It was a long time in the waiting queue, and even longer after the many server woes caused by the rigorous “always online” DRM needs of many greedy AAA publishers in these modern days. Diablo III finally launched last month and rolled out to the world in synchronised time. But did the inferno of Diablo’s dimension wreck havoc on the game itself, or did the heavens shine down once again?
Sanctuary’s sudden “falling star” incident provokes you to investigate the cause whilst fearing the worst, the return of the Prime Evil and his attempts to fell the high heavens. Just like the 2012 scare we’re supposed to believe, ancient scriptures have foretold the return of the “Prime Evil”, a creature hell bent (see what we did there?) on felling the high heavens, and it’s up to you as a half naked hero to stop his triumphant – yet entirely expected – return. Across the game’s extensive difficulty settings I can tell you now it offers the same curves as past Diablo titles, somewhat similar to that often missed hair tearing curve of classic arcade games; but it’s a hell of a lot more enjoyable than those coin sinking machines!
I have to hand it to Blizzard, they know how to give you a bad first impression. You may remember our fairly negative preview during the beta period, and while Feralinstincts seemed to adore every moment of the experience, I was a little more apprehensive to jump on the praise train so early on. The opening 2 hours for a new character will drag at best; small amounts of weaker enemies and the lack of abilities early on in the game may leave a bad taste in your mouth much like it did mine, but once you grind to level 15+ those skill slots will start to look a lot more appetising; And before you know it, you’ll struggle to make a choice between which ones to throw out in favour of another. You’ll constantly be happy with your battle rotations, but you’ll forever be stuck wondering which slight alteration will would make that considerable jump in your demon killing expertise or which swap-out would just add a bit more excitement to an already fantastic action-RPG brawl.
The fairly lengthy 12 hour campaign can, of course, be completed on your own with relative ease – on the original difficulty anyway. Blast through that and you’ll have reached around level 28-31 once the climactic, yet predictable, final fight reaches its end. Following that many will disregard their only other options to be the completion of each following difficulty setting as they unlock each other; and indeed it may be the case as beating the nightmare difficulty should see you reaching new heights with relative ease as the last play-through familiarises you with the main function, strength, and weaknesses of your axe wielding barbarian, projectile expert hunter, arcane mastering Mage or voodoo abusing Witch Doctor. Just learn your moves and you’ll reach the coveted level cap of 60 toward the end of your third play though. Surprisingly you’ll enjoy each successive play through better than the last as the amount of frantic clicking to avoid the gasses of animated trees or shambling horrors skyrockets to a point where you’ll go from full health to a pool of blood on the ground faster than you can blink.
If the story of Diablo and the readings of Deckard Cain’s lengthy studies isn’t really your thing, you’re probably not alone. Thankfully the brief cutscenes and gorgeous cinematics can be skipped at anytime keeping you in the zone of the game’s isometric demon killing blood bath. The myriad of travelling techniques do well to, again, keep you in the zone for as long as possible and to keep time spent getting back to your friends or ditching them to sell loot almost non-existent. While I suggest you at least try to get your head into the story of the game, it isn’t written like a complex novel and you’ll understand the basis of what’s going on just by doing rather than watching. The other demons of Hell are all causing their own problems across Sanctuary as they each try to become the next “Prime Evil” and your inevitable bouts with the fiends are while extremely satisfying, often felt easier and shorter than you would expect from the build-up to the point where the Skeleton King boss 2 hours into the game felt like the longest encounter, yet less satisfying than the shorter ones.
While the addition of an auction house makes gear grinds either less of a pain or perhaps less important, the decision to offer players the option to purchase goods with their own hard-earned cash seems to contradict everything the company has said about the problem of real money merchanting in their immensely popular MMORPG game, World of Warcraft. The game already feels unfinished with one of the promised killer features of the game (Arena PvP) being absent to this date. The company can comment on the need to balance the classes all they want, but by essentially flipping off anyone who has ever been banned from a Blizzard game for real-world transactions, employing a pay-to-win mechanic has already caused upset in a part of the game that doesn’t even exist yet.
Blizzard have managed to keep all that made the Diablo series a hit to this day and stick it into a title well worth its price tag. If the incredibly well crafted cinematics do little to have you researching the lore of Sanctuary during your down time, the writing itself won’t manage it – it certainly didn’t with me. Alas, the sheer adrenaline rush of charging into dozens of demonic beasts knowing full well that you could become a pile of bloody dusty in a fraction of a second only adds to the smirk on your face as you tear through their carcasses instead. It may not have the same sense of improvement and progression Blizzard’s other IPs marvel in, but it certainly offers a well rounded action RPG that’s a blast to play with friends.
Audio/Visuals 3/5 – Diablo III shouldn’t surprise anyone Blizzard fan in terms of audio quality. For years we’ve been subjected to their masterful music design and this is certainly no different. It’s varying environments and architectural style will bode well with Warcraft veterans for their striking similarities, but you’ll be too focused on the flashy spell effects to notice its lazy texturing.
Innovation 2/5 – Blizzard were probably aiming to bring Diablo into the new age, and the company knows better than anyone not to fix something that isn’t broken. Though perhaps that’s it’s fault. Diablo feels so similar to its predecessor that it now seems unoriginal or stuck in the past with the wake of similar titles like Torchlight. It does little to set itself apart, but that doesn’t make it any less invigorating.
Gameplay 5/5 – Hectic clicking and swarms of mobs on screen at once turns Diablo into what it essentially a firework display. Diving head first it to what is most likely your own death brings a certain level of awe when you emerge from the blood bath within. Even if you’re dead.
Value 3/5 - If I were to tell a person who knew nothing of the game that they’ll be repeating the same story again and again, they’d wonder why I have so many games on my Steam account. But don’t be disheartened. Each difficulty kicks the challenge up to heights most people have never seem in their life. Pounding enemies into the ground is a blast, and the harder the difficulty, the more fiends you’ll be smashing. It’s just a shame that the competitive community have little to go for until Blizzard decides to bring the PvP arenas into the game. Though that notorious Real-Money Auction House could very well destroy the scene before it even starts.
Final Score: 3.5/5