Diablo II, our last full outing to the world of Sanctuary, was released twelve years ago. TWELVE – let that sink in. The last time I played Diablo II my ISP was @Home and the world had recovered from the Y2K bug. I think I may have still owned a mouse that had a mouse ball in it, though it was likely in a box somewhere. At one point I was asked what I expected a new Diablo to deliver, to which I reflected on what I felt the previous game brought to the table. Diablo II had everything you could want – simple interface, tons of action, multiple classes with their own skill trees, cooperative-and-competitive multi-player, and the unforgettable sounds of loot dropping that created a Pavlovian response to grab it before anyone else does (AKA ninja looting). It had its downsides too: low resolution, item duping, town-killing, tons of mad clicking, scrolls of identify and town portal, as well as the aforementioned ninja-looting.
we’ve been running a Facebook contest for our USA readers (closes May 29, 2012).
While this review will focus on the game, I will not be dwelling on the collectors edition extras – because really, Diablo III is big enough on it’s own. I’m also not going to dwell too much on the perceptions that were out there prior to the game release, nor am I going to set this up to be some sort of bastion against single-player DRM – no, the scores represented are for the game I played and not some agenda I’m trying to force on the publisher. Frankly, while some of my opinions may vary a bit, I felt Victor hit the nail on the head. In short, the drawback of online-only gameplay are far outstripped by the benefits that Blizzard’s always-on strategy brings to the table, even if there is room for improvement – more on that in a bit.
What truly sets it apart from its current contemporaries is, though it’s legacy is over a decade old and its model has often been imitated, is that it actually feels like Diablo. The artistic presentation does not feel like World of Warcraft, though the character selection screen may recycle some elements. The varying friends and foes all jive, and while I would have liked to have been able to have a higher resolutions to the characters (as seen in modern games like Batman: Arkham City), the pulled back view isn’t hampered by the lower resolution, and allows the scene to be filled with dozens of enemies on-screen without hitch, and incredibly short load times on my mid-range PC.
peruse the different classes on the official Blizzard website which breaks down the level progression in great detail.
Having played each of the five classes (several times over) both in beta and now the retail version, I have pretty good understanding of what each role has to offer. My wizard, BlackMage – named in tribute to 8-Bit theater, is currently my highest leveled character and the one that I’d used to finish the retail release. I found that while I enjoy the Frost Nova to freeze enemies in place and then use Arcane Orb to blast them to smithereens, I needed to change my play style for boss fights. This, in my opinion, really allows you to feel like you have control. While there may be optimal configurations that some folks may swear are the best of the best, there really is no risk in experimenting with the skills, since you can change them on the fly – save a short cooldown period. By default Blizzard has you picking one of each of the six types of skills for each class. I recommend you turn on the Elective mode from the gameplay options almost immediately. This allows you greater control over which skills you can select for the different hot-keys.
Lastly, there is a hardcore mode which is unlocked relatively early, where you can create a character who is cut off from your town chest, common gold, and the auction house. They cannot be resurrected once dead, so gameplay becomes much more reserved, and since you can’t artificially bump your character with items collected from other characters, you rely on the magic drops available. When they die, a memorial is kept to show what they were wearing, how far they got, and what ended their life.
6.6+ million user base garnered in it’s first week of release alone. The security of the online-only component of Diablo III is key here – if they are going to host a game that allows people to farm items for real money, then it’s very important to make sure there is no offline cheating. Is it a perfect system? No, and the launch day”Error 37″ showed us that we’re at the whim of their server availability – but Blizzard has been up-front with users and have committed to working out any issues. It’s not like they’re new to having a massive gaming population online – but the sheer number of people connecting at once is staggering. It is no small task to go from load projections to real-world impact of millions of people connecting – anf frankly Blizzard has done what no one else has. I don’t see any complaint in the fact that since the day-after-release, I’ve been able to rack up 70+ hours with only one time where Battle.Net was unavailable – so, in short, this doesn’t factor into the score.
Getting back to to answer the question about what I thought Diablo III would deliver, I expected a game that would make me lose track of time, wish for bigger backpacks, and sacrifice real-life relationships. Thankfully, two outta three ain’t bad.