PC

[Review] Diablo 3

Being the long-awaited (and delayed) sequel to the immensely popular hack-and-slash Diablo II, it is no surprise this game has been the subject of very high expectations before release. Did the game live up to the hype?


As with Diablo and Diablo II, the basic premise of the game is to continually gear up and improve your character from the endless streams of loot acquired by defeating increasingly powerful monsters. Those increasingly powerful monsters require more potent gear to defeat, which mandates more looting, creating a seemingly endless, addictive cycle, disturbing the sleep, relationships, and sanity of millions. This is the system that had established a massive, devoted following, and defined the Diablo series as the epitome of the hack-and-slash action RPG.

The game begins, as usual with most RPG’s, at the character creation screen. The player is allowed a choice of five classes, each of which is thankfully unique. Conforming to the usual RPG archetypes, there is a class for the preferences of each adventurer, whether it is smashing enemies to a pulp as a Barbarian, tossing fire and ice magics as a Wizard, or shooting demons to pieces as a Demon Hunter. For those that like to have a more practical perspective on character creation, it is comforting that the game accommodates if one wants to fulfill a specific role in a team, such as a tank, support, dps, or crowd control. Although classes are made to synergize well with others, every class is capable of running through the game alone, proving the system is balanced enough (although there are sure to be refinements through time).

Combat is a blast in Diablo III, as it should be in any hack-and-slash. The skill system is the primary cause of that, which gives the player a sense of increasing power and freedom with each progression. Whereas before in Diablo II players were restricted to a skill tree in which decisions of point allocations were permanent, players have the ability to freely change skills, encouraging creativity and experimentation. This system also eliminates a problem which Diablo II players had of permanently gimping a character through putting points in a sub-optimal area. Since players are no longer punished for being ignorant or deviant from the “best” build, they are more motivated to try out new playstyles or builds, leading to increased and lengthened enjoyment of their heroes. The fact that only six skills are available at a time might seem to discourage freedom, but it simplifies as well as deepens the game by making the skills system more manageable and easy to get into for more casual gamers, simultaneously encouraging strategic thinking due to the tough choices that need to be made concerning which skills to use. This restriction also allows characters to specialize in whatever degree they wish, at any time. Each classes’ repertoire is varied enough to allow a player to create something like a “sub-class”. For example, a demon hunter can specialize in sustaining (lifesteal skills) or kiting (traps).

The addition of runes multiplies the possibilities of build creativity to a great degree. A character earns runes for each skill as it levels, up to seven per skill, and can assign one rune to a skill at any time. A rune modifies the skill to perform differently, allowing a skill to have multiple uses. For example, a demon hunter (I obviously don’t play as a demon hunter) can augment her “elemental arrow” skill with an “ice” rune that damages and slows multiple enemies, or a “nether tentacles” rune that steals life from every enemy it passes through. Through the change of a single rune, a demon hunter can add a substantial amount of crowd control or sustain to her build. Similar examples can be seen in other classes, allowing each class and skill to be versatile and effective.

Most skills expend a resource specific to a class (Mana for the Witch Doctor and Spirit for a Monk, for example), and the rest generate it. This creates an interesting dynamic where a resource does not have to be replenished through a potion or whatnot, but instead by the character’s resource generating ability, usually something like a “basic attack” which defines the class. A player is then constantly using skills and attacking, causing no breaks in the action. This fast-paced style of combat is reinforced through other mechanics such as health globes which drop off slain monsters, replenishing health without the use of potions. Combat is hectic and very fun; it feels as satisfying as it looks. The aftermath of battles is often a mess of bloody corpses on the ground, complete with bodies flying off the screen.

Although combat is enjoyable and fun for its own sake, it’s not truly “Diablo” if there isn’t a satisfying and addictive purpose for it- loot. As this is what primarily fuels the motivation to play, it is very important that the game balances out how often desirable items appear- not so often that they are taken for granted, but not so rare that it is not worth farming for. The game does this well- but only to a certain extent. The rarity of items in the game are determined by its color- white or gray for common items, blue for magic items, yellow for rare items, and orange for legendary items. At first, players will feel good about seeing a blue, excited about seeing a rare, and ecstatic about seeing a legendary (if they are that lucky). However, as players progress through the game, they will begin to see a pattern. Although any rarity item can drop from any monster, it is soon expected that magic items will drop anytime an elite pack of monsters or a boss is defeated, and rares often enough to expect one from each elite pack in endgame. At the end of a good run, you can expect a full inventory of blues and around a fourth of them rare. Although the distribution of drops within any given time is reasonable in terms of rarities, drops (except legendaries) eventually become expected and trivial, to the point where there is little novelty in getting a blue or yellow. It is also worth noting that the rarity of an item does not necessarily correspond with its stats, thus a rare can be much better stats-wise than a legendary. To increase the joy of getting rare and powerful items, the game possibly has room for an extra tier of rarity, to fill in the gap between the “slightly-too-common” blues and yellows and the “lottery winner” legendaries.

Despite the lack of wow-factor in getting a blue or yellow, it is still satisfying coming back from a good run with a pack full of loot. Features in the game such as resplendent chests, treasure goblins, and nephalem valor support the pleasure and anticipation of getting something good. These features provide either an alternative or increased chance of getting stuff, easing the grind and generating excitement for the player. For example, you may randomly encounter a treasure goblin, a little critter than runs around spilling gold in its wake until it is killed, releasing all its loot in its death. If it is not killed fast enough, it opens a portal and disappears into another dimension, never to be seen again. Interesting distractions such as these are small, but worth mentioning.

Although there is satisfaction to be had in acquiring loot for its own sake, the most rewarding feeling is if it is a piece of equipment that is better than the one you have. Understandably, this should not occur too often, so what does one do with extra loot? An option that is new to the series is salvaging and crafting. Unneeded items can be destroyed for parts at the blacksmith, which can, for a fee, be used to create an item with random stats. The blacksmith serves as an alternative source of improving one’s setup and a repository for unneeded loot. Although the randomness of crafting makes the system almost useless to reliably get new gear, it can be useful at high levels to get valuable items, making it a welcome addition to make use of otherwise useless stuff.

If the random nature of crafting and looting does not satisfy a player’s need for constant improvement, the player can always turn to the controversial Auction House. With a simple search and enough gold, a player can buy any piece of equipment using whatever criteria they desire. While optional, the Auction House can greatly challenge the effectiveness of actually playing the game to gear up, as most of the loot one gets is second to whatever they can find on the market. A problem occurs when the most efficient way of gearing up is not through playing the game, but shopping. Since the player can acquire the highest end gear much more quickly from the auction house, motivation to play, which is essentially the joy of constantly improving one’s character, may be shortened.

The ability to buy items with cash from the Real Money Auction House may exacerbate this problem, since the player does not need to get in-game gold at all. The extent that the Real Money Auction House decreases motivation to play is debatable, since the ability to instantly get great gear may be attractive to players who have money but lack time. The RMAH also creates a real-money valuation for the best gear, which may placate any concerns that items do not feel rewarding enough. Although it probably won’t be anyone’s summer job, the possibility of getting a few dollars from gameplay may actually entice people to play more.

Being powerful is no fun if there are no foes worthy to fight. Fortunately, the game challenges the player well. The game is split into four difficulties, each unlocked after a completion of the story. Although it is clear the game is based upon constant repetition, a greater difficulty contains more powerful monsters and loot, providing increasing challenges and rewards that give enough incentive to make it fun. Despite the player’s constantly increasing power, all difficulties except normal should be a tough fight if not overleveled. For those that have reached the level cap at 60, the concept of Nephalem Valor provides a rewarding endgame experience, giving a big advantage in gold and rare item gains for highly advanced players.

Regular monsters are great to destroy in droves, their purpose being to make the player feel mighty. However, champion and elite packs of monsters will occasionally spawn, usually giving the player a hard time that sometimes culminates in a burst of magical items and gold. These advanced monsters will have affixes that indicate various abilities they possess, such as being able to summon pools of poison, being able to teleport, or being able to reflect damage. They are challenging enough to give the player a great sense of triumph, yet not so difficult that they are impossible to defeat. Bosses are not as satisfying, however. Although their abilities are interesting to fight against, their main flaw is that they usually remain static, rendering themselves a large, easy target. What you may expect to be a big, foreboding demon is reduced to being an oversized, lazy damage sponge with magical powers, which may not be fun to fight.

Although one can certainly go through the game alone, there is no better way to add to the Diablo experience than to hack through mobs with others. Doing this is ridiculous fun, which is encouraged by the ease players can form teams. With a click or two, a player can join the game of a friend or stranger, instantly putting the player in a game in which they have opportunities to synergize with other classes or make new friends.

I won’t get into the big debate Diablo fans and the gaming industry have been having about the “always online” requirement, since it doesn’t affect playability. However, this requirement can adversely affect the experience of the game due to the possibility of lag. Players with poor or unavailable internet connections will not be able to run the game smoothly, or at all.

[+Unique Classes] [+Flexible Skill System] [+Hectic, fun combat] [+Interesting Alternate Loot Sources] [+Challenging] [+Easy to play with others] [*Auction House can decrease motivation to play] [Always-online requirement may cause problems for some players] [-Underwhelming Bosses] [-Item Rarity lacks Novelty]

Creating a character to defeat endless waves of monsters is not without context. Your hero starts out on a mission to investigate the “fallen star”, from which demons and undead had appeared in its wake, wreaking havoc upon the human world. Soon we meet Leah, a new lead character to the series, and embark on a quest to stop the demons and save humanity.

It begins well enough, but I soon discovered that the story is perhaps the game’s biggest weakness. It is split into four acts, with 10 sections each. Although it is obvious the hero is set out on a quest of great importance, there are times when what he/she is doing seems unnecessary and contrived. Although understandable due to the game’s repetitive nature, there is room for effort in creating a greater sense of urgency and importance to a player’s actions, instead of reducing the player to play a game of fetch or hide and seek.

Although the voice acting is believable and gives characters personality, it cannot compensate for their lack of depth. Characters often seem one-dimensional, prone to serve as tools for advancing the hero to the end instead of being a complex being. There is little subtlety in pretty much anything characters do, and their simple motivations are made very explicit. There is also an unsettling paradox in the amount of emotional investment that was put (or expected to be put) in certain characters, only to be discarded without relative respect. A similar contradiction is seen in how villains are portrayed, who try to be intimidating by constantly attempting to bully the player, only to seem like children by repeating their intentions and feelings constantly, becoming a nuisance. Many bosses, who are supposed to relate to the current story, have little context and are simply thrown at the player. There is much potential for the story to be better if some characters, major to minor, were given more context instead of being simply “bad guy”, “good guy”, or “thing I have to kill”.

Despite the banality of the characters, journals provide interesting background information on the environment and situations that players encounter. They are picked up from the ground in a relevant location and trigger a voiced journal entry, providing context on monsters, places, or events in the game. These journals reinforce the sense of the setting, but it might have been better if more focus was put in refining the characters and story.

The painterly art style reflects how well the setting is emphasized in Diablo III. The game’s gothic, dark theme is expressed beautifully in the visuals, which feature prominently the colors black and red, emphasizing the nature of the hellish monsters the player fights. Whether encountering an endless desert vista, a raging battlefield, or the deepest confines of hell, players will find everything easy on the eyes when pulverizing hundreds of demons. One of the most notable, awe-inspiring things about the art are the backdrops and set pieces one sees behind the level, such as huge demonic slaves, distant clashing armies, and a mysterious city. These add a lot of pizzazz to the environment, which already looks spectacular.

It is impossible not to talk about the cinematics when discussing presentation, as they ooze of high production value and are utterly jaw-dropping. Everything looks incredibly detailed and lifelike, to the point where one could see every wrinkle and hair strand on Leah’s face. Not only are they amazing graphically, they genuinely define the word “epic”, and may be the only story-related thing to inspire emotion.

[+Beautiful Art Style] [+Amazing Cinematics] [+Highly Detailed Setting] [-Characters lack substance] [-Story lacks urgency]

The biggest strength Diablo III has regarding value is that the game never ends. Players are never restricted to one character at a time and can create up to ten, creating more than enough opportunity to try every class. The ability to have five completely different heroes, each of which can be played infinitely, gives the game an enormous amount of replay value.

However, it is understandable that constantly repeating the acts and difficulties can get old. The enjoyment of the game really depends on the players tolerance for a grind. The five classes bring a lot of replay value to the table, but that doesn’t negate the possible monotony of fighting the same monsters and going to the same places over and over again. Nephalem Valor and Inferno mode (the infamous highest difficulty) does remedy this to a degree by increasing the rewards and challenges experienced by high level players, but the essence of the game remains constant repetition.

A feature that will appeal to the most serious gamers is hardcore mode. In hardcore mode, once a character dies, it is gone forever. Needless to say, this creates a significantly different, tension filled experience. Surely this mode wouldn’t appeal to most players, but it certainly adds to the game’s myriad options. One might create a hardcore and normal mode for each class, increasing the game’s replay potential to ten different playthroughs.

As mentioned before, playing with friends is an absolute blast. The social aspect of Diablo might be considered as one of the most important factors in one’s enjoyment of the game. Having companions to fight with adds volumes of value to the game which may counteract any feeling of grindiness or monotony that may discourage a player to continue.

[+Many Ways to Play] [+Game Never Ends] [+Tense Hardcore Mode] [+Fun Lategame] [*Grindy]

Diablo III’s fast, fun combat, varieties of play, and fantastic visual style more than counteracts its flaws. The constant challenge of tough monsters to turn into a bloody pulp, as well as their accompanying streams of loot, can keep dedicated players up until the wee hours of the morning. Although it will disappoint those looking for a good story or non-repetitive gameplay, Diablo III is an addictive, enjoyable refinement of its predecessor, and is sure to bring long-lasting demon-slaying fun.

[+Unique Classes] [+Flexible Skill System] [+Hectic, fun combat] [+Interesting Alternate Loot Sources] [+Challenging] [+Easy to play with others] [+Beautiful Art Style] [+Amazing Cinematics] [+Highly Detailed Setting] [+Many Ways to Play] [+Game Never Ends] [+Tense Hardcore Mode] [+Fun Lategame] [*Grindy] [*Auction House can decrease motivation to play] [Always-online requirement may cause problems for some players] [-Underwhelming Bosses] [-Item Rarity lacks Novelty] [-Characters lack substance] [-Story lacks urgency]

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