Reviewed

Diablo 3 Review

This action RPG is fun while it lasts, but becomes a chore later on.

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Introduction

Calling Diablo III highly anticipated is an understatement – this sequel was released almost twelve years after its fondly-remembered predecessor. Since so many gamers spent countless hours playing Diablo II, it would seem that Diablo III would need to be near-perfect in order to live up to its massive hype.

Truthfully, this game is nowhere near perfect.

That doesn't mean that Diablo III is a bad game – far from it – but it does have its share of issues. The story is cliched at best, characters lack customization, and the game becomes a chore to play at higher difficulties. We enjoyed leveling a character up to level 60, the maximum level, but after that, Diablo III loses focus. The game becomes about finding slightly better items that will eventually help you find – you guessed it – even more slightly better items.

Blizzard, the developer of the Diablo franchise, update the game periodically and have stated that they want to add things to the game, like player vs. player combat , in order to increase its replayability. As it stands now, Diablo III is a lot of fun for the first forty hours, but after that, it produces diminishing returns.

Gameplay Overview

Fans know what to expect with this installment of the Diablo franchise: hacking, slashing, and acquiring loot. Diablo III does these things well, but the repetitive nature of this type of gameplay wears thin after completing the game and attaining the max level.

Character Classes and Skills

Diablo III lets players choose from five different classes: the barbarian, demon hunter, monk, wizard, and witch doctor. These classes all fall into the typical D & D archetypes of the fighter, mage, and rogue. The barbarian is a fighter who dishes out melee damage; the demon hunter is a ranged rogue who uses bows and crossbows; the monk is a melee rogue who can deal plenty of damage up close, but cannot take as much punishment as the barbarian; the wizard is a mage that uses elemental magic; the witch doctor is also a mage-type character, but uses voodoo themed spells like throwing toads and zombies.

Each class has access to a multitude of skills. Players can assign a total of six skills at a time: one each to the left and right mouse buttons, and one each to numbers 1-4 on the keyboard. Skills can be switched whenever you like, which is both a benefit and a drawback. Giving players the freedom to experiment with different skills gives them the opportunity to find out what play styles like like best. The downside to this is that there is no satisfaction in customizing your character. Aside from equipment, one level 60 witch doctor will have the exact same skills as any other level 60 witch doctor.

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Diablo II took the opposite approach: players would never have access to every skill in the game and would have to make choices as to which skills to use. In that game, you could have multiple different barbarians, each one having different strengths and weaknesses. In Diablo III, once you level a barbarian (or any other class) to 60, you will be the same as any other level 60 barbarian.

One way that Diablo III offers some customization is through runes. Runes are tweaks that can be applied to skills, which alter them in many different ways. Gaining new levels gives characters access to new runes. For example, a witch doctor can apply a rune to her zombie spell that sends fast zombie dogs running at enemies instead of a slow-moving human zombie.

Questing and Leveling Up

What would an RPG be without experience levels? Diablo III has 60 of them, and boy are they good. Going from quest to quest and advancing the story, which is predictable and rather corny, is actually a lot of fun. Diablo III is split into four acts, with each act taking place in a different location. After beating all four acts, you will have to do it all over again in a harder difficulty. There are four difficulties total: normal, nightmare, hell, and inferno.

You will always have a quest that is advancing the story line – there are no side quests like Skyrim or Mass Effect here. While we would have liked to see side quests that would expand upon Diablo's world of Sanctuary, the quests that are given are a means to an end: experience points.

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Gaining levels always offers a new skill or a new rune to use on a skill. It is exciting to reach a new level and find a new skill that makes your character more powerful. Items have level requirements on them, so gaining levels will often mean that your character can access better weapons and armor.

What happens when you reach level 60? The fun starts to subside a bit and Diablo III becomes all about getting new items to make your character powerful enough to progress in the game's inferno difficulty, which really is hellish and unforgiving.

Items

Getting new items and equipment could be considered the primary goal of Diablo III. Every piece of gear that you will find will have completely random stats on it, which means that there is always the possibility of finding something better. Diablo III's carrot-on-a-stick approach to finding and purchasing new items is addictive and will keep players coming back for some time.

Speaking of purchasing items, Blizzard implemented an incredibly robust auction house into the game. This auction house allows players to put up to ten items at a time up for auction, which other players can purchase for gold that is found throughout the game. Players can choose to put a buyout option in or sell things in a classic auction style, with the winning bidding after twenty-four hours taking home the item.

Looking for new gear for your character is easy. There are plenty of options to customize your search. For example, if you need a one-hand weapon, you can select that option and then select which attributes (dexterity, intelligence, strength, vitality) and special modifiers (life stealing, experience boosting, etc.) you would like – the auction house will filter all of the one-hand weapons and show you the ones that match your minimum criteria. It isn't hard to spend hours on the auction house while looking for the best gear with the cheapest price.

There is one more addition to this auction house system and that is the option to buy items with real money. This system, called the Real Money Auction House (RMAH), will show which items that players are trying to sell for real, hard-earned dollars. Conversely, if you find a weapon that might be the best in the game, you can attempt to sell it for hundreds of dollars, although Blizzard will take a 15% cut.

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Controls

Controls in this game are done via the keyboard and mouse. Moving your character around is done by clicking with the mouse – there is no WASD needed here. Spells and skills are assigned to the left and right mouse buttons and also to the number keys 1-4. Combat was fluid and easy to learn with these controls; after an hour or two, players will be comfortably slaughtering hoards of demons.

Storytelling Overview

Diablo III is a story driven game, but don't expect that story to be very good. Without spoiling too much, the game boils down to this: something falls from the sky, you happen to be around, you fight some zombies, and then realize that the forces of hell are behind all the zombie attacks. The story is clichéd, but serves to bring you from point A to point B (and then to point C, D, etc.).

You will always be doing a quest that advances a story, but the downside to this lies in how the game plays. We mentioned before that there are four difficulty levels; when you defeat all the super evil bad guys and "beat the game," you get to do it all over again in the next harder difficulty. Going through the game on normal difficulty takes about ten hours and after doing so, you will hear everything you need to know about the story. Being forced to listen to the story again and again is torture, which means you will be pressing the space bar and escape key to skip dialog and cut scenes frequently.

Acting

It would be wrong to call the voice acting in Diablo III bad, but it is over-the-top. Every character who talks, from series stalwart Deckard Cain to your own character, does so in a way that would be fitting for a B-movie. This makes the game feel more like a cartoon than a struggle between heaven and hell.

Cinematics

If there is one thing that Blizzard knows how to do, it is making jaw-dropping cinematics. Every previous game they have developed, from the first Diablo to the first Starcraft, has featured (at the time) cutting-edge CGI and Diablo III is no different. Human characters look realistic and move fluidly like you would expect a human to. While the story conveyed in these cinematics is not the greatest, we definitely appreciate the excellent visuals.

Graphics & Atmosphere Overview

We can't fault Diablo III for its graphics and sounds. We would have liked the game to be darker and more serious, but personal preferences aside, the developers did a good job creating a vibrant, yet dangerous, world.

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Art Design

We were impressed with the art direction found in Diablo III. Each of the four acts in the game has a completely different feel. The first act is set in the woods and fields surrounding the town of Tristram while the second act takes place in the desert. The third act takes players to the cold northern lands of the barbarians and the final act is the ravaged-by-demons realm of heaven. There are plenty of different locales within each act, so players will not get bored with the same setting being used over and over.

Graphics

Blizzard crafted a colorful world that straddles the line between cartoony and dark fantasy. These are not melt-your-face graphics like one would expect from a new Crysis game; Diablo III simply has good, not great, graphics. Anything better than what is presented might pose a problem for gamers who wish to run Diablo III on an older rig — large groups of enemies would sometimes make our computer chug in ways that Skyrim never did.

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Music

The music in Diablo III does not seem like a focal point at all. It includes your typical orchestral arrangements, although they sound quiet and subdued most of the time. When we were running through the story and completing quests, we would forget that there was music even playing since the battle sound effects would drown out everything else.

Sound Effects

The sound effects in Diablo III are really satisfying. Delivering a killing blow to a pack of crazed demons will often times yield a grin-inducing "splat," while the sound of three summoned zombie bears charging enemies is similar to a stampede. The unmistakable clatter of gold coins hitting the ground might be one of the most pleasing sounds in any game.

Multiplayer Overview

Currently, Diablo III only has co-op multiplayer. Blizzard plans to add PvP gameplay at a later point, but no date has been given.

Co-Op Multiplayer

Players can choose to adventure with up to three other players, although the game can be completed by playing solo. Finding a group is as easy as clicking on a button called "public games." After clicking this, you can choose which quest you would like to find a group for. There are usually plenty of people on and finding a group can happen in a matter of seconds. There are also options to create your own game and make it public, which will allow other players to join by using the "public games" feature.

Community Features

Diablo III implements a friends' list, which makes finding your friends or players that you have played with recently a breeze. Joining a friend's game or inviting them to your game is as easy as clicking their name.

Conclusion

Diablo III is a bit of a disappointment. We would have liked to see more choices available for character development instead of the "use any skill at any time" gameplay mechanics that are in place. The story, which is constantly being referenced via quests and cut scenes, is average at best and clichéd at worst.

Diablo III is not a bad game, though. The core gameplay, which revolves around hitting enemies until they drop items, is still a lot of fun. We were able to get plenty of hours of enjoyment out of this game and still occasionally drop back in. The excellent sound effects make the already addicting combat feel even better.

While we did enjoy the combat and we loved finding new items to equip on our characters, the enjoyment that this provides only lasts for so long. Maybe when player vs. player combat is added to the game, it will feel more fulfilling. Until then, Diablo III provides $60 worth of entertainment, but not much more.

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