Stay awhile and listen...

While I wait for my new mouse to arrive, let me tell you of a land where the dead rise, where demons lay siege to the world and where gamers enter, never to be seen again.

After waiting for so many years, after all the horrible teasing by retailers mentioning dates, does Diablo 3 live up to the hype that it generated? Was the wait worth it for the loyal followers? Judging by the state of my mouse, the answer is yes. But the fans of the series are not here, they are busy saving the world, collecting loot and hunting down elite monsters. My corner of Twitter is quiet now, with gamers setting alarms to play in the dead of night, culling the fiends of hell at the witching hour.

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But what about those that missed Diablo 1 and 2? It makes me feel really old, but some gamers weren’t even born when Diablo 1 came out. Perhaps you don’t understand all the hype, the late nights, the constant clicking that echoes into your dreams? Step through this shimmering portal, there is something I want to show you…

Diablo 3 is the end of a long journey to destroy the seven devils that control the forces of Hell. With the Prime Evils gone, the remaining Lesser Evils have made their move and now control massive armies which are poised to spill into Sanctuary, to wipe out humanity for good.

Diablo 3 sticks true to its roots. The winning formula? Loot. Finding treasure, killing monsters for treasure, then using those items to kill bigger monsters for better treasure, and so the cycle continues. The thrill of finding a piece of gear that suits you perfectly never gets old, and a legendary item for another class may be just enough impetus to have you start levelling one to use that item.

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Gaming has changed since our last visit to Tristram, a decade or so ago. In the interim, many of us turned to World of Warcraft (and far too many hack n slash clones) to satisfy the urge to crawl through dungeons to find treasure and magical weapons. Any of you that have played Blizzard’s other offering are used to the fact that most bosses have a strategy, almost like a puzzle or set of rules to be followed, to either make them easier, or beatable at all. Diablo 3 loans from this, and now some bosses make use of similar mechanics: gouts of flame erupt from underground and explosive pools of noxious ichor make moving around an integral part of the combat. Of course, you could try heal your way through the onslaught, but sometimes a retreat or a sidestep could be the only thing stopping death.

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Other elements have also changed over the years, as games become more streamlined, both to help usher in gamers new to the series, and for balance reasons. For example, upon levelling, you no longer have to spend attribute and skill points. Rather, the game is more about tailoring a much smaller skill set both to your play style and the situations you face. For example, when facing bosses and really large monsters, I switch my Monk to Fists of Thunder as his primary attack. These punches are quick, meaning I can get a few hits in before running away from a counterattack. To aid my living further, I use the Skill Rune Lightning Flash, which increases my dodge chance while attacking. While this primary attack is really handy for the big hitters, it doesn’t shine in a crowd. Crippling Wave, however, makes quick work of entire groups of monsters, making life easier for my ascetic from Ivgorod.

Compared to the older games, Diablo 3 feels too easy. My first foray into Nightmare didn’t leave me crying in the corner of the room, and most bosses posed very little in the way of a challenge. Whether this is a design decision, or patches will tweak and balance everything still, or if maybe my monk is just that off the charts powerful will only be revealed over time. I did notice that dying during a boss fight means starting it from the beginning, something that could be avoided by clever use of town portals in Diablo 2.

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At first the concentration of monsters may seem far too light, but that changes drastically in Act 3, where getting swarmed becomes commonplace. Add into the mix some random elites and you might just have nowhere to run while you wait for your potion cool down. 20 years have passed between Diablo 2 and 3, and the classes have changed quite a bit too. Currently you can play as, in both genders:

  • Monk – Dextrous melee fighter that dodges attacks and can move so quickly they seem to teleport.
  • Demon Hunter – Ranged specialists armed with traps, cunning and dual-wielding hand crossbows.
  • Barbarian – The mighty sons and daughters of Bul-Kathos are still around, though even fewer in number now.
  • Witch Doctor – Using voodoo and fetishes, these primal magic wielders can make even demons know fear.
  • Wizard – The days of the sorceresses have come and gone. Wizards bring arcane, elemental and temporal fury to the battlefield.

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Playing with friends has always been the best way to experience Diablo, which hasn’t changed at all. Join forces and fight against stronger minions of Evil. Hopefully I can make some money on the real currency auction house, once it goes live. Despite the hatred for online only, being able to chat with friends through the game and see when they are playing does have its advantages too. The best improvement in multiplayer, I felt, was the fact that the loot that drops is yours. It may not sound like much, but anyone who played Diablo 2 with a greedy friend will know exactly what I am talking about. There is no loot theft, and the melee character no longer gets to pick up more because he is closer to the action. The quality of loot drops, and the amount of gold, improves vastly too. Being able to play with a friend, without having to worry about not getting a fair share of the loot, is possibly the best feature in the game (for me).

Like I said before, if you played Diablo 1 and 2, you are probably playing Diablo 3 already. If you haven’t tried the game, find a friend who has it and come get hookedsee for yourself.

Scoring

Gameplay: 9/10.

The UI and skill systems have been heavily streamlined, meaning characters have less skills active at any one time, making everything a little more tactical. The cool downs on skills aren’t drastic though, so changing on the fly, while not recommended, can be done. The details section of your statistics is a useful addition, allowing players to see an item upgrade reflect in their damage dealing or damage mitigation. Despite the online only option that Blizzard has opted for, I have seen very little interference caused by lag, which makes me think that combat calculations are done client side, with loot tables being server side.

Design and Presentation: 9/10.

The graphics look great, and seem to run surprisingly well on my Frankenstein PC. It feels good to be back. While everything is 3D, it still has that same fixed isometric view. The same sights and sounds are still around, and it is great to see the monsters all grown up and in 3D instead of as sprites.

Value: 10/10.

When I finished Normal in 16.5 hours, I dove straight into Nightmare and started thinking what my next character would be. I know I will end up with one of each class eventually, meaning I may need a new mouse again well before I bore of saving Sanctuary from the demons. Considering people are still playing Diablo 2 online, I foresee a longlifespan for Diablo 3.

Overall: 9.5/10.

Save the world, but look good while doing it. I tried very hard to not include descriptors like love, awesome, amazing and their cousins. This is an awesome game, not only in the way that is addictive to the point you might think losing your job is a good thing, but the fact that it appeals to both gamers fresh to the series as well as us long in tooth gamers who were there when it all started. Oh look my new mouse arrived. So as soon as I finish telling you about the spe — ooh look a rare item!

Last Updated: May 18, 2012

Diablo III
Summary
9.5

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