Let’s get the basics out of the way, in case you’re unfamiliar: Diablo 3 is an action-RPG made by Blizzard. The main point of Diablo 3’s gameplay is to continually fight hordes of demons to unlock new abilities, and most of all, discover new items and better gear — all in order to fight stronger monsters, who drop even better equipment. It’s an absurdly simple feedback loop so elegant and fun it becomes the very definition of addiction. But more on that later.
Diablo 3 is set in a hostile, dark fantasy world known as Sanctuary. The world is home to human kind, and some outlandish beast creatures, for the most part. However, in the dimensions of Heaven and Hell, Angels have been locked in an eternal battle with the Prime Evils — the greatest and most powerful demons of Hell. The greatest of these demons is Diablo, Lord of Terror who took the war to the world of humans after being summoned there by a dubious human clergyman. He was defeated in Diablo 2, along with several other Prime Evils, and now his brother Azmodan, Lord of Sin has begun his assualt on sanctuary to become the ruler of Hell and destroy the world…
Look, I’m going to level with you here. The world is gritty and dark, and it lends to some great art direction, but for the most part the lore is a bit goofy. This really comes to a head in the game’s exposition. It’s silly and campy and even though I enjoyed the story in a nutshell, it was simplistic and predictable, and the dialogue was laughable. The most iconic character of the Diablo series, Deackard Cain, has a far diminished role in this installment of the franchise as well. The story also builds as if there will be a massive, climactic ending, but in reality it’s a (gorgeously rendered) CG cutscene with narration over it (sounds a bit like another threequel’s ending…). I get the feeling Blizzard knew that 99.99% of players are in it for the gameplay, and even though Diablo 3 has a more cinematic feel, the story is easily glossed over once you’ve had your fill.
The setting does provide some positives, though. The areas and dungeons are dark and bleak, and even though they’re randomly generated, they feel seamless and organic. There are a few “static” areas, and a lot of the randomization is centered around events more so than layout in some places, but it still all looks phenominal, and the game’s soundtrack — while not quite as good as the previous games’ — fits the mood perfectly.
As I said before, the setting is bleak and the art direction certainly show it. Enemies loose limbs and splatter pints of blood, and even explode their guts everywhere; you descend dark abyssal pits and Gothic architecture; beastly demons mob you, many of which sport gruesome forms and outlandish weapons that look very,very painful. My only complaint here is the world is a bit too well-lit. Diablo 3 no longer uses the light radius mechanic of the past games in the series, instead having light come from candles, lamp posts, fires, and even the sun. But instead of dark shadows, the world is mostly always visible, save for a few areas and dungeons. Still, overall the game looks amazing, and what the setting lacks in story, it makes up for it visually.
Graphically, Diablo 3 is great. It looks fantastic, even at lower settings, the particle effects are dazzling, and the colors and lighting give everything an eerie atmoshphere. The animations are fluid and the physics engine makes breaking down walls and swing an axe at monsters visually gratifying.
Backing up a bit, Diablo 3 features 5 playable classes: Barbarian, Wizard, Witch Doctor, Demon Hunter, and Monk. Each have their own sets of abilities, and each can fill numerous rolls within a group. Each class also has their own resource the build during combat which is then used to unleash powerful attacks and skills.
The Barbarian builds Fury while in combat, and focuses on dealing massive amounts of damage, as well as boosting stats; The Wizard uses mana, which regenerates over time, and is used to perform spells that can damage enemies and cause status ailments; The Witchdoctor uses Mojo to summon beasts and deliver poisons; The Demon Hunter builds both Hatred and Discipline, which are used for offenseive and defensive abilities respectively; and the Monk build Spirit through lightning-fast attacks which damage enemies, and heal others.
Unlike the previous Diablo games, in Diablo 3 you do not gain skill points or utilize skills trees. As you progress with your character, you’ll unlock new skills, and further down the line you unlock runes. Runes offer bonuses and tweaks to different skills, such as increasing a spell’s duration, or boosting the damage dealt. Runes offer a deep level of customization, and because every skill and rune is open once you’ve unlocked it, there are numerous builds possible for each class. I found this change to be extremely beneficial, as I could swap out my skills on the fly, and if need be, completely change my play style just by changing a few abilities and items. It negates the need for rolling new characters to try out new builds, and makes character creation far less rigid.
Another change to character progression is the removal of stat points. Your class’ stats will increase on their own as you level up, so instead of min/maxing your character each level, you increase strength, vitality, dexterity, etc. through gear and gems you equip on your character. It goes hand in hand with the new skill system as a way to make class building and progression more open-ended and fun.
Using those skills is extremely fun, too. You use your left and right mouse buttons to perform attack skills, and numbers 1-4 act as your skills bar. You’ll use all those skills in combat, and figuring out new strategies is almost as exciting as the loot enemies drop. This works well, but you’ll be locked into using only certain skills per slot until you go into the options menu and select “elective mode” which allows for full hoykey customization. In fact, in order to see “advanced” tool tips like what percentage an ability boosts weapon damage, you must also enable advanced tooltips from the options menu. Similarly, detailed character stats are not readily available in the character menu, but in a separate tab. However, once these options are enabled, the issues are alleviated.
On top of abilities, health potions have also been changed. Potions are relegated to a single, dedication spot on your hotbar (defaults to Q) and now have a rather long cool down between uses, and mana potions are gone entirely (mostly because each class uses separate resources). This cooldown time is partially negated though health drops that drop from some enemies, and wells that dot each map. They dropped frequently enough, however there have been several times I’d desperately need to heal and my potion is cooling down, and no health drops were near by.
But even that hasn’t stopped my enjoyment of the game. The random loot the drops off each enemy has me feverishly clicking for more. And even though the always online connection has caused some hitches in player’s ability to access the game at times, the Battle.net features are a boon the the multiplayer. Even when playing alone, I still feel connected to my friends and fellow questers, and at any time can join their games or open up mine so others can join without a hitch. The in-game Auction House and robust crafting makes gold a needed resource, and gives each item the potential for profit, and making your private stash and gold universal between all characters is brilliant.
Diablo 3 may lack the deep story that some gamers have come to expect from their games, but as a person who prefers gameplay over story, Diablo 3 is a triumph — proving that in order to be successful, all it takes is a simple, albeit impeccably polished, gameplay design to draw players in and keep them playing. The dopamine-inducing promise of loot, experience, and harder enemies masks the intrinsic repetition of Diablo 3’s gameplay so well that it’s sure to be played for years to come.
Pros: Near-perfect gameplay; addicting loot system; ability and class building is dynamic and fun; the art direction is beautiful; excellent Battle.net features
Cons: Shallow, cliche story that doesn’t matter to the gameplay much; repetition may turn some off; some odd design choices; static areas can get boring; online issues makes single-player difficult