It's hard to believe that it's been more than a decade since Diablo II came out for the PC. I have been playing that game for years now, and it has been an almost permanent fixture on my hard drive since its release. When the announcement came through that Diablo III was in the works, I was just about beside myself with joy. After all this time, finally, we're getting a new and improved Diablo game! In a lot of ways, this is everything I had hoped for. In others, it's frustrating.
What's It About?
The world of Sanctuary is facing a grave threat. The Lesser Evils are loose and are wreaking havoc on society. The High Angels in Heaven squabble, unable to decide on whether or not to intervene. Prophecy tells of the beginning of the end of days, heralded by the falling of a star and the rising of the dead. The star has fallen in New Tristram and corpses are rising up and attacking townsfolk. Five warriors see the danger in these signs and set out to combat the rising evil.
Why Should I Care?
Diablo III takes the Action-RPG format and trims off a lot of the fat. It also introduces a few MMO conventions that many players will be familiar with. Cooldown timers have been added to skills as well as to the use of health potions. Given that healing potions have an instant effect, the cooldown timer should not be a big deal. In some circumstances it can cost you your life. If the amount of health you get back isn't enough to buy you the time you need to get out of a bad situation, then it's likely your character is going to end up dead. While I don't completely object to the idea of cooldowns, I do feel that the timer for potions is far too long. Ten seconds would have been plenty. Town portal spells are no longer consumable. Instead you can portal back to town at nearly any time. The caveat is, you will have to stand still for several seconds and not have your spell interrupted. This effectively makes it impossible to use Town Portal as a quick escape. It's understandable to not want people to be able to get to a boss, set up a portal, and then if they die, simply portal back to the same spot and fight the boss again with the partially depleted health they had before the boss killed them. This is a change I rather like. You can get back to town when you need to, but you can't use the portal as a crutch anymore. So when you beat a tough boss, you feel that you actually earned it.
Streamlining has also been done to the leveling process. To sum up, you gain stats automatically. You don't assign points to stat categories anymore, it's all done for you. Similarly, you no longer pick the skills you wish to have, instead you will unlock them as you reach specific levels. You do have the option to pick which skills you'd like to use at any given time. The danger here is that at level 60, the only differentiating factor between two characters of the same class are their equipment and currently selected skills. I am all for making things easier on the player, but this bit of streamlining feels like it has gone just a bit too far. It would be nice to see more granular control over your characters' stats and skills. It's something that could be looked at for a future patch or expansion pack.
Despite the few misgivings I have about the oversimplification of many of the game's mechanics, Diablo III is still a very addictive and compelling game. This is not Diablo II, or Titan Quest, or Torchlight. This is its own game, and the sooner one can come to grips with that, the sooner they can begin to enjoy what the game does offer, instead of focusing on the few things it doesn't. Diablo III still manages to keep you playing for “just one more quest,” until you look out the window and see the sun rising.
What Makes It Worth My Time & Money?
The presentation has the same level of quality that Blizzard games have come to be known for. The visuals are excellent, mixing together the game's in-engine cutscenes with pre-rendered cinematic sequences. While this does work well as a whole, it's easy to spot the difference in art style between the two mediums. The game itself has a stylized, animated look to it, while the cinematic scenes have a darker and more realistic look to them. It's not a huge issue, but it is jarring when you see the game go from one art style to another. The sound design has an almost theatrical quality to it. The musical score could very well have been in a Hollywood movie. That quality holds true for the sound effects as well.
Diablo III has been designed using a client-server model. So if you want to play the game, you have to be connected to the Internet. The advantage of this model is that Blizzard can update a lot of things on the back-end server without having to issue patches. That isn't to say that client patches are a thing of the past. There have been several since the game launched on May 15, but it does mean that there will need to be fewer of them. The other side of the coin is that now you will have to be aware that on server maintenance days, you won't be able to play the game until Blizzard has finished doing their thing on the servers.
This model also allows for things like an Item Auction House, where you can go shopping for items for your Heroes. Currently this auction house is for in-game gold only, but a real money version will be launching soon. If you don't feel like waiting for that perfect item to drop, now you can shop for it instead and actually put that gold you'll accumulate to good use.
I briefly mentioned that you need a persistent Internet connection to play the game. This is bar none the biggest complaint I can make about Diablo III. The advantages of this decision come in the form of the auction house and your characters being stored online. The disadvantages though — lag, gold and item spammers in the General Chat, and frequent downtime — leave me questioning whether or not it was the right decision. Maybe some time in the future Blizzard will implement an offline mode which has no access to any of the clever features that enhance the online version. Only time will tell if they choose to go down this route.
One thing that I can safely say though is this: the Diablo III that we will be playing six months down the road will be a lot different than what is available now. It is very clear that Blizzard is going to continue to make tweaks, changes and improvements to the game as time goes by. Many people forget that when Diablo II launched, the game had its fair share of issues to contend with. Over time, the game developed into the classic that we know and love. I believe that the same will hold true for Diablo III.