a roller coaster, but has its strong moments in the right places. It begins with a soft introduction where death is nearly impossible and the story is as simple as “Look for this guy!”, but that quickly ramps up around the mid-point. The second half of the game is engaging and presents a goal for you that you’ll have no problem taking up. Eventually, the game ties together with a booming ending that is supported by thunderous audio, gorgeous cut-scenes, and a handful of epic encounters.
The world of Diablo III has a lot in common with the previous games, but its visual style isn’t one of them. For a game with a dark theme rich with demons, torture chambers, and fire, the visuals come across as surprisingly pretty. The classic Blizzard art-direction is here in full force with varied environments full of life. The character models are rough around the edges but the higher-tier armors partially cover the blemishes. The entire visual experience, including the UI, is never overpowering and instead opts for being clean and functional.
The social experience on Diablo III is both hit and miss. It’s easy to group up with friends through Battle.net or join a random game, but the game’s social interactions end there. The PvP experience that kept Diablo II popular for nearly a decade isn’t in this newer game at launch but will be added in a later patch. While there’s a chat lobby, its features have been stripped from the older days and now is similar to World of Warcraft’s general chats and trade chats. While many players will just be concerned with hopping right in and clearing dungeons, those who feel like showing-off their unlockables are limited to matchmaking and the friends list. There’s no lobby with custom games, no guilds to create, and no leaderboard to be found.
There’s a lot of challenge to be found throughout the game which comes in the form of both Hardcore mode, where respawns are disabled, and the four separate difficulties which include Normal, Nightmare, Hell, and Inferno. The motivation to keep playing comes from the deep pool of loot to be found, and the many skills to perfect in battle. In addition, there are hundreds of achievements to earn which facilitate goal-driven play.
Clearing the higher difficulties almost requires gearing up, but a lot of the loot earned on pre-Inferno difficulties isn’t very useful. A trip to the auction house where thousands of items are to be found is almost necessary. You can sell up to 10 items at a time, and there’s some enjoyment to be found from playing the auction house and earning yourself some precious coin—and maybe even some real-world money.
Diablo III is a game that relies on very little but is able to offer a tremendous amount of enjoyable gameplay. All it takes is a steady fire of clicks to quickly appreciate how satisfying the skills are to use and in-turn earn mountains of loot that pour from the corpses of enemies. It’s a shame that its first week has been wrought with server issues, but Diablo III is a game that has the potential to live a long and prosperous life. Never before has it been this easy to recommend a dungeon crawler to everyone, and it's no surprise that Blizzard Entertainment was the one to pull it off.