Diablo III - PC Review

Took me long enough to finish and prep my review for the following game - but here it is.  Also, sometime tomorrow I will be picking the winner for my Double Dragon: Neon PSN code giveaway.

In my mind, this was the most anxiously awaited PC game since Starcraft II came out.  Opinions formed on Diablo III often and early, ranging from the online connectivity to the style of the game's graphics.  Still, as we have seen in the past, great expectations can often lead to great disappointments.  We have seen that with other titles like Mass Effect 3, when many of its loyal fans felt let down by the ending, the multiplayer component or that it seemed more focused on action than tactical or roleplay elements.  The other side of the coin is something like Skyrim, that generally was well-received (though bugs - especially on the PlayStation 3, really hampered its release).  So how does Diablo III hold up?

For those unfamiliar with the Diablo series, it is an above-view action/RPG hybrid that hung its hat on a few gameplay mechanics over the years:

- randomly generated dungeons for replayability
- earning tons of loot with randomly generated properties
- developing classes that generally feel different from one another

There have been variations to this formula over the years, but that gets to the core of what the series tries to offer.


Graphics - 9:

Boy was this ever a hot topic over the last couple of years.  When early concept art and visuals were shown, a lot of hardcore Diablo fans got up in arms about it being too bright and colorful.  The artistic direction was often compared to World of Warcraft, due in large part to the vivid use of colors. 

Here is the thing: I tend to like that vibrant style.  I enjoyed it games like World of Warcraft and Kingdoms of Amular.  A game can be dark in tone, without sucking the vibrancy out of a fantasy world, and I believe Blizzard struck an excellent balance on that front.  The game itself is still very much a darkly themed one.  Your first chapter is spent battling undead creatures that actually pull themselves out of the earth to claw at you.  Zombies are beaten and broken until only their upper bodies remain as they crawl across the ground toward you.

The animations are excellent, and you see examples of that everywhere.  Bat-like monsters fly out of fissures in the ground to swarm toward you and monsters killed with knockback attacks go sailing off of a cliff's edge.  Backgrounds are fascinating at times as you wind your way through ancient ruins or through underground caverns.  You see plenty of activity in the distance, giving a sense of scale that reminds me of the God of War games at times.






Sound & Music - 7:

The voice acting itself is decent, but the story itself was seldom all that interesting.  As a result, it became difficult to get invested in most of the characters, despite the work behind voicing them.  The musical score is also just good, not great.  Very few tunes stuck with me, and Blizzard is definitely capable of better as evidenced by some of their other titles.  There are a lot of songs I really liked from World of Warcraft and several that I looked up after completing Starcraft, but Diablo III just never did much to wow me on that front.





Gameplay - 8:

I can sum up the majority of the game easily enough:

The combat is fun, but repetitive.

The variety in classes is actually pretty solid as they generally feel quite different from one another.  This becomes even more evident if you play the game online with others.  There are quite a few skills, with an upgrade system involving runes.  For example, you may use the skill Rend, which causes gradual damage over time to an opponent.  You can further customize that skill as you unlock runes to allow for things like slight health regeneration or extra damage done when attacking with this skill.

You can freely swap skills in and out, and also choose what runes you wish to apply to them.  I know some people were upset at not having a branching tree/skill system where you pick some skills and exclude others, but I tend to be a fan of experimentation so the system implemented here worked really well for me.


Intangibles - 8:

Loot.  More loot.  Why... is that loot I see over there?

This has always been the main draw in Diablo - getting the best possible gear for your character.  The system still holds up quite well today, and it is always fun when you see a rare, magical item hit the ground.  Of course, sometimes you cannot use said item, so you can decide whether to break it down for crafting parts, to sell it, or drop it in your equipment chest.  That chest is bound to your account, so if your level 23 warrior finds a really solid crossbow, you can tuck it away in that chest for your future demon hunter to make use of.  This plus the crafting system are nice nods to World of Warcraft at times too, but I did feel the crafting was pretty shallow by and large.

Then there is the always online connectivity.  This was another of those hotbed issues for a lot of gamers, and I fall... squarely in the middle on this one.  On the one hand, I can understand why Blizzard would want this as it allows them ot make sure people are playing legit copies of the game.  It also pushes updates for people, and since a lot of the expected gameplay is online (either in parties, or just checking up on achievements friends get or participating in the auction house) the online is needed there as well.


That being said, I am largely an offline player.  So I do find it annoying that when the servers are down, or if there is a connectivity spike, that weird things happen (such as my character going 'back' three or four seconds).  I do not think I could participate in Hardcore mode because of this.  Once you reach level 10 in Normal difficulty, you can unlock Hardcore mode.  At least, that is what the screen tooltips tell you.  I refuse to do it.  Twice I died because of internet connectivity issues.  Honestly the system is not too hard on you for deaths, and I for one appreciate that.  At least, in the default game modes.  Go into Hardcore, and one of those latency spikes means your character is completely deleted.  I'll pass, thanks.

Still, there are increasing levels of difficulty when you beat the game.  I did not expect to really play them, but after winning I decided to see how my character handled on the next difficulty setting.  After all, I had just beaten Diablo - and handily at that.  With all of my new gear and levels, I figured I would roll right through the first chapter.  Boy was I wrong.

The difficulty scales fairly sharply.  I have already died more in the first chapter than I did in all of the prior run through of the game.  I ran into a trio of beefed up 'blue' monsters that absolutely destroyed me in a way that Diablo had failed to do in the prior difficulty level.  I have already replayed most of the first chapter since, again sucked in by the loot and the challenge.


Overall - 8:

I do not think Diablo III quite lived up to the expectations placed upon it, but I am not sure it ever could have.  Few games with these kinds of unrealistic expectations ever do.  I thoroughly enjoyed Mass Effect 3, Skyrim and Starcraft II - and the same can be said of Diablo III.  People were hoping for one of the greatest game of all time, or at least of this year, and Diablo III will probably miss the mark on both fronts for most people.  Know what?  I think that is okay because I still believe that if you enjoy the game's mechanics in the prior installments, odds are you will here as well.

My son was quite the testament to this.  He had never played a Diablo game before this one, but he plowed through it the first weekend we had it.  He could not get enough of it, and every chance he had he was borrowing my PC and hopping into groups with friends.





For me the draw was never quite so powerful.  I played other games along the way, hence why it took me so long to beat and then review the game.  I seldom found myself playing or doing something else and thinking: I really need to get back to Diablo III.  In part, I suspect the story was a factor.  For me personally, story is one of the most compelling aspects to a game, and a great one leaves me wanting to play more to find out what happens next.  There were a few characters that had interesting enough dialogs, but no one made me feel like I just had to get back to the tale and see what happened next.

That said?  I was able to drop some serious time into the game when I sat down to play it.  I know a lot of people beat the game in roughly sixteen hours of play.  I think my son was right around that mark, maybe a bit higher.  I definitely took a lot longer, but I did every conceivable side quest, redid several of the dungeons, and generally just lost myself in hours of rapidly-clicking goodness.  The day I beat it, I must have spent eight or nine hours on my computer, and it did not feel like it at all.

It felt more like, "Hey hon?  Where did that big ball of light in the sky go?"  So in the end, I definitely enjoyed Diablo III quite a bit.  The game had a really rough release from what I have read (I did not pick it up until a week or two after, so thankfully I missed all of that), and it has had a few bugs along the way (though almost nothing I encountered except a couple of passing latency issues), but the addictive leveling and looting made for an exciting experience more often than not.


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