It’s been a long twelve years for fans of the Diablo franchise. Despite Blizzard’s commitment to keeping Diablo II updated with patches over the years, fans of the series have been waiting with bated breath for the next installment... So, was it worth the wait? Read on for our full review!
Diablo III begins with a ‘fallen star’ crashing into the fan-familiar town of Tristram. Tristram has become a sleepy town since the events of Diablo, but the cosmic event seems to have given rise to the dead and it’s up to the player to stop them. This ‘mystery’ takes up the first short few hours of the game, before getting into the story everyone expected to find: Diablo is looking to make a comeback, and he’ll be raising Hell if he does.
Let’s face it, on a technical level, Diablo III already looks a bit dated. We’ve seen the game at BlizzCon for a number of years now and it really doesn’t look much different now than it did then. However, like Blizzard’s World of Warcraft, where Diablo III is deficient in the latest technical whiz bangs and DirectX technology, it makes up for it in art style. Sure, it’s not as gloomy and gothic as the original Diablo games, but it’s dark and gritty all its own. Over the course of the game’s four acts, I traversed through all manner of environments, from the muddy outskirts of Tristram, to the desert, and heck, even Heaven itself. Each area features its own distinct art style and the ambience comes off distinctively well.
The real stars of the show are the animations and spell effects, though. Diablo III’s five classes are all well animated, with special nods going to the Wizard and Barbarian. The Wizard’s spell effects across the various elemental types of magic (and yes, Arcane!) are vibrant and impactful. The Barbarian rends flesh with wild abandon and you can almost feel how brutal the strikes are with every sweep, smash, slash, and leap.
Of course, I’d be remiss without noting the game’s cinematics. In short, every cinematic in the game from start to finish drips with the quality Blizzard is renowned for. I’d really love to see Blizzard put together a CG film at some point. Their cinematics are just that good.
As far as music goes, I took some time to listen to some of the tracks from the Diablo II soundtrack and while Diablo III’s soundtrack is solid, strings and all, I don’t know that it stacks up with its predecessors. The same few tunes are reused quite a bit throughout the game, especially during important moments, and they eventually begin to grow tiresome.
The game’s voice acting is strong in most areas, though I’m really just not a fan of Deckard Cain. He sounds like a young guy trying to feign an old person’s accent. I found him highly annoying as a result. The other principal characters, from villains to allies, all sound great though. The same is true for the player character across each class (and gender!). There are neat little dialogue changes as well, depending on what class you’re playing. They’re subtle, but you’ll notice them if you switch back and forth frequently.
It’s funny, I was never a fan of the original Diablo games, but over the years, I’ve grown fond of the many action RPGs that followed. Unfortunately, I feel Diablo III isn’t really up to snuff in terms of gameplay. It’s solid, sure, but it doesn’t do much to set itself apart, and some of the changes could even be considered a step back for the series. In our review-in-progress series, I found myself unsure if the change to the Rune system over a talent tree was a smart one, but I’m confident it was the right way to go. Even so, Diablo III falls short in a number of other key areas.
Sure, the moment-to-moment combat is fun. It’s what you’d expect. The skill variety, the aforementioned animations, and spell effects are all great. You can build your character in many different ways and switch your build on the fly. But it’s almost all for naught, as the game’s largest issue, at least to me, is the difficulty level.
Yes. I realize Inferno lives up to its namesake, but as of Blizzard's latest blog post, only 1.9% of the game’s population has even unlocked Inferno. In addition, 80% of characters in Diablo III are between levels 1 and 30. I made it a bit above 30 for our review and unfortunately, I never felt challenged while playing the game. In fact, one could pretty much fall asleep and make it through. Bosses were mere speed bumps, and outside of the Prime Evils, the Butcher, and King Leoric, I don’t remember the name of a single boss. I know it gets harder later – but the notion that one should have to beat the game at least three times (per character!) to find a real challenge is honestly ridiculous. I realize the game eventually boils down to the loot chase, but it should still be fun and at least somewhat challenging on the way to the ‘end game’ of Inferno. I didn’t find a single piece of gear in Normal or Nightmare that was worth actually using; nine times out of ten, it was far below my level.
To make matters worse, the Auction House ends up being a negative. What was originally intended to streamline the trading mechanic of Diablo ends up cheapening the loot chase entirely. When the feature is working properly, it’s far too tempting and far too easy to simply buy yourself a full set of Rare quality gear with all the stats you want on it pretty much every five levels or so. And, of course, this made the game even easier than it already was.
Diablo III doesn’t do too much different, but what it does, it does fairly well. The Rune system allows for flexible build paths that can easily be switched and sorted. The Auction House and especially the forthcoming Real Money Auction House will give the game a real player-driven economy and even allow players to make real money themselves. Of course, players have been making money selling Diablo items and such for many years now, but the Auction House(s) will provide a safer and more secure means to do this.
Blizzard took their time with Diablo III, as they do with all their games, for a reason. Diablo III is a truly polished experience, well, at least on the gameplay side of things. You won’t find many bugs or other glitches with enemies, the environment, or skills, and so things are great on that front. The UI is slick and familiar to fans of the series, and the controls are all responsive and free of any sort of fuss.
There’s a flipside to this coin, though. The service side of Diablo III – and by that, I mean Battle.Net--isn’t quite there yet. The game got off to a rocky start with a launch day that seemed to feature more downtime than uptime, and things haven’t necessarily been smooth since. Due to the game’s always-online nature, I occasionally had to deal with latency issues (rubberbanding, warping, etc.) while playing the game, even if I was playing solo.
The Auction House, for all its awesomeness, sometimes refuses to work in various ways. And heck, hackers are already in the game. A friend of mine had his account hacked and all his items and gold stolen already, for example. This doesn’t bode well for a service that endeavors to facilitate real money trading securely.
While players in the lower levels seem to make up the majority for the moment, there’s no doubt in mind that Diablo III is going to have a tight grip on the attention of fans of the series for a long time to come. It’s clear to me that despite the game’s shortcomings, it’s still Diablo, and I can imagine that chasing loot (when it’s loot actually worth chasing), is as fun as ever. There will always be better loot to be had, and Inferno seems to be proving to be quite a challenge for the community so far. If nothing else, the Real Money Auction House will keep some of the most diehard fans playing long after they’ve put together satisfactory item sets for the characters. I’d probably play the game pretty frequently myself if I could make a pretty penny off it!
We should also not forget PvP. It’s not in the game yet, but it’s coming with the game’s first major update, and putting all those crazy items and builds to the test against other players is likely to provide an endless source of entertainment for many a bloodthirsty Diablo fan.
Just like Diablo II, I think we’ll see players actively playing (or at the very least, farming) Diablo III all the way up to the launch of the next installment in the series. Hopefully, we won’t have to wait twelve years for that one!
When the Battle.net service works properly it makes for a solid social experience. There are achievements to be earned, and you’ll even be able to see these achievements as your friends earn them even you’re playing the game. If that’s not enough, said achievements will unlock a variety of customization options for your own personal banner. You can show your custom banner to your friends in game. It’s a neat little feature that allows for a bit of personalization.
Additionally, you can view your friends’ player profiles, gear, play time, and just about anything else, as well, making for easy comparisons. And most important of all? It’s easy as heck to hot-join your friends for some Diablo III goodness. Just click a button and you can drop right in.
On top of that, if you’re feeling a bit chatty (or just have some important questions), there are a number of chat channels to participate in. It’s all very MMO-like. It’s simply a breeze to connect, communicate, and keep up with your friends.
If you’re at all into action RPGs, you’re likely to lose many hours of sleep to Diablo III. As a result, you’ll more than get your money’s worth out of the $60 you dropped on the game. Tying into the game’s potential longevity, it’s possible Diablo III will keep you coming back for months if not years from now. And if you’re comfortable playing the Real Money Auction House, you may even be able to earn back all the money to spent on the game in the first place. Either way, Diablo III is easily worth the price of admission.
Diablo III is an action RPG I’d recommend to any fan of the series and even action RPG newbies. If you’re a diehard Diablo fan, you’re probably playing Hell or Inferno already and are most likely too busy collecting your loot to even read this review. If you’ve never played an action RPG or Diablo game, this one is as good as any to cut your teeth on. It’s a polished, well-paced experience. My only caveat is that it may be too easy at first, even for a total newbie to the series or genre. So if you can’t see yourself beating the campaign multiple times per character, you might want to consider this. Give the chance for the game to get its hooks in you, though, and you’re likely to be playing Diablo III for quite a while.