It has been a long 12 years since Blizzard gave us Diablo II. The game was a fantastic followup to the first, and went on to help define a generation. Many gamers found themselves running through the corridors and taking on Diablo’s worst for the better part of a decade. Diehards watched as the creators of their beloved series changed and evolved, and with the incredible success of World of Warcraft many wondered if Blizzard would ever make another game in the world of Sanctuary.
Luck would change when Blizzard released Starcraft II nearly 2 years ago. This sequel smashed records and met expectations well providing the same great multiplayer and an reinvented single player campaign. The lessons learned from WoW were obvious and it’s inspiration was everywhere. It then came time to revisit Diablo, and fans questioned if Blizzard had what it took to make the game the fans wanted. Could they find a way to possibly improve on one of the best RPGs ever made? The results are definitely a mixed bag, but lets see where the coin lands with a more in depth look.
The story takes place 20 years after the previous group of heroes defeated Diablo and his brothers Mephisto, and Baal. We see the last of the Horadrim, Deckard Cain, desperately researching what he believes to be an impending attack from the minions of hell in the old cathedral outside the settlement of New Tristram with his niece Leah. All of a sudden a large mass crashes into the building destroying nearly everything and Leah is separated from Cain who is no where to be found. Fearing the worst, she heads back to town to help defend against the increasing numbers of evil creatures attacking the city. It is just then that you, the hero, wander into town and quickly get wrapped up in an adventure that could very well spell the end of both the Heavens and Earth.
The story itself doesn’t stray too far from the lore established in the previous games. Within your first few hours you will be traveling through your old stomping grounds from both previous games. The first portion of the story seeks to tie up the loose ends in the chronicles of the mad King Leoric, and the events of the original game. It is within these first hours it becomes obvious that one of the main aspects setting this game apart from the previous is presentation. When before the story was told from stiff animations and scarce cut-scenes, now the game is teeming with life and fluidity. Any facet of the story can be explored in amazing detail and the choreography within the in-game cut-scenes is enjoyable and effective.
The only major problem comes as the game attempts to quickly wrap things up in the second half leaving plot holes, questions, and a general disconnect. The first two acts feature vast cities, colorful characters, and well developed buildups ending with an enjoyable final boss. Unfortunately the next and final two acts feature a stark change narrowing not only your overall involvement in the entire picture, but also a lack of development of key players in the story. Most fights introduce a never before seen villain who fail to differentiate themselves from the nonstop gauntlet and repetitive objectives. Both acts also see your main objective being traveling to many nearly identical areas to do the exact same thing, close a gate to hell. Several times throughout these acts I wondered where all the interesting side quests and varied objectives had gone. I don’t even recall a single side quest in Act IV period. It is unfortunate that both of these acts happen one after another making it hard for me to be excited continuing past Act II a second time.
This is most likely where your mileage will vary, as Blizzard made a slew of changes to nearly every aspect of the dungeon crawler formula. The large variety of characters have been honed down to 5. All of which represent a kind of a greatest hits of all your favorite skills from the previous heroes with a few new abilities sprinkled in. What you will find the most different is exactly how your character evolves. Instead of allocating your skill points after each level you will find your progression moves on a fixed path. This takes away much of the guessing in character development, and allows you access to all of your abilities letting you test out combos and make the best character possible. The skills themselves can be altered with runes which also unlock as you go and allow you to augment the core effects of your skills and tailor your experience even more. While all of these functions are fleshed out well, I still find this feature contradictory to the nature of Dungeon Crawlers themselves. The most rewarding part of this genre tends to be the careful crafting of a character build and the feeling of success when said character triumphs. It is the overall feeling of investment that feels somewhat lost here.
Another new feature is the incredibly comprehensive achievement system. There are tons of goals laid out from as simple as exploring features available within the game, to taking down some of the hardest events under special circumstances. Upon completing a goal you are rewarded with some points that are added to your overall blizzard account score. While many will find this system shallow and pointless (get it? its a point system ha!), I personally feel like this might help increase the replay value limited by the odd skill system choices. Along the same lines Blizzard has incorporated a combo system of sorts rewarding you with bonus experience for being extraordinary in combat. It can be rather rewarding to see your kills with a single shot tallied up and displayed on the screen with a nice little bonus attached.
The equipment system has seen a large overhaul with the introduction of a crafting system. Between the Blacksmith used to create weapons, and the Jeweler who refines your gems, you will invest money and materials allowing them to create greater gear for your heroes. The auction house (and eventual real money auction house) give you a great place to dump your unused goods, or try to strike out on your own as a thriving entrepreneur. Much like nearly all games that include an AH, the going prices as of this writing are astronomical, but if you look hard enough you are sure to find a good deal or two.
Diablo III for me is definitely a mixed bag, but it is still certainly a must play. The storytelling (when it works) is fantastic and the beautiful landscapes are fun to explore for hours on end. The game’s story seems to demand an expansion though. While it is easy to write off many of it’s tropes on that fact, I think it is important to judge the game on its own merits which unfortunately are a little lacking in the second half of the story.
The changes to the character development seem to be catered to the first time players sucking some of the addictive nature out of leveling your character, but it does create a sort of sandbox allowing you to mix and match your skills till you are completely comfortable. While we are mentioning an expansion, I do hope some of the previous characters such as the Druid or Paladin get some sort of iteration in the future as no current character really seems like them at all.
Chances are you probably already own the game if you had any interest in it, but this game also marks a great place for newcomers to join the series. While it is hard for a series veteran to gauge the difficulty I think the curve is mild enough at first that most should be able to see the ending in around 15-20 hours.
That about sums it up. Go check it out for yourself and tell us how you feel about Diablo III in the comments below!
Shawn Murphy is currently the Director of Media for Substance TV. Gaming has always represented more than just a hobby, and his devotion to gaming as a culture is just what you can expect from his unique and personal content. He also owns all 97 NES games, so you just better back off!