Over a decade has passed since Diablo graced us with his calamitous presence in the ill-fated world of Sanctuary. Twelve years to be exact – quite a long time to wait for a sequel, if you ask me. But Blizzard games, in the end, tend to be worth the wait, as fans of the developer have come to realize. The company is well-known for their long development cycles and secrecy; but, above all else, they’re known for producing quality games that leave the player undoubtedly satisfied craving for a larger serving of indulgence. To that end, Diablo III is no different in some ways.
As a faithful fan of the series, I would have composed an unbiased review quickly after playing the game simply because of my attachment and praise for the previous installments in the series. I spent countless hours pampering my urges – urges that have waited to be fostered for ages. Like any other person who played the game intently, I invested whatever free time I could afford feeding my eyes and ears to the new experience that Blizzard had concocted.
The game begins twenty years after the events of Diablo II. Sanctuary, the dark world where the Diablo series takes place, is treated to a fallen star which the player, known as the Nephalem, arrives to investigate in New Tristram. Of course, I can go beyond this point of the plot, but I think it’s best if the story unfolds on its own at your expense, due the how sporadically events unravel themselves in this game. The story itself isn’t a sophisticated facet of the game, but it definitely adds an aroma of atonement to the series.
At its core, Diablo III is what most would expect out of a Diablo game: create your hero, spam attack the crap out of a of demon mobs, level up, and treat yourself to some good ol’ looting. If you’ve played the series in the past, you’ll probably think that not a lot has changed from the previous games. To a small degree, you’re right.
Diablo III introduces a new way of leveling your character which allows you to define your playstyle based new skills obtained upon leveling, or the augmentation of “runes” — a modifier for the skills you have earned through leveling and have selected for your hero. By default, the game enables an “Elective Mode” that puts each of your unlockable skills in categories and limits you to having one of each type accessible at a time. While you do have the option of disabling Elective Mode and assign any skill to any slot, this option will assist any newcomers in acquainting themselves with their chosen class.
What about the traditional way of leveling where you, the player, choose which attributes to increase and which skills to obtain based on a skill tree? That previous way of uniquely modifying your hero has been completed omitted from Diablo III. Now, before you go on in an angry tirade about how they’ve eliminated the “hardcore” element of tuning your character, understand that, from a uniform perspective, Diablo III’s skill system adds the element of diversified builds as the game, and story, progresses.
While you had the freedom of customizing your hero in previous games, the new skill and rune system relinquishes the potential of completely screwing up your character while, at the same time, offering assorted builds which can be customized on the fly – a perk which many players will appreciate in more difficult options. You are encouraged throughout the game to try out all of the skills and rune types, which is a breath of fresh air as you take your hero through the different difficulty modes of Diablo III. Of course, the more challenging portion is unlocking all of the skills and runes in the game, which is a feat reserved more for the gamer looking to expand beyond the “normal” difficulty and go above and beyond level 30.
Runes are a great and refreshing way to handle skill augmentation because those skill which may seem useless in the beginning of the game when obtained, become an amazing additional to your arsenal of ass-kicking skills as the game progresses. My barbarian, for example, has a skill called “Ground Stomp” which smashes the ground, stunning all enemies around him for a few seconds. Now, while this is a useful skill out of the box, adding the rune “Wrenching Smash” made the skill more robust as it increases the area of effect from twelve yards to twenty-four years, and enemies are pulled closer to my hero before the strike lands. This makes grouping and cleaving enemies more effective and easier to control.
Many may not appreciate the overhaul of the leveling system, but Diablo III’s core fundamentals have not changed much, which may be both a good and bad thing, depending on the player. For one, there was a moment of pure nostalgia as I took my barbarian on a test run to bash in the heads of the undead. The controls were familiar, as was the music and ambiance. At first, it’s a sentiment which you cherish as you take in the realization that you’re finally playing a new Diablo game. As I continued to tune myself in with the game, I came to realization that not everything, in fact, was as “new” as I thought. My excitement and need to appease my nostalgia momentarily distorted my thoughts. In that instance, I knew that Diablo III, in essence, evolved little from its predecessors.
In no way is this a bad thing, though. The things that made the previous Diablo games amazing migrated their way onto Diablo III. Everything worked before, and everything – even after a decade – works now. What keeps me latched on to the game isn’t the story. Traditionally, it’s the loot system. There’s nothing more satisfying to me than coming down unmercifully with my weapons on an enemy to watch their limbs explode into an abundance of gold and treasure that perpetuates a plethora of exultation, as my eyes widen in anticipation ogling any signs of rarity that exposes itself onscreen. As my bags begin to fill itself with a huge amount of crap, I pat myself on the head knowing that this bag of unusable trash may, indeed, be worth some gold back in town. On rare occasions, the explosion of limbs and blood will treat my hero to some yellow drops (rare) which will need to be identified after I’ve made ground beef of the hellish ghouls.
Drops may be frequent, but randomly generated magic items with stats useless to you are much more frequent. While non-magic items may be worth zilch in Diablo III’s renovated economy, the aforementioned magic items useless to your hero have a much more appealing means of trade. You have the option of selling them to a vendor for gold, auctioning them to other players who on Battle.NET, or breaking them down into party for crafting at the blacksmith. As I quickly noticed, gold is a commodity that is rather scarce in Diablo III. Gold, in previous Diablo titles, was obtained and stored with a smaller range of use. Diablo III, however, introduces more meaningful ways of spending your gold. Not only can you use it to purchase items from other players, but it’s also used to level up both your blacksmith and jeweler, purchase additional space in your stash (and it is needed, believe me), and repair your equipment.
If you’re comfortable with your gold stash, it’s best to take magic items that won’t be used to the trusty blacksmith. The blacksmith breaks down magic items into component parts, which then can be used (with the needed addition of gold) to craft new weapons and armor for your hero. You’re constantly left with the torment of selling a magic item for gold (which is beneficial in the long run), or taking a chance and breaking it into parts to create something new. If you train your blacksmith and pay the gold needed to level him up, the equipment that can be created is, without a doubt, very useful. It may not be as fruitful as finding spontaneous items off a monster, as each crafted item’s randomized stats ensure small doses euphoria, but having a blacksmith with some a good amount of options is never a bad thing. The jeweler rounds out the blacksmith crafting system; but the gems fashioned have predictable stats, making crafting jewelry a less enticing venue for excitement. Regardless, the jeweler provides an alternate venue for taking advantage of socketed items which are beneficial in the game.
If I wasn’t going to the blacksmith to break down my unused magic items, or selling them for gold, I found myself selling them in the auction house. The auction house is a virtual market which is powered by the Diablo III community (at this juncture, there is only in-game gold transactions, as the real money auction house has not been implemented), selling items from either my stash or my barbarian. If you’re well-endowed with spendable gold, you can pick up items for your hero instead of hunting for them by quickly searching for the specific armor slot or weapon type within the auction house. To a degree, it’s nice to have this system available. But what makes everything a bit erratic is the ten item auction limit that Blizzard has set. While it may not seem like a big deal, it can be annoying when constantly waiting for something to sell in order to place your next item in the auction house.