Diablo III - A Review

After waiting for several years for this moment, I clicked the Big Fat Play button on the game loader. First off, despite this being a Single Player game first, you NEED a constant online connection for it, and a Blizzard/Battle.net account.

Their reasoning is simple. For one, Diablo and Diablo II were heavily pirated, even with CD Keys being used, if you were a Diablo player, chances were that you ran off a copy of your own game so others could play with you on a LAN connection. For two, they have implemented an Auction House system per region (Europe, US, Asia etc) which they will be branching into a Real-Money Auction House, so need to use their Warden security system (as used in WoW) to monitor you to make sure you're not cheating and/or hacking.

Personally, I don't mind the always-online connection... I can chat to my other Blizzard-Game-Playing-Friends while playing D3, even if they are in WoW or StarCraft. Nifty. Secondly, being that I am neither cheating nor hacking, they can monitor my system till their heart is content - I know if I join a public game, I won't be playing with someone that has cheated their character to have the biggest and best suit of armour on - on their body, their head, their hands, as a weapon - yep, that was a very prevalent cheat back in D1 and D2!

So anyway, you're always online. Don't like it, don't play.

First off, cinematics. As is usual with Blizzard, they go all out, and their art/animation department is populated with very talented people...



The game has several cinematics, and all are just as pretty. If you can click full screen and view that video in HD, then do so - the little box does not do it justice.

Barbarian, Demon Hunter, Monk, Witch Doctor, Wizard
Onto character creation... Like the previous Diablo games, you get a choice of classes, but can't tweak their appearance - so those of you that spend an hour making your character pretty, you're out of luck. The options you get are "Male" or "Female"

Of course, you get a choice of classes to play; Barbarian, Demon Hunter, Monk, Witch Doctor and Wizard. A better way to look at it would be "Big Weapon Stabby", "Crossbow Shooty", "Fast Hand Slappy", "Spells and Weapon Mixture" and "Magic Blammy Blammy"

Now, I've only played the Monk and Demon Hunter in any real depth - I've played through Normal mode with both and am halfway into Nightmare... I've poked around with the other three a bit, but not enough to justify writing about how they play.

Once you select your character, you get another brief cinematic from the characters point of view, and you're dropped into the game, just outside the town of New Tristram.

Starting Point
First off, from this point, the game looks very pretty. Given that it's a set viewpoint and you can't rotate the screen or anything, it's gorgeous to look at. I have it on my laptop, and for the most part, have all the graphics cranked up and it runs like a dream.

The next thing you notice is the sound. The Ambient sounds - that is, the sounds of the area you are in - are all crisp and clear. When you walk through a puddle, it splashes. You hear the wind blow. You hear creepy sounds - voices, cries in the distance - the whole lot. I tend to play with earphones on, and it's a little disconcerting hearing a sudden slobbering critter somewhere off behind you when you're playing at one in the morning.

Off you trot with your character, and being that it's all new, the help system points everything out to you. Do this to move, do this to attack, click this to open or break - and so on. The number of pop-ups with instructions slow down after a few minutes, but you will encounter one every time you open a something new in the game - Stash, Inventory, Quests, Crafting - but it's not obtrusive; if you're mid-battle, it's not going to open a window across your fight and cause you to get your face chewed off by the forces of hell.

From the outset, you're on a quest line, and you pretty much stay on it all the way through the game. Yes, it's linear, but then, if you've played D1 and D2, it's the same sort of thing. Talk to this person, go here and kill this. Go back, talk to this person, go and find this item...

Once you're out of the town and in the world, you experience one of my favourite parts of the Diablo games - the randomly generated areas. You head out, and even though an area might conform to the same size/shape each time, it is different every time you load the game. The map is covered with a fog of war which you only reveal by exploring. Now, technically you don't have to explore the map. If you need to run from Point A to Point B, you can do just that. However, if you want XP, Gold and Loot, you explore every nook and cranny. Chests, rotten logs, hidden stashes - not to mention beasties, gribblies and nasties aplenty... All ready for you to find and smash open.

And yes, smashing open applies to the monsters too.

So my previous point - the areas. Let's say I clear through the first area, explore every nook and cranny and see what is where. I might have found a small side-dungeon like a Hidden Lair or something and cleared that out too. I then quit, have dinner, and come back later. The area I previously cleared is now re-cloaked with a fog of war. Upon exploring, you will find it is all different. You might encounter different monsters, you will find different treasure, there might be an "Event" in there somewhere too - a mini quest where you invariably have to fight off a shit-ton of monsters... There might even be a different mini-dungeon for you to clear. Last time, it was a Hidden Lair, this time, it might be a Subterranean Cave System. It might be a Hidden Lair again, but if you go in there, it will be different too.

The control system is easy to get to grips with, and to be honest, you can easily play one-handed if you want to, using just your mouse. To start out, you have your Primary Attack Skill (Mouse Button 1) and your Secondary Attack Skill (Mouse Button 2), and as you progress through the levels, you unlock different hot-bar buttons across the bottom. You can click these, or hit the assigned number button. There are four in total, and depending on your class, determines what the buttons do. You also unlock Passive Abilities, and can select which ones you have active, from a list of several.

Skill Menu
As you level up, you unlock different skills for each button, but also, different runes for each skill. If my primary attack is a fast-attack, the first rune might make my attack flaming, the next one might add three hits, the fourth might add a knock-back effect - and so on... So you can customise each skill as you level up and make your character your own. Don't think, however, that choosing Skill X and Rune Y means you're stuck with them. No no, you can change them as often as you wish, testing out combinations of skill and rune until your heart is content.

Or until you run out of things to pulverise.

If you get bored of trashing through the critters on your own, you can invite other D3 playing friends to join you in your quest, and play together. This increases the toughness of the creatures, but not stupidly so, and playing together is a good laugh. There's also no loot stealing - whatever I see a creature drop on my screen is MINE, and my friend sees loot on their screen which is theirs. You can, however, drop stuff from your inventory to the ground for your friend to pick up, which means if I am playing a Wizard, and get a crossbow that is good for my Demon Hunter friend, I just drop it out, and she can pick it up.

Simples.

If you are Billy No Mates, do not despair. Thanks to the wonders that is Battle.net, you can join any open game whenever you want. You can jump in when you like with people you don't know and have a good laugh. If you don't like them, you can leave. Easy as that. Bear in mind though, if you drop anything from your Inventory to the ground, they can pick it up - it's one thing accidentally dropping something with a friend, but with people you don't know...

Another handy feature - let's say you live in the UK, have a few friends here that play D3, but also have LOTS of friends in the USA that also play. You are allowed to switch your regions in order to play with your friends elsewhere. Just keep in mind, the US have their scheduled maintenance on a Tuesday, and the EU has theirs on a Wednesday - both during their early hours, which means due to time differences, you might find your character unplayable during your own prime time.

Auction House
Aside from game play, there is also the Auction House part of Diablo 3. Here, you can buy and sell all the various items found adventuring through the lands. You can sell the rare bow you found, and buy a new piece of headgear. You can sell stuff directly from your Stash - a chest that all your characters in the same region can access - and even directly from your inventory.

In the coming weeks, they are also implementing the Real Money Auction House, where by you "Load" your Battle.net account with money via Paypal or whatever, and use that money to buy items for your characters. You can also sell the items you find for real money too, the funds of which get transferred into your Battle.net wallet. There are "Transaction Charges" and similar, but to be honest, I've not paid much attention to this side of the game, as I probably won't use it... I enjoy playing, but don't see me parting with actual CASH just to give Billybob a new sword.

There are, of course, downsides to D3. Yes, this might be a glowing review, but it does have its problems that... niggle.

First and foremost, it can honestly be said that this has not been a smooth game launch for Blizzard. From day one, they have had server instability, emergency server shutdowns, patches and updates, errors preventing players logging in... And all this is still ongoing. Tomorrow, in fact, they have another round of server shutdowns, which means the game will be unplayable.

Now, for WoW, this is sort of expected. It's a Massive Multiplayer Online game, and the servers need work, the servers get shut down, job done. Diablo, first and foremost, is a single-player game. While I understand the need for security and suchlike, it would be nice if it did a check to a safe, always-online server when you log on, and then you could play single player. No chatting to friends, no Auction House...

On the other side of the coin, WoW has a monthly subscription, so they have a steady stream of income to pay for server work, techs and stuff to do this - D3 does not have a subscription, yet we get all the online stuff for free...

I'm on the fence still. I would like to be able to play my game when I choose, not have my playing time dictated by a computer being offline elsewhere on the continent. But then, there's the social side and security...

Another niggle of mine is the graphics. Yes, it is graphically very pretty... But it's not amazingly so. The scenery is gorgeous, but then it's mostly two dimensional pictures, as you can't move the camera around. When you zoom in to your character and the NPCs around them, they look... Old Fashioned? I wonder if, where the game has been in development for so long, that the graphics are a little dated due to that?

One of the selling points of the game was the fact that it contains several difficulty levels... Normal, Nightmare, Hell and Inferno. Before you can do Nightmare, you have to play through Normal. Before Hell, you have to play Nightmare - and so on. Inferno Mode has been billed as stupidly tough, like, People Are Screaming On The Forums tough. However, people fail to realise that from the outset, Blizzard said it was REALLY hard. I watched an interview with a developer who said something along the lines of, "we kept increasing the difficulty for the play testers, making it harder and harder, and when they finally said "This is REALLY hard" we just ramped it up even more".

My niggle? You play the game storyline from start to finish on Normal mode. You level your character from 1 to around 30 by the time you kill the final boss. Then you get to do it again from the start on Nightmare mode. Storyline from start to finish, kill the boss... And start again on Hell mode... Blah blah blah...

Now, granted, the areas are different each time you play them, the layout is roughly the same, but the content is different. Yes, that does help somewhat, but I can't help but think the game is a little small, and they've extended it's life simply by making the monsters badder and meaner, and dangling the carrot of more levels, more skills ahead of you... Yet all you are doing is playing the same thing over and over.

Don't get me wrong, I don't mind replaying through it - I am around the same point of Nightmare mode on both my Monk and Demon Hunter... But... I don't know, I can't quite put my finger on it...

Achievements
Yes, there are achievements you can aim for - and some of them you can't get until you reply through the game... But I think a lot of people that aren't used to D1 or D2 will find it over and done with very quickly and think "Is that it?" and get the hump.

Lastly, there have been calls and cries on the forum, claiming that Blizzard have been hacked, because "I joined a public game, had someone on my friend list I didn't know, then was suddenly logged out, and when I managed to log back in, all my gear and money was gone!"

Blizzard were quiet for a few days - I suspect investigating - but the forums were a storm of protest and shouting, screaming and whining... Theories were given, people with precisely zero computer savvy were claiming this hack or that exploit was used. Blizzard then took to the forums and stated that the people claiming to have been hacked simply had their accounts compromised - probably by a keylogger or similar on their computer - and that everyone was safe, as long as they practised safe computing.

People cried out, disagreed and everything else, but to date, Blizzard are standing by this statement. No one with an Authenticator has been compromised, and their servers are safe and secure.

Personally, I am with Blizzard. I suspect had they been hacked, they would come clean - I think legally they have to - and as with WoW, getting your account stolen without an authenticator is quite easy. I know several people that believed they were careful, but ended up getting hacked. Blizzard have also offered people with hijacked accounts roll backs - so they reset their character to an earlier time.

Authenticators - Added Security
For those crying they can't afford an authenticator - seriously, after buying an expensive computer game - they are like £9 from the Blizzard store. Failing that, you can get them on the various brand of smartphone for free. And if you DO use one, and are still worried, set your account to ask for the Authenticator number every time you log in.

If you own an Android and want the free Authenticator, you can get it from the Android App Store here. If you own an iPhone (or similar I suppose!) you can get it from the Apple Store here!

To sum up...

I love Diablo III. Properly, full-on adore it. I can play a bit, feel like I've achieved something, log off, and log back when I like, maybe re-run an area, maybe push through the quest a little more... It's a very pretty game, but not as pretty as it could be. Atmospherically, it is stunning - the sounds and music and locations are all gorgeous to look at. When you're in the desert, you can hear the desert wind. When you're running through the sewers, you can hear the splashing and see drips falling from above into the water. When you're on snowy ramparts, you can hear the snow crunch under-foot and almost feel the cold wind...

While it's a shame you can't customise how your character looks, you can customise every skill and ability you use to suit your own playing style, and I like that a lot. I'm still 20 or so levels from maximum, so obviously there are things I have yet to play with, but what I have seen so far I like.

Story-wise, it's a little short, and I suspect if you were to rush it, maybe with a friend or two, you could finish it in a very short space of time. The story is linear, and while it has some twists and turns, it is a little predictable. I do like the fact you meet familiar faces from previous games.

If you've never played D1 or D2, don't fret, you don't need to know anything.

A brilliant game, atmospheric and great fun to play, albeit a little dated in places, with a few minor issues and teething problems on Blizzards side... Once they have their act together, I suspect it will be even more enjoyable.

Lastly: If you're a Dragon Age type player, do not expect Downloadable Content. If you're a WoW type player, do not expect Content Patches. Blizzard have already ruled out both. A shame, yes, but then, I am not sure what DLC they could add really. And as for content patches - you get them with WoW because you pay a monthly subscription...

They WILL, however, "monitor the game and make any necessary adjustments" which means if a class/skill combo is too powerful or "not working as intended" then they will fix it.

Currently, there is no demo/trial version of Diablo III. Blizzard, however, are normally good at attracting more players through these avenues, so keep your eyes peeled - I am sure one will surface.

Diablo III Homepage

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One Response to “Diablo III - A Review”

Neil Elkins said...

I was getting excited about this too (but not having played D1 or D2 wasn't quite at a wet-my-pants excited point) unfortunately the constant connection to Blizzard really niggles me. It's bad enough that the connection will always be there but not being able to play a single player game when their servers are faulty?! Well no thanks, I'll just carry on with Skyrim or dig out my copy of Neverwinter Nights 2!!