You've been patient and waited for this game to come out in the four years since it was announced. Was it worth it? Is it a worthy successor to the Diablo franchise? Will your mouse love you or hate you? Find out in this review.
- Gorgeous graphics
- Loot whores: this is your brand-new bag
- Lots of variety in gameplay
- What's with that abrupt ending?
- Limited follower outfitting
- Where's the PvP?
- My mouse finger hurts
Diablo 3 Review:
It’s hard to believe that it’s been 12 years since Diablo 2 came out and continued the loot-frenzy, mouse-clicking adventure RPG Diablo series from Blizzard Entertainment. Since the game announcement in 2008, the title has had multiple revisions – no more Mystic artisan, delayed PvP, the addition of a controversial auction house that has the option to use real money – and plenty of criticism, including the much-maligned color palette that fans said didn’t truly represent the franchise.
But it’s now been a week since the game launched, which unfortunately meant a crippling period of time where Blizzard’s servers didn’t cooperate with the vast majority of players, keeping thousands of players from accessing the game. Because Diablo 3’s DRM requires an internet connection to be signed into Battle.net, this left the majority of players unable to play the game they had purchased. Complaints littered the internet, but quickly vanished once the servers were able to handle the load.
Are You Playing This For The Story?
Blizzard has a rich history of providing complex stories for their games: see StarCraft, WarCraft and of course the previous Diablo titles as examples of this. But it’s easy to lose to the entire scope behind all of those mouse clicks. Diablo 3 has a rich story with some of the most gorgeous cutscenes ever to grace a video game. (Seriously, if there was a feature-length Diablo movie told in this animation, it would sell tons of tickets). But much of the lore and history is told in dialogue with NPCs that you don’t’ have to access, and we wonder how many people will skip it altogether in the search for yellow epic items.
For those of you who might be curious, Diablo 3 is set 20 years after Diablo 2, with demon lords Belial and Azmodan trying to gain control of the Black Soulstone and destiny itself, either by freeing Diablo, or taking the power for themselves. The events are touched off by a meteor that opens an enormous hole in a Cathedral near New Tristram, swallowing wise man Deckard Cain along with it. As a Nephalem, the direct offspring of angels and demons, you have access to great powers, and must use them to try and stop hell from spilling into Sanctuary.
In order to do that, you’ll team up with Cain’s niece Leah and trace the path of the Dark Wanderer from Diablo 2. Along the way you’ll also meet several followers you can hire to join your party: the Templar, the Scoundrel, and the Enchantress.
Who Do You Want To Be?
Diablo 3 features five characters classes: four brand-new ones, and the returning Barbarian from Diablo 2. What is impressive here is that Blizzard has managed to pack different types of gameplay options into each class, meaning you can have a Witch Doctor who fights up close and personal, or one who hangs back and deals DPS and uses minions do deal damage. Plus, each class has it’s own “fuel” that powers the special abilities. Choose carefully your first time around, because you’ll be stuck with that character through your entire campaign unless you want to start over.
Wizard: If you liked the Sorcerer or Sorceress from past games, the Wizard fills that slot and offers a slew of different spells from slowing down time, to blasting out beams of ice and energy. This class is fueled by Arcane Power, which regenerates quickly.
Monk: A strange (but very fun) new addition to Diablo despite the Monk class in the Hellfire expansion to the original Diablo game, the monk uses extreme speed and powerful combination moves to vanquish enemies. Powered by Spirit, the monk isn’t one you’ll want to use for ranged combat, but they offer a unique melee combat option.
Demon Hunter: This class uses two types of resources – hate and discipline – to deploy traps and rain ranged fire from dual crossbows down on their enemies. With a powerful hatred of all things demonic, there are a lot of fun options like bombs and gadgets in their arsenal.
Barbarian: The powerhouse of the group is the Barbarian, who you will definitely want to have in your lineup if you form a party with friends. Powered by Fury, the Barb leaps, whirlwinds, and pounds into foes. If you’re into tanking, look no further. Barbarians also tower over the other classes, and as a result their gear stands out more as you outfit them.
Witch Doctor: Arguably the most visually impressive of the new classes, the Witch Doctor is powered by Mana and can raise zombie dogs, corpse spiders, acid clouds, gargantuan voodoo-fueled companions, and more. Favorites include the Enormous Toad option that swallows enemies whole, and the Fetish that turns enemies into chickens. This was the class that I took all the way to the end of the game the first time around, and I’m in love with them.
Click Click Click Click
Diablo 3 doesn’t vary from its mouse-clicking heritage, but it does offer up some tweaks. You’ll use your mouse and the left and right mouse buttons to move and trigger attacks, while the number keys 1 through 4 trigger additional abilities. Q will instantly quaff whatever potion you’ve slotted in there, and … that’s it. You can hit various other keys for menus – I for inventory, S for Skills, and so on, but as far as gameplay goes, you’re going to rely on the first three fingers of your left hand, and your index finger on your right hand to play through this game.
As with other Diablo titles, things can get frenzied and hard to follow when you’re swarmed with multiple enemies. Combine that with followers and abilities, and there are plenty of times where you’re going, “Well, I know I need to click a ton right in the middle of this mess, but I’m not entirely sure what’s going on.” In those situations, you’ll play the “Watch The Health Meter” game and pray for globe drops and fast potion recharge times.
To streamline the process, Blizzard has introduced Health Globes that occasionally drop from enemies, and you can augment that through abilities and gear as well. For instance, higher-end gear will give you more health from globes, if imbued with that ability. You can also pick up gold now just by walking over it, but you’ll quickly find that the name of the game is loot juggling. You’ll have to click on each piece that you want to pick up, and once you get to higher levels and start finding the really good stuff, it’s hard to let it go.
Thankfully, you have a Stash in town once again that you can store stuff in to be used by any of your characters, but it’s both a blessing and a curse. It’s a blessing to have, but a curse that it’s so small. Still, if you find a great piece of epic gear meant for another class, it’s nice to have the option to hand it off to that class or even sell it. Right now, the real money auction house hasn’t been activated in Diablo 3 yet, although we’re already seeing some exorbitant prices in the ten million gold range for high-end items. Like the futures market, this bears keeping an eye on. We’ll be interested to see who actually turns a decent profit from loot whore-iteering.
One Time, At Diablo Camp…
While Merchants are a long-standing staple in Diablo, allowing you to buy and sell new items, Diablo 3 introduces a very robust artisan system that has a blacksmith and a jeweler following you from town to town and setting up camp. You can use them to craft new gear and gems using supplies: elements from breaking down rare and epic items for the blacksmith, and lower-quality gems for the jeweler (who is hilariously voiced by James Hong).
You can also level these artisans up by training them (at a cost in gold), and when you’re ready to boost them into higher levels after completing the game and moving into Nightmare mode, you’ll find additional supplies that can improve them even more. The smith can create rare and epic items with random magical properties and break down the same into their base elements, eliminating the faithful Horadric Cube. The jeweler will create new gems from lesser gems at a ratio of 3 to 1, and he can also remove jewels from sockets, which means no more permanently fused sockets.
Blizzard had announced a Mystic as an artisan who would accompany you as well, creating magical items for your character, but they aren’t currently in the game. With the blacksmith able to create magic items, it isn’t missed that much, but it would be nice to tinker more with the magic properties that are bestowed on things. But there are enough merchants in town that have enough variety on display to tide you over for now. Hopefully the Mystic will appear in an update or an expansion.
Besides buying/selling and artisaning, you’ll also come back into town via Waypoints or the Town Portal spell (which is now automatic and unlocked early on and not reliant on finding Town Portal scrolls) to hire or swap out Followers. These range from the melee/tankish Templar, to the ranged Scoundrel, to the DPS/effect Enchantress. You can only have one in your party at a time, and if someone joins your game via co-op, your Follower will head back to town.
These Followers will level up alongside you, allowing you to choose abilities for them along the way in a “Choose A or B” option, and you can outfit them as well, but only with rings, an amulet, a weapon, a shield, and a focus. A focus grant additional stats to your Follower, and take the form of things like a pair of dice for the Scoundrel, spear shards for the Templar, and a mirror for the Enchantress. You’ll find these randomly, although not as often as you’d like.
Unfortunately, you can’t change your Followers armor, which would have been helpful because you find so. much. of. the. stuff. Besides selling it, saving it, or breaking it down, it would be nice if you could dress up your buddies and improve their stats as well.
It’s A Dead Man’s Party
With PvP nonexistent (for now), the best way to blast through the game and pick up the good stuff is to party up. Battle.net makes it very easy to jump in and out of games with people on your friends list. Need help passing a boss? Belial was kicking my ass repeatedly, so I asked a cohort to help me out. He popped over, joined, and we were able to power through after a couple of tries. Then he hopped back into his own game.
It’s very easy to see who is what and where, and the banner system lets you instantly teleport to a party member’s location simply by clicking on their banner in town. You’ll get zapped to their proximity, without any need for a Town Portal. You can also join public games, where your mileage may vary. Meaning, you might end up with a team of duds, or something rivaling the Avengers. You never can tell until you join. Without any sort of a real match ranking system, it’s the best way to meet new players, for now.
Hopefully the PvP will expand horizons and make it easier to meet fellow players of equal skill levels and party up. Thankfully, when joining a public game, you can narrow it down to the portion of the act and the difficulty that you want to jump into. So if you’ve beaten the game, set your phasers on Nightmare and join a public party for maximum lootation. Within five minutes of beating the game, I was picking up new gear with a party of people I didn’t know. This should become the gold standard for adventure game co-opping.
So What’s Wrong?
Besides the occasionally confusing combat, which is also a staple of this series, the only real problem with the game seems to be the abrupt ending. We won’t spoil what your final battle is (but it doesn’t take Rain Man to figure it out), and when you’re done with that, there’s a “Hey, congrats!” message, and you’re done. You can continue the game and start in Nightmare mode, or switch off and go outside and read a book.
With such a strong emphasis on story, it’s strange and almost upsetting that there isn’t some sort of endgame cutscene or event. It almost feels like they got to that point and just had no idea what to do, or despite their “We ship when it’s ready” tenet… it just wasn’t ready.
Besides that, it’s more what isn’t in the game that’s a problem. Where is the promised PvP that was so hyped? With so many players loving that from Diablo 2, it’s a glaring omission. What about the character-specific side quests? I found out a lot about the Barbarian though some of Deckard Cain’s journals that I found, but what about background on my creepy/cool Witch Doctor? Perhaps there is more to be revealed on additional playthroughs, but I would hope I would learn about my own class while playing.
And What’s Right?
What’s more impressive, however, is what Blizzard got right. The game is truly impressive on nearly every level. From the graphics, to the fantastic soundtrack, to the towering scads of loot and extremely varied gameplay, there’s a lot to like here. It was very disheartening to hear that Blizzard was jettisoning the Rune system where you would find and socket your own Runes, but the unlockable system they use now that improves skills is a terrific solution to rune-juggling.
Additionally, the Followers have so much recorded dialogue that you will hear as they tag along with you, and they’ll even chatter back and forth with each other when you’re in town. You’ll learn all about their lives, loves, fears, and more as they ask you questions or banter back and forth. They even manage to crack a joke or two here and there.
Then, there’s the crack factor. The game is as addictive as ever, and you’ll find yourself saying “Okay, just five more minutes” for hours on end, often just hoping for a decent loot drop before you can finally turn in. The game keeps track of your playtime and progress with each class, providing a visual record of your addiction, and additionally the visual banner system lets you know how awesome both you and your friends.
The End Is Not Nigh
The bottom line is that Diablo 3 is a triumph for Blizzard, despite the painful server problems that plagued the launch. It’s only because Blizzard themselves pull back the curtain so often to show us the development process that we are lamenting the absence of things like PvP and the Mystic. What you get in this package is an addictive, satisfying game that feels very polished, offers a wide range of gameplay options, introduces an insatiable lust for loot, and does co-op right. This is what PC (and Mac!) gaming is all about.