As I type this I’ve just completed my first playthrough of Diablo III’s Normal difficulty as a male Wizard. I played in much the same way as I played Diablo II: single-player, taking my time and exploring every nook and cranny of the game world. Below are my impressions, both brief and elaborate. In case you’ve somehow managed to miss the release of this greatly anticipated game, do watch the video embedded below before reading further.
In a nutshell: Diablo III is a well-executed game that offers fluid and fun combat, has great visuals and tons of replay-value. If you have any interest in gaming whatsoever, you should already be playing this game. More than that, the game’s mechanics are also very accessible to those unfamiliar with many conventions of modern action-role-playing games. If you’re asking whether to buy this game or not, the answer is most certainly yes.
For more elaborate musings on the game, please stay a while and read on. Beware though, as spoilers may be ahead.
What’s most striking about the presentation of Diablo III is the attention to detail that’s present throughout the game. While the game doesn’t offer the most advanced graphics from a purely technological standpoint, the art design and aforementioned attention to detail make this game look like a painting. The world feels alive. A wayward lightning bolt may cause a wall to collapse. There’s endless amounts of chests, barrels and other items to break and toss around. There’s also a great amount of visual depth to every environment. When the game takes you to Bastion Keep and the High Heavens, you can spend a shear endless amount of time just staring at the background watching the angels, humans and demons fight their own private battles. It’s purely cosmetic but it adds tons of character to the game world. The game also has very modest system requirements, ensuring it will run on a great variety of systems.
As I mentioned before, the combat is extremely fluid and well-executed. Blizzard has dramatically revamped both the skill and stat systems to achieve this. Gone are the skill trees of old, no longer will you assign stat points at every level-up. In today’s modern world, stats get assigned automatically according to your character’s class and skills and their associated runes gradually unlock as you level up. It reminds me in more than one way of the mechanics of indie darling Bastion. You essentially get to pick a loadout before charging off to battle. The lack of any real penalty for choosing a particular skill encourages experimentation without the worry of crippling a character or choosing the wrong skill. I’ll admit that I miss planning out characters in advance as well as min-maxing and power leveling. I’ll never feel the need to create more than one of each class as all skills are available without penalty. All ready to mix and match. Make no mistake though, the combat may be different, but it’s certainly no less enjoyable. I prefer seeing Blizzard attempt to innovate in this manner instead of just coasting on Diablo II’s 12-year-old system.
While the typical hack & slash combat is still solid and as good as ever, that other important pillar of the Diablo franchise, the loot and the never-ending hunt for better items, seems to have suffered as a result of the new mechanics. Because of the combat system in place in Diablo III, the items lose a lot of their charm. Gone are the quirky and flavorful items of Diablo II with interesting modifiers like “Cannot Be Frozen” or ”Ignores Target Defense”. Instead the hunt for items seems reduced to finding a more damaging weapon or equipment that boosts any of the dominant stat categories for your chosen class. One of the fun things of Diablo II was using seemingly inferior items in place of others just because they had those one or two attributes you really needed. There’s not really any of that in Diablo III as of yet. I’ve also not encountered any Legendary or Set items in the game. All I’ve collected are standard, magical and rare items. In comparison, at the same level of progress in Diablo II, a player would have amassed a small collection of them. Not all of them useful mind you, but enough to carry the day in the fight against evil. I hope they try to address this in future patches and try to make the items more meaningful. Especially since it’s a fun as ever to see that big boss die and drop a ton of loot. The various treasure goblins you get to chase around are a nice touch as well.
The plot of the Diablo franchise may be the thing most people don’t care really about, but it’s worth mentioning nonetheless. The great thing about Diablo I & II’s story (and the same can be said about the original StarCraft for that matter) is that they gave you just enough of it. You knew who the bad guys were, why you had to kill them and who you had to protect. When Blizzard released StarCraft II’s first campaign in 2010 they tried to elaborate and build on the story of the original. The result being that the story became quite convoluted. The same goes for Diablo III, although to a lesser degree. In their attempt to build on the lore they set in place 12 years ago, a player will have to go through some leaps of logic and accept some quite incredible coincidences not to mention ignore a few plotholes. It’s all a bit too predictable as well.
Fortunately, the game is backed up by the traditional stunning cinematics and solid voice work. The voice-actors, while certainly very capable, did bring up a separate issue that I assume only people who play a lot of games or watch a lot of anime would encounter. When you look at the list of voice-actors for Diablo III, it’s the same people that seem to voice every other character in every single game these days. Jennifer Hale, Crispin Freeman, Grey DeLisle,… All of these have appeared extensively in numerous games in the recent past. Either developers need to hire new voice actors or the current crop of voice-actors are in need of new blood. I don’t really know. But suffice to say greater variety is needed.
So there you have it. My early impressions of Diablo III. I still have yet to tackle the other difficulty levels and four other character classes still await me so there’s loads of things I haven’t done yet. The Blacksmith and Jeweler NPC’s have certainly not been upgraded to their fullest and as I’ve mentioned I’ve yet to encounter any Legendary items. I can’t wait to get further into the game. Because despite the DRM-controversy surrounding the game (I’m not a fan of suffering lag and disconnects while playing single-player) and the rather poorly handled launch (a company that runs one of the largest MMO’s in history and has had the game in beta in some form or another for months should have really prepared better) the game is actually very solid and immensely enjoyable.
It’s certainly worth the price of purchase. I also can’t wait to see what future patches and expansions will bring to the table.