Diablo 3 review

By John Keefer, May 24, 2012 7:00am PDT

The Diablo series has been a source of many fond gaming memories for me. Beating up on hordes of minions from Hell alone always made me feel like a hero, and I felt especially rewarded when recovering all the loot that spewed like a fountain from the corpses of the fallen and chests scattered throughout the dungeons in the games.

And now, 12 years later, all those feelings came rushing back as I played Diablo III. The game has not substantially changed from its predecessors. Sure, it looks prettier, has an MMO-like auction house, and an annoying need to stay connected to the Internet even when I'm not playing with friends online. But the overall feeling of power and control still prevails--and it's what makes the game a success.

I chose a monk to play through the story line because of the enjoyment I used to have playing that type of in-your-face finesse class in pen-and-paper role-playing games. As I progressed in level and knowledge, the class really played as I had envisioned it when describing my actions to the dungeon master in hours-long play sessions. Now, no such description is needed; the sessions are still hours long and Blizzard has succeeded in becoming the dungeon master. No more talking, just doing.

The story is again well-crafted, but that is nothing new for Blizzard. As with any trip to a Diablo-imagined Hell, there are portions that feel familiar, with a few characters and monsters making return appearances. The Horadric historian, Deckard Cain, is back and guided me through the game with interesting bits of lore about the races and monsters I encountered throughout. There was something reassuring about hearing that gravelly voice again. But, about half way through the game, the story pace quickened, speeding up my heart rate as I frantically battled wave after wave of hellspawn, even as friendly soldiers died around me. The adrenaline rush of making it through that part of the game is something I don't often feel these days, and it made me anticipate the end game even more.

Followers add a nice twist to the familiar parts of the game. At different story points, I met characters who traveled with me for a time, helping me battle enemies, while sharing their stories and adding to the ambiance and lore of the game. The Templar, Enchantress and Scoundrel each have varied backgrounds and back stories. They also provided additional firepower and skills to assist me in the completion of my goals, although they weren't nearly powerful enough to keep me alive through a stupid mistake. Their witty, and at times comical, banter with me while traveling provided some levity in the otherwise dark moments of the game and I actually found myself as interested in what made them tick as I was in following the main story plot. Even the blacksmith and the jeweler, who you encounter later in the game, have stories and wisdom. I found myself using the talk option with those characters almost as often as that to craft new gear or upgrade the gems I had found.

Combat is a fairly simple matter, with only two mouse buttons and four hotkeys to worry about. Skills can be modified with runes and hotkeys reassigned with relative ease, so it is easy to test different combinations in combat without having to unlearn skills. I only ran into trouble when I was overwhelmed by numbers or tried to go toe-to-toe with a group of mobs or a boss when I should have been kiting or moving to wait for a skill cool down. In fact, some of the boss fights were easier than the Champion groups or Elite individual mobs I ran into while exploring.

At no point in the game did I get a sense of been-there, done-that to the point of tedium, at least in my initial run through the game. Once you pick up a different class, or choose to go through the game at the next difficulty level, that feeling can creep up, but by virtue of the random generation of dungeons and encounters, a new play though is never exactly the same. And each class has new skills to learn and new angles from which to view the story as a participant observer.

The only spot where the randomness caused a problem is the magic gear dropped from monsters, or the magic imbued on crafted items I was able to create at the blacksmith. There are so many stats and abilities that can be placed on items that finding one suited to my needs was fairly easy, but I found that I could never get a rare item that didn't have a wasted stat or two. I was able to complete the game with relatively few deaths, but heading into Nightmare difficulty demanded an upgrade in gear and that was something that wasn't easy to do under the find-and-equip or create-and-equip system in the game.

Enter the auction house (AH), a new addition to the Diablo franchise and plundered from World of Warcraft because of its success as almost a game unto itself. At first, I found the AH a bit awkward. Trying to find items specifically suited to my class with no wasted stats was cumbersome, but the more I played with it and found how to refine my searches, it became a bit easier, to the point that I was able to upgrade my gear so much (at relatively bargain prices) that I am now navigating Nightmare difficulty with relative ease. The Auction House still has some minor issues as bids and buyouts can timeout, which apparently occurs when a buyout is attempted on an item that is being purchased by someone else and the server is processing the request. Blizzard continues to play with it and, at this writing, the AH is down for maintenance.

While Diablo III had well-documented server problems and error messages early in the launch--keeping me out of the game for at least the first few hours--things have stabilized significantly. But the fact that the game must always be connected to the Internet to satisfy Blizzard's need for DRM is frustrating. I cannot play my single-player game if my Internet connection drops and there is nothing Blizzard will let me do about it.

That said, being online to connect with friends or strangers and play through the co-op mode has been entertaining, especially since the public game system pits you with people at your level and on the same quests you are trying to complete. I started grouping in Nightmare mode as the game's difficulty ramped up. It will probably be a necessity to group in the final two difficulty levels of Hell and Inferno since Blizzard continues to tweak the balance of the game with hotfixes. One "fix" in particular significantly impacted my monk's self-healing ability so that it is a bit tougher to get through long fights. For me, a partner has become almost a foregone conclusion.

Diablo III is one of those rare games where its faults are easily forgiven because it is so easy to forget about them amidst the abundance of things the game does right. Blizzard was smart in not messing with success by radically redesigning and instead refining it to the point of exhilaration. Now excuse me while I go back to my Nightmare to prepare for Hell. (Follow my monk's travels in our Diablo III diaries).


[This Diablo III review is based on a digitally downloaded version of the game provided by the publisher as part of a World of Warcraft annual pass purchase.]

Click here to comment...

Comments

1 Thread | 79 Comments