Diablo III Review

Diablo 3
8.7 Overall Score
Graphics: 8/10
Gameplay: 9/10
Sound: 9/10

A chance to return to Sanctuary | Lots of Diablo lore present | Cooperative is fun

Sanctuary has changed | Story is a bit weak | No true offline singleplayer

Diablo 3. Where do I even begin? I suppose I should preface this review with some background on my longstanding relationship with the mighty Dark One. I spent hundreds of hours in Tristram marauding through the original Diablo on both PC and then Playstation. Played each of the three classes and hauled in loot by the fistful, blissfully clicking my way to epic glory. I again crusaded against the forces of evil in the often forgotten expansion to the first game, Hellfire. Sure it wasn’t up to the standards that would later be associated with something related to Blizzard, but developer Sierra could of done much worse. It was new content for a great game, a new class and at the time it seemed pretty damn fun.

Fast forward a few years and I was anxiously awaiting the release of the upcoming sequel, Diablo II. The game released and I remember thinking that it was in many ways a huge improvment and proceeded to start grinding away on it. Something was different here though. Yes, I was enjoying it, loved the music and ambience, the cinematics and the top notch production values, but found myself not as attached to it as I had anticipated. I played much more casually… until the release of Lord of Destruction. This expansion corrected many of the nitpicks I had with the second game and added in more characters, more quest, more loot and simultaneously attempted to balance some gameplay issues. I spent many, many hours wandering the forlorn paths of that desolate landscape and consider Diablo II to be a landmark game to this day.

After a few years, the rumors started regarding a sequel. In Bizzard’s familiar tight lipped fashion, it went from no response on was there a game, to announcing the game, to no response on a release date and finally to “when it’s done”. It had been more than 10 years and still no Diablo III. Other good action RPG’s had arrived in that period, both the Titan Quest series and the German made Sacred had built followings in that span. I played these and bunches of less popular releases, but still kept Diablo II loaded and ready, as I always found myself going back and playing again.

When Diablo III was finally up for preorder, I had reserved a Collector’s Edition within the first hour of the listing. I also had signed up for the “free” copy that was available to those who were willing to commit to a 12 month term on their World of Warcraft subscriptions. Needless to say I was looking forward to its release.

Launch day arrives and I prepare to login to my nicely preloaded game. Part of me still feels like that this being Diablo, it should just launch, let me choose a single player game and be off and running. The other part that has been “trained” by years of exposure to the Battle.net platform knows that this will not be the case. A little voice tells me if World of Warcraft patch days can turn into a debacle, that this could turn into raw turdage of epic proportions. The latter certainly was my experience. Between every error code that the Blizzard random number generator could pop up and the brief connections that let me know that “oh, there is a character screen” before losing connection again, I knew that my chances to play were slim.

I tried periodically through the next day or two to log in and play, but encountered additional errors and ended up walking away from it for a bit to preserve my sanity. A bit later, I sat down and logged into my account successfully. Expecting the error box was just waiting to surprise me with malicious wickedness at any moment, I was even more surprised when I was able to pick a character and start the game. I was finally playing Diablo III.

Sanctuary is a place that feels immediately familiar, yet at the same time seems a bit distant and somewhat removed. There are faces that will be instantly familiar to fans of the series and lots of easter eggs and such spread throughout. Some denizens of previous Diablo’s return as characters, some as corpses strewn about the wayside as you explore the landscape. There is even a clever random dungeon called “Developer Hell” in which all the monsters are named after members of the team and the boss is lead game developer Jay Wilson. Completing it gives you a “Feat of Strength”, which shows on your Achievements Tab.

Away I went with my Wizard and before I know it I had hit level 60. Since this was my first character and I was not interested in using the Real Money Auction House (RMAH) I spent some time grinding to find gear upgrades and gold to buy what I didn’t find as a drop on the Gold Auction House (GAH). After a good many hours had passed and after a number of tries, I downed Diablo for the first time in Inferno. Shortly after patch 1.03, I rolled a Demon Hunter, a Barbarian and a Witch Doctor. They all are level 60 and every one of them has downed Diablo in Inferno. They benefited from the toils of my Wizard and gear and gold she had accumulated made their journey much sweeter. After investing over 120 hours on my first character, the next took 60, then 40, then 35 or so to complete. Now with the 300 hour mark approaching, with a Monk well on her way to 60 and many hours spent farming, I think I have finally become comfortable with the game Diablo III actually is versus what I had envisioned and what its predecessors were.

Graphically, Diablo 3 is not a surprise to me, which is a good thing, but not necessarily a great one. The perspective is the traditional view for an Action RPG and feels natural from the outset. After the uproar during the games development cycle over the art style becoming too light, I was glad to see that in the final product there is a lot of dark and gloomy areas. The motif is very much Diablo and there are not any garish displays of flamboyant color to be seen – aside from the bonus level of Whimseyshire which is BRIGHT. Textures are detailed and the environments are well fleshed out. Zooming in on your character shows the detail that was invested in the design of your armor and weaponry. I especially enjoyed the effects that killing certain monsters delivered, creatures bursting from intestines, exploding, severed torsos relentlessly dragging themselves toward you and buckets of blood and gory chunks flying around in all directions.

Boss fights are well rendered and the demons are fittingly grotesque and appropriately ooze disgusting fluids from various orifices. Azmodan and Ghom stand out as creatures that you really enjoy sending back to Hell for their appearance alone. Cut scenes vary in direction but not in quality – Blizzard is truly masterful at producing these, and Diablo III has some beautiful examples of their prowess. With all there is to love, there isn’t anything that stands out and says “cutting edge”. Again, this isn’t a bad thing, it is another example of Blizzard taking a tried and true formula and adding some polish. The finished product really does work well and works on a wide range of hardware.

Gameplay is an area where Diablo has always shined, with the basic design seeming simplistic and repetitive, yet managing to provide a fun and challenging experience. Though it is true that Diablo is primarily a mouse killing button masher, adopting this as your sole strategy will just yield in high repair bills. Diablo III requires timing, resource management and the application of the right skill at the right time. Elite enemies roll random abilities which can cause the player to have to adopt a totally different approach to down. Defensive builds, glass cannon setups and hybrids of the two are all viable on each class – with the right gear.

With that said, the best reflexes in the world coupled with a great choice of skills will not overcome every obstacle in Diablo III. It is a loot based game and the loot does flow freely. The problem is that the loot is often not what you needed for the class you may be using. Sure, this encourages you to have multiple toons which can benefit from the gear that your main may not be able to use, but the main focus seems to be on hauling it to the auction house.

The auction house gives players a way to safely market their wares to other players, either for gold or for real currency. When selling on the RMAH, you may choose to have the proceeds go directly to your Battle.net coffers or to your registered Paypal account. Blizzard is up front about the cut they take from each transaction, and how this helps to fund further development of the game, versus the subscription model games like World of Warcraft employ. If you wish to buy a shiny new piece of gear, it is there for you, if not, you are not forced to spend a dime or single gold piece, but grind you will.

The game itself is not terribly long, you can run through it in each difficulty in a relatively brief number of hours. Still, if you take time to enjoy the cutscenes and dialogue, listen to the well done lore and explore the maps to their fullest, it is plenty of content for this style of game. The addition of a slew of achievements, many of which are random spawn or class based, add more replay for those so inclined. Completing these unlock additional visual options for your banner.

The story works – but don’t try to read to much into it, as it isn’t the writing that keep fans playing Diablo and this game doesn’t change that. Sure, this is a fantasy world and filled with demons and magic, but some of the plot is hard to believe even in that setting. The presentation is truly top notch, just the material you are being presented will leave you scratching your head from time to time.

Multiplayer also has worked smoothly from my perspective. You can simply one click to join anyone on your friends list, invite them or join a public game on various quest. The era of the ninja looter is past, as drops are only visible to the individual and not to the party. This may cut down on trading or discussion, but it gives players a reason to play this mode without fear of losing out on that shiny legendary.

In things of an audible nature, Diablo III really does stand tall. Though I was a huge fan of the Diablo II soundtrack, the choices for Diablo III really work. In addition, the voice acting is well done and each actor sounds well matched to their role. The aforementioned lore is well read, often in the familiar voice of Deckard Cain, and helps to inform the player on the horrors they are facing. Every sound effect, from thuds to oozing intestines bursting from rotting reanimated carcasses sounds as you would expect. Weapon and spell effects are there and carry impact. This is a group that took their audio seriously.

You may well think that someone who is a self admitted serious fan of the series would just place a gold star on the game and be done with it. A triple A title from a triple A developer should automatically receive one, right? Well, that is not the case and there are definitely things I would like to of seen done differently. The auction house is something that I find myself going back and forth on, but you are not forced to use it. The always online aspect REALLY annoyed me when it initially was overloaded and wouldn’t work and mildly annoys me on patch and maintenance days. The fear that Blizzard will nerf content or buff classes until your three legged dog can faceroll his way through, much as they have done in World of Warcraft, is there.

Still, anyone who would tell you that this game is remotely bad or broken, is really doing you a disservice. Diablo III judged on its own merit is a great game that provides many hours of fun and challenge. It can go from frustrating to rewarding in the span of one battle and just when you think the loot gods hate you, you will get something to prove otherwise. I have found it to be as enjoyable and addictive as any other action RPG, including the previous games in the series. It is not Diablo II with upgraded graphics and is not World of Warcraft with a lot of clicking – but it does take some of the best attributes of each and successfully melds them together. Like visiting an old friend, Diablo III may of changed some from what you remember, but it doesn’t take a long stay in Sanctuary to see again what it was that brought you here in the first place.


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