"The King of the Dungeon Crawl Retains its Crown"
Unless you've been living under a rock, you're probably aware that this week marked the long-awaited release of Diablo III. You also may have heard that the release didn't go so well. While it's true that Blizzard completely botched the launch, you'd be doing yourselves a great disservice if you allowed that to sour your experience of the game. What I'm trying to say is that Diablo III is very, very good.
First up, let's discuss the gameplay; it's definitely evolved quite a bit since its predecessor. While the title still retains the "hack 'n slash" feel of the original two, the combat system has received something of an overhaul. Movement is far more fluid, and there's a much greater emphasis on mobility now - pretty much any attack can be dodged if you're quick enough with a mouse; something which is very helpful for the squishier classes, which tend to get destroyed in a few hits once you reach the latter stages of the game.
Those of you who are more hardcore in their tastes might be disappointed to find that combat difficulty in Diablo III has been ramped down a bit from the second game, though that may be as much a result of the enhanced system as it is any noteworthy change in difficulty.
On the topic of simplicity, there is one feature I'm still not entirely sold on. See, talent trees are gone from Diablo III; class progression has been streamlined. Now, all classes get the same abilities at the same levels. The difference here is that you can apply "runes" to an ability to customize how it works. You also have a single action bar, consisting of six active skills, meaning that two identical classes could easily run with entirely different load-outs.
Mercenaries are also gone, replaced with a trio of followers: the Scoundrel, the Enchantress, and the Templar. They aren't just vanilla hirelings either; they've all got their own personality, backstory, and conversation topics... but more on that in a moment.
Diablo III still follows the same basic formula, of course: start act, get quests, kill monsters, find waypoints and loot, sell loot in town, rinse and repeat. Blizzard has thrown a few wrenches in the gears this time around, however, in the form of artisans, bosses, and collectibles (journals, letters, and bestiary entries that give a bit more insight into the game world). Over the course of the game, you'll have access to two different craftsmen: a blacksmith and a jewelcrafter. The Blacksmith breaks down magical items you don't need for materials and then builds armor and weaponry out of it.
The mechanic for crafting items is similar to the gambling mechanic in Diablo II: effects on an item are randomized, so you're equally as likely to get something completely worthless as you are to end up with a godly item that'll be with you for several levels to come. As for jewelcrafting, you can either remove socketed gems from items (retrieving both the original gem and the item) or combine three gems of one type into a better gem. Basically, your jewelcrafter is a replacement for the Horadric cube.
While I definitely enjoyed the crafting system in Diablo III, it did seem a touch simplistic at times; there are really only two distinct materials you'll build items out of at lower levels, and you don't really get a lot of variety when it comes to what you can have the blacksmith build. Still, it's a nice touch.
Oh, they've also changed town portals: you get a spell now, instead of having to purchase scrolls, and there are no identification scrolls. Rare items are identified simply by right-clicking on them. The drop system has been revamped, too: all players get personalized drops now. No more having to race for items only to find that one guy wound up with all the rares. Again, welcome additions to the game.
The multiplayer has been changed as well. There's no PVP at the current juncture (sorry, guys), though Blizzard has hinted they may release an arena at a later date. Along with personalized item drops, you can now teleport to a player simply by clicking on their banner in town (banners are, of course, customizable). The one thing that confuses me about the game's multiplayer is that it only allows four people in a room; there's really no explanation as to why.
As for the bosses, well… there are several in each act now. Each of the bosses has their own special attacks and mode of operation, and all of them are very fun to fight. Plus, they actually feel like they matter this time, if that makes sense; the plot plays a more central role in the game than in any of the previous titles.
Speaking of plot… the presentation of Diablo III is absolutely phenomenal. Aside from a few quirks here and there, the voice acting is top notch. The music is downright incredible, and I actually found myself playing through the certain segments of the game (at times when I should really have been sleeping) specifically because I wanted to see what happened next. Although the plot does seem to get a bit corny at some points and there are a few plot holes that had me scratching my head, it's overall a positive experience - though I was slightly bothered that they retconned a good chunk of the story from previous titles.
Your character's personality differs based on their class, too - this affects both their cutscenes along with how they interact with NPCs and followers. What I'm trying to say here is that Diablo III distinguishes itself through more than just gameplay.
It's not perfect, however. I and a number of other players had to suffer through crippling lag-spikes, stuttering frame-rates (either as a result of server lag, poor client optimization, or a "loading assets" glitch that's been present in the game since beta), as well as the "always on" DRM that boots you from a solo game if you lose Internet for even a moment.
Those are tiny stains, though. All in all, Diablo III feels exactly as it should: like a sequel to one of the greatest action RPGs of all time. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have some more demons to kill.
GameDynamo's Score for Diablo III (PC)
A gamer at heart, Nick started writing when he was a child. He holds a BA in English, works as a freelancer, and loves every minute of it. One day, he hopes to net himself a career in game design - but that's something for the future.
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