It’s clearly not enough to say that Diablo 3 was one of the most anticipated games of the year. Sales within the first 24 hours were record breaking for PC titles. Within the first week, well over 6 million people stormed into Sanctuary to save the world from the demon lord. I hope you all remember what lead us to this.
The first title in the trilogy launched 16 years ago. Just try and picture yourself 16 years ago. What were you doing the first time the world was introduced to a little town called Tristram? What did you look like? If you’re like me, it was all long hair, torn baggy jeans, flannel shirts and faded Vans skate shoes. It’s awkward, I know.
Jump ahead 4 short years, and we come to the much more popular sequel, Diablo 2, and its consummate expansion, ”the Lord of Destruction. ” This is the game that ruined me for years. Even after coming into the game extremely late, the online community was booming. Plenty of late college nights were devoted to building the silliest Barbarian possible, or feeling the burning heat of a thousand suns emanating from my video card as a room full of Necromancers cast Poison Nova repeatedly.
The devotion to Diablo 2 from the community and development team is so great that the game is still active to this day, and was patched as recently as 6 months ago. That’s insane considering D2 is a multiplayer online game with no subscription fees or microtransactions.
Once Blizzard announced officially that there would be a third installment, fans’ heads exploded. Everyone wanted to play Diablo 3. Conversations with friends and on forums were riddled with the words, “I’m just doing/playing X until Diablo 3 comes out.” I know you heard it too. Did Blizzard deliver? Hell yes.
Diablo 3 is entertaining in a way that I haven’t felt with another game in recent memory. It’s instantly accessible and engaging. It’s not perfect, but it comes close. There’s good, bad, and things that leave me feeling uncertain. If you’ll allow me, I’ll get the bad out of the way first.
To play Diablo 3, you need an internet connection at all times. I repeated that statement in my head so many times when they first announced it. I need an internet connection at all times. It still doesn’t sound right. Even though I’m a firm believer that these games are best experienced with friends, that’s not always what I want. It is always good to have the option to play by yourself offline.
With millions of people bum rushing Blizzard’s servers all at once, disconnects and severe lag were inevitable at launch. More than a handful of times, I would be wrapping up a quest chain by myself, and experience crazy spikes of lag at key moments. Even when I want the single player experience, I’m forced to deal with other players indirectly through the strain they cause on the company’s servers. That’s a tough pill to swallow.
I’m aware of Blizzard’s explanations for why they chose to go this route. With the new auction house features, future PvP and the real money auction house coming down the pipe, hacking, cheating and exploiting are serious concerns. That does nothing for me when the game performs so poorly at peak hours, that I just turn it off and log onto another game for a while.
Moving onto the subject of the auction house, I was a little surprised when I started using this feature consistently. I have a hard time coming from years of World of Warcraft, with an incredibly functional and intuitive auctioning system, to Diablo’s, which has trouble sorting numbers from highest to lowest. I thought that would be a given.
For my own sake, I have to mention the itemization in Diablo 3. The stats assigned to items is completely random, I get that. I would, however, like to suggest that there could be some predictable patterns put in place based on the type of item and who would be using it.
I chose to play a Wizard to start. From experience, I would expect this class to run around with some sort of magic staff in both hands, or maybe a wand in one hand and one of the items marked “Wizard Only” in the other. Instead, I spent most of my time wielding huge crossbows (which I never fired) and massive two-handed swords (which I never swung), because they actually had the stats I wanted on them.
Even legendary items were assigned some mix of random numbers. This is an enigma to me. No, not that enigma. Legendaries are supposed to be extremely rare and powerful items. Unlike other items in the game which have a descriptive title for the type of weapon or piece of equipment, plus a series of prefixes and suffixes to show the type of bonus stats, these items are unnamed.
A quick search on the auction house nets a list of dozens or more of the same legendary item (I told you they were rare). You would expect those items to have some sort of consistency in terms of what bonuses they offer, but you would be wrong. The same legendary item with the exact same name can have rather large discrepancies. Looking at two legendary bows, I can see that “Cluckeye A” does 333 damage per second and “Cluckeye B” does 248. I might not be a mathematician, but I know A is significantly better than B even though they are the exact same item. The first one might also have a bonus to intelligence on it instead of dexterity, which is the primary stat for the Demon Hunter class who would benefit the most from the item.
That’s all I really have to complain about, and I hope that says a lot. These are things that I can easily get over once I’m in the game and playing, but they are the main reasons why I can’t give the game a 10/10. Everything else is what one would expect from Blizzard: polished, fully fleshed out, and down-right addicting.
Starting up a new game is easier than ever. Blizzard has fully tapped into their Battle.net service for this game, allowing players to jump into the action with a friend with a single click on the main menu. A list forms on the lower right corner of your screen from the Real IDs and battletags of players on your friends list. Also included are the profile names of players you’ve recently grouped with in public games.
The classes in Diablo 3 have spices of familiarity. The Barbarian returns from the second game with a revamped set of tools. The Demon Hunter is a blend of some of the best parts of the Amazon and Assassin. New to the series is Blizzard's take on the Monk, their hybrid melee class. The Witch Doctor is an amazing reimagining of the Necromancer where the number of minions you can control at once has scaled down, but the spells and animations are completely over the top. The Wizard rounds out the group, rekindling the Sorceress’ magic and power.
The game progresses the way you would expect in an RPG. Killing monsters and completing quests grants you experience that increases your character’s level. As your level grows in number, so does your assortment of abilities. You can only have 2 active from the start, but quickly unlock the remaining 4. Active spells come in a variety of 6 categories with multiple options to choose from. Each spell in a category then has a series of runes to choose from which augment the ability. I hope I haven’t lost you yet.
The final result is an incredibly rewarding combination of choices. The only downtime in the game once you’re away from the safety of the starting camp, is spent deciding whether you want your Frost Nova to chain when you kill a frozen target, or for its cooldown to be reduced from 12 to 9 seconds. Your playstyle becomes a reflection of the spells and augments you equip and vice versa.
I toggled endlessly between sets of skills depending on whether I was questing and killing large packs of monsters, fighting a boss, or playing in a group. This is something I can’t stress enough as an improvement from Diablo 2. There, you were locked into your choices. The only way to try another set of abilities for your class was to create a completely new character and level it to the appropriate degree.
The combat is greatly improved as well. The graphics, sounds, and physics weave together seamlessly. Whether you’re landing that Leap and Bash or popping small minions with the Volatility rune on your Disintegrate spell, you can feel the crunch of combat. There is as much satisfaction in plowing through waves of demons as there is bringing down a massive boss with an endless amount of health.
The game environment plays a much bigger part in Diablo 3. More of the foreground can be interacted with, causing walls to come crashing down around enemies, or torture tables to spring to life creating a disturbing and gruesome scene. The background is just as important to me though. There are times while moving through the game where you can see in the distance a section of the dungeon you are going to travel to next, or a demon and angel locked in battle. Both add positively to the larger sense of a game world that used to feel closed off and claustrophobic.
The musical score, lighting, and pacing also contribute to the experience. Some dungeons or open areas will go on forever. The entrance to the next step in your quest will often find a way to be in the last little sliver of the map you didn’t uncover.
The game is broken up into 4 acts. The first two are more about exploring, progressing the story, and unlocking new features. The third and fourth bring the fight to you in a relentless fashion, with the latter being a stream of monsters and bosses. It’s the only act I play from start to finish without taking a break.
The difficulty levels from Diablo 2 return with something extra tacked on for the masochistic gamer. Completing the game on Normal mode unlocks Nightmare mode, which in turn unlocks Hell, followed by the new Inferno mode. Enemies get beefier and stronger along the way, in addition to gaining access to new combinations of their own abilities. Champions are the elite monsters you meet in the open world with a random set of attributes. Fighting these packs on Hell and Inferno difficulty can lead to uncontrollable bouts of table flipping. You have been warned. Bolt your desk to the floorboards if necessary.
This brings up the point that in later levels, the real challenge moves from boss fights to random enemies. While fighting an end-of-act enemy has its sense of epic achievement the first time, the patterns become predictable. It’s a scripted fight of course. The randomly generated dungeon maps and champions who trap you, reflect your own damage back to you, shield themselves and have extra health are the ones that will keep you up at night.
The chase for better loot also switches to these enemies and not the main bosses. This is a complete departure from the game before it, where groups would create sequential new games to kill the same boss over and over again. This is what I’m uncertain about in terms of what to do when you reach level 60 and defeat Diablo on the Inferno mode.
Two of the biggest features announced during development still aren’t in the game, but I’m anxious to see how they pan out. With the way the gold currency auction house is working, I’m glad they held off on bringing us the real money one. I’m still struggling to picture how much players will charge each other for equipment and crafting supplies.
PvP is also supposed to get implemented shortly. This has my attention. With the wild and endless combination of skills each class can employ on their own, I can only speculate on the pandemonium that will occur when you put them all together in a confined space.
If history is any indication, there will be more to the Diablo 3 story. The ending was okay if you were invested in the characters, but I’m not sure where they can take it from here. It seems to be all wrapped up for now. We’ll just have to wait and see what they cook up.
Even though there really is no cow level, the new secret level is truly something to behold. I won’t go into any more details than that. Good luck gathering all the materials and gold required to unlock it. It might take some time.
Don’t worry about whether or not you’ll get as much mileage out of the game as the older versions. I have a laundry list of projects for the rest of my time with the game. With gold, your stash, and you crafting levels all shared between characters, it’s easy and inviting to make one of every class and gear them out. Diablo 3, meet my free time. My free time, meet Diablo 3. You two are going to have a long and happy relationship.
Full Disclosure: CraveOnline received one advanced copy of Diablo 3 for the PC from Blizzard. We began playing it on day of release, just like everyone else. Before starting our review, we played for 38 hours, including clearing Normal and Nightmare difficulties.