Loot ‘em up!
Twelve years of waiting, anguish and promises, but it’s finally here. Half of you have been bursting at the seams with anticipation and are probably ankles deep in Diablo III as I write this, while the other half are asking yourself “what’s all the fuss about?” Either way, Diablo III has been a long time in the making and is the hottest topic in PC gaming right now, but was it worth the wait?
Game: Diablo III
Developer: Blizzard Entertainment
Publisher: Blizzard Entertainment
Recommended system specifications:
- Windows® Vista/7 (latest service packs)
- Intel® Core 2 Duo 2.4 GHz or AMD Athlon™ 64 X2 5600+ 2.8 GHz
- 2 GB RAM
- NVIDIA® GeForce® 260 or ATI Radeon™ HD 4870 or better
- Mac® OS X 10.7.x or newer
- Intel® Core 2 Duo
- 2 GB RAM
- NVIDIA® GeForce® GT 330M or ATI Radeon™ HD 4670 or better
Diablo III kicks off with a falling star landing smack in the middle of a town called New Tristram, and with it a whole new breed of demons rises up from hell. Enter your avatar, a resident of Sanctuary, a land created by angels while partaking in an endless war with hell. You’ve been hired to figure out what exactly is going on and things spiral out of control from there.
For those without a long running investment in the series Blizzard do a great job informing you of their world and its back-story. Best of all is the fact that it’s all voice acted. No need to pick up and read through a dozen pages of drivel, instead continue with your journey and have the novel read back to you. Companions will also keep you up to date on everything from allegiances to what they were doing before you rudely interrupted their life, all on the fly. Add to this the gorgeously rendered cut scenes Blizzard are famous for and you have a story that’s very easy to get to grips with. Unfortunately, Diablo III’s story tends to lean heavily on the cheesy and cliché side, not to mention being wholly predictable at the best of times. This kind of makes it hard to care what happens to anyone in Blizzards demonic universe with most characters being pretty much forgettable. Still, if you have been with the franchise from the beginning I can imagine most will be comfortable with the direction this finale takes.
Graphically, Diablo III looks above average from a distance, which is great because that is how you will be playing most of the game. However, maybe you are like me and you appreciate the desire to get up close and personal to your sexy avatar, drooling over that new piece of rare armour you have just acquired. If that’s the case you hit the “Z” key and get greeted to a decidedly “low poly” model you could have done without seeing, even on the highest graphical settings. So our advice to you is to stay back, way back!
It’s apparent then, that Diablo III isn’t winning any awards for technical beauty, if there is such a thing. On the other hand its art direction is the proverbial ace in the hole. Environments suit the dark theme of the story whilst remaining varied enough to keep you entertained. From dingy dungeons infested with unruly demons to the halls of the high heavens, you should be well and truly catered for. Optimisation is another high point for Blizzard’s new baby. Diablo III should be playable on most modern systems. We even had favourable results on Intel’s integrated Sandy Bridge GPU with the correct settings. Meaning those of you running on slightly older laptops can still take part in the adventure.
With the overall theme of the title being fantasy, it’s not surprising that Diablo III is jam packed with over the top cliche lines. This isn’t to say the voice acting is bad, just that you need to be prepared for a bit of cheese. In fact you might want to have some wine on hand to go along with it.
The soundtrack itself is your usual Blizzard affair, with Russell Brower heading up the line of composers. Blizzard have used this man’s Emmy Award winning talent in almost all of their recent big hitters, from Starcraft to Warcraft he has been heading up the sound department, so then it’s not that surprising that Diablo’s soundtrack sounds, well very familiar. This kind of makes the soundtrack somewhat unremarkable with nothing really standing out between all those orchestral pieces and the dozens you have heard before from Blizzard. That being said if you are a major fan, expect more of the same and enjoy.
If you have somehow managed to live under a rock for the entirety of your gaming life then it might come as a surprise to you that Diablo is an Action RPG. This means that underneath the flashy GUI and quality production values the primary goal is to smash things in the face while collecting badass gear. Sounds boring, right? WRONG!! It’s games like these that make you believe that Blizzard has some kind of gaming crack formula they have perfected and finely tuned over many years of decision making. Enter Diablo III.
So I chose from one of the five classes Blizzard made available to me (barbarian, wizard, monk, demon hunter and witch doctor) and jumped into a game with some friends. Or so I would like to tell you, but the reality of the situation is quite different. Now you would imagine that the owner of the most popular paid MMO franchise in the world would be well equipped to handle server demand and the inevitable masses of people aggressively clicking their mouse buttons to sign on. Alas, again, you would be wrong, and so the first hour or so of my time with Diablo III was spent at the log-in screen entering my details repeatedly with a snarl on my face, cursing at the heavens. Okay, so we were warned this would happen, but it’s still disappointing from a huge publisher like Activision Blizzard.
Eureka! I’m in! Let the good times roll! Instantly, the game demonstrates how deceptively simple it can be. Within minutes heads are rolling, I’m stacking up the XP and feeling pretty awesome. My primary and secondary skills are at the power of my index and middle finger respectively, I feel unstoppable, all is well. Bit by bit the game ups the complexity and bestows upon the player new skills to fill their mouse and action bar. It’s at this point you realise Blizzard have refined the learning curve down to a fine art. You never feel overwhelmed at any point, with all skills split into categories depending on your chosen class and easily sorted and accessible via the skills menu.
This is further refined by the rune system, which replaces your usual skill trees. Instead of being forced into picking specific skills from a “tree” that might end up being completely useless to your character in the long haul, you are now rewarded with six runes for each skill that augments the original skills base effect. These are also handed out to you at a steady pace while you level, encouraging you to experiment and find new strategies as you play and take on the hordes of hell. It’s also worth noting that runes can’t all be unlocked on your first play through, making getting them all one of the major driving forces in keeping you coming back to Diablo’s universe. That is not the end of it though, as you will eventually gain access to passive skills of which you can only have three active at any one time out of a possible fifteen. These can be anything from making it cheaper to use your skills or adding extra damage to a specific set of skills. As you can imagine, the possibilities are nigh on endless and despite my best efforts to find a setup that was fun and worked in most circumstances, I am still yet to find one due to the almost endless combinations possible. The truth of the matter is that this is truly a system that enables you to play the way you want for the most part and even when it doesn’t, you’ll enjoy mixing and matching skills for that one special set piece.
Sadly, everything isn’t perfect, there are a few balancing issues between classes, but interestingly enough all classes remain viable for the campaign experience. That being said we can understand why PvP didn’t ship with the final game, however disappointing this may be, but never fear, giving the community what they want and keeping their content up to date is what Blizzard do best.
It’s all well and good having a bunch of amazing effects flying around the screen, but without a decent set of enemies it’s pretty much a waste of time. Diablo III however has a multitude of great enemies for you to dispatch. Granted on the normal difficulty level they can be quite easy to send back to hell, but as you come back and up the ante (difficulty level) you’ll realise you have a bit of a fight on your hands. Enemies not only hit back harder, but come equipped with new attack patterns, moves and properties. You’ll find that your choice of gear matters that much more the further up the difficulty ladder you go.
With the whole easy to learn, but hard to master aspect of the gameplay pretty much sewn up with the rune system, boss fights are now a joy overall. Most have specific tactics that need to be adhered to to succeed, but the true fun comes when a few friends join the ride. enemies overall become more difficult, but with the added tactics bosses are among the most fun parts of Diablo III. To reinforce the new approachable gameplay checkpoints have been added to help out solo players in this regard, while parties of friends can resurrect each other mid-fight as long as one of you remains alive. Death still comes with its drawbacks as being sent to meet your maker will make for quick gear degradation. Find yourself at death doorstep too many times and you’ll need to find yourself a vendor to repair at.
Alongside all that loot you will find that your bag will be filled with immense amounts of gold soon enough. Enter your blacksmith and jewelcrafting companions ready and waiting to soak up all your money. They provide a great alternative way to kit out your character while keeping you invested in replaying the campaign. The premise is simple, instead of levelling up the profession, you level up the NPC with a healthy supply of cash. Eventually you’ll come to a point where you’ll need actual items in addition to raw cash to level these guys. Sneakily Blizzard have put these sought after items in the higher difficulties. This can be a good or bad thing depending on your disposition, but it certainly inspired me to come back for more.
The actual crafting itself is rather interesting and a novel approach to a system that is proving quite dated. Most items do not come with a list of pre-defined stats, instead stats are randomised on creation of said item. As there is now no need to craft to level up it results in a great way to encourage players to make new items and in doing so expand the economy. Made an item with useless stats for your “‘toon”? Simple, put it on the Auction House. Unfortunately, at the time of writing the real money version hasn’t been patched in yet.
However, this brings us back full circle – the need to be online to play. While I understand it’s a necessity in protecting the online integrity of the game for both the real money auction house and to a lesser extent PvP. It’s still a hindrance for travelling gamers, those without the Internet or those trying to play when servers go down for maintenance. More importantly, lag in a single player game is just, well, annoying and it is still present in the game even now. Even with a fibre optic line it’s not unusual to have your avatar jump backwards across the map, take multiple seconds to react to your actions or even the odd disconnect. The latter of which can end in a tiny case of “rollback” and an angry gamer.
Most Diablo fans know that the game doesn’t really start until you have completed your first playthrough, which will last you anywhere between 10-12 hours. After that the loot whoring goes into overdrive as you begin maxing out your crafters and attempt to hit level sixty, all of which, will take you several more playthroughs. If you are a completionist and an achievement hunter – And let’s face it we all have a little bit of one inside of us, then you will also undoubtedly want to do this for all five classes, as there is a plethora of achievements up for grabs. Add to this PvP, which we are promised will be patched into the title eventually and you have yourself a lot of game for your buck.
Was it worth the twelve year wait? The short answer is yes. Diablo III is quite simply a great game, on your own or with friends. It’s not without its pitfalls though. For example, why is there no offline mode? I’m sure a compromise could have been made and will have to be made should Diablo migrate to consoles in the future, but they are not big enough to deter from its well crafted brilliance. This isn’t a case of reinventing the wheel, so if you’re positive the action RPG genre isn’t for you then Diablo certainly isn’t going to change anything in that regard. However, if you’re looking for a fun, well refined action RPG experience then look no further, pick up Diablo III now.