Diablo III – Review
Twenty years have passed since the Prime Evils were defeated and banished from the world of Sanctuary. Now you must return to where it all began – the town of Tristram – and investigate rumours of a fallen star, for this is the first sign of evil’s rebirth and an omen that the End Times have begun. And so begins Diablo III, the much awaited sequel to (you guessed it) Diablo and Diablo II. Since the previous game’s release in 2000, fans of the franchise have had to wait almost an eternity for this latest edition and Blizzard have given them something that should indeed sate their desire.
I was quite keen to play this new installment but that quickly lost its lustre when I was faced with a 7.60 GB download from the Blizzard website – something I really wasn’t expecting and that had me spitting sparks for almost two hours while I waited for my slightly poor connection to bring me my game. Once the download had finished, I settled in and started up the game, which then promptly had me creating a Battle.net account, only for me to then end up facing a log in screen that I couldn’t get past. It turns out that Blizzard hadn’t quite anticipated the massive interest in the game and their Battle.net servers couldn’t cope with the load. Frustration all round, but after a couple of days they seemed to sort it out and the glitches have been few since.
As Diablo is an RPG style game your first port of call is character creation, which basically just means choosing one of the character classes and naming your on-screen hero. Barbarian, Demon Hunter, Monk, Witch Doctor and Wizard; each have their strengths and weaknesses, and each have their appeal. For my first foray I chose Barbarian. The story starts with you arriving in Tristram; a falling star has struck the town cathedral and the last of the Horadrim, Deckard Cain, is missing. You meet up with his ward, Leah, and so the story unfolds.
I won’t say much more about it, as I wouldn’t want to spoil it for anyone who has yet to play, but there is a rich back-story throughout, and heaps of lore to be uncovered as you quest through the lands of Sanctuary and encounter new enemies and old. There has been a massive amount of time and effort spent in making this a vivid world. Exploration is encouraged, as each map is reasonably extensive and dotted with places to explore and items to find. In a lot of places too, there are environmental elements that come into play to create a living backdrop to the game.
As with most RPG type games, your character starts with little equipment or money, and even less experience. Various things in the game grant you XP – the usual and most common obviously being the slaying of enemies. You’ll pick up various quests right from the beginning and completing these also gives you experience points, as well as a small monetary reward. It’s pretty standard RPG fare really, though, in addition, there are journals dotted about the levels in hidden caches that will give you extra information to add to the story and history, as well as a little experience for finding them. Also, every time you encounter a new enemy (of which there are many) you gain experience and information on the lore of their species. All in all it’s a pretty good system and leveling up is quite well spaced out. In something like twenty seven hours of play I’ve managed to bring my Barbarian up to near level 30.
Battling enemies (and scenery) in Diablo III is achieved by pointing and clicking. Your character will run and attack, or stand off and fire ranged weapons and magic at your chosen target. Other abilities are spread across the keys 1-4 on your keyboard, as well as the right click, so it pays to remember what you’ve chosen to put where and utilise them when surrounded by foes. Healing potions default to Q, which is handy, although something that has changed majorly since Diablo II is that you can’t mash Q to down potion after potion any more, as each one now has a cool-down time, the same as any other spell and ability. Although it was something that disappointed me in a minor way when I first discovered it, it does make sense in game terms, as it makes you more aware of your health and forces you to sometimes retreat in order to recuperate before entering the fray again.
Leveling up is dealt with in easy fashion; each new level enhances your abilities and, at regular intervals, grants you new ones. There aren’t any skill trees as such, but, rather, a small selection of core abilities that you can choose to stick with and enhance, instead of changing to the newly offered options. The Barbarian’s skills are all dependent on his/her level of Fury – an energy level that is built up by hitting enemies and breakable items in the landscape; this is then unleashed in various ways on your foes to devastating effect. Demon Hunters, Monks, Wizards and Witch Doctors all have their equivalent energy forms (hatred/discipline, spirit, mana and arcane power respectively) that empower them to make varied attacks and spell castings. Aside from the Barbarian, whose fury is filled by battle, all these energy forms are depleted during combat.
Should the energy globe be completely emptied, then your more powerful attacks and spells become unavailable for use until such time as you’ve either managed to find space to relax a few moments, or you’ve managed to kill an enemy and find a little floating power up that refills either your health or energies. So far, in all my hours of playing as a Barbarian, there have been plenty of these popping up, but there have still been many occasions where my Barbarian has been overwhelmed and died. Dying itself is not a massive deal as you get revived at the last checkpoint. This is only a minor irritation if you’ve been killed in the middle of a mission, but is a bigger bugbear if you get killed during an end of level battle, as the last checkpoint is inevitably prior to the cut scenes that introduce the big bad, so you end up (as I did) having to go through the cut scenes again. Not only that but any damage you did prior to kicking the proverbial bucket is negated and the battle starts over.
That brings us rather neatly on to weapons. You begin your adventure with just the very basics; in the case of the Barbarian that meant a single small axe, a couple of health potions and not much else. As you battle your way through the landscape, vanquished opponents drop all manner of goodies, though not all the time, and occasional cash. Your pack can carry a good mix of things and you very soon learn just to collect everything and hope you can make it back to town to see the merchants when you get full. If you can’t, then you have to be a little more circumspect in your hoarding, but worry not, because, as the game progresses, your character learns the hugely helpful skill of Town Portal. Hitting the T key will have your on-screen self casting a little spell that opens a portal to the current base of operations where you can recuperate and offload anything you don’t want to keep. In each base there are a couple of merchants at the very least, as well as a cleric type who can heal you. He’s a little superfluous in my opinion though, as I’ve not yet been so short of potions that I’ve had to use his services.
Different merchants sell slightly different things so it’s worth investigating the base areas to see who has what. The same applies for selling too, as some will give you better prices for different items. Over the course of the game you can get some really good items and, of course, your fair share of rubbish. Items are coloured white for the chaff, blue for things with a little magic about them, and yellow for rare and mighty weapons. You won’t be able to use the rare and mighty things right away, however, as they need identifying, but this is easily rectified with a quick right click. Later in the game, socketed weapons make an appearance so you need to keep an eye out for gems appearing in the spoils of war.
Battle after battle after battle naturally has a detrimental effect on your equipment and, occasionally, you’ll require the merchant to do repairs. You can choose to repair just the items you’re equipped with, or to do everything in your inventory, which can increase their values marginally. If you do this regularly then the costs are quite small, but if you leave it until your equipment is flagged as broken then it can take a good chunk out of your available funds, so it’s worth keeping an eye on.
Another element that appears in the base areas after completing a particular couple of missions are the Smith and the Artisan. The Smith is as you’d expect; a surly craftsmen who can forge arms and armour for you at a cost. The catch, however, is that for him to create things you first have to break things. This is done by giving him magic weapons to break down into their component parts (nothing too complicated, just spirit essence and fallen teeth). You then use give him combinations of these, along with a fee in gold and he forges you something new. To begin with the choices are quite limited, but you can pay cash for him to train and upgrade, so that he can then make more powerful items. Eventually the training has to be with pages from manuals that will, allegedly crop up in your travels – I say allegedly because I haven’t found any myself yet.
The Artisan is very similar, except they deal with gemstones. During the game you will pick up chipped and flawed gemstones. These can be used right away to add powers to socketed items (they hold the gemstone in them and it enhances their attributes), but chipped and flawed ones are weak. By collecting these gems up you can then have the Artisan combine them to make better stronger gems, which you can then combine with more of the same to make even stronger ones and keep on going until you have a perfect gemstone. Oh, and don’t fret if you feel you have put the wrong gem into something. Both the Artisan and Smith can extract them from items, but be careful… the Smith will destroy the item to get the gem, whereas the Artisan will skilfully remove them and leave the item intact.
Another thing that helps make your journey through Sanctuary easier is the inclusion of some NPC companions. A Templar, an Enchantress and a Rogue. You can only travel with one of them at a time, but they are handy to have around. Occasionally they get in the way a bit, traveling practically on top of you like a clingy child, and their AI is a little limited, so the second you’re within range of an enemy they’ll charge off and start fighting – though if you don’t join them they do come back a little sheepishly to carry on with you on your chosen path. The voice acting for these characters is pretty good, though occasionally lame in their spouting and the Templar sounds a lot like Sean Bean in Game Of Thrones at times.
During the course of your time with these people it is your responsibility to equip them with your cast-offs and make sure they’re capable of standing up to the hordes in combat. They gain experience too, and as they level up you get to choose some of their abilities so they can help you out in times of need (one of the more useful I’ve found is the Templar’s ability to heal you when your life force is getting low. It doesn’t always save you, but it’s definitely a good choice).
The storyline in Diablo III moves along at a reasonable place, and you can pick up extra information if you’re so inclined by talking to anyone who appears with a little blue star above their head. There are three quite long chapters each full of battles and investigations, though you are lead by the nose a little bit. Then there is a fourth, shorter climax to the storyline. All in all it’s a lot of Diablo to work your way through and it should keep you entertained for a good while. Add to that the five character classes and that’s effectively five playthroughs of a 30+ hour game.
At least you’ll have something pretty to look at if you take multiple runs at it, because Diablo III has some fabulous backdrops and stunning scenery. The art and graphics really are quite beautiful in places, however, at times, when surrounded by enemies and everything bar the kitchen sink is being thrown at you, it can be quite confusing and you may lose track of your hero. This can be a little frustrating, however it does add something to the urgency of battle and gives a feeling of a frantic melee. The end of level bosses are tough enough to really give you a sense of satisfaction when you do beat them, and the final cinematics are truly beautiful.
Multiplayer is a co-op affair that follows the storyline and there’s no need to be concerned about playing with people who ignore the enemies and go for the gold, as any item drop and gold drop is 100% individual,so everything you see on the floor is yours and yours alone and your cohorts will see their own items and gold on their own screens. A nice little touch. Another interesting part of the setup is the Auction House. A place where you can go and spend your hard earned in game gold on items and equipment placed up for sale by other players. It works a little like eBay and anything you buy can be transported back to your stash in-game, ready to be collected and used.
- A lot like Diablo of old - familiarity with the controls makes for an easy in
- Well paced storyline
- Levelling up is simple and relatively evenly spaced so you get the thrill of achievement
- In game achievements flow nicely, but those looking for a max will need to work for it
- It's a lot like Diablo of old - very little about it feels new or much different
- The story is a minor variation of almost every story ever told in RPG games
- Server issues and the long process of setting up the game are frustrating
All in all, Diablo III is enjoyable and well paced, beautiful and simple. The fans and diehards will adore it, those not familiar with the franchise but like RPG style games should be happy enough with it too. So long as Blizzard manage to maintain the servers and services then it almost certainly will be a contender for THE game of 2012 for some... just not me personally.
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