“Diablo III” has the unique distinction of being a great role-playing game with excellent gameplay and action while at the same time causing such angst and anguish among gamers when technical problems arise.
This diametric split among fans changes from moment to moment, and reflects the passion and desire for a game that took nearly 12 years to make it into their hands. It is a love/hate relationship with Blizzard Entertainment for creating a fantastic franchise and causing so many angry words on chat boards and Twitter when game servers go down.
The game takes us back to Sanctuary and everyone’s favorite scholar, Deckard Cain. Cain claims the End Times are coming with the rise of the Evil. You are tasked with searching out and destroying demon lords bent on taking over the world and literally bringing hell to Sanctuary.
Players can select one of five classes – demon hunter, wizard, witch doctor, monk or barbarian. Each has specialties and advantages that the other classes do not. Characters level up as they gain experience, making new abilities available and new powers active. To get the most out of the experience, pick a class fitting your play style – barbarian or monk for up close and personal; demon hunter and wizard for distance mayhem; witch doctor for a nice mix of both.
Nearly every action is done with the “Diablo” tried and true method of point and click. Make sure you have a sturdy mouse because the left button and your index finger are going to get a workout.
Want to attack? Point and click (repeatedly). Want to talk with someone? Point and click. Want to walk along a path? Point and click, although holding down the button and dragging it along your chosen route works as well. Want to trade with a merchant or rearrange abilities, inventory or spells? You get the idea.
Special abilities and health potions are tied to buttons on your keyboard. Depending on your class, those special abilities will cost you mana, hatred or some other measure of power, so they aren’t inexhaustible. After a brief pause, those power reserves will refill fairly quickly.
The enemies are varied and numerous. There are also leveled enemies, meaning some are more powerful with special abilities than others. This creates a bit of strategy when wading into battle – go for the obvious leaders while the minions are swarming around you or take out the little guys before powering up for the big baddie?
The demon lords are your reward for reaching the end of each act and present their own challenges. While they can take some punishment and dish it out pretty good, smart players will find the cracks in their armor to take them down.
Speaking of armor, you will find a lot of that after a battle. You’ll also find a lot of gold, weapons and health globes. If I have a complaint about the game mechanics, it is there is too much loot. You will make multiple trips back to town (thank goodness for the portal spell) just to clear out your inventory.
It gets a little monotonous. I guess you can choose not to pick up the loot, but you’ll need that gold if you want to train with the blacksmith or jeweler. The former allows you to craft your own weapons and armor, while the latter help create gems that can enhance the abilities of your clothing and implement of destruction.
There is a new auction house system allowing for the buying and selling of your loot using in-game gold. Blizzard has also been working on a real-world money auction house where players would buy and sell in-game items for real cash. That system was repeatedly delayed while they worked on implementation, but is currently up and running.
There are four different difficulty settings to the action, from normal to Inferno. The challenges progressively increase as the difficulty is raised, but the rewards in armor, weapons and more also increase appropriately. Tactics that work on the normal level will likely get you killed in the Hell level. When you complete the game, it allows you to keep your character and restart at a higher difficulty level. So all your hard work and loot gets carried over into your next attempt.
Players can also create Hardcore characters, which progress as regular characters through skills and levels with one important difference – death of the character is final. Once you die, your character stays dead. It won’t be revived at the last checkpoint and Blizzard will not recreate your character under any circumstances.
This creates some pretty intense and crazy moments in gameplay. You always are keeping an eye on your health globe and trying new tactics to take down bigger enemies.
During my regular run, my character would just plow through rooms, knowing that if I went down, I would be reborn to try again. During the hardcore run, there was much more caution and strategic retreating. Getting surrounded was not an option.
Along your journey, you can meet and recruit companions to help you along the way. Three different types – a templar (like the barbarian class), a scoundrel (like the demon hunter class), and a sorceress (like the wizard class) – provide support during attacks, offer passive benefits during battles, and act as comic relief with some of their dialog. The artificial intelligence for these characters is good and they act appropriately with no direction (even if their dialog gets a little repetitive).
If AI helpers aren’t your style, three friends can join in your adventures through online play. Make sure the party is close to the same character levels. A wide disparity in power can make some people feel left out or overbearing during combat – neither is very much fun for anyone.
The graphics, both indoors and outdoors, are well done. They are bright, vibrant and alive when they need to be as well as dark, foreboding and gloomy when it is called upon. The physics engine really shines through during combat as body parts go flying during strong hits, and walls and masonry collapse realistically. It raised the level of immersion for the player and evokes an appreciation to the sense of detail. Of course, after 12 years of waiting…
However, for all its grand flourishes and spectacular battles, none of it matters if you can’t play the game.
Blizzard was plagued with server issues from the very start. “Error 37” quickly became the buzzword among players, indicating problems logging in. While the company worked quickly to resolve the issues, the Internet lit up with players proclaiming their hatred of Blizzard and frustration with the always-logged-in requirements.
Maintenance time and patch updates have also recreated harsh feelings among “Diablo III” players. Forum boards reached their limits after players voiced their displeasure.
From my own experience, I only received the Error 37 once and it was resolved quickly. I’ve only been shut out due to scheduled maintenance one time, and I did something else while it was going on. While I understand people who want to play when they want to play, the venom and anger at being temporarily inconvenienced seems excessive.
And no, I do not have a direct line to the Blizzard servers, as was jokingly suggested. I treat the idea of downtime like going to an amusement park and finding my favorite ride has a line two hours long. Either I can stand in that line and complain for the next two hours or I can find something else to do until the wait is over.
The amount of excitement and adventure to be found in “Diablo III” is worth the wait – two hours or 12 years. The action is crisp and clean. The quests are enjoyable without feeling repetitive. It is one of those games where you can easily lose track of time as you get lost in the never-ending battle against evil.
It took me almost 21 ½ hours to get through the normal level, raising my demon hunter to level 31 in the process. The Hardcore mode option is one that should be experienced to really get the flavor of the action as it unfolds. But if final death isn’t your idea of fun, hit the next difficulty level and challenge yourself with stronger monsters and greater rewards.
That is the true testament of “Diablo III.” Play it the way you want to by creating the character with the abilities and skills that work for you, by picking a difficulty mode you want to enjoy (regular or Hardcore), and by playing with friends or AI characters. It is flexible enough to find a way to play your game.
Treat the server downtime as an opportunity to do something else; because once you get in, you’ll never want to leave Sanctuary.
“Diablo III” is available now for Windows PC and Mac OS X systems. It is rated M for Mature due to blood and gore, and violence. This review was done using a provided digital copy for the Windows PC system.