Published by Blizzard Entertainment
Developed by Blizzard Entertainment
Creating a sequel for a multi-million selling series whose fans have been clamouring for a sequel for the best part of a decade is no easy task. Do you make wholesale changes and upset those who want more of the same or do you keep the winning formula largely untouched but simply create a refined version of what’s gone before with a few minor changes here and there? Blizzard are not a company for making wholesale changes and risking upsetting their incredibly large number of fans so it should come as no surprise that Diablo III doesn’t do a lot to change the Diablo experience. In fact this latest in the series is just as addictive as you would expect.
Diablo III offers four acts of intense action-RPG action. Set two decades after the events of Diablo II, the game begins with Deckard Cain and Leah, his niece, searching texts in Tristram Cathedral when suddenly a flaming star falls from the heavens and smashes into the cathedral. Things go from bad to worse as not only do the once buried corpses in the area make a reappearance, along with other demonic beasts, but it’s also revealed that the last Lords of Hell are unleashing a ‘tide of darkness that will drown the world.’ In essence the storyline isn’t a classic but then it doesn’t need to be as it sets the scene for the game pretty nicely indeed.
There are five character classes for you to play as in Diablo III: Barbarian, Demon Hunter, Monk, Witch Doctor and Wizard. Essentially these offer five very different ways of playing then game as each class requires different strategies in order for you to be successful. At first the classes don’t differ much at all but as your character gains levels and acquires primary, secondary and passive skills the gameplay experiences with each class becomes more and more distinctive and rewarding. The game offers numerous difficulty settings and even a Hardcore Hero mode that only provides one life for your character; if your character dies once in this mode, it’s game over. The game offers ten hero slots per region per account so you’ll get the opportunity to play through the game with both the male and female versions of all the classes if you want to do so. Thanks to the random level and enemy encounter generators in the game you’ll never have the same experience twice which makes the idea of multiple playthroughs much more compelling.
The hack-n-slash action is just as fun and addictive as you would expect from a Diablo game and certainly the core of Diablo III is pretty much the same as in the previous titles in the series. You’ll be constantly on the lookout for better equipment and ways to spend your gold. Your blacksmith and jeweller need to be levelled-up and it’s certainly an expensive process but the items they offer as a result of having their skills improved more than make up for the costly effort. Some modern gameplay aspects have been included however. There are a large range of achievements to acquire which cover the general gameplay, campaign, co-operative play, crafting, Hardcore mode and others which are class specific. There are auction houses for spending both the in-game money you’ll acquire on your travels and real money. The game also allows you to play with the assistance of a follower, an AI controlled character that follows you and takes part in your battles. Followers level-up during the course of the game and there are three very different followers to choose from but you can only have one with you at any one time.
You’ll want to have some human companions however. Thankfully you can play co-operatively with up to three other players, either joining their games or having them join yours. You might think that having other players assisting you reduces the game’s challenge. Thankfully this isn’t the case as the difficulty of the game’s AI enemies seems to scale to how many players are taking part in the game. This forces you to work together to achieve success and not simply employ individualistic strategies which in turn makes for a more rewarding multiplayer experience.
As much as I’ve enjoyed, and will continue to enjoy, Diablo III my initial experiences with the game were ones of frustration and the reasons for this essentially boil down to the method of digital rights management (DRM) employed for the game. The problem is that you need to be signed into your Battle.net account at all times, even when playing the single-player game. For most this won’t be an issue but not everyone has a permanent Internet connection and should they lose their connection during play they will be booted from the game. I do have a reliable Internet connection but during the week that followed the game’s launch it definitely appeared as though the servers couldn’t cope with the sheer amount of people wishing to log into their Battle.net accounts. I barely managed more than a handful of hours during the first week’s play as I either couldn’t login or when I did manage to login it wasn’t long before I was booted out with an error code. Whilst I was pleased my character didn’t lose any gained experience or items that were collected, it was very frustrating being returned to my previous checkpoint and having to play through the same sections of the game over and over again. Thankfully those issues now appear to be sorted out, although lag can be a problem at times, but it definitely highlights potential problems with having to be online and logged in one-hundred per cent of the time.
When the first screens of Diablo III were made available online a few years ago there were quite a few complaints from hardcore fans of the series who thought the visuals were too colourful and weren’t dark enough in their tone and if anything were a little too cartoon-like in their appearance. Having played the finished game however I can’t really see what all the fuss was about. Yes Diablo III may not, at first glance, be as sinister looking when taking a cursory look at the screenshots but the game in motion is just as atmospheric and in some respects as sinister as you would expect from a Diablo game. You could argue that the game could have looked better but Blizzard have never been about making their games utilise cutting edge hardware, instead preferring their games to run adequately on the majority of PCs and Macs out there which certainly makes sense. That said however, the game certainly looks more than good enough and certainly better than any action-RPG that I’ve played to date. I also appreciated the variety in the game’s environments rather than having similar looking ones during the entirety of the game. Whilst the in-game graphics aren’t exactly state of the art, the game’s cut scenes are stunning and as visually impressive as anything I’ve seen in a PC game to date.
Diablo III offers both cinematic and quest dialogue subtitles allowing you to follow the game’s storyline in addition to all of the important comments made during the game by the main characters. You can also enable the option to display quest dialogue in the chat menu which gives you a chance to see most of the comments that your character and any followers that you have with you make. Some comments are not subtitled however. There are times when you can’t pick up items because there isn’t enough space in your inventory and your character will tell you that he can’t carry the item but these comments aren’t subtitled. Thankfully this isn’t a problem because you will see the item you’ve clicked on spin around and return to the ground signifying that you don’t have the space required for it in your inventory. I’ve also noticed that whilst some of the comments that your followers make are subtitled - sometimes in speech bubbles - some are not. None of the omissions are important however. There are no visual clues for some of the key sounds in the game and there are times when the game’s music will change to alert you to impending danger or simply to heighten the tension and deaf gamers will simply be unaware of this.
The wait for Diablo III has been a long one and given that it’s now the fastest selling PC game to date it’s fair to say that many have been waiting to get their hands on it. The game doesn’t do much that hasn’t been seen in the Diablo series before and whilst there are some nice additions here to the formula found in Diablo II, the game is more of a refined experience rather than a dramatically different one. That’s certainly not meant as a complaint however as Diablo fans wouldn’t want the experience to differ too much. The need to be constantly online when playing the single-player game is certainly a contentious issue and will prevent those without access to permanent Internet connections from enjoying the game which is far from ideal. Digital rights management issues aside however, Diablo III is a superb game that will keep fans of the series busy for months, if not years, to come.