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It’s been 12 years since Diablo II was launched by Blizzard and there’s been a lot of hype and anticipation for a sequel. Finally revealed in Paris in 2008 at the Blizzard Worldwide Invitational, fans would have to wait another 4 for the game to launch. Would the long wait drive the rabid core fan-base away? Or would Diablo III have the same last appealing as its predecessor?
Taking place 20 years after Baal’s fall in the Worldstone Chamber, Diablo III returns us to Sanctuary. After an impressive opening cinematic where we’re re-introduced to our old friend Deckard Cain and a new face, his niece Leah, the journey to finally bring an end to Diablo begins.
Diablo III gives you 5 classes to choose from, only one returning from Diablo II. There’s the Barbarian, a physical tank with a wide range of offensive and defensive skills and a high damage output. The Demon Hunter is a fusion of the Amazon ranged abilities with the Assassin’s trap abilities. The Wizard is re-branded Sorceress from Diablo II that cast spells to enhance their own abilities while raining havoc on anything in their path. The Monk replaces the Paladin from Diablo II. This class focuses on mitigation, healing, and hand to hand combat, a very versatile class and my personal favourite. Finally we have the Witch Doctor, which utilizes voodoo, crowd control and minions.
Each class has a specific role they play. One of my biggest gripes with Diablo III is the removal of the Skill Tree system from Diablo II in favour of an automated skill and rune system which unfortunately paints a class into a corner. Previously with Diablo II, on levelling up you’d receive skill and stat points that you could distribute how you saw fit. This allowed people to build a character to the play style they wanted, focusing on skills/abilities that appealed to them. Upon reaching a new level in Diablo III, you unlock a new skill/ability and or rune that modifies what said skill/ability can do and your stat points are automatically assigned. This essentially makes every class the same at the maximum level 60. The only difference is player skill and their equipment.
Taking a page from World of Warcraft, Diablo III replaces the player belt user interface with quick bar with your assigned skills. Skills have an associated cost, a cool-down timer, a resource generator, or a combination of any of those. It seems Blizzard was trying to go for a more simplistic approach with this, and while it does the job, I wish they hadn’t gone this route and refined/tweaked Diablo II’s system. Enabling “Elective Mode” in your options menu allows you more flexibility with customization of skills which should have been enabled by default.
One of the things that is a fantastic improvement in Diablo III is the stash and inventory system. For years players wanted a shared stash amongst all their characters and we finally got it with Diablo III. It starts off small, and requires a significant gold investment to expand it to maximum capacity, but the function of it is perfect. Items and gold are stored universally over all characters on your account and server. This only changes for Hardcore mode which has a separate stash from Softcore characters. Items can quickly be transferred in and out of your stash with right click, so dragging and dropping is a thing of the past. Furthermore, commodity items, can now be stacked up to 99 times, which allows for better organization and less clutter.
With the inventory system, hovering the cursor over an item will reveal a breakdown on what the item does, and if you have a piece of equipment of that slot equipped, it will show both items and compare them, revealing automatically for players whether an item is an improvement or not, though this only applies to Life, Damage Per Second and Protection. Another enhancement is a massive list of details on your character. It breaks down every possible stat you can acquire, how much you have and what it does for you.
Gameplay is virtually the same as Diablo II. This is a hack n slash game where you will likely go through a few mice a year with all the clicking you’ll be doing. Diablo III has been modernized to feel more like an MMO. As mentioned a few paragraphs back, the skill system has been simplified and the customization factor Diablo II had is essentially gone. One improvement with the skill system is the ability to respec your character at a moments notice. This does allow you to tweak the way you play your class and it does work extremely well, however this may seem blasphemous to Diablo II fans.
Loot is one of the biggest features the Diablo franchise is known for. When you kill enemies in Diablo, they have a chance to drop items, potions, and gold. A new addition to drops are health globes. These are automatic potions that heal you in the middle of combat. Globes and gold are automatically picked up when you walk over them so you can focus on what you’re fighting. There are the base items, magic items, rare items and legendary items. Items can have anywhere from 1-6 properties. These properties are what improve your character and that’s where the lasting appeal to Diablo comes from. You always want to have the “best” equipment, and to get it you need to farm farm farm. So you’ll end up spending hours trying to find better equipment. The biggest issue with the loot system is it always felt like junk items were dropping. Items dropped numerous levels below your current level so it felt like you were either over-levelled, under-geared or both. Thankfully Blizzard added the Auction House giving players easier access to quality items at a price.
The Auction House is fantastic in principal. Items you don’t want or need, you can either sell it for pennies to vendors in game, or you can load up the Auction House and list it. You can set the minimum bid price and the a buyout price for an immediate purchase. You list the item and wait to see if it sells. When looking for an item you can search by specific item locations, you can set search parameters for what properties an item has and by what factor, and you can even set the maximum buy out price you’re willing to spend. Unfortunately Blizzard didn’t add an option to filter by auction end date so you’ll have to really search hard for bargains.
Blizzard doesn’t do this for free though. There’s the Gold Auction House and the Real Money Auction House. Yes, that’s right. You can sell items for in game currency, or for REAL money. If you’re selling items in gold, Blizzard takes a 15% cut. This is done as a Gold Sink so Blizzard can reduce the amount of gold people have as it can be gained quickly through killing things or completing quests. If you’re using the RMAH, Blizzard charges $1 minimum if the money is going to your battle.net account, or 15% if you’re transferring the money to Paypal.
I applaud Blizzard for doing this as they will and ARE going to make a lot of money from this and it will help keep the game up for a very long time. However it forces player to either play the game A LOT to find elite level items. All the best items you can find, generally are listed on the RMAH. The GAH gets some good items listed, but the prices for these are extremely steep. With all the nerfs Blizzard has been doing to places that give great gold or good item drops, it seems they’re doing this intentionally to force people to give up and spend real money on items.
The biggest issue with the Auction House, besides all the downtime but that’s mostly resolved now, is the social factor Diablo II had no longer exists. When joining a Public Game you don’t know who will be in it. While you can still trade in Diablo III, it’s a more complex process and it’s not worth the hassle of trying to find people to trade with directly. This eliminates the bartering, but it takes away a huge social element from the game.
The presentation of Diablo III is fantastic. Even though the game looks like it was designed years ago, it’s very polished. The cinematics are hands down some of the best I’ve seen in a long time. There are a handful of cinematics in each act. The sketched cinematics are good, but it’s the start and end of Act ones that will truly impress. The voice acting is great and I love that the town folk attempt to interact with the player and what’s going on in the story, even if you hear the same thing over and over again. “I was thinking…” “Don’t hurt yourself.” Old joke, but still funny.
The story of Diablo III starts off fantastic but tapers off as you progress. Act I and Act II are the best developed. The story comes full circle with characters and references from Diablo I and Diablo II. The entirety of Act I is a tribute to Diablo I and I love that Blizzard did that. Act II starts to get into the actual story and it has one of the most epic Diablo boss fights ever, even though we’re in the desert again. Act III is challenging, but it’s very repetitive and lacks a “wow” factor. Act IV…. Sigh. Blizzard, we’ve been waiting for 12 years. We knew Heaven and Hell would eventually meet and it would be huge, EPIC. So why was this the most disappointing Act in the game? It was rushed, repetitive and it should have been the longest Act. The conclusion of the story leaves some questions unanswered and that will pave the way for an expansion or two.
I’m a Diablo enthusiast. I’ve been waiting for this game for a very long time. Even though I’ve criticized a lot of things about Diablo III, the game is still great. It could have been exceptional in my opinion. Regardless of the short-comings I believe there are, I’ve put 100+ hours into the game and that number will continue to rise. If you are a fan of the Diablo franchise, and you haven’t picked this up yet, you’re insane. Diablo III will keep you engaged for years to come. When additional content is released and promised features are finally added, (Where’s the PvP?!) you’ll find that Diablo III was well worth your time and money.