It will make you feel old to learn that Diablo 2 was released a whopping 12 years ago; yes, it has been over a decade since Blizzard rolled out their beloved dungeon crawler, and by now it has been extensively mastered from stem-to-stern. Finally, amid seemingly insurmountable hype, Diablo 3 has arrived, and while purists might decry it for teeming with revisionist touches that keep the newbie forever in mind, it is unquestionably a confident apotheosis of everything the series has brought to the table up to this point.
It is first worth addressing the maelstrom of controversy that met Blizzard with the news that Diablo 3 would be unplayable without a permanent Internet connection, a DRM piracy counter-measure which helped render the game unplayable for many in those first few days of release. It is hardly an ideal delivery system for consumer or developer, and is still tempered by download issues and occasional “server busy” errors, but alas, the worst appears to be over now, even if it is a worrying sign of the times.
To speak of the product itself, Diablo 3 is not a game with a fantastic or particularly engrossing story, true to the previous titles. The premise is generic, in-game cut-scenes are lazy and unpolished, and it is really only the stunning FMV sequences which give the narrative any thrust whatsoever. This game is all about – funnily enough – the gameplay, and in that regard, it is a complete winner.
In virtually every aspect of its infrastructure, Diablo 3 feels thoroughly streamlined, unquestionably pitched with the uninitiated in mind, but muscular and complex enough that it shouldn’t alienate the hardcore fanbase either. In particular, combat is fluid and fast-paced, while the more intricate concepts such as crafting and skill sets are succinctly explained with the layman in mind.
New players will enjoy a well thought-out learning curve that will keep them effortlessly alive for the first two or three hours of play. Experienced vets, meanwhile, might last a good 5 or 6 hours – and possibly more – without meeting their maker, as Blizzard eases us into the dungeon crawling and progressively tougher array of enemies. Waypoints, meanwhile, are useful in preventing frustrating backtracking, and as a result there is also no danger of being fatally under-levelled in any area, for you can always just teleport out, grab some potions, and level a bit before returning to do battle, free of punishment.
In fact, purists might argue that the initial stages of Diablo 3 are a little too forgiving, before they move towards the punishingly difficult Inferno mode. Players breezing through Normal mode will see little punishment for death, short of losing 10% of their items’ durability, and as such inexperienced players may find it easy to play the game as one of attrition, fighting as far through a dungeon as possible before dying, returning to their last fight, and repeating until they can crawl to the next checkpoint. It is hardly how the game was intended to be played – and thankfully not the way most will choose to play it – but it does allow even lesser-skilled players to clamber their way through it.
While the dungeon battling is invigorating and intense for the most part – owing to the random generation of foes – even blind initiates might find that some of the boss fights prove a little transfixing and surprising in their simplicity. Usually involving a simple pattern to avoid and then exploit, there’s not a lot to most of the fights here, and the climactic one proves especially underwhelming and thoughtless.
In light of this, what keeps the game an impressive feat regardless of the difficulty you play it on is the mind-boggling array of variety contained therein. The loot system, which sees you cleave through foes with the hope of amassing an arsenal of ever-improving weapons and armour, is deep, comprehensive, and fiendishly addictive. It takes on an altogether grander lifespan when partied to the Auction House system, whereby rare goods can be bought and sold for exorbitant amounts of gold. Also, the promise of the introduction of real currency in the future certainly boasts some interesting prospects. A minor quibble is that the Auction House can only be accessed from the main menu of the game, such that you might miss it altogether for the first few hours. Crafting meanwhile features a similarly staggering level of depth; magic items, for instance, can be broken down into their constituent elements so that they can be used to craft new weapons and armour. Integral stop-offs such as the jeweller and the blacksmith can also be levelled up, allowing you to generate more intricate, valuable – and indeed, more lethal – items.