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Diablo 3 Review – Back into the Inferno

Developer & Publisher: Blizzard Entertainment 
Platforms: PC/Mac

By Matthew F. Hibben

Over ten years have passed since fans of the Diablo franchise have had a new adventure to explore.  Diablo 2: Lord of Destruction was the last incarnation of the franchise up until now, which was released in 2001.  After much anticipation we have a new chapter in the Diablo series and this Game Tech article explores the latest addition.  In this Diablo 3 (D3) review I’ll explore the similarities, the differences, and see how the latest installment measures up.

The Story

The world of D3 takes place 20 years after the events of D2, and the world is once again in peril as evil is awakened.  Deckard Cain along with Tyrael are back in this incarnation of the story providing familiar faces to gamers who remember the last incarnation,.  The story itself revolves around a new evil spreading across the land of Sanctuary (the world that the Diablo series exists within).  As with any type of evil encroachment there is always a hero to thwart it and that is where the player comes in. 

The hero, in a system of storytelling familiar to fans of the series, unfolds the plot through multiple acts in a digestible manner.  The player must battle through the minions of hell and uncover what the true face of evil is, and who their true allies are.  The story itself is well done, while predictable in some regards, and holds true to the spirit of the series.

Storylines are told both with cinematic cut-scenes as well as enhanced in-game cut-scenes akin to those used in Warcraft 3.  D3’s in-game storytelling through the use of movies, enhanced graphics, voiceovers, and new scripting for boss fights and other events of interest, gives players what they need to know while keeping the pace fresh and engaging.

The Gameplay - Classic Feel

D3 at its core is exactly what players have come to expect based on the rest of the series.  Gameplay is once again a blend of hack and slash, RPG, set within an unending and ever changing dungeon crawl.  Players control their character third person with a distant top down view of the playable area, and use a combination of mouse clicks and keyboard commands to move and attack.  In all of these regards the game is what one would expect from the Diablo series, as very little has changed. 

Of course, the elements that have remained have also been revamped from a graphical standpoint. Buildings, enemies, various attacks, feel the same but are all in line with modern graphics.  All of these elements are rendered well, and my main complaint from a graphical standpoint lies with the view point.  I wish they would give players a zoom in feature to get closer to the combat so as to more greatly appreciate the graphical improvements and action.

More than just combat is in line with the classic feel, as other elements are back in D3.  Players are able to gain and equip companions (NPC characters that assist the player in combat). Companions are acquired just as they were in D2, with their arrival being dictated by the Act the player is completing.  Enemies follow the familiar hierarchy of normal monster types, strong, rare, and unique.

The Gameplay – Changes and Improvements

Just as many things with D3’s gameplay have retained their classic feel, so have many elements changed.  Changes are most pronounced for me when it comes to character progression.  Character progression in D3 allows players to have more flexibility over what type of abilities they wield.  Rewinding for a moment let me describe how character progression worked in D2. 

Players in D2 were allowed one go at character modification through a talent tree system that had neither a confirmation window nor an ability to replace spent points. Points spent towards character growth, good or bad, were for keeps in D2.  I remember with quite some dread those times, I had miss-clicked an ability and spent points the wrong way only to decide on rerolling my character, so as to get it just right.

In D3 character growth is a mix of learning a universal set of skills, and customizing which of those skills will be the active ones, creating character uniqueness.  These skills can be activated or deactivated at will, allowing players the ability to create any variation of their class type they wish to try.

Boss fights in D3, while adhering to the same basic combat system as the rest of the game have also been changed.  Now players get a livelier blend of cut-scene and voiceover, and more complicated scripting of the fights themselves.  While some boss encounters in D3 are straight forward from a strategy standpoint, they all seem to have complexity to them compared to those of D2.  It seems Blizzard took some direction from World of Warcraft raid design and added levels of complexity akin to the multi-stage boss fight.

In step with this lively approach to content, other elements such as mini events, collectables, and destructible outdoor elements that have strategic value have also been added to the game.

The Classes

D3 has five classes that players can select from: Witch Doctor, Barbarian, Demon Hunter, Monk, and Wizard.  These new classes seem to share common attributes with classes from the previous installment and their abilities are as follows.

Witch Doctor – Similar to the Necromancer from D2 with a voodoo flavor. Witch Doctors can summon allies, cast curses, and use poisons.

Barbarian – Barbarians were playable in D2 and this version is pretty much the same.  The Barbarian is a melee warrior that can cleave multiple enemies, leap at targets, and perform whirlwind type attacks.

Demon Hunter – The Demon Hunter is a blend of the D2 classes Amazon and Assassin.  The Demon Hunter can use the 1 handed crossbow, 2 handed crossbow, and 2 handed bows in conjunction with many of their abilities.  In addition to ranged attacks, the Demon Hunter can also use traps and summon certain types of allies.

Wizard – The Wizard functions much as the Sorceress did in D2, a magic user with command over the elements.  Players can harness elemental magic (fire, lightning, and ice) as well as teleporting and slowing time.

Monk – Monk is a melee class that is a blend of the Assassins melee abilities and those of the Paladin, both classes from D2.

New Feature Spotlight – Crafting

New to D3 is a crafting system that includes Blacksmithing and Jewel-crafting.  As the player advances through the campaign NPC’s are unlocked that allow players to craft weapons, armors, and gems.  Blacksmithing in D3 works as blend of established item generation and a fair bit of luck.  Items crafted via the Blacksmith system are of a set type prior to creating them, meaning a player selects a leg slot item, and that is what is made.  The luck element of the crafting system is that the values of these items are random, so players may create many of the same type of item looking for the stats they are after.  It is important to note that the progression of the crafting system is very specific to D3. 

Items produced do not “level up” the craft at all, and the progression of the craft is determined by the amount spent.  Players wishing to level up their craft need to spend an amount of gold that increases as they train more, and eventually cost tokens in addition to the gold amount. 

To craft an item in D3 players need to unlock the use of the blacksmith and have the materials to produce the item, as well as a modest amount of gold per item.  The materials for items created are gathered by breaking down “blue items” (uncommon) or of greater quality into crafting materials.  Once the player has enough of these materials they can produce a specific item and hope the RNG (random number generation) gods are on their side.

Jewel-crafting functions in much the same way from a leveling standpoint compared to blacksmithing, although a different type of token is used at the higher levels.  Jewel-crafting in D3 is very similar to the jewel system in D2 with various types of gems being upgraded to better versions.  The main change in the system is that the gems are now upgraded through the jewel-crafting trainer, and the gems themselves are re-useable.

Gems are used in both weapons and armor that have sockets.  Socketed items are yet another element back in D3 and gems are placed into these items to improve various stats.

New Feature - Auction House

The Auction House (AH) is a feature new to D3 that allows players to sell their items for currency, both in-game and soon-to-be real currency.  The AH functions just as it does in other types of MMO games, where players can place items up either for bid or buyout.  The real departure from any other game is the ability to sell items for real currency.  It is my feeling that Blizzard simply wants to cash in on a market that was so prevalent in D2, the RMT (real money trader).

During D2 and more so during the expansion LOD (Lord of Destruction), items were being sold through all sorts sites, Ebay being one of the biggest.  It was always against the TOS (terms of service) to do this, and based on how prevalent item selling was back in those days, it’s a shrewd move on Blizzard’s part to simply incorporate into the game the element that they could never really stop. 

While it is difficult to say how the RMT auctions will work once they go live (they have been postponed), I feel this could be something other online games may use in the future.

Final Thoughts

D3 certainly is very true to the series. I will be honest and say I found the game rather dull after a while, not because it doesn’t live up to the action of D2, but more because my expectations have changed.  The linear gameplay of D3 and the endless crawling without reprieve only holds so much magic now.

Diablo III Video Review

  • 1.
  • 2.
    Game Play
  • 3.
    Play Changes
  • 4.
    The Classes
  • 5.
    Classes Cont.
  • 6.
  • 7.
    Auction House
  • 8.
    Final Thoughts
  • 9.
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