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It's been over a decade Diablo II was unleashed on the world and in that time the fabled developers Blizzard have gone through quite the metamorphosis. From Korea adopting Starcraft as the national sport, cancellation of the much anticipated Starcraft Ghost, to creating the unstoppable juggernaut World of Warcraft that has continually dominated MMO gaming and made them billions. Activision saw much interest in their monetizing ability and merged with Blizzard and their continuous success has known no bounds.
In this time, Diablo II has continually been enjoyed by gamers worldwide, a game so popular people are prepared to pay real money to achieve in game items, and the battle cry for another Diablo continued to roar. Behind the scenes the game was developed to a certain point, scrapped and began anew. As rumours circulated around Diablo III's development grew stronger, in 2008 a game play demonstration was revealed, and boy did the game look intriguing, yet different Fans were not impressed with the liberal use of colour and demanded the game be made darker. That was 4 years ago and Diablo III has finally been released. But has the drastic change in the company meant disaster for the franchise?
A tale of demons and angels
It's been some time since the three prime evil's were vanquished and the Angel of Justice, Tyrael destroyed the corrupted worldstone to prevent an army of hell breaking forth into the world of Sanctuary. The barbarians were scattered and Tristram became a hotspot for tourists looking for loot. In that time, New Tristram was formed in the wake of increased traffic and Deckard Cain, the last of the horadrim and his niece Leah found their way there after scouring the globe for knowledge. As a prophecy is fulfilled, a falling star lands on the old church of Tristram, Cain goes missing and evil begins to rise. Needless to say a hero needs to arise to stop this evil force from spreading.
Diablo and Diablo II both succeeded in portraying a world of grim oppression by the evil threat of Diablo and his brothers. In Diablo bad things were happening in town, and even worse atrocities below the church of Tristram, hearing about the evil going on through the monologues of the townsfolk reinforced how desperate the situation was. In Diablo II, there was a sense of urgency to catch up with the prime evils, they always felt just beyond your reach and your constant slaying of wave after wave of evil felt like taking on a problem that was affecting the world and there was only so much you could do about it.
In Diablo III, it's hard to get a reading on what the motivation to do anything as the writing is quite simply abysmal. The plot is enough to raise an eyebrow to what's going on, although it quickly becomes apparent that whoever was involved in the writing for this game has no bloody clue on what constitutes a good experience, as virtually everything that goes into formulating the story before you, completely stinks.
While many will argue that the story in Diablo games were never necessary and the whole aim was just to get loot and kill stuff is selling short the entire experience that Diablo and Diablo II offered. The main reasons why this reviewer was so involved with playing the two games for countless hours was not just to find loot for the sake of finding loot, but to engross one's self into a world of hopelessness with the slight chance that your actions can make a difference. The biggest problem with Diablo III is there is no reason to give a damn about what you do as the story and world has no bearing or impact on the player. You do things simply because the game needs you to, not because you want to.
Aside from the woes that encompass the story, we have a choice of 5 different characters to choose from to begin the story, a battle hardened Barbarian with focus on maximum pain, a wizard with spells, a Witch Doctor with a very interesting voodoo like powers, a Demon Hunter with ranged combat and the Monk with fists of fury. Each class also has male and female versions to choose from, although game play isn't affected by this choice. Each of these classes have different skill sets and strategy's to win, and unlike Diablo II, there is a lot more freedom in doing so.
In case you've never played a Diablo game before, this is an action RPG primarily controlled with the mouse. We take a top down view of our character, and by clicking around the world we can run, and by clicking on a bad guy we make him die. There is more emphasis on paying attention to what the enemy is doing this time round, as the proprietary physics engine has allowed for less ridged combat which was apparent in the first two games. It's now possible to learn an enemy's attack pattern and adjust the window of attack. In Diablo II for instance, playing as a barbarian could be reduced to running up to everything and smacking it as hard as you can, this time around, there are opportunities to wait until the enemy shows an opening window of attack, then make a move.
Runes to my memory
In order to be successful in Diablo II, particularly on the harder difficulties it was imperative to know what skills you were going to end up with, placing a handful of skills in the wrong spot could lead to disaster, and mismanaging strength/dexterity/vitality/energy could lead to a character that couldn't win at higher difficulties. Diablo III has turned the fixated system on its head so to speak and has completely opened up the field. Skills are automatically unlocked as you level up and there is no method to choose how much strength/dex/vit you spend, although it seems like this takes away from the player's freedom of choice, it really opens up the entire game.
Skills can be changed on a whim, and assigned to two mouse buttons and four skill slots. If one particular skill isn't working out, you can switch it out as you see fit, it's pretty hard to do this during the course of battle, as when you switch there is a brief moment where the skill can't be used, but with the choice of 6 skills, there is just enough room to make a successful killing machine to meet just about any need.
Mana has also been given the flick, and instead each class has skills generate the required juice necessary to use more powerful abilities. For example, the barbarian has fury, gained by bashing his opponents head in and as his meter fills up he gains the ability to summon a giant magical hammer to cause more damage. As the barbarian levels up he gains access to shouts to improve damage or defence speed, more powerful area of attack abilities or some remixed versions from DII such as whirlwind or frenzy.
Skills are also moddable with runes which are again unlocked as you level up, each skill can have one rune activated, for instance the Bash skill for the barbarian gains access to stun the opponent in lieu of knockback, or as more levels are gained, additional fury is gained per hit. Each skill for each class has 5 different runes to add different abilities to that particular skill. And with over 20 skills to choose from with each class, that is a lot of customising going on by the time you hit level 60.
You hack my back and I'll slash yours
There are four difficulty modes that are unlocked after successive plays, starting with Normal, Nightmare, Hell and Inferno. Normal is quintessentially the easy mode, designed to allow any player to get to grips with how the game plays, how skills and runes are used and how equipment works with the challenge set down low. It won't matter very much what skills are used as there isn't much opposition to the player, for anyone who is familiar with the previous games this could be seen as somewhat frustrating and limiting, but for those who want to experience Diablo III without too much knowledge or wanting too much stress, it is very accessible.
The successive difficulties is where the game begins to open up and strategies begin to take effect. Enemies have more health, more abilities such as being enchanted or extra strong, and the carefree nature of running into battle blind will begin to have real consequences. By the time Inferno is reached, it will take a great deal of planning to develop a successful character and the time spent carelessly hacking away will seem like a distant memory, knowing about skill generators, cool downs, effects and such all become relevant.
To put it bluntly, the new combat system is fantastic and with so much variation between the classes, there is a lot of fun combat on offer and with that being the main crux of the game, that is a good sign. What isn't however is where we do the killing, or more specifically the world which is ready to explore. Diablo and DII were both very successful games in creating a world full of atmosphere, from the dark rainy fields of the first act in DII, to the burning heat of the desert, to oppressive swamp of Kurast and the burning hells in pandemonium, the last game was excellent at creating a world worthy to be explored.
What is a great feature is the introduction of random events. Each time you leave the game, any area you have previously explored resets itself and a new event is possible. These range from surviving a constant wave of enemies for a set time, clear out a dungeon with a time limit, free a farmer from demons destroying his land, all kinds of little things that break up the monotony of these bland environments.
The loot is why we do this, the drive to get the most powerful gear and Blizzard have taken a new approach. Weapons are broken up into normal, magic, rare, the ultra rare legendary and set items. Throughout the game the majority of weapons will be magic with the occasional rare thrown into the mix, the days of pre-determined items are almost gone with legendaries and set items mostly reserved for end game players. The biggest issue with weapons is that there is no real difference in choosing a hand axe over a sword, they may have slightly different attack speeds, but that is of little consequence when the weapons damage per second meter is showing the highest number. In previous games, it was a design choice to go with a two handed spear with long reach, or go out swinging with two quick swords, in DIII, its highest DPS or else.
The other new approach with these weapons are the random bonus attributes given to each item, these are different variations of attack speed, strength/dexterity/intelligence bonuses along with a few others like life stealing properties and sockets. It feels a bit strange having weapons with completely random properties, part of the fun in the old games was trying to get some of the unique weapons with their specialised attributes, instead Diablo III goes for a luck of the draw system on virtually all fronts and after a while it gets a bit boring.
Or you can just buy it all in the auction house. It's entirely possible to take a few thousand gold from your character and head over to the new user content generated auction house to fit out your player, if you are finding yourself in trouble you can buy yourself out of a touch situation, and out of playing the game and when the real money auction house goes online, one can simply buy victory with real ass money if you so choose.
Atmosphere is important in the Diablo universe and for the first time in the series, Diablo III has managed to make a mess of it. Textures are blurry and have a sort of cartoon look to them, the soft nature of these textures makes the entire game look like it's in soft focus and is rather headache inducing but to make matters worse, there is no real sense that this is a dark universe. Lighting is rather bright and cheerful, everything is well lit and any sense of foreboding evil lurching in the darkness has been reduced by quite a bit. It's not as if the visuals are bad, they feel ill suited.
The audio and voice acting are also woeful, both Diablo and Diablo II had excellent music that was both foreboding and beautiful, in DIII it comes off as background noise and little more. The voice actors aren't given much chance to shine due to the terrible writing, and as such they don't really accomplish anything of real notice. Such a waste really.
When it's all said and done, Diablo III's is a big mixed bag, on the one hand the gameplay is really quite enjoyable, the ability to mix up how you want to play was a great decision by Blizzard, everything else however is a tremendous let down, not just by the standards I hold towards the Diablo franchise, but gaming in general. All the little things that when summed together that have been successful in the past have failed to create a game that I really want to play for the whole experience, not just to hack and slash my way to loot, but to lose myself into a dark fantasy world of demons and atmosphere.
Instead it comes off as a big mess and combined with the horrors of always online single player, we can only play the game when the servers are playing nice. When they don't play nice, prepare to lag your way to death, rubber band all over the place and be forced to quit because it quite simply does not work. All in all this is a disappointing package that leaves much to be desired, the only thing propping Diablo III up is the game play and the legacy the series holds. Long term fans might be able to look past its failings, but for someone new to the series the experience could come off as confusing and stupid.
To get the most out of this game, play it with friends.