Full admission: I’ve never played any of the Diablo games before Diablo III. But I have played more than my fair share of similar dungeon crawlers like the Baldur’s Gate series and Torchlight. In a way I’m really the perfect person to experience the first entry in the franchise in over a dozen years, as there’s bound to be millions of gamers like myself that are probably wondering what all the fuss is about. As one of Blizzard’s most popular franchises, the return to point-and-click slashing across dungeons, treasure snatching, and online adventuring is one that should please fans hoping for more of that old magic, while those new to the series or the dungeon crawler genre in general will benefit the most from this title. And while things got off to a rocky start with overloaded servers and loads of lag that I’ll get into later, the overall experience turned out to be a fairly impressive – if flawed – one.
Set 20 years or so after the events of previous games, the lords of Hell are back after being locked away and once again managing to escape to create chaos upon the world. Now it falls on you to choose a warrior and fight back against the demons while trying to bring peace back to the many lands that await you across four big acts of dungeon crawling, monster hacking adventure.
There’s five character classes to choose from: Barbarian, Monk, Wizard, Demon Hunter, and Witch Doctor. Each have their own strengths and weakness such as being good for melee combat or ranged, but conversely coming up short at the opposite. You’ll also come across three other AI-controlled characters, a templar, scoundrel, and sorceress, that aid you during your adventure, though only one can be with you at a time. As with any RPG, you earn experience points as you play that allows you to level up and gain access to more powerful skills and abilities to take down your foes with. And for those who complete normal difficulty, there are harder ones to unlock such as Nightmare and Inferno for gamers who seek to unlock all of the available skills for their character while testing them out against tougher enemies.
Controlling your warrior is fairly easy, as you just left-click where you want to move to, or hold down left-click and your character will follow wherever you place the mouse pointer on screen. Fighting is just as simple, as you either left-click an enemy to use a normal skill or right-click to use a special ability that uses whatever resource your class has, such as the Barbarian using fury or the Wizard using mana to power their abilities. Your normal skills and special moves can be further enhanced with the use of runes that unlock as you level-up, bringing a whole new way to customize your abilities by adding more power, range or other cool enhancements to them to suit your needs. There’s also toolbar skills you can unlock upon reaching a certain level that grants access to even more abilities such as buffs for you and your allies, extra attacks, and so on that can be quickly employed using buttons 1 through 4 on your keyboard or just by clicking on them.
If you’re having trouble playing solo or just want to adventure with others, there’s an option to join someone else’s game or you can set yours to public mode where others can join your quest. Up to four people can play together and only you can see your own loot when it drops, so thankfully there’s no more fighting over who gets what. And if you’re not getting the kind of drops you would like from enemies, there’s a built-in auction house at the main menu where you can use earned in-game currency to purchase better gear for you and your companions. An option to use real-world money is supposedly coming, but there’s no signs it will be active anytime soon.
Blizzard has always made their games available to the widest possible audience and Diablo III is no exception with its low-system requirements to play. The graphics and sound are well done here, even when set to the bare minimum to run the game. But those who have a decent graphics card can take advantage of the high resolution textures, physics engine, and the always nice shadow and particle effects. With these turned on, it’s easily one of the best looking dungeon crawlers ever released, as the detailed backdrops and huge bosses are a wonder to behold. The sounds design is equally spectacular, especially if you have a nice sound system or a pair of high-quality headphones. Every piece of dialogue, blood splatter and bone cracking sound rings in with perfect clarity.
It’s a shame there are things more hellishly wrong with Diablo III than Nightmare Mode, and there’s no getting around the proverbial elephant in the room – the always online requirement. While this is perfect for preventing folks from pirating the game, keeping cheaters away, and for those who want to co-op with other players, it’s an annoyance for those who just want to play single-player, especially for those without a constant internet connection or with poor service. To make matters worse, if Blizzard’s servers aren’t working, then you can’t play at all. The now infamous “Error 37” that plagued the game’s launch night by having overloaded servers that rendered the game unplayable for quite some time is perhaps only the tip of the online iceberg that threatens to sink an otherwise fine game, and I can only hope that they will one day release a patch that will erase this requirement, however unlikely.
Its flaws and botched online issues aside, Diablo III remains an irresistible adventure that hardcore genre fans are sure to enjoy, particularly those new to Blizzard’s franchise – myself included. When everything clicks and the online connections work, the game is impossibly fun to play. But when they don’t, it becomes unplayable, making it feel like you’re renting a buggy experience opposed to paying full-price. While there’s plenty of new content on the way (PvP matches being among the first), longtime fans will likely form a love/hate relationship with it, similar to what happened with its stable mate StarCraft 2. Those who can look past the gripes should by all means pick this one up, while the less faithful may want to wait for the slew of upcoming Diablo clones like Torchlight 2 for their dungeon crawler fix.