I’m going to preface this review with a few facts: the first being that I’ve never played any previous iterations of Diablo.
For me, there is no “I really loved this about Diablo so why did Blizzard have to change it” factor. No, I don’t know what I’m missing out on. I have no grounds with which to compare the leveling systems or the loot drops of previous entries because I have no experience with them. I’ve never played a Diablo game that doesn’t have an auction house and I don’t know how much better the endgame was the first or second time around.
Diablo 3, for all intents and purposes, is my whole Diablo universe and I can only review the game based on how it made me feel, not on how I expected it to make me feel. Does this make me less qualified to have an opinion about the game or to inform a reader about whether or not he will like it? Maybe. More so if I hadn’t made that clear from the get go. I was a Diablo virgin, only recently deflowered.
Fact number two: I have played me some Diablo 3. Between the five playable characters (Barbarian, Wizard, Monk, Demon Hunter and Witch Doctor), I’ve dedicated over 225 hours of my life to this game. That, according to google, is 9.375 days… and according to my therapist, is also kind of depressing. I’m certain that a few of those hours were me walking away from my computer to check on supper or watch TV, but for the most part, that’s an accurate measure for how much of my life I’ve sacrificed working my way through the game’s 4 chapters, over and over and over again. I have thoroughly enjoyed the majority of this time. All of my characters are at least level 25 and I feel an attachment to each one of them. I don’t really like one over the other – they all play differently and they are all fun.
If there’s an argument to be made for not scoring a review, Diablo 3, in many respects could be the poster child for that argument. This is not an easy game to score: For every gloriously addictive and supremely fun aspect of the game, there are an almost equal number of mind-numbingly frustrating and infuriating flaws. These flaws are clearly more damaging to some, and this is normally based on the D3 not living up to fan expectations created by previous games in the series. The question that I ask is if we should let the negative aspects out-weigh the positive? Should we as gamers dwell on the bad aspects and allow them to weight as heavily as the good?
So here’s the deal: Normally, I try to avoid breaking down reviews in such a formulaic fashion, but this time I’m going to break a few rules. There isn’t a lot that hasn’t already been said about this game, so rather than try and be objective, I’m simply going to tell you what I like about Diablo 3 and then I’m going to tell you what I dislike about Diablo 3. I won’t waste a lot of time talking about the mechanics (you click and click and click) or go in depth describing the world or characters like Deckard Cain or Leah. I’m just going to tell you what I like and what I don’t so much like.
Okay, now that we’re all on the same page, let’s get this review thing going.
First off, I love the story behind Diablo 3. It’s predictable and clichéd, but it’s still deep and enjoyable. The narrative is fantastic and the voice acting is impressive, bordering on perfect. The cut scenes are some of the most graphically beautiful I have ever seen and are worth taking the time to watch. If you want to enjoy the story, you’ll need to do at least one run through of the game’s single player mode. When playing with multiple players, if one person decides to skip a scene, it skips it for everyone. It’s true that unlike many games, once you’ve heard it there’s no real need to hear it again, but I would recommend that at least once, everyone should take the chance to speak with all the NPCs and flesh out their stories. There are no choices to make and no real different directions to take the narrative, and it doesn’t change a lot from character to character, so again, once is enough but that once is definitely essential. It will give you a deeper appreciation for the character you play and allow you to get a better grasp on what you’re actually up against. The fact that one mortal can plow his way through all these demons is rather telling of the strength of the Nephalem. It makes you feel rewarded when your barbarian lobs off a demon’s head or your monk knocks a champion clear across the room. This leads nicely into the next thing I love about Diablo 3: the graphics and sound.
No matter how you feel about this game, one thing that is undeniable is the beauty of both it’s audio and visuals. The vibrant colors and smooth textures are incredibly pleasing to the eye. Whether you’re traversing a desert, fighting your way through the fires of hell, slogging through a marsh or plundering your way through a castle dungeon, there is always some small detail that will catch your eye. Where I find the design most impressive is in the background (which are generally off the edges of cliffs or walkways, seeing as the game is played from overhead), which are often animated with intense battles or other details that add to the atmosphere. The music and sound effects are also amazing. Every locale has music perfectly fitted to the environment. The sounds are perfect – from the rattling of gold dropping out of a chest and the clang of equipping a new piece of armor to the meaty rip of tearing a demons his “new one” or the piercing pop of the demon-hunters rapid fire arrow assault, the audio is constantly pleasing to the ear. I wear my Omega Tactic 3D headphones when I play and often catch something I had never heard before. If you stand still long enough, you may even be treated to the lovely sound of your barbarian hocking an epic loogie.
Another thing I truly love about Diablo 3 is the replayability. The game is short (4-6 hours to play through on Normal or Nightmare), but the dungeons are randomly generated and some events or areas will only show up on certain play-throughs, necessitating multiple sessions. I love the grinding and the satisfaction that come with leveling up. Every level allows you to uncover a new skill, ability or add secondary abilities that compliment existing skills. The system is a lot deeper than you would initially think at first glance. To be fair, it’s true that every level 20 demon-hunter has the exact same skill set as every other level 20 demon-hunter, but how these skills are utilized makes everyone play their level 20 demon-hunter a little bit differently. It’s a lot of fun to mix and match your lesser used spells and skills to unlock new ways to play that you may not have thought effective. If you have an ability that multiplies damage to enemies that have been slowed, you’ll likely concentrate on using skills that cast slow. However, once you level and find an ability you may like more, it could render all of your skills obsolete and force you to investigate new combinations. This opens more options than would simply assigning skill points to various categories as a lot of other RPGs do – often once those points are distributed they often cannot be unselected on the spot (like distributing points in Skyrim or The Old Republic) and while some of these games will give you the option to reset all skill points to zero, Diablo 3 allows you to tweak specific aspects of your character to fit the immediate need. On the fly, you can go from a totally offensive player dealing massive amounts of damage if you’re wailing through a crowd of lesser demons, to a much more defensive player that focuses on survivability for those long boss battle slug-fests. Regardless of the build you choose, all characters are made to be killers – no one here specializes in healing and on the down side, there isn’t a whole lot of working together with your team of up to three other players, which leads me into the things I don’t so much like about Diablo 3.
This is a game that is meant to be played with friends. Online multi-player is the true way to enjoy D3. Unfortunately, with the lack of a chat feature, there is very little in the means of strategy if you’re just playing with randoms. I will give a huge thumbs up to the ease of joining your friends online. With two to three clicks, you can not only hop into a friends game, but you can actually warp to their exact location and help them right in the heat of battle. For people who don’t have a ton of friends playing PC games, randomly stumbling upon agroup of three others with the same intentions (progressing through the game, farming for gold, etc.) can be challenging. On the flip side, unless you’re really leveled-up beyond your current difficulty setting, going it solo can be rather demanding. The problem is that for every player that joins your party, the enemies get disproportionately more powerful. If you have three people join your team, but only one of them is participating while the other two are off doing their own thing (or just sitting in town downing NOTHING) you have to deal with over-powered enemies destroying you and leading to hefty repair bills. This can force you to resort to restarting an entire area with your fingers crossed that you’ll draw a better lot of players. It’s not a major problem in the opening difficulties, but once you reach Hell or Inferno, players who are not in sync with one another can make the game play difficulty go well beyond being challenging – it can become nearly impossible to progress and this can be extremely frustrating.
You also get more and better loot (a major reason for the games addictive quality) depending on the number of people you’re playing with, but in reality, loot and gold are one and the same. This is another of the game’s weaknesses. Once you’ve passed Normal and Nightmare difficulties (and for most, well before that point), the worth of the gear you find is negligible. It’s always of lower levels than you are and normally only good for a character other than the one you’re playing. Blizzard has come out and stated that this was intentional to force people to use the auction house. For a minimal amount of gold, you can buyout equipment that buffs your primary stat and makes you a killing machine. Most of the loot you find will simply be sold to merchants or at auction to prep for your next set of purchases (I do this every 8 to 10 levels and it makes the game almost too easy at times). I have nothing against the auction house as such, but I find it a shame that it’s essentially necessary. And even if it’s not at first, its draw is often too hard to deny yourself. Has anyone ever made it through the entirety Diablo 3 without using the auction house? I’d have an incredibly hard time believing it.
I actually decided to drop $20 in the real money auction house to try an outfit my wizard to the point where I hoped I would breeze through Inferno – yeah, right. I still can’t get through act two. Maybe I’m just not good enough or maybe I have to spend more time farming to buy stronger items. The thing about end game grinding is that it lacks the satisfying reward of leveling (you’re capped at level 60) and the only exciting thing about the drops is trying to estimate how much money you can sell it for at auction or if you should just dump it at the merchant for a quick grand. Normally by this point, I’ll just create a new character and try to play through using different skills, abilities and play styles. Again, I’ve never beaten the game on Inferno and I’m not sure I ever will. Without an excellent team of focused individuals and a high dependence on the auction house, I don’t think it’s possible for me. Seeing as I’m not a completionist, not beating the game on Inferno isn’t really huge deal and it has not in any way taken away from my enjoyment of the game. That being said, I can TOTALLY understand why long time fans who have waited 12 years for this title to be released would feel jilted by this turn of events.
The fact that the game necessitates an internet connection is also kind of a downer. While most of the server issues plaguing the launch have been resolved, people without an internet connection simply cannot play the game – not even the single player campaign. While this is disappointing for many who live in areas without reliable high-speed broadband, I believe Blizzard did this mostly do deal with issues of piracy. Sure, they don’t want people hacking the game and exploiting the real money auction house, but I believe more importantly, they want to make sure everyone playing Diablo 3 is doing so with a legitimate copy. I’m no tech wizard, but it seems a simple solution to the AH issue would be to ban the sale of items obtained during offline play. It couldn’t be that hard to do, could it? Again, this does nothing to combat the piracy issue, which I think is the main factor – but Blizzard deciding to issue a huge “screw you” to people without internet connections seems like a bad idea and bad business, not to mention pretty unfair.
The company has also gone on record stating that in its current state, the Diablo 3 end game is unsustainable, but I’m alright with that – for $60 (alright, alright, $80) I’ve managed to have 200+ hours of highly-addictive fun. I’ve grinded (ground?) my toons to the highest levels, I’ve seen everything there is to see, heard everything there is to hear and with loads of amazing games coming out in the next few months, I never purchased Diablo 3 with the intent of playing it for years. Although I’ve heard and I appreciate the many frustrations people have with the game, its pluses highly outweigh it’s minuses. The story, graphics, gameplay, sound, build structure and replayability totally make up for the issues of scaling difficulty, auction house dependance and necessary internet connection. Diablo 3 has provided me with what is easily the most fun I’ve had playing a video game in a very long time and I highly recommend anyone familiar or unfamiliar with the story or genre pick up the game and give it a try. I highly doubt you’ll come away disappointed unless you go in hoping that you will be.