GVN Review: Diablo 3 (PC)

If there was ever a franchise that has risen from the reigns of a cult classic to a mainstream success, it’s the Diablo franchise. The first game came out in 1996 and ushered in the era of point and click hack and slash gaming. The game received moderate reviews among the gaming publications and had moderate success. Diablo 1 was applauded for its addicting gameplay, deep lore and random dungeon generator which ensured a unique gaming experience every time. Diablo was ported to the PlayStation a year later and Sierra would also release an official add-on called Hellfire.

Diablo 2 would be released 4 years later in 2000 and from there would improve upon everything that was found in the original Diablo. Diablo 2 increased the cast of playable characters, added a robust skill tree system, thousands upon thousands of unique weapons, armor and items, and improved multiplayer. With the skill tree system, Diablo2 allowed for player to literally play however they wanted by created multiple builds for each of the characters. However the best part about Diablo 2 was the expanded lore and engrossing story. We learned more about the war between heaven and hell and it engrossed us.

A year after the release of Diablo2, the expansion Lord of Destruction, was released and with it were 2 new characters, a new chapter and new challenges. Upon the completion of the Lord of Destruction players were left with wondering what of the fate of the world due to a cliff hanger ending. As the years past players who were awaiting Diablo 3 were treated with new content and patches for Diablo 2 to keep them playing for years to come. Now 12 years later, we finally received Diablo 3 and with it, years of anticipation and hype build up. Does the newest entry in the long lasting franchise have what it takes to keep gamers enticed like the previous two games? Well here’s your answer.

Diablo 3 is a great game but it is marred by some big issues. Before I address those issues let’s check out what I really loved about Diablo 3. As any fan of Blizzard knows, the strongest aspect of their games is the stories and lore of the worlds they have created. Diablo 3 is no exception and takes it a step further. While the first two games had a strong story, it was usually told thru short dialogue conversations or during cut scenes between each act. In Diablo 3, the story is told while you play the game. The new character classes are also telling a story themselves this time around which immerses you even more into the games Lore.

The story in Diablo 3 takes place nearly 18 years after the events of Lord of Destruction and the shattering of the World Stone at the hands of the angel Tyrael. Deckard Cain and his adopted daughter, Leah, are mixed up in a prophesied End of Days scenario as the last two lords of hell finally make their move to take over and destroy the mortal world. During your travels thru the world of Diablo 3 you hunt down the last two Lords of Hell and attempt to trap them in the dark soul stone, just like how Diablo and his brothers were imprisoned years ago. As you progress thru the game you will meet some companions and new characters who will join you on the long and frivolous quest. You’ll even come across scrolls hidden throughout the game expanding the mythos or backstories to certain characters you meet. As usual the writing is top notch and the world is teeming with deep lore and I expected nothing less from Blizzard.

One of the things I enjoyed the most was how Blizzard managed to make us connect with characters like Leah, Deckard Cain and Adria. We feel their plight, their pain and are even upset or saddened by events to come in the game. The emotional connection is there and it works very well. The connection with Cain is the strongest because we were stuck with the old fart in the past 2 games. We listened to his stories and used him to identify items. He is our nostalgic connection to the past games that helps with moving forward in Diablo 3 after having played Lord of Destruction for over ten years.

Other characters in the game like the companions and some town folks, allow for a more living world than in past games. In Diablo 1 or 2, you merely talked to these people and they would repeat the same gibberish. In Diablo 3, you can hear conversations as you walk around in towns, interact and help them in a few quests. Your companions that you meet throughout the game and fight alongside you can converse with you. You get to learn about their past, their opinions, what excites them, and what they think of the other companions.

Now right away you will notice that Diablo 3 is an amazing looking game. While the game’s world doesn’t wow you in any way, it’s still gorgeous and truly represents the decrepit, war torn world of Diablo 3. Diablo 3 isn’t brimming with bright luscious colors or any artsy cartoonish characters here like you can find in Torchlight. The world is dull, dreary, and in utter chaos. The world is also huge, dangerous and full of intrigue. Everything from exploring the ruins of Old Tristram from entering the bowels of Hell and to the gates of Heaven, everyplace you go is an experience to the eyes. Of course there is one problem I have with the world of Diablo 3 and it’s with the game’s random world generator. With Diablo 1 and 2, I felt like I was experiencing a new game every time. However with Diablo 3, it has a “been there, done that” kind of feel to it. Nothing about Diablo 3’s randomly generated worlds felt genuinely fresh or original.

Moving onto gameplay, Diablo is just as fun and addicting with its simple point & click, hack n’ slash game play that the series is known for. You’ll still find yourself rummaging around killing large groups of monsters while hunting for exquisite rare items. The action is fast and heavy, but not to the point where you will get lost in the action. You always seem to have a sense of control of the situation even when swarmed by mobs of beasties. However Diablo has changed its gameplay quite a bit, some for the good and others quite the opposite. Gone are the skill trees, stats points, mana potions and even identity scrolls. New gameplay additions include cooldown for skills, a gem and armory crafting system, gradual health and skill regeneration, and achievements.

Starting the game off, Diablo 3 gives you the option of picking one of five character classes and in a twist you can now select the sex for each class. Each character class has some unique traits that help to keep the combat fresh and free from becoming stagnant. You do have the basic trinity of characters here, The Mage (Wizard), Warrior (Barbarian) and Ranger (Demon Hunter), and they accompany two other characters the Monk and Witch Doctor. The Witch Doctor plays like a combination of the Necromancer and Mage from Diablo 2. He has the ability to summon the dead and cast arcane magic. What’s unique about him is his ability to cast spells that can hinder groups of monsters or even control them. The Monk first appeared in the Diablo 1 expansion, Hellfire, and was never seen again after that. In Diablo 3 he can still fight off wards of monsters with either his bare hands or with a Bo staff. The monk plays very similarly to the Assassin from Lord of Destruction in terms of abilities. The monk can cast a shadow that attacks enemies on site or a protective shield to increase his defense.

Overall the characters classes all seem to have some form of familiarity to them which in a sense is good so it can allow you to connect with the game more quickly. Each of them has a variety of skills and abilities that you can equip to deal maximum destruction. All the skills are unlocked as you gain levels. You also have passive skills and runes to unlock that enhance your abilities. However there is a flaw that can’t be overlooked with the new skill system.

Another great thing about Diablo 2 was the ability to create a build for your character. You have an enormous amount of customization that allows you to play the game your way. In Diablo 3, you just unlock all abilities for your characters but can only use four at a time. There are no character builds unfortunately and the majority of the abilities are either situation based or useless. Playing online with other people I found everyone that uses certain characters use the same abilities throughout the game. The only time I found a need to change my abilities was either when I leveled up and unlocked a stronger ability or if I was about to go into a boss fight.

Now the boss fights in Diblo 3 are impressive and a change of pace from the previous games. Whereas you fought boss monsters and Lords of Hell in open free roaming dungeons, in Diablo 3 you are infact duking it out in really huge arenas. To some this might be sour point for some but in my mind it adds to the excitement. A fight to the death against the last two lords or hell, the return of the butcher and a suprise boss for those who have yet to make it the the final act.

Aside from the lack of skill trees, the overall game play experience feels more simplified. You no longer need mana potions since your character’s special meter refills itself. Enemies drop health orbs like candy so you don’t need to use health potions often. You'll no longer have to worry about having enough identity or town portal scrolls since both can be done at a whim. However, despite this simplicity, it doesn’t really detract from the game too much so you can still find yourself enjoying the massacre of hundreds of hell spawns.

Another addition is the companion system which is an improvement over Diablo 2’s mercenaries. You encounter each companion in your play through and each of them is really useful depending on your character class. Some of the big improvements in the companion system over D2’s mercenaries are 1.) You don’t have to pay to hire them, 2.) They don’t die; they are merely knocked unconscious temporarily, so you don’t have to pay for their resurrection, and 3.) They are highly customizable, allowing you to swap their weapons, amulets, and even unique items like mirrors or books. The companion system is majorly a huge improvement and a great feature.

The new crafting systems for Diablo 3 are somewhat well thought out and add a new element to the game. The ability to scrap all the excessive weapons and armor to become ingredients for making stronger equipment is a good skill to have. However it can be incredibly costly since you have to pay to level up your crafting skill. The gem crafting unfortunately is only useful when you have excess amounts of flawless gems and you want to make perfect ones. The reason why it’s useless is because the farther you progress in the game the better the quality of the gems you will find and you will find them in abundance.

The overall gameplay experience lies in running around killing everything in sight and finding better equipment. To be truthfully honest the game’s first two difficulties are rather manageable and can be done solo for the most part. The higher difficulties most definitely require you to be in a party and that is the games bread and butter. Multiplayer action is where the heart and soul of Diablo 3 lies and thanks to the new and improved battle.net it’s incredibly easy to join a game and be paired up with someone of equal level. It also makes it easy to track players that you recently played with and want to rejoin at a later time. The same can be done with people on your friend’s list.

Now unfortunately, one of my biggest complaints about the game lies in Blizzard’s decision to make the game online only. I have a great internet connection and I have encountered quite a bit of lag when playing just by myself. I’ve seen enemies not die or drop their loot right away, I’ve found my character springing back and forth, and at times had some issues getting online. Granted, Blizzard does a great job with supporting their online and I’ve enjoyed my time playing World of Warcraft with little to no problems but a heavy action oriented game needs more dedication. I want my single player experience to be offline. I understand that by keeping the game online to help to keep piracy and hacking of accounts to a minimum and to prevent people from taking advantage of loopholes in the auction house.

Another issue I have is how short the experience of Diablo 3 is. You can easily beat the game on your first try solo in about 15 hours. On higher difficulties, you will want to group up with friends and if you have a full party, can mow through massive waves of monsters in no time at all. And my final issue is with the drop rate of magical items. While Blizzard has capped the rares you get from boss fights, you will find a ton of drops from the high encounter rate of special and unique monsters you’ll run across in the game.

However all issues aside, the overall online gameplay experience is what will drive you to continue playing. Nothing is more satisfying than getting together with random people or with friends and slaying the demons of hell. On top of that you have some amazing boss battles that are incredibly challenging and will test your mettle to the fullest. I am happy to say that despite some of the bigger issues like the always online and simplifying of the game mechanics, that Diablo 3 is still a fun and addicting game.

+ Strong story and lore
+ Addicting gameplay
+ Strong online multiplayer experience
+ All 5 classes are unique and fun to mess around with

- Online single player marred by lag issues from time to time
- Lack of true customization of characters
- Short gaming experience

Final Grade: B

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