Who would have thought back in 1996 what the Diablo franchise would turn into? For those of you that don’t remember, or that were too young to play, the original Diablo consisted of sixteen dungeon levels that you had to navigate in order to finally face Diablo. That was it – one random dungeon. No story to speak of. No “Acts”. So what then, was the magic that people were drawn to? What was it that caused Diablo 3 to already be one of the fastest selling PC games of all time – so much so that by the time this review gets posted, if you don’t have the game and you own a gaming PC you will be in the minority? The answer to that is in the gameplay…
With the original Diablo, Blizzard touched on the formula for addiction. Give the player a little taste of something good, with the promise that something better could be just around the corner. It was so simple it was brilliant, and in Diablo 3 Blizzard has completely refined that formula and shown themselves to be the true masters of their craft. The gameplay in Diablo 3 is on a very short closed loop – between sixty to ninety seconds. Somewhere in that sixty to ninety seconds, something will unavoidably happen – either you will run into a rare named enemy, get a piece of rare loot, go up a level, fight a boss, or go to a new dungeon. And then it happens again. And again. Always giving the player something more to play for – there have been plenty of times that I myself have said “just let me finish this quest”, and then I look at the clock to see it is three hours later.
When trying to describe the addictive qualities of Diablo 3, I keep thinking about a certain episode of Family Guy. At the end of said episode, Brian and Peter lay a trap for James Woods by placing a trail of candy for him to follow. The next few seconds consists of James Woods going, “Ooh a candy” then picking it up and eating it while repeating it over and over. This is Diablo 3 in a nutshell, and it’s brilliant if you look at it like that. The devs have scripted where enemies spawn so perfectly, that you are always presented with that trail of “candy”. If you are a player that is at all “loot focused” (and really, what other reason are you playing DIablo 3 for?), then chances are that you’ll fall for this candy trail hook line and sinker. Like the best dealer, Diablo 3 has an endless supply of the fix you need – and it’s all free provided you have the time to sink into it.
I’ve heard a lot of people complain that the skill set isn’t as deep in Diablo 3 as it was in Diablo 2, but I just don’t see it. In Diablo 2 you would see so many clone builds, because people would go online and find the “best” build for their class and never try anything else. What was the fun in that? In Diablo 3 though, the fact that you will eventually have every skill for your class means that you are free to experiment. While the base number of skills is drastically reduced from Diablo 2, in Diablo 3 you have runes that modify each skill, and each rune will dramatically change how said skill performs. Take my Witch Doctor for example: I can use a rune on my Plague of Toads skill that makes the frogs explode. I could also use one that spawns a giant toad that eats enemies, or I can go all Magnolia and cause frogs to rain from the sky. This is just a SMALL example – again with the Witch Doctor, I have access to 22 skills, each with five runes to modify them, plus fifteen Passive Skills. When you look at how the UI is set up, you can see that there is in fact a lot of customization you can have.
Speaking of the UI, it is also very different from Diablo 2 (which has angered some people). Unlike in Diablo 2 where you could bind skills to tons of keys, in Diablo 3 you only use six buttons for your skills – the right and left mouse buttons, and 1 through 4 on the number bar. This forces you to pick and choose what you are taking into each encounter beforehand, as when you switch things you are hit with a short cooldown on that skill (meaning no hot swapping). You also have to unlock your 1 through 4 spots, but that again is part of the pacing in Diablo 3. Every level you go up you’re unlocking around three things – whether it be skills, runes, or a skill slot – just enough to keep you moving. Now for some reason Blizzard chose to have a certain very important option clicked off when you start the game, and this option is “Elective Mode”
Without elective mode turned on, you are limited by the game as to what skills you can have active. Let me go back to the Witch Doctor again (he’s my main, and I know the skills the best). Under his skills are the following categories: Primary, Secondary, Defensive, Terror, Decoy, and Voodoo. With elective mode off, Primary skills have to be bound to left mouse, Secondary to right mouse, Defensive to 1, Terror to 2, Decoy to 3, and Voodoo to 4. This severely limits your options as anyone can see, but with elective mode checked on, you can have a setup like mine with a Primary bound to left and right mouse keys, Defensive to 1, Voodoo to 2, Primary to 3, and Voodoo again to 4. This gives me a summoned army and the resources to support them. I get that Blizzard wanted new players to try everything, but I think this should have just been on from the get go – I’ve talked to players in Inferno difficulty that didn’t know about it.
So I suppose it’s time to get to the elephant in the room, and one of people’s biggest bitches when it comes to Diablo 3 – the fact that it needs a constant internet connection and Blizzard’s servers need to be up. Now I’m going to talk on both sides of the fence here – for one, I can understand why people are pissed. If you bought Diablo 3 with no intention of ever going online with it, you should be given the option – a waiver if you will – to play offline only. Blizzard should have made it so that if you selected that waiver, none of your characters could go online ever unless you deleted them all and restarted an online game (or make two separate character screens so they don’t share the same stash). This would have been the optimal solution to the problem. What they did was the easy route, and as such people have to suffer. Now in Blizzard’s defense, I’ve played enough MMOs to understand that server issues happen – it’s a fact of life. I also understand that Blizzard needed to keep characters on a constant server because of the real currency auction house. Even though it’s not up yet, making sure no one can put hacked items on it is a must for Blizzard, and if I have to deal with some archaic DRM to ensure that my experience is pure, I’ll deal with it.
The real money auction house is yet another interesting thing here. What this basically says is that Blizzard knows gold farmers will plague the game as they do in pretty much every MMO, and that there is no real effective way to be completely rid of them. Rather than try to stop the individual farmers then, they are implementing this to get a cut of the action. Rather than selling straight gold, you can sell equipment you have found, and I’m sure people are stockpiling set pieces and legendary equipment to sell on it, but it remains to be seen how much of an impact this will have, especially since at the time of this writing it still is not available – I will update it when it comes out though.
For now, Diablo 3 is the king of the hill – and I don’t see it losing that title any time soon. With content in the works like PvP, Blizzard knows enough about how to make a game have lasting appeal (see WoW) that there is no doubt in my mind that we’ll see regular content updates. Even if it just involves new equipment being added to the mix, that would more than likely be enough for a lot of the players out there.
The Bottom Line: If you like loot heavy dungeon crawlers, this is the game you have been waiting for – the constant online might be annoying, but try jumping into a multiplayer game and see how much fun it is. It becomes much easier to forgive that little flaw after that.
- In multiplayer there is no more ninja looting, items you see on your screen are ONLY on your screen
- The gameplay is so refined that anyone can get in to it
- The runes add a sublime level of depth to the skill system
- The need to be always connected to the net is irritating
- Diablo 3 needs a decent PC to run on, and is pretty unforgiving in that aspect
- It is addictive as all hell
For this review I was given the Collector’s Edition of Diablo 3, and I played it on the Gamer Xtreme 2000 SE from CyberPower PC (review forthcoming).
You can pick up Diablo 3 from Amazon for $59.99