Release Date: May 15, 2012 Version Reviewed: 1.0.3 Game Type: Action RPG (Isometric Hack and Slash)
Custom Features: Global Economy, Auction House, Leading ARPG on Market Strengths: Vibrant Graphics, Action-packed Combat & Fun, Easy Multiplayer Weaknesses: Repetition, Poor rewards for Achievements Notes: Possibly the best PC release of 2012
The Diablo series made its debut on December 1, 1996, setting the standard for isometric hack and slash RPGs for well over a decade. Diablo 2 released on June 29, 2000, evolving the product to become a continued cult classic on which numerous other games were based. Nearly twelve years later, Blizzard finally released Diablo 3, and the game is nothing short of a work of art. Once again, Blizzard delivers a top-notch polished product which is guaranteed to break sales records and endure for years to come. Simply put, Diablo 3 is one of the finest games ever released for the PC. It’s a beautiful, fun, ultra-easy to jump in and play, and ultimately everything a game should be. Granted there are some issues with certain features and inferno-level difficulty can be frustrating; weighing in all of the content, features, playability and overall breadth of what this game has to offer, Diablo 3 is a must-have for anyone who plays games on their PC.
Diablo 3 was designed to be a never-ending hack and slash RPG with a replayable linear storyline, providing multiple difficulty levels, an item system which creates a nearly unlimited number of combinations, and a random boss encounter system that’s guaranteed to keep you on your feet. For those who are new to the Diablo series, just jump in and enjoy. However for those of you who played Diablo 1 and 2, there are a number of substantial changes which are a refreshing welcome for those of us who have enjoyed the series.
When you take a step back from the beautiful visuals and really look at what the graphics represent, Diablo 3 is a very disturbing game full of gore, torture, blood, guts, and horror which are only read about in history books or told in dark fairy tales. You will find torture chambers full of disemboweled bodies, bear witness to murdered townsfolks, free the dead bodies of impaled angels, and observe giant demons being mutilated and tortured. After you play the game through a few times, you will begin to notice a number of things you may have missed the first go-around, and it’s quite disturbing. The good news is you are the hero who is fighting the darkness and working to stop the evil that has invaded the land. Once again, you are to face and destroy Diablo and his minions, and the journey is both harsh and spectacular.
While Diablo 2 had three difficulties, Diablo 3 features four by adding the new end-game “inferno” difficulty. Normal is easy (or training), Nightmare is challenging, Hell is difficult, and Inferno is outright insane, but it’s also designed to be the end-game difficulty that can be played near indefinitely where the best items in the game are found.
Sit down, strap in and get ready for a ride; Diablo 3 delivers, and I will cover the game features in detail.
Character Creation, Classes, Story & Lore, Quests, World & Hubs, Environment & Ambiance, NPCs & Enemies, Treasure, and Tutorial
Character creation is simple; you select a class, the sex of your character, and give it a name. That’s it. No stats, customization, or colorization. While this may seem simplistic to hardcore gamers, this was intentionally designed to allow players to immediately jump into the game while focusing on what play style they want to embrace. A player can choose to make their character hardcore, which means once the character dies, it is dead forever. However the majority of players will probably never choose this option, especially once they see how often they die in the higher difficulties. Hardcore is truly only reserved for the most hardcore of gamers.
There are five classes: Barbarian, Demon Hunter, Monk, Witch Doctor and Wizard. Each class is unique in its own way and plays very differently. Barbarians are all about brute force, tanking, and sending their enemies flying in all directions in little pieces. Demon Hunters are ranged damage characters who are very lethal and agile, but are susceptible to damage at close range. Monks are a hybrid class which focus on melee attacks, but also have heals and other party-enhancing abilities. Witch Doctors are the pet class which focus on AoE damage, confusion, necromancy, poisons and other fun methods of using strange magic to kill. Wizards are pure magical bliss with a number of element-based spells which decimate their enemies. Each class plays differently and has been custom tailored to support an individual play style, but all classes share one thing in common: they are all fun to play and are capable of decimating the enemy in numerous visually stunning ways. One important thing to mention is even though Diablo 3 has class-specific items, there is very little limitation on the actual items you can throw on your character. For example, you can equip an axe and shield on your Wizard if you want to go with a melee build, or you can throw a 2-handed mace on your monk. This is a cool aspect of the game which allows more fun a diversity with each class.
While many are already familiar with the lore of the Diablo series, players players advance through a linear set of well-told stories through the eyes of their character as they progress through the world. The basic overview of Diablo 3 is that the demon Diablo has returned; and he’s brought a number of nasty demons with him, all of which the player must battle through in order to meet Diablo. As you venture throughout the world, you will acquire new lore-related notifications when you kill a new type of creature or come across materials which tell a story (such as books and scrolls). These materials are presented through voice acting and are extremely well done. This includes Deckard Cain narrating newly discovered creatures, cultists leaving notes about how they plan to dominate the world, finding intercepted messages from the enemy, sad letters home from soldiers, and even missives from the crazed lord of goats. There is actually quite a bit of lore spread throughout the game; some of it even comes through your companions, who will comment on the environment (such as telling you the history of the flayed demons).
While the quests of Diablo 3 are primarily linear in nature and required to move between acts, you will come across numerous subquests or “events” throughout the world depending on what areas are generated. The main quest is enjoyable and involves numerous NPCs, voice overs, cut scenes, and boss fights. The subquests or events are also rather fun, and are focused on handling a single event ranging from killing an onslaught of monsters to finding a soldier’s lost friend.
The world consist of four Acts which really represent four realms. Act I is a collection of above ground plains and light forests paired with underground caves, castles, and nasty torture arenas. Act II is desert, spanning sandy tombs, a lush oasis, and other barren areas. Act III takes place in the snowy mountains and leads the player through a battlefield and into the lava-torn hell fire of the earth. Act IV takes place in the realm of the angels, or “heaven”; unfortunately this is only after Diablo has infiltrated the domain, forcing the player to battle through a demon-invested angelic realm. During your progress throughout the game, some of the Demons’ Lords will talk to you, mocking you and commenting on your progress. You will battle on ramparts as you watch soldiers being carried away by flying horrors, you will venture into the depths of hellfire where molten lava and giant bound demons writhe around you, find random instances such as mass graves and sand worm dens, and watch as monstrous creatures spew forth demons who have just one thing on their mind: your death. Each of the acts has their own hub town except Act IV which shares the same hub as Act III.
The environment and overall ambiance of Diablo 3 is a thing a beauty. The intricate detail that went into the design of every realm, cave, castle, dungeon, domain and town is unprecedented for this type of game. The world is a living and breathing place which has weather, running streams complete with rainbows and amazing backdrops which blend seamlessly into the gameplay world. The environments also feature nearly fully destructible objects which get blasted into little pieces as you engage in combat with your foes. Indeed, you can run into a beautiful library room complete with books, tables, shelves, barrels, and candle holders, only to get rushed by an angry group of creatures which results in the complete destruction of nearly every object in the room. This includes wonderful physics where bodies fly throughout the screen, pieces of tables and other objects smash and react accordingly, and splatters of blood leave a vengeful trail of gore in your wake. World objects can also be used; you can drop boulders, trip traps, drop logs, burning pitch and other nasties to kill your enemies in many different ways. The colors and overall artworks blends beautifully with the progression of areas, some of which include distant scenes of beauty, the first of which is seen as you enter the Act II town.
NPCs come in three flavors: merchants, general chatty folk, and storyline event/quest givers. As you progress through the game, a number of NPCs will persist through each act with you, carrying you through the quests. You will also encounter random NPCs throughout the world who you can interact with. Companions for hire can be rather entertaining as well as they will actively interact with your “party members” based on their personality and the personality of your character and other party members. As you play through the game for the first time, some of these NPCs become companions for hire, which join your party and fight for you (covered below). While Diablo focuses much more on combat, what little NPC interaction that exists is well-done.
The enemies of Diablo serve as the foundation of gameplay. When you begin, the enemies encapsulate simplistic undead, animals, and even goat-men. They are fun to kill, and depending on your class and how you kill them, they die in a myriad of ways – hacked, burned, acid melted, frozen and shattered, electrified. You name it. On normal mode it’s simply a massive attackfest of carnage – kill everything you can in sight with little danger. However the diversity of creatures does create the basis of necessary strategy to combat them, especially on harder difficulties. By the time you reach inferno, knowing each type of enemy’s capabilities is critical – how fast they can move, how they hit, what abilities they have, etc. Slice a zombie in half and its upper section may come after you. Kill one of the fat undead nasties and ugly little creatures explode forth from its body. Some of the enemies have tongues that lash you from a far distance while others thrust their arms into the earth only to reach up from underneath to tear you to pieces. You will quickly see many enemies qualify as annoying, fierce, tankish, deadly and just plain silly. Enemies come in five flavors: Normal, Elites (Blue), Bosses (Yellow), Named Bosses (Purple), and Minions (White in service of bosses). The majority of the world consists of normal mobs. Elites generally come in packs of three and are blue. Elites and Bosses have unique abilities based on the level of difficulty. In Normal they just have one. By the time you reach Infero, they can have a combination of 4 abilities, including: jailor, mortar, molten, freezing, invulnerable, shielded, teleporter, illusionist, arcane, desecration, horde, avenger and a myriad of other effects which change the nature of combat. Bosses (which are yellow) like Elites have special abilities; but they only come one at a time. Named Bosses are purples and are generally more related to the storyline. Minions come only with Bosses and posses the same abilities as their leaders. A trio of blue Elites or a Boss with a gang of minions can be absolutely devastating, especially on higher difficulty levels. But don’t worry; the loot is usually worth it!
Treasure is why we play, and Diablo has no shortage. Gold and items serve as the foundation of reward for the bloody carnage feast Diablo has to offer for adventurers. Gold and items drop from your enemies and can also be found in numerous chests and searchable objects (such as bodies, loose flooring, vases, etc) spread throughout the world. You can also receive rewards through quests, but it’s only in the form of experience, gold or treasure (never an item). One extremely fun feature is that of the ever elusive Treasure Goblins. Running around with large packs of treasure on their back and dropping gold while they flee, nailing one of these little giggling goons can net you a nice set of item drops, but be warned! Chasing these little guys through uncharted dungeons can result in a mob attack which leaves you staring at your grave as the little guy giggles and disappears through his portal.
While there isn’t a tutorialper se for Diablo, there is an ongoing help system built into the game which is very well done. New players will be told through popup windows what to do, and when they level, what new skills and/or runes are available, ensuring the player looks at them before deciding to either use them or pass. The game is pretty simple for anyone to jump right into and figure out, and Diablo’s simplistic skill and rune system makes it so players are never overwhelmed with new choices.
Currency, Inventory & Stash, Items & Gems, Tradeskills (Materials, Salvaging, Recipes and Crafting), Merchants, Trading, Auction House
Gold is the king currency in Diablo, especially with the auction house (covered below). There are also crafting support items required to build items, but those are a secondary item type which can also be purchased with gold. It is important to note all currency is shared between all characters on an account. This is very convenient when you switch from one character to another and need gold to buy something; it comes from your global stash. The only caveat is hardcore and non-hardcore characters do not share gold or stash; the two are separate.
Inventory is pretty basic. Every character has 60 “slots” and every item you find takes up either one or two slots (depending on the size). An amulet takes 1. A long sword two. Inventory fills up pretty quick, so you’ll need to visit merchants often or drop items you accidentally picked up (which happens often in battle). The player also has a stash which is account wide, so all characters share it. When you begin, there are 28 open slots in the stash, and you purchase 14 slots at a time for 10,000 gold (there are 70 slots per stash page). You can purchase two addition stash pages. The first is 100,000 gold and the 2nd is 200,000 gold. When you buy a new stash page it has 14 open slots you still must spend 10,000 gold per 14 slots to unlock. Yes, it’s expensive to open the entire stash (420,000 gold), but it’s open for all characters and permanent. I do think the Stash is too small and Blizzard needs to add two more tabs for us to purchase.
Items come in six flavors of quality: grey (broken), white (normal), blue (magical), yellow (rare), orange (legendary), and green (set item), and are one of three core categories: Armor, Weapons, or Other (which is consumable, crafting, or miscellaneous) . Weapons and Armor will often contain slots where you can place gems, which are are augments which can be used to give specific enhancements to an item; for example, you can add a topaz gem to a helmet (which has a slot) and raise the helmet’s magic find. Or you can put another gem in and get 19% more experience per kill. The number of augments items can have is extensive. Magic items usually have 2-3 augmented properties (such as stat bonuses or extra damage), rares often have 3-5 properties, and legendary/set items can have most any range (it really depends on the item). But when an orange, green, or crafting recipe drops, it’s like candy to a child. The diversity in items is what brings the replayability factor to Diablo. No two games or characters are alike, no matter how you play the game – there’s just too many permutations. And items make all the difference. You can upgrade just your weapon and double or triple your damage, which changes everything. As you progress through the game and play in Hell and Inferno difficulties, resists and other properties which weren’t nearly as important before are now required in order to survive. In playing one of my characters to level 60 with an average magic find of 55%, I found 1 legendary item. That gives you an idea of how rare they are. Surprisingly, yellows drop fairly often – mainly from bosses. However, due to the endless combination of properties, many of them end up being salvaged or sold as junk. Companion-specific items also drop as well, and can make quite a difference when you’re running solo. One thing Blizzard should do is to change the color of gems (which are currently white) when they drop so they don’t blend in with all of the other normal quality items. Items also have something called an item level, which is different from the required level of an item (which defines the level your character needs to be to use it). For example, when you reach end-game where the max character level is 60, you may get a drop that’s item level 63 (which is currently highest in the game and only found in inferno) but required level 60. This allows for multiple tiers of quality within a required level range. When a player is running inferno, their goal is to find as many quality item level 63 drops as possible.
Note: One great thing about 1.0.3 is you can now find Item Level 63 drops in Act I inferno giving all starting inferno players a chance of finding the best items in the game!
Tradeskills are new to Diablo 3, giving the game an extra layer of fun and longevity. While Diablo 2 featured the Horadric Cube to combine items for a chance at quality runes (which were a form of gem) and the barter system (pay gold to get a random item), Diablo 3 has a Blacksmith and Jewelcrafter the player can use to craft items and train to level up as they progress. Jewelcrafters can also remove socketed gems from items for a fee. You gain access to the Blacksmith in Act I and the Jewelcrafter in Act II. Once acquired, even if you start playing again on another difficulty level, they are globally available and shared with all characters. Each one has 10 levels. The Blacksmith has multiple sub-levels with each sub-level giving access to new crafting recipes. The Jewelcrafter doesn’t have any sub-levels. You raise the level of your crafters by using gold and Pages of Training, which drop throughout the world as you adventure and vary based on the difficulty you are in. Materials are acquired by salvaging blue, yellow and orange items, and as with pages, vary depending on what difficulty level the item dropped in. Recipes are automatically acquired through leveling up your crafting stations, or through ultra rare drops in the game. World Drop recipes can teach rare, legendary and even set items, which is why they are so difficult to find. Crafting is just point and click; you select the recipe you want to craft (which is broken down by category), and as long as you have the materials, pages of training (if necessary) and gold, the crafter creates the item in just a few seconds. But remember, you have no control over the properties of an item, so as you craft rares (yellows), you may find yourself creating multiples of the same item until you get a good combination of item properties for your character. As you begin to craft higher level items, it becomes costly, but if you craft an item with strong stats, you can sell it for quite a profit on the Auction House. While the beginning and mid-ranged yellow craftables will often give 3-4 properties, the most advanced world drop recipes can teach a player how to craft end-game item level 63 gear with 6 properties.
Merchants are generally located within the towns of each act and sell weapons, armor, potions and dyes. They also salvage items and will buy the items you find throughout your adventure, some of which will sell yellow items which may be useful to a growing character. Those who are pursuing a life of crafting will generally salvage all of the blues and yellows they find but don’t need; and those who are solely looking to acquire gold will simply sell for profit.
Secure trading can be done in-game between characters and works well for those who see another player they don’t know advertising an item for sale in the trade or general channel, however the majority of trading is done through the Auction House. Unfortunately Diablo does not support a mail system which would allow additional trading options for players.
And finally we arrive at the Auction House, which is not only one of the biggest controversies of Diablo 3, but apparently a huge problem for Blizzard due to the constant bugs, crashes and issues which persisted for more than a month. Response times were slow, and some of the sorting and search tools are simply useless due to the sheer volume of content listed (there are, after all, millions of people using and listing items on the auction house). While gold is king with the AH, it is also slated to be Blizzard’s first real money transaction (RMT) system. Not only can players buy and sell items with gold, they can use real money instead of in-game gold to buy and sell not only items, but characters as well. But this comes at quite a cost. The average Auction House Fee is 15% of the final sale price, and RMT carries a $1.00 USD transaction fee per item. Players can only have a maximum of 10 items active at any given time, and once the 5 minute posting time has expired, auctions cannot be cancelled; only the time can run out (2 days). I think this was a good idea and is necessary to control volume and useless auction posting. It makes players think before they post and ensures most postings are solid and not garbage. The good news is you can acquire some excellent items through the auction house (which make all the difference when playing) and make a ton of gold if you “play it right”. The bad news is sifting through the massive volume of items can be overwhelming and tedious, especially when you need to match criteria of more than 3 properties. Add the problem of being unable to define properties while looking for set items or legendaries and you have an interface which definitely needs improvement. I think Blizzard will need to add a total of 5 Preferred Stat search boxes and allow those settings to affect results for all items before the Auction House will allow for easier searching. Blizzard also needs to add a feature which allows a player to easily look up the value of an item they are thinking about selling. A simple right-click which fills out the properties and executed a search would do wonders as the player currently has to manually look up each item to get any idea of its value.
Auction house Tip: To remove all of the N/A buyouts put all 9’s in the Max Buyout field!
Despite its issues, there’s no question the Auction House is a necessary foundation for the game and overall fun factor of the random item system. If you want a glimpse into how things are at end-game, check out the level 60 items. While the prices and overall economy of the game hasn’t quite been established and Blizzard hasn’t activated the selling of gold just yet, gold farmers are currently offering 100,000 gold for around USD $4. Until Blizzard activates the selling of gold through the Auction House, it’s hard to say when we will begin to see things stabilize with the game and the overall economy. Players are spending hundreds of dollars to purchase items for their characters, but the question is how many are doing this, and how much are players willing spend? How does the RMAH affect the Gold Auction House? These are questions which can only be answered over time. One thing is for sure, the Auction House is a key component to Diablo, and when you find that incredible deal and nab an item before anyone else, or buy that shiny new weapon which doubles your DPS; the game glows with enjoyment. I certainly hope Blizzard takes the time to refine the interface and make determining the value of an item a much less cumbersome process than it currently is.
Remember! when you buy or sell something, it gets queued in the completed tab which you can then claim and move to your stash. Many people forget this process and wonder where their newly purchased shiny sword went!
Diablo uses a standard experience-based level system similar to most RPGs. Your character’s level defines what skills you learn, what equipment you can use, and what your base stats are. Experience is acquired through killing creatures, destroying objects, and completing quests. You can find equipment which gives bonus experience for each monster killed, allowing players to outfit their characters with gear which can increase rate at which experience is gained. It appears the average amount of gameplay to reach level 60 is around 70 hours, or more to the point: twice the speed of reaching max level in an average MMOG. You can also engage in “massacres” of large groups of monsters (or objects!) to receive experience bonuses. Another nice thing about the leveling system of Diablo 3 is you always get something new with every level. This makes leveling up a treat, especially if you’re playing a new class for the first time.
There are six core Attributes at the heart of your character. Four stats (Strength, Dexterity, Intelligence and Vitality), Armor and Damage. The game revolves around these six values, however there is much more under the hood as you look at the details of your character. These details include Offense (crit chance, damage, etc), Defense (block, dodge, resistances, thorns, etc), Life (health, globe bonus, life steal, etc), Resource (mana and regen), and Adventure (movement speed, magic find, bonus exp, etc) properties.
Each character can have a total of six skills equipped, and each skill is categorized either as primary (left mouse), secondary (right mouse), or key buffer (1-4). All skills are class based. As you progress new skills become available, and each skill has a total of 6 runes which can be learned and applied. Runes are essentially augments which affect the behavior off the core skill, and while this may seem simplistic, there is actually quite a bit of thought that went into this design. Players can change their skills and runes at any time, which allows for mob-specific configuration. For example, a Witch Doctor may configure Pet/AoE damage skills/runes when running solo in Hell difficulty, but when joining a group which has a tank in Inferno difficulty, they may change to a set of focused damage skills and runes since they don’t have to rely on pets anymore and face harder foes. I think it would be great if Blizzard adds a preset rune /skill configuration to the game which allow a player to set up a group of skills and runes, name them, and swap between them with the click of a button rather than having to manually do this. The good news is one doesn’t need to change skills or runes all too often. Each class also has 19 passive skills, three of which are progressively unlocked and can be equipped at any time. As with skills and runes, selecting a different combination of passive skills (which have no runes) can completely change the way a class plays.
Note for advanced players! A feature very few are aware of under Options->Gameplay is something called Elective Mode. Turning this on allows you to set any skill to any slot. This means the skills you could only previous choose from one “group” are now available, and you can have two or more primary skills equipped! Give it a shot. This will really open things up! Be warned though; having Elective mode on will allow your buffers to be dragged around on the main UI; this can get in the way of kiting mobs as you may accidentally drag and click a skill, resulting in the loss of your nephalem valor. To disable this issue, simply turn elective mode off.
Buffs are a critical part of the game and come from a variety of sources. Some classes have buffs which last only seconds while others last substantially longer. One of the most important buffs in the game is the Nephalim Valor buff which all level 60 characters get when they kill an elite mob. It stacks up to 5 times and increases gold and magic find by 15% per stack. It lasts for 30 minutes and will reset each time you kill an elite, giving players good reason to keep playing once they’ve stacked it to full capacity. Another oldie but goodie are the shrines which give timed buffs for things like protection, magic find, and attack speed.
Diablo 3 introduces you to three classes of companions who are available for hire to adventure with you when playing solo. They are the Templar, Scoundrel and Enchantress. Each companion levels up with you (even if you don’t use them) and can be equipped with weapons/shield, an amulet, two rings, and a companion-specific item. You can also choose four sets of skills, one every five levels until level 20. You can respec these chosen skills any type by using the right-click menu of your companion’s portrait. Beyond the advantage of having another body helping you fight the forces of evil, your companion will actively talk to and interact with you, giving the game a more lively feel than adventuring with some mindless gun for hire. Blizzard did a good job with the voice acting and overall interaction based on class and sex. Many of the interactions can actually be quite entertaining. However once you reach Inferno difficulty, I must admit my companion doesn’t really act as anything more than another target, and rarely does he hold aggro. I hope Blizzard makes them more effective and useful in the future in the hardest difficulty level of the game.
While the environment was discussed in the Content section, it is part of the core game mechanics due to the traps which can be used in order to damage and destroy your enemies. You can drop rock walls, fling sling traps, open burning coals and even dump flaming hot oil on your enemies; and it can do quite a bit of damage.
Rare, legendary and set items are always unidentified. To identify them you simply right-click and wait a few seconds to reveal the magical juicyness of what is hopefully your next great find. Repair is also a part of the money sink of the game as every item has durability, and once you reach inferno, you are regularly spending tens of thousands of gold to repair your beat up gear (which takes damage during combat, and a 10% hit for every death). The game will notify you when any of your gear is approaching 0 durability by displaying a broken yellow armor icon in the upper right portion of the screen. Blizzard raised the cost of item repair by roughly 5x with the 1.0.3 patch, and it is currently one of the most heated issues regarding the latest version. I do believe the repair costs are too high and dissuade people from running Act II and beyond in Inferno. I hope Blizzard addresses this issue to better balance the cost of dying vs. the enticement of challenging players to try out harder acts. Right now I do know of players who won’t touch Act II or beyond because the repair costs are just too frustrating.
Health and mana regeneration are a key part of the game which can be improved through items. There are no mana potions, but health potions are the prime consumable and have a 30 second cooldown, so make them count! The good news is many monsters will drop health globes when they die, and all you need to do is run over them to restore your health, but this isn’t quite as easy as it sounds in the heat of combat, which may require some strategic planning based on the enemy you are fighting, your potion cooldown, and what globes are available on the field of battle. Proper timing in difficult combat situations is critical. A number of classes have passive skills which allow a player to strategically use health globes during combat to not only restore health, but hatred, mana, etc. I personally use this feature on my Demon Hunter; vaulting through an inferno elite to grab the health orb behind him to attach with renewed hatred is actually quite fun and challenging!
Travel is done through a portal spell (which is free, can be cast anytime out of combat, and takes you back to town) and waypoint pads which are discovered as you progress throughout the world. While Diablo 2 allowed you to move between acts through the pads, you cannot do this in Diablo 3; you are restricted to the waypoints within the act you are currently in. If you want to travel to another act, you must select Change Quest from the character menu; but be warned, you will lose any checkpoint progress in your current highest quest and will have to revert back to the actual storyline quest itself if you wish to return. You can join others in a difficulty you have access to that’s beyond your current point of progress, and once you do, you’ll have access at any time to that portion of the game. Checkpoints are also important as they save the location you will return to when you either die or leave the game and resume. A very nice addition to Diablo 3 are the end-dungeon recall stones. No longer do you have to run back out the way you came in; just use the stone and it teleports you back to the entrance of the area.
Achievements are a big part of Diablo 3 and there are a lot of them. All fall within 8 core categories: General, Campaign, Cooperative, Hardcore, Classes, Challenges, Crafting and Feat of Strength. Achievements range from killing 1,000 elites to picking up 10,000,000 gold to surviving a boss encounter without being hit by its special attack. I’ve found the achievements satisfy both the power gamer and the casual gamer; especially as my wife has become obsessed with every little exploratory and “fun” accomplishment while others I know focus on crafting and cooperative achievements. Now for the downside. The reward for all of these achievements are… banners. Blizzard really dropped the ball on this one. Players want something more tangible than visuals on their banner. Granted the achievements system is broad enough to give much more, the initial reward for achievements is seriously lacking. Diablo could have easily provided pets, buffs, titles or augments which simply have visual effects. I hope they put some thought into enhancing the rewards between now and the expansion as banner graphics just don’t cut it.
Death is a 10% durability hit where the cost is handled through repairs (as discussed above). The Death state is resolved either through another character resurrecting you (by clicking on your tombstone) or selecting checkpoint revive. Each time you die, the time to revive increases by 5 seconds. If you keep dying and nobody is there to revive you, pretty soon it’ll take a bit of time before you can revive. This is trivial until Hell and Inferno, and not because it costs any more, but because the delay in revival time allows your targets to regenerate, and there’s nothing worse than working hard on bosses on Inferno only to watch them fully regenerate as they dance around your corpse. Once this happens, you often have to simply move on and skip the elites or boss you were fighting.
Combat, PvE, PvP, Reward, Learning Curve, Difficulty, Progression, End Game and Replayability
The combat of Diablo is smooth, fun, and simply fantastic. Severed limbs, decapitations, exploding bodies, gigantic creatures, blood fountains, burning flesh, shattered freezing pieces of enemies, acid melted flesh, and sheer mayhem are part of the daily routine in the world of Diablo. Point and click and execute skills either through your character or using the location of the mouse. While this method of interaction is simple, it allows for complex, fun and strategic fighting which can mean the difference between life and death.
A lot of thought, time and effort went into making Diablo 3 the best PvE experience possible. This includes the overall layout of the world, location and number of spawned creatures, ratio of elites and bosses, behavior of enemies, special abilities, and more. Class skills are also centered around killing creatures from the environment in a myriad of ways. While Diablo 3 doesn’t feel as “random” in environmental generation as Diablo 2 did, it has many more random locations to explore with each game. You can get an idea of how many locations exist per Act by viewing the Exploration achievements. Even now, after 100 hours of play, I am missing many areas and constantly see achievements for these areas pop up through my friends. In other words, even though I am on Inferno, there’s still a lot of content to see and experience. After playing Diablo for more than a month and taking multiple characters to level 60, I still encounter new content in the game.
Diablo 3 was supposed to include PvP at launch, but in March 2012 Blizzard announced it would be excluded from the initial release and added at a later time. PvP is expected to add multiple arena maps with themed locations, PvP-centric achievements, a matchmaking system, and a personal progression system. There are a number of class skills which are undoubtedly PvP focused; this is apparent in their overall useless application to PvE, but when you begin thinking about PvP combat, it begins to makes sense.
The foremost reward for playing Diablo is just plain fun. It doesn’t matter what difficulty you’re on, if you’re running solo, with a group, or helping out friends. The beautiful visuals are the starting point for your time, energy and effort in smiting evil from the world. Underneath the blood blasting gorefest of creature decimation are the juicy items, chests and other loot-bearing objects which can be manipulated to spit out gold and glory. One thing is almost always certain; when you enter a dungeon of any kind with more than one level, there’s usually a gigantic glowing resplendent chest waiting for you to come and liberate its valuable contents.
Diablo is one of the easiest games to learn to play, so the learning curve is virtually non-existent. If you can point and click, you can play; especially on Normal (or as I call it: training) mode. The built in tutorial-like notifications and tooltips inform you of any new skills, when your inventory is full, how to purchase stash space, and even equip items when you have empty slots. Blizzard did a good job of making the game cake for anyone to jump into and enjoy, regardless of whether it’s hardcore joe gamer or grandma.
There are four difficulty settings for Diablo 3: Normal, Nightmare, Hell and Inferno. Normal is easy, Nightmare is challenging, Hell is Difficult, and Inferno is simply insane. And when I say insane, I mean it. Even with 40,000 life and 40,000 base damage, you can have difficulty with Act I bosses and still die. While the pre 1.0.3 patch threw players into a “brick wall” with Act II, Blizzard did smooth out the transition and made Act II-III easier for players in inferno, however changes to the Enrage timer for mobs in Inferno (i.e. if you don’t kill a boss/elite in a certain amount of time it goes into enrage mode and will most certainly kill you) make a number of elites and bosses much more difficult. Prior to 1.0.3 most players focused on boss runs (i.e. Siegebreaker in Act III), but now the adjustments to loot drops and bosses compel players to play through the acts. I personally believe this is a good thing.
Note: If you want to experience a personal challenge, play Diablo 3 and build your character to level 60 without using the auction house at all! You’ll see what a huge difference not being able to upgrade your items will make!
Progression is linear in nature, but can be enhanced and sped up by experience enhanced items and shrines. Also, established players with a lot of gold can ensure their characters always have the best gear in the game, which makes a huge difference. As the game takes you through the four acts, the norm seems to be completing Normal difficulty around level 28-32, Nightmare around 50, and Hell around 58-60. I don’t personally know anyone who has completed Inferno, but it’s all about gear, so there’s no real timeline other than when somebody acquires the proper gear to survive the next quest (or act), which can either be found, or purchased through the Auction House.
This takes us to the End Game for Diablo 3, which is the Inferno difficulty setting. Once you reach level 60, it’s all about items, and more importantly DPS, armor and resistances. If you venture into Act I of Inferno without the right gear, the first group of zombies which jump you will kill you in just a few hits. The general rule is don’t start Inferno with less than 30,000 hits, 40% resists across the board, and over 10,000 base DPS; and even with that, the bosses will eat you alive. Another thing with Inferno is it scales up internally at a greater rate than the other difficulties going from region to region within the same act. While you may be able to handle the Weeping Hollow or the Crypts, moving into the Drowned Temple may be the end of you. The good news is great items can drop and I found my first level 60 legendary in the Fallen Den, just outside of Tristram. The bad news is many of the boss encounters can end with more frustration than fun as many of the ability combinations paired with the insane damage will not only guarantee multiple deaths to kill, but can often result in your need to simply skip the boss because you cannot defeat them. Ultimately it’s a mixture of pleasure and pain, but once you cross the core threshhold and you’re able to make multiple runs of Act I areas, you’ll begin to bring in the gold and find item drops that allow you to pocket some pretty good profit on the Auction House and buy the gear you need; and it can be fun, especially as the rewards for playing Inferno are the best in the game.
Diablo 3 does cater to the gamer who wants to play the game again and again, yet ensures just enough differences to make each game slightly different yet challenging and fun. If the average character takes 70 hours to reach level 60, in order to play all classes to level 60, it would take roughly 350 hours. That’s a lot of gameplay for the $60 price tag, and that’s just to reach max level; after that it’s an uphill climb for gold and gear. So when you get your first character to 60, if you don’t want to jump into Inferno, you can either do Hell runs or start another class; this time with additional financial support and familiarity with the game. By the time you’re building up the last class, you’ll be pretty well established and will probably be ready for some real challenges. The online and community aspect of Diablo 3 (covered below) is also a lot of fun. Jumping into public games can be quite enjoyable, and Hell difficulty with four players is very challenging. And if you think soloing Inferno is a challenge, try it with three other players where elite fights can take up to 10 minutes to down (and sometimes longer). Ultimately, Diablo 3 offers the near-perfect replayability experience for a PC game. Gold is valuable, the best items in the game are exceptionally difficult to obtain (or costly if you plan on paying with gold or real money), and the overall design leaves all players longing to play again and again in the hopes of acquiring enough gold to purchase the next step up to their items, or find that ultra rare and valuable legendary or set drop.
Blizzard did an excellent job integrating the Battle.net community structure with Diablo 3. It’s easy to add and manage friends, the interface is simple to use and understand, and playing with your friends is just a few clicks away through either the Quick Join interface on the Character Select screen, or through the Social Window. You can add friends through either their EMail or the battle.net tag. If you meet somebody in-game you want to friend, simply right-click on their name and add them as such. You can also send a friend private tells, view their hero, profile and achievements, and invite them to play with you or join their game. The only thing which is missing from the social overview is the difficulty level which another person is currently playing in (but it shows in the quick join panel). One nice feature is the game tracks who you’ve played with in public games, so if you had a good experience with somebody but have to take off, don’t worry – their name will be in your “recently played” list and you can communicate with them in the future without a hitch.
When you log in you automatically join the last channel you previously joined. If you are playing for the first time, the game will automatically place you in the General chat channel. While this ensures some sort of interaction from the getgo, the general channel can be full of spammers and general riff raff; the channels can also have good folks in them who are fun to interact with. Ultimately it’s hit or miss. Luckily, if you want to leave the channel, all you do is click on the little widget icon and select leave channel. There are a number of channels to choose from (general, class, trade, etc) which have up to 99 people in them at any given time (showing there are numerous General channels a player is assigned to with the limit of 99 enforced to ensure the chat is not overwhelming). While General is the most talkative of the channels, it is also constantly spammed. Luckily you can right-click report and block these spammers to remove their continued barrage of garbage. Strangely enough, most of the class channels have very few players in them (often 2 or 3). This shows people don’t really use those channels, nor the trade channel (which also only has a few people in it at any given time – instead people use General). Getting help through the general channel is hit or miss; it really depends on who is in the channel. Unfortunately when you report a player for spam, it doesn’t auto-block like it should so you will keep seeing their spam until you mark them as blocked.
Playing in a party with other players is easy; you can either join a public game, start your own game and open it to the public, invite friends, or join friends’ games. When other players join the monster hits and damage increase accordingly, making them much more difficult to kill and survive; but they drop better items and more gold. Plus it’s more fun to play with other people, and if you haven’t seen the other classes in action, it can be a treat.
Given the numbers of units sold (3.5M within the first 24 hours) the population is packed with the most obvious sign of a busy game being the volume of items on the Auction House (and unfortunately the number of bugs and issues).
Gold spam is out of control, and I must admit I do not see Blizzard taking much in the way of action to curb it. While you can right-click on somebody’s name and report them, I’ve seen reported spammers continuing their barrage of spam more than a week after I first saw them.
The quality of the community varies; I’ve seen the typical child-based banter in general chat, but also met some intelligent gamers who are great to play with. It’s a bag of mixed nuts.
Just as it is with World of Warcraft, the forums are packed full of a never-ending sea of posts and content. Sometimes you find what you need, other times there’s just too much content to wade through. I recommend using the General chat channel first for any questions you may have, and then the forums as a backup. However, if you are looking for class information or details on game features, the forums are the place to go.
Unfortunately there are no guilds in Diablo 3, but I’ve heard rumor of a future clan mechanism. One key feature which I really think Diablo 3 needs is that of mail, similar to what MMOGs offer. The ability to send gold and items to friends and even COD as part of a trade is something that is simply necessary. I hope they integrate this feature before the first expansion so we don’t have to wait two years for it.
Graphics, Sound, Interface, Connectivity & Downtime, Security, Patches and Bugs
The graphics of Diablo 3 are beautiful and smooth, and the 3D engine does an excellent job of handling a screen full of animated objects, detailed terrain, particles, physics, cloth, collisions and fluids. While there are some occlusion issues with archways which prevent you from seeing the enemy, there really do not appear to be any real graphical defects in the game or engine. The game is a terrifically polished product.
The sound is top notch; ranging from screams of anguish to properly themed music, the only thing I recommend players do is adjust their default volume settings to amplify the fantastic core music of the game with the following settings: Master (100), Effects (25), Music (100), Voice (80), and Ambient (50).
The interface is simple to use and intuitive. Drag and drop work great for items and shift-clicking an item will link it in chat so you can share your latest find with other players or try to sell an item in general or trade chat. You can also use the alt key to cycle compares for an item you’re currently looking at. The only interfaces which could use a bit of work are the Crafting UI (it needs better sorting for items you can craft) and the Auction House UI (there’s no easy way to research the potential price of an item you want to sell without manually putting the details in). It would also be nice to see buffs or debuffs on mobs; especially bosses. Not their special abilities, but any active modifiers beyond their core abilities. There are a number of options the player can toggle through the Options menu; be sure to check out the options under Gameplay, especially Elective Mode (covered above).
One neat little feature many may not be aware of is the ability to ctrl-mouseover an item that’s on the ground; it’ll actually tell you what the stats are and compare it to what you currently have equipped!
Apart from the notorious connectivity issues at launch, the game’s latency hasn’t really been a problem. While my ping will sometimes shoot above 500, the average seems around 120 (from Seattle) and there have been no hiccups. Aside from the launch issues (which really lasted only 48 hours after launch) the only constant downtime for the game has been related to the Auction House, althought the Tuesday May 29, 2012 patch did see some hiccups with Battle.net and the return of Error 37, but they have been resolved.
I highly recommend everyone use an authenticator for their Battle.net accounts as hacking is a regular security issue and I’ve heard of a number of Diablo 3 accounts already being looted, and with the RMT version of the Auction House, hackers are working overtime to put out key logging viruses to capture people’s logins so they can steal the gold and items on accounts to sell for real money. Once again. USE AN AUTHENTICATOR TO PROTECT YOUR BATTLE.NET ACCOUNT.
While there have been a few minor patches applied to the game, there were very few bugs outside of the Auction House. While the Auction House was a royal mess, it now seems much more stable and is rarely down anymore. I have occasionally encountered rubber-banding where your character will jump (almost as if it lost connection for a moment) but the connection bar is still in the green. It happens only once every few hours, but if you’re in the middle of an inferno boss fight and it happens, you often die as a result. Other than that, I’ve had absolutely no issues at all.
Forums, GMs, Bug Reporting & Knowledge Base, Wiki
The Diablo 3 forums are teeming with content and act as a good source of information. If you cannot get questions answers within the General chat, the forums are probably the next best place to go. There are no GMs in the game and the bug reporting and knowledge base systems are combined in the Battle.net ticketing system. You can access this through the ESC main menu “customer service” option which will kick you to a website where you can try to find a solution to your problem or create a ticket for a Blizzard representative to address.
There are plenty of support sites for Diablo 3 with www.diablowiki.com being the main wiki site. Blizzard has also published its own version of a Diablo 3 information site which breaks down things in a very clear an concise fashion. You can also monitor the Server Status of the game for America, Europe and Asia.
As mentioned in the beginning of this review, Diablo 3 is one of the finest PC games ever created; however to truly appreciate the game you really must play it through multiple times and try the different classes. After a period of time you’ll start realizing the sheer volume of content and overall gameplay refinement which was required to bring this product to life. While the game can have its frustrating moments fighting bosses and such, the fun far outweighs the frustration. If you haven’t purchased Diablo 3, buy it. If you have purchased it but haven’t really played it, make time. Join up with your friends, or even better, get your significant other addicted. It works wonders for duo play. Also, for you hardcore gamers; inferno awaits, and it will have you crying for more as you get slapped around like a ragdoll yet find items which bring sheer glee to your life.
While there are issues with the Auction House, and the economy is still evolving, rest assured; Diablo 3 is here to stay, and all gamers should make time to be a part of this fine product.