Review: Diablo III (Computer)

Reviewed by Zarcon, posted May 27, 2012
I have a love/hate relationship with hack and slash games. I either really like them or am completely indifferent to them. With Diablo II... it didn't quite click with me. I played all the way through Hell both solo and with friends, but I never quite saw the magic like so many others. With Diablo III I saw they were attempting to change a lot of things so I'm coming into this hoping I'll "get" it this time.
May 27, 2012
  • Release Date (NA): May 15, 2012
  • Publisher: Blizzard Entertainment
  • Genres: Hack and Slash
  • Single player
    Local Multiplayer
    Online Multiplayer
It has been 12 long years since we last defeated Diablo. We've hacked, we've slashed, and we've certainly looted. After all this time things are stirring once more and it all begins with a fallen star...
The classes available in Diablo III
contain a bit of old and a bit
of new for players to explore.
A mysterious object falls from the sky and deemed the fallen star... depending on the class you choose you'll have a different reason for seeking out the object, but fans of Diablo need no reason to go get their killing and looting fix. Blizzard popularized the hack and slash genre and some would even say the Diablo series is what hack and slash games are period. With Diablo III Blizzard set out to do more than just give the series a nice coat of paint.

Return to Tristram

Storyboards such as this help
push the plot along between
quests and acts.
After choosing your class and sex, which is new to Diablo, III you are shown a brief storyboard unique to your class that explains a bit of your back story and motivation for seeking out the fallen star. Curiously you start out completely naked without any kind of gear, but you'll find that won't matter for long. The game slowly introduces you to it's various mechanics as you make your way to New Tristram and the game in general. As you move through the introduction to quest mechanics you'll likely notice an interact-able book on a table in the inn.

Lore entries such as that provide an experience bonus and also provide insight into the world of Diablo III and it's characters. Even without the experience bonus and credit towards certain achievements they're well worth keeping an eye out for. Each lore entry is fully voiced and help to flesh out the characters so that you care about them more than you would've otherwise.

New Tristram

On the left is the crafting window.
On the right is your inventory and
attribute information.
Diablo III looks very much like Diablo II and Blizzard did an excellent job keeping the same style and appearance in the transfer to 3D. Not everything is the same however, and it's apparent the moment you take a look at your inventory or skill window.

Attribute points no longer exist. When you level up the points you automatically gain points in the various attributes. The loss of attribute points doesn't hurt much as they are rather straightforward, almost to a fault. You'll basically just want to focus on your primary attribute and vitality for the first two or three playthroughs. You have some ability to customize through the use of socketed equipment and gems. Feel free to use gems whenever you can as there's an NPC you can talk to to remove them for a low fee.

Skill points no longer exist and neither do skill trees. You now unlock skills and runes that modify them at predetermined levels. You're limited to 6 active skills and 3 passive skills so you still need to pick and choose in a way. The difference here is that you aren't completely locked out of the other skills so you're free to switch things out if you need to. The runes you unlock grant different effects to the various skills and each skill has 6 runes available to unlock as you level.

Ultimately it results in a more streamlined game with less downtime between levels trying to decide what you should commit to and removing the need to look up "ideal" builds online. In the long term people will still figure out what the best things to use will be. In the short term, or for those who don't look up builds, it removes the joy of figuring out what works the best.

Stay a While and Listen...

The end of act cinematics
are a joy to watch.
The lore entries as previously mentioned are great to read. As you come across new enemy types you automatically gain monster lore entries as well, most of which are voiced by Deckard Cain. On top of that you can talk to most of the characters to get more information, whether that be more information on the world, opinions on the current situation, or just some insight into the character.

The mercenaries have been fleshed out as well in Diablo III. From a gameplay perspective they have skills they earn as they level up that you have to choose between. From a plot perspective they're actual characters now instead of faceless NPCs you just hire. You encounter the 3 of them as your progress through the story and they each have unique circumstances and motivations. If you stand near them in town then you can hear them converse with each other. The character banter and inquiries are some of the better and more interesting writing in the game.

The main plot is not as strong unfortunately. Highly predictable and full of tropes, I can almost guarantee that if you guess something as a joke you're likely to find out you were right. The individual plot points themselves are interesting, but the story inbetween and the way the story is told is weak. The villains have too much of a presence and talk way too much in an attempt to show how menacing they are. After a while you just tune them out and when you finally come face to face with them they're just another foe you need to beat down for loot instead of a being of great evil and fear.

Of course, the story isn't really important in this kind of game. You'll only care about for 1 out of 4 playthroughs if you'll care at all. You can skip all cinematics and conversations so you can skip it all in repeat playthroughs or if you just don't care to begin with.

This Seems Familiar

Turning on Elective Mode allows
you to assign any skill to any
action key.
Though some things are just different or depend on tastes, there are a few things that are just plain bad or make you question their decisions.

If you're not the type to look in the options first then you may find a lot of peculiar things missing from the game. By default many of the basic options are disabled. Things such as damage numbers and detailed skill information display are off and the ability to set any skill to any of your skill slots is disabled. A curious decision on Blizzard's part so be sure you turn on the things you want or need before playing.

Variety is something that is rather important in games like this. The player will be playing through the same areas multiple times so they need to be engaged by some sort of variety. This can be in the form of the actual areas or the kinds of things they can find such as items and enemies. The game falls short on the area and item fronts unfortunately.

The majority of areas tend to stick pretty solidly to one tone of colour, but that can be attributed to style or art direction. What can be faulted is how often map pieces are reused, especially in dungeons. Not only are they reused on different floors, they're reused on the same floor. Usually there's a piece that is used at least twice per floor, sometimes right next to each other.

Items on the other hand also suffer from a lack of variety. Grey (Damaged) and White (Common) items aren't typically worth much. Whites are your standard quality item while Greys are subpar. The only time you'll ever bother picking them up is at the very start of the game since you start the game completely naked. They sell for pitiful amounts of gold. 1g to 2g most of the time. Meanwhile a random body will drop 5g to 100g. On Normal. Literally not worth the space they'd occupy in your inventory. Meanwhile on the opposite end of rarity, Orange (Legendary or Set) items will basically never drop for you below Hell difficulty -- your third playthrough. If they do drop they'll likely have the wrong primary attribute or just bad bonuses. In the incredibly unlikely chance you find a Legendary with the bonuses you want it'll get outclassed by any random Magic (Blue) or Rare (Yellow) item in the next act if not in the same act.

Unfortunately, this means all you're looking at for the majority of the early game are Blue and Yellow items. The bonuses aren't too varied early on either. Most are pretty straight forward such as attribute or damage bonuses while others are ignorable such as gold/health orb pick up range or magic/gold find bonuses. You end up just checking if an item boosts your primary attribute, possibly vitality, and anything else that might increase your damage due to how the game is early on. The amount of bonus on each item is highly random as well, regardless of item tier. You can get a Blue with +100 Vitality or a Yellow with +12 Vitality. It certainly removes some of the joy of finding items when all you can look forward to are Blues and Yellows for most of the game and there's no guarantee it'll even be decent let alone good.

The Minions of Hell Grow Stronger

The enemies may become
stronger, but not nearly
strong enough.
The most glaring issue I noticed was the difficulty of the game. And not in a good way. The game is obscenely easy on Normal. It is brainlessly easy. I can't stress enough how easy it is. You can beat all of Normal using nothing but your basic attack and never bothering to dodge anything. This is compounded by how often health orbs drop that heal you instantly and how many potions the game throws at you. This makes it so Champion (Blue) and Elite (Yellow) enemies are basically free Blue/Yellow item drops as they provide no real challenge. Even in boss fights when it should be hard they give you multiple ways to freely heal yourself. Trash enemies spawn that you can kill that will drop health orbs or there will simply be health wells located that heal you to full and refill over time. Since there are so many ways to stay alive you can just focus on killing the bosses which leads to them usually dying under 10 seconds.

Sadly, it remains easy on your second playthrough on Nightmare as well, though it's not quite as brainless. Things have more health so it's worth actually using skills and the field effects hurt enough that you definitely want to at least move out of them. Another difficulty issue rears it's head however. Champion/Elite enemies can now spawn with multiple abilities. This by itself isn't bad as it provides a much needed challenge. Some ability combinations are outright unfair and result in deaths that are out of your control. It's one thing to die because you were being stupid or careless, it's another to die because there was nothing you could do about it. Field effects damage you a lot more starting on Nightmare and it's balanced by the fact that you can move away from them. Snares that lock you in place are balanced by the fact that you can still fight back. Put the two together and you're now snared on top of a field effect with no way to get out. There are some fun combinations that make you move around and fight smart, but there are plenty that can make you quit in frustration.

The game as a whole remains fairly easy though. Even the boss fights remain fairly easy. In fact, the bosses are almost a joke compared to Champion/Elite enemies depending on what abilities they come with. The boss fights get harder in a fair way. Their moves hit a bit harder and they have more health, but they have obvious tells that let you know when you should dodge or move. The difficulty of Champion/Elite fights is completely random and not always in a good way. The game remains this way basically until you hit Inferno difficulty, your fourth playthrough. Champion/Elite enemies are even more ridiculously cheap and pretty much everything will kill you in one or two hits. Though in Blizzard's defense, they set out to make Inferno ridiculous and they certainly delivered on that front.

Error 37

Diablo III requires a account and an internet connection at all times to play. Even single player. Of course you can say that in this day an age it really shouldn't be an issue and that those interested in the game likely have a constant internet connection anyway. You'd be right, for the most part it really isn't an issue. Other than launch day where people were met with Error 37 and couldn't play and a few hiccups afterwards things have been stable and it's almost not even noticeable. Occasionally you'll lag while playing by yourself or someone on your friendlist will randomly join your game without permission if you didn't realize to turn off that option which reminds you that you're really playing online. Just something to keep in mind if you have an unstable connection or suddenly disconnect during an Inferno run.

One last thing of note is the built in auction houses. As of this writing the real money auction house isn't currently up so I can't comment on it yet. The built in gold auction house does change the motivations of playing somewhat. While in previous games most people had to rely on finding their own items or finding trustworthy people to buy/sell from, now you have an easy built in way to safely purchase items. Due to the way loot is for the majority of the game, the most effective way to gear yourself is to just buy from the auction house. With the amount of people playing, you can find incredibly good items for very low prices.

You could ignore the auction house of course, the game is easy enough early on. Later on when the items start providing bonuses to your skills you may want to reconsider. Items become the only way to progress your attributes and skills and the odds of finding something that works in your favour become rather slim. Inferno is a big enough jump in difficulty that you'll likely have to choose between grinding on Hell until you get some decent gear or... just jump on the auction house and spend a few thousand gold.

At the End of it All

Ultimately Diablo III is more Diablo. Sure some things have changed, but it really isn't too much different. Even if you don't like the changes you'll probably warm up to them as you play the game. For the same reason, if you didn't like the previous games you likely won't find much to entice you to play Diablo III for long. If you're completely new to the series or the genre, Diablo III isn't a bad place to start as it eases you into things and provides ways for you to advance if loot drops aren't in your favour.

One last thing I thought I'd mention which I thought was super neat. The installer lets you start playing the game starting at 33% completion. More games need to do things like this.

+ Installer allows you to play at 33%+ complete
+ The game looks and feels like a Diablo game
+ Lore books/entries provide back story and insight
+ Characters, their back stories, and banter are great
+ No real downtime when you level
+ No need to commit to a build
- Internet required at all times for even single-player
- Game is incredibly easy for the entirety of Normal
- When it's hard it's due to the game being cheap
- Auction house reduces thrill of finding loot
- Map pieces/tiles reused very often
- Overall story is predictable and rather weak
- Grey/white items not worth picking up to even sell
- Not as much item variety
9 Presentation
Diablo III manages to retain the look and feel of Diablo II remarkably well. Voice acting is good for the most part with only the occasional stiffness or awkwardness depending on the class/gender you choose. Menu and interface are clean and easy to look at. Game is a bit too dark in some areas though, beyond what is needed for mood.
8 Gameplay
The controls feel much better than they did in Diablo II for me. Picking up gold is a bit finicky, but that may be due to gold absorption range being an actual stat you can increase. The game has been streamlined which reduces the time needed between levels investing in stats/skills or looking up for what you should invest in. Certainly a hit or miss for some.
7 Lasting Appeal
The game is incredibly repetitive, even for this kind of game. Map tiles are reused too often too obviously and items aren't as varied as they should be. The acts get shorter the further you go, but there are 4 playthroughs available with each getting harder. If you enjoy what the game offers then you have plenty of it to enjoy.
out of 10
Overall (not an average)
Even with all the changes to the formula the game still very much feels like a Diablo game. If you liked the previous games you'll probably like Diablo III. If you didn't then it doesn't do enough differently to really make it worth trying.


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