So, I have to admit, I was not that excited about Diablo 3. I had played a lot of Diablo 2, the original. I hadn't really played the expansion. But I had lost countless hours of my 7th-8th grade years doing Mephisto and Diablo runs on Nightmare and Hell. Those were great times. But I wasn't sure I wanted to repeat this whole experience. I figured, how could a game that was more or less the same game be fun a second time around? I played Torchlight earlier this year and got pretty far into it. I got close to finishing it, but not all the way. It honestly got kind of repetitive after a while. It was literally just going deeper and deeper into the dungeon. You never came out and went to a different place. The environments changed, but you just kept going deeper. Regardless, I enjoyed it, but I wasn't super pumped to play Diablo 3 or anything. I knew the internet was though.
However, when my friend Marc decided that the game would be more fun if played with friends and offered to pitch in to buy it for me, I was hesitant to say no. "I mean, it might be really fun with friends", I contemplated, so I decided to take him up on his offer. And boy am I glad I did. This game is the most fun I've had playing a game for a long time. It's addicting, engaging and accesible while being surprisingly complex and deep. Blizzard could have produced a game that coasted on the phenomenal success on Diablo 2's name and sold millions of copies regardless if the game was good or not. However, they not only matched the success of Diablo 2, but I think they have surpassed it. The fun polished final product suggests that the creators and development team really took the time to study what made Diablo 2 work so well and along the way they fixed a lot of what was wrong with it and created a fantastic game that will raise the bar for both Action RPGs and sequels in general.
One of the best parts of Diablo 3 is the whole aesthetic appeal of the game. The art direction of the game is simply incredible. The look of Azmodan, Diablo and the whole High Heavens are just really really cool looking. The atmosphere is incredible in this game and one of the ways they achieve this is through the graphics. They are warm, detailed and add a lot of depth to the game while not being a simple gimmick. Your character progresses through a variety of environments even in the first Act and one of the things that I really liked was the detail they put into the space outside the explorable map. You know, the place that you can't get to. They fill it with rich textures of swamps, mountains, dungeons and a variety of other background pieces. It really helps add to the feeling that you are a part of a living, breathing world, and immersion is one effect Blizzard achieves with flying colors. What is also great is that the game actually sorta scale. I know that when I get home to my real desktop computer, I should be able to crank the graphics up and play it beautifully, but I can play it pretty well on my Macbook Air. I do get frame rate slowdowns when in particularly busy fights, but nothing that I can't handle.
When I said they did not simply piggy back off the success of the old game, I wasn't kidding. Underneath, it is still the same game as it was before, and Blizzard even subtly acknowledges this. In Diablo 2, you went from Tristram to a desert level from Act 1 to Act 2 and this is the very thing you do in Diablo 3. It's a subtle reminder that this is still the game you know and love. However, they have corrected many of the problems that plagued the original Diablo 2. Firstly, they have now moved on to everyone getting their own loot in multiplayer. No longer are the people with slower internet connections and slower computers at a disadvantage when the boss dies. Everyone will get something. However, they left in the system of being able to drop items to trade. Without that feature, the game probably wouldn't feel like Diablo. Additionally, they decided to do away with Scrolls of Town Portal and Identity. Some will say that this was part of the game, but I want to commend Blizzard on it. That is a feature that was characteristic of the series, but not in a good way. There were few things that were more annoying than when you were out in the wilderness and you realized that you had forgotten to buy Town Portal scrolls. They made an executive decision and it makes the game much more fun. You spend less time doing tedious activities and more time slaying hordes of monsters, which is the most fun aspect of this game.
The choice to include health orbs was a wise one as well. It makes the game less about collecting potions and rewards killing monsters instead of buying stuff. It adds to the fast paced nature of the game and keeps your character moving forward, never losing momentum. The pacing of this game is superb as well. The acts go quickly enough that you do not get bored, but they last long enough to finish in an extended sitting. This all helps the momentum of the game never really stop until you finish the game on normal setting.
In the Original Diablo 2, there were 5 classes, with 2 more added in the expansion. With 12 years of development, Blizzard surely could have come up with some more classes. Instead, they opted to make each character have a variety of play-styles. Good news is, is that this gamble succeeded. Each character has about 15-20 spells, but only 6 can be actively at one time. What this forces the player to do is to think about what sort of role you want to fill. As a Wizard, I could either be a living bomb, opting to pick spells that AOE out from my character, or I could choose to be a single target ranged killer, or a AOE at range role. However, these are all decided on the fly and leads to incredible depth to the classes. Not only can you only use 6 spells of an available 30, each spell has about 7 different runes for each one. And you guessed it correctly, you can only have 1 rune per 1 spell. This leads to thousands, if not millions, of different combinations that are possible for each class. You unlock the available 6 slots for actions by level 10 or so, providing good time for you to experiment with the interactions between all your spells as you level and take on more monsters. The game is easy to pick up, but provides incredible depth and complexity if you choose to partake in it. And what is great, is that the spells you unlock first stay relevant throughout the game, as the damage scales based on weapon damage, not a set number. This means the spell you used at level 1 is going to be roughly just as good as the one you get at 30. There will simply be situational differences that dictate their use instead of numerical ones. Too often do games pick up a mechanic and ditch it later on because something new and fancy came along. Diablo keeps all of its content fresh consistently, and this is a considerable feat.
All of this great gameplay works well playing even by yourself. But where the game's most fun times are to had are online. They say bad pizza is great with friends, and so it comes to no surprise that great pizza is incredible with friends. Multi-player online with Diablo 3 are an absolute blast, and are among the best times I've ever had playing a game online, rivaling the days of Halo 2, Team Fortress 2, WoW and Gears of War. When you get 4 players into a game and you are all hacking and slashing your way through hordes of enemies, they are few things that have made me as happy. And since everyone has their own loot, there is never any fights over loot, only better chances that someone in your party got something that your character can use.
What is going to be impossible to predict of this game is the legacy of. No review could have anticipated the massive overwhelmingly positive reaction to the online play of Diablo 2. The game has inspired millions of people, in multiple ways. It inspired a bunch of kids who grew up playing it to make games like that when they grew up. It also inspired industry designers who saw the success of Diablo and looked to copy it. It paved the way for games like Torchlight and Titan Quest, even if Diablo wasn't the original Action RPG. It made it marketable and the proof of that is in the sales numbers and longevity of its continued play. Will Diablo see such continued play for the next 10 years? Or will it be a flash in the pan game that people cease to play after the hype dies down. There is no way to tell.
Diablo 3 makes extremely good use of a limited amount of material. They re-use astonishingly well. They use a limited number of levels, classes, skills and stories, yet they make it continually fresh. They have delivered a game that is accessible, simple, complex, addicting, beautiful, and social without departing radically from the Diablo franchise. Blizzard has raised the bar yet again with this iteration of the series and has proved once again that they, along with Valve, can consistently put out high quality, polished games, even if it takes forever. It really makes me feel like it was worth the wait.
- Diablo 3
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