Developed by: Blizzard Entertainment
Published by: Blizzard Entertainment
Platforms: Microsoft Windows, Mac OS X
Release Date: May 15, 2012
Reviewed by: Kevin Knapp
Diablo III Review
Triumphant Success Or Hell On Earth?
It’s been over 10 years since the Lord of Destruction expansion was released for Diablo 2. Many of us have even continued to play Diablo 2 while waiting for the franchises’ triumphant return. After roughly 3 days since launch, I managed to complete the normal campaign once with my Barbarian. Officially, the game took me exactly 26 hours 11 minutes to complete, and my character was at level 32. While playing the game, I took deliberate care in exploring every area in full before clearing each act in order to experience the maximum amount of content possible.
Technical Considerations / Technical Issues At Launch
The PC I built to playtest this game uses an Intel 2.83 Quad Core, 8GB of Ram, two 10k RPM Velociraptor hard drives in Raid 0, and a 2GB ATI Radeon 6950 HD card. With the exception of buying the video card as of Dec ’11, all the other parts are from a Dec ’08 build. With this rig and a blazing internet connection, I was able to experience Diablo 3 on max settings with no performance issues on the client side.
On the server side, D3 was of course plagued with launch / server access errors. I was one of the people that stayed up till 3-5am EST on launch day to play the game, but with no luck. Fortunately, I was able to get on the servers at 8:00 am that same day and get 7.5 hours of game time in before the servers went back down for most of the day due to maintenance.
After the first 48 hours, my gameplay experience with Diablo 3 moving forward has been nearly flawless. Considering the scale of the launch Blizzard planned, I think the company was able to recover rather quickly in comparison to their launch of WoW. Yes, I was disappointed like the rest of the fans that this product wasn’t in perfect working order from the start. However, because I have a technical background and experience working as an IT professional, I can understand what kind of demands were put on their staff in short order.
Diablo 3, in my opinion, has excellent graphics for its genre considering the presentation portion of the game faithfully stays true to the formula of the previous 2 games. Yes, the graphics could have been increased in quality by raising the poly count, textures, rendering techniques, etc. The reason Blizzard didn’t go the route of maximum graphics intensity is because they want as many people to be able to buy and play this game as possible. With all the different types of computers out there, possible game console ports, and the fact that not everyone can buy a $1000-$2000 rig to play a $60 game, there had to be sacrifices in the name of accessibility.
Another supporting reason for the graphics being the way they are is in support of the insanely robust physics engine that was designed for the game. The Diablo 3 world is filled to the brim with destructible backgrounds, set pieces, and creative ways to kill enemies that really make the world come alive. I wouldn’t be surprised if half of the development time was spent exclusively on designing unique and insane ways to destroy things. Diablo 3 has 2 sets of physics from what I can tell. Most games let you just interact with objects when they’re “Active” or alive and kicking. Once objects / monsters are destroyed, they usually disappear or become static in the name of game performance / RAM management. Diablo 3’s physics engine has a second subset of physics that allows you to further destroy, mutilate, and move already downed enemies / objects as you use skills / attacks while fighting.
The music, sound design, and voice acting components of Diablo 3 have all the spit and polish you would expect from a Blizzard game. The music / ambience appropriately inserts itself into the action and story sequences to give the game an epic and dramatic feel. The sound design is married closely to the physics in a way that you can hear and feel every piece of torn flesh and shattered bone as you destroy the forces of hell.
There’s also a lot of variation to the sound effects, so if you fight large hordes of the same type of enemy, you never notice any repetition throughout the entire game.
The voice acting was executed well all the way down to lowliest support characters. As you interact with NPC’s or just walk by, there’s always a constant vocal ambience that makes the world feel alive. Normally, a lot of game companies would have quality voice acting for the main cast, and the support cast would sound fake, over-dramatic, or out of character. Diablo 3’s voice acting stays true to its form without any mistakes to deter from its quality.
Diablo 3’s control scheme is very approachable and easy to execute for veterans and new comers alike. Heal potions are bound to “Q”. Abilities are bound to a quick keys 1-4, and your resource gathering / resource spending abilities you mainly use can be bound to your mouse buttons. All of these features are of course interchangeable on the fly.
At first, I wasn’t sure if I liked Diablo 3’s open change customization, but after beating the game, I think it’s vastly superior to the previous titles. Rather than leveling up and dropping skill points to forcibly commit yourself to certain abilities / techniques, Diablo 3 lets you constantly revise your tactics and style of play on the fly to overcome whatever situation you’re facing.
Admittedly, through act 1 I didn’t customize my barbarian much because I found a one-two punch combo of skills I liked, and I was able to plow through the whole thing. However, from Act 2 through the end of the game, you must use different skills and techniques to avoid getting killed instantly. As you level up, skill runes unlock for active / passive abilities to tailor your character as you see fit. This means that you could constantly switch skills, but that there are also multiple variations of each skill that may change along with your personal preference / play style.
Example: Barbarian Build
Here’s a very detailed example of how I approached building my character with both gear and skills to get the play style that worked for me.
Gear: I chose to dual-wield through the entire game, but once I got to act 2, my barbarian just couldn’t take the damage and was dying too much, so I had to modify my approach. I focused on using gear that gave me health regeneration, health gained per hit, and health gained per kill. Although this gear caused me to sacrifice some strength attributes that lowered my attack and defense, I was able to find a way to constantly replenish my life without have to use a potion and run away.
Skill Combinations: I chose to make an AOE / Hit and Run style of barbarian that I didn’t think would make sense at first, but ended up being my most effective play style. I started off with using cleave from act 2 thru act 4 to damage as many enemies at once as possible. Then, I used an AOE spin slash technique that only activates as a counter. With a rune mod, this skill does higher damage and auto leeches health in addition to my life style gear strategy. Then, I use a ground stomp / stun technique that with a rune mod pulls all the enemies towards me. This allows me to cleave a lot of enemies at once, and I can simultaneously use a spin cut to recover my health to max.
For situations where I’m getting rushed by champions or hard to beat enemies, I have a ground lava / AOE technique that use tic damage to quickly drain an enemies’ life in addition to my attacks. With a rune mod, I can run around and create additional AOE ground pools of damage as I take each step. To finish my hit and run build, I use a seismic wave attack that has a lot of distance and cone type AOE to damage large groups of enemies from a distance. With a rune mod, I can do the same amount of damage, and I can AOE stun lock the enemies as well.
This is just one of many infinite combinations you can use to beat Diablo 3. Originally, I thought I could just use the barbarian to bull rush through the game. There are techniques to support that type of play style, but I ended up adapting to adversity and using this play style to crush the game.
Pacing / Difficulty
Another thing I really liked about Diablo 3 is that the game always felt challenging enough, but not in a way that was ridiculous while playing through normal mode. I’m sure that as I play through nightmare, hell, and inferno that this perspective would change. Diablo 3 actually requires skill, planning, and effort to defeat the bosses and many fights where you are quickly overwhelmed by enemies and champions.
Throughout my first trip through, I didn’t die much in Act 1. The difficultly spiked a little sharper in Act 2, and progressively seemed a little less difficult through Acts 3 and 4 with the exception of the boss fights. Never once did I feel the game was too easy causing me to lose interest. There’s a few times where a boss handed my ass to me in seconds and I was stunned, but that just meant I had to figure out a strategy to beat them rather than just rush in like a fool and outlast them in a straight up fight.
As a person that’s been gaming for over 30 years, I have become increasingly jaded and unwilling to like or care about most games. Diablo 3 is one of the few games I’ve played in years that could suck me into want to playing it for 7+ hours a day in one sitting and actually care. Although beating the game in just 26 hours in not as lengthy of an experience as I would like, I can definitely appreciate the fact that I’d rather play a very high quality shorter game as opposed to a superficially extended lower quality game.
This leads me to my single criticism of the very design of Diablo games themselves. For the amount of time Blizzard spent to add monsters, abilities, stats, and the 3 additional difficulty modes to hunt for better gear, I don’t particularly care about that. If you think about a game, favorite food, or favorite movie, there’s something called the “Law of Diminishing Returns”.
After experiencing Diablo 3 in all its glory and splendor, I’ve appreciated the game for what it is, and I’m ready to move on. Without more story to look forward to, this game becomes more of a grind simulation than a fresh experience. If I had my way, I would have preferred a game that was 10-15 hours longer with 1-2 more acts over being asked to replay the game through 4 difficulty modes multiplied times 5 characters. I get that more content will eventually be on the way in the form of a 1 act at a time expansion. Unfortunately, at the pace Blizzard releases content, we’ll all have to probably wait a minimum of 3-5 years to experience it.
If I had to keep playing, it would be to try out this original idea of potentially making money off virtual items once the cash auction house goes live. This attempt by Blizzard to appeal to my sense of greed has motivated me to literally save every rare item I’ve found in the game to see if any real money can be made. After looking at what the gold auction house has already become, I do have my reservations.
My primary concern is the lack of simplistic functionality I would expect from an auction house system similar to WoW. At the very least, I want to be able to type in the name of an item or shift click the item into a text field to see what it sells for before setting up an auction. As of now, you can attempt to search items by category, level, and secondary stats, but it’s not stable yet. Sometimes when you input search criteria, the auction house search buttons grey out, and you have to tab in and out with other auction tabs to re-enable your search. Sometimes when you use search criteria it may not find an item, but the auction house randomly seems to disable itself, and resetting your search sometimes doesn’t work. Sometimes you have to exit and reopen the auction house entirely just to use it correctly.
The functionality may be buggy, but there’s one other factor that I don’t like at all. Once you create an auction, you can’t cancel it. So, if you accidently price something for too much, and you used up your 10 slots, you can’t reset your auctions or sell anything else until a 48 hour window as expired. This caused me to have space management issues with my bank during game play to the point I had to level another alt just to make them equip low-level rare gear to free up space.
I understand that people could always cancel and setup new auctions to constantly undercut everyone in price, so they don’t allow this. However, for the virtual gold store, this should be allowed. In the cash store, this limitation makes sense.
My last concern about trying to make real money in Diablo 3 is the glut of items already on the market versus the value in gold. If some rare items are being sold for 50k-100k, that’s a very difficult amount of money to make just playing the game. What is the cash offset? Does this mean if I go on the cash auction that there will be 100+ auctions for that one legendary sword that started with an opening bid of $10, but 50 auctions later it’s all the way down to 25 cents?
I have a feeling that whoever seriously wants to play this game to make money has a narrow 1 to 3 month window to sell to the unsuspecting masses. After millions of players have maxed their characters out at level 60, the market will be so saturated that there won’t be any real money left to be made. The fact that Diablo 3 doesn’t use a “Bind on Equip” system for its items just means everyone can use everything at all times, repair, and still sell the item on the auction house. This feature will further saturate the value of all items at a rapid pace.
Diablo 3 is one of those few, rare, truly polished gems of a game that only come out every so often. You owe it to yourself to play and experience this game for yourself. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. If you’re new to the Diablo series, playing this game from start to finish will still be enjoyable and easy to follow. Aside from the initial launch technical issues from the first 3 days, Blizzard has already made the solo and multiplayer experience as interruption free as possible. In the future, PVP will be eventually introduced. Over the next month, the cash auction house should finally be available. With all that being said, let me leave you with a brief recap.
– Is Diablo 3 worth spending your hard earned money on? Yes.
– Does it have high replay value? Depends. The initial campaign is about 26 hours long. The additional modes are for grinding achievements, multiplayer, and gear to sell. If that doesn’t suit you, the game technically isn’t as long as you might want it be.
– Will additional content be released for Diablo 3? At a minimum, Blizzard has a history of releasing at least one expansion for each Diablo game. It’s unknown if Blizzard will release multiple iterations of new story content, level caps, etc similar to World of Warcraft.
– How does the story stack up to Diablo 2? The story is serviceable and exciting at times, but in my opinion, Diablo 3’s main story wasn’t as enjoyable for me this time around. Why? My perception of the level of improvement from Diablo 1 to 2 set very high expectations with improvements to all elements to the game. Diablo 3’s story seems a bit more simplistic and predictable than its previous iteration. Diablo 3’s universe seems like it could be so vast, but the amount of story I wanted to see was much smaller than the expectations I had for this game.
8 / 10
The single most damning thing about this game is certainly the
constant required internet connection and various errors associated
with it from not being able to log in to not being able to list/buy
items on the Auction House. Most irritating, however, is the lag when
playing alone and random disconnects. While somewhat acceptable when
playing with others, lag is the leading cause of my deaths in the game
when playing solo. My second biggest complaint is one of balance. Many
will note how overpowered Wizards and Demon Hunters are while
Barbarians seem to be the weakest class in the game. I do not deduct
from the score for this issue, though, as the weakness of this class
did not stop me from having fun playing it and, in fact, encourages
playing again as another class, which I highly recommend doing no
matter what to get a more full experience from the game. And it is a
wonderful experience playing it. *click* *click* *click*