Some Thoughts on Diablo III

Devilishly good time

Diablo III actually came out, after years and years of ever changing development direction. And it’s pretty awesome. I never had any personal reverence for the franchise because I never played either of the two prior games in the series but I was always aware of its fanatical following and the impact it had on action RPGs, which made me interested in checking out this long awaited sequel. Well ok, I did play them but I didn’t play them. One of  my childhood gaming memories is of wondering aimlessly around Tristram in a demo of the original Diablo, soaking in the atmosphere and the wonderful, iconic theme song. Last Summer (or maybe it was the Summer before?) I played Diablo II for the first time, partly out of boredom and partly out of curiosity. Unsurprisingly its visuals have aged tremendously but the core concept of killing monsters, levelling up and looting corpses for ever better gear is one which has endured through games and will likely continue to be viable foundation for games as long as the medium lasts.

In that sense, Diablo III isn’t a whole lot different to its predecessors. The goals remain the same as ever and the manner in which you go about achieving these goals are similarly unchanged. Blizzard did make some controversial changes in relation to character building though, simplifying the process. You don’t dump points into base stats any more nor do you choose your path down a skill tree. Your stats increase automatically and the way in which you personalise play styles is done using the rune system. Runes are subsets of skills which give them different properties; for example, ‘Plague of Toads’ lets you unleash deadly poisonous amphibians but add the mid-game rune ‘Rain of  Toads’  and instead they’ll fall from the sky, changing the spell into a long range AoE attack. When you reach the level cap of 60, you’ll have unlocked every rune and consequently every possible way of building your character. Previously the player would have been locked into one play style as a result of the decisions they made but here that restriction is no longer a worry. Runes were originally rare drops that you may or may not find but thankfully that’s no longer the case; it would have been silly to add another element of character customisation to the mercy of chance. With the rune system, Blizzard found an elegant solution to a restrictive problem that has burdened the genre for a long time.

Loot, a staple of the series, returns. Enemies drop weapons, armour, gold and more upon death and the compulsive urge to kill just one more monster, in the hope that they’ll drop something better, is strong. I do have a couple of issues with how loot is handled though. Regular drops are completely useless, selling for embarrassingly low amounts of gold and taking up vital inventory space. I understand that their presence is needed in order to give importance to other drops but it would be nice if there was some practical use for them. Legendary drops are are very hard to come by (so much so that in 35 hours of play I haven’t seen a single one) which is fine if they were worth the wait but much of the legendary loot I’ve read about seems underpowered and underwhelming. Some changes to the loot system are advisable although the problems with it aren’t particularly distracting nor would they be too difficult to fix.

The game requires a constant internet connection and without one even single player isn’t possible. This is no doubt born of out Blizzard’s desire to create a completely controlled and fair environment for the in game Auction House and as an irritatingly inelegant solution to piracy. It’s only really a minor annoyance; my biggest gripe with this system is having to constantly worry about lag (in a single player game!). I suppose how much this affects players depends on the reliability and speed of their internet. Thankfully mine, while not particularly fast, never drops and rarely lags. And if you do lose connection mid game, your exp, loot, and gold will all be as you left them; the only progress setback is one of physical position in the environment and checkpoints are usually fairly close to each other so it’s not even much of a setback.

Combat is without a doubt the highlight. It’s fast and responsive and utterly satisfying. It is simple at first but requires a good deal of tactical coordination later on when the game begins to crank up the challenge in the three difficulty levels following Normal. At the moment, I’m playing a level 45 Witch Doctor, a class which uses a combinations of ranged attacks and summons to dispatch enemies. Nightmare difficulty is proving to be quite a challenge. I can’t even begin to imagine how brutal and unforgiving the game is on Inferno. I haven’t mentioned the fantastic visuals yet, which play a significant role in what makes the combat so fun. The entire world is physical; enemies splatter and fly across the screen upon death and the delicate environment breaks apart so impressively that I found myself actively destroying destructible objects just for the hell of it. Above all else, Diablo III makes you feel like a fucking bad ass.

I’m not one to replay games but when I finished Diablo III for the first time I immediately wanted to jump back in. The game is certainly repetitive; all you’re really doing in repeating the same couple of actions and procedures for hours on end but these actions and procedures are so damn enjoyable that it’s hard to get hung up over it. I do wonder for how much longer it can retain my attention and at what point the difficulty curve will have outrun me; regardless, I’ve already had such a great time playing it that if I was to lose interest tomorrow, I would feel like having gotten my money’s worth. If you’ve ever enjoyed an RPG, Diablo III is a stellar entry in the genre and above all else, an essential play.

Addendum (12/01/2014): Wow, I really sang Diablo III‘s praises didn’t I? The game does have its problems, which I feel like I perhaps overlooked a little too much here but my fundamental experience with the game was a very positive one, perhaps because I played it quite casually. I think I’ll get back into with the expansion pack in a couple of months.

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