TL;DR: Diablo III is a game with some excellent class mechanics, voice acting and co-operative play, but is let down by server and online issues, uninspiring plot and boss fights, and an good if not revolutionary performance from everything else. 75-80%
I have emerged.
So i acquired Diablo III over the weekend. Unlike the particularly fanatical people i know and the entire population of Korea i was not waiting at the doors at 5PM (Australia :D) to get Diablo II, and it’s a good thing i did too, because i then got treated to about two days of quality content on 9gag about Error 27 (or 37… the details elude me), but all said i had the disk in hand on saturday and like the majority of buyers settled down to getting into it over the weekend.
So what’s the deal. Well the very first thing you notice about Diablo III is that…. it’s an online game. Don’t let anyone tell you different, i wouldn’t be suprised if Diablo was developed off the same graphics and software architecture as WOW, although with considerably improved graphics. In order to play Diablo you will need an internet connection, that’s a given. This lead to my first REAL problem with the game, before i even got to the gameplay.
“I sense a disturbance in the force… what is this?! My puny weakling avatar is constantly teleporting back to the same spot and the attacks lack animations!… could this be… internet lag?”
Yes yes it can be. Diablo III doesn’t just require an internet connection to run, every action goes through a server. For some one like me running their internet on a USB, a hope and a prayer, and living in australia, htis can lead to some… annoying deaths at pivotal moments to embarrassingly weak opponents during a single player campagin. An often unforeseen and uncommented side effect is that Diablo III has no “offline mode” and you can bring in friends to help you at any moment in Co-op. they can literally jump in at any time. If you’re having trouble taking down a boss, then calling in three of your mates might not be the best approach (it does kind of massively buff the monsters and the bosses) but it’s certainly the funnest.
However this brings me to another really annoying part of Diablo. The last major RPG game that was offline that everyone went into “ultimate gamer” mode for was Skyrim, and i can safely say that Skyrim’s graphics are a world apart from Diablo’s. Diablo’s graphics are pretty, clean, slightly cartoonish and retro, and difinately a nice piece of work, offering distinct and clear animations for different spells, but it has the undeniable feel of fantasy MMORPG style graphics that poritise simplicity and functionality over the wow factor. Compared to AC, Skyrim and Crysis, Diablo’s graphics are at best “not a weakpoint.”, especially from all the hype expected for a game that has been in the pipe for more than a decade.
However, i now need to talk about the characters. The first thing you notice is you can’t **** around with how they look. I swear 90% of the appeal of some RPG games is spending an hour getting your character exactly right. Diablo doesn’t give you that option- you are either a male or female character, and your appearance is set. Now this wouldn’t be a problem is you were playing AC for instance, because you have boss like cut scenes and cinimatics to show off your skillz, but in Diablo all the major cinematics (it’s a blizzard games, these things are almost gauranteed to be awesome) focus on the other major NPC characters rather than you. I can see why Blizzard did it since making those high quality cut scenes for each of the 10 different characters would have been… a dedication to say the least. However because you are denied the ability to decide your own appearance and in turn, back ground, you have to rely on blizzard’s exploration of yourself.
In this, Blizzard is shockingly lacking. Not only does the story not focus around you as an individual, but your past begins vague and doesn’t clarify (up to ACT III, and i still have no idea what my background is despite that i’m a monk sent to investigate a falling star). This bit is particularly frustrating. The male monk doesn’t question what he’s doing, doesn’t face any internal struggles or moral choices, in fact doesn’t really have any character developement at all. He’s good because he is, and actually forms the mentor/pillar of faith in the party dynamic. Conversations between him and others reveal more about the others then they do about him, and even the three different companions you can acquire have more detailed characters than your own beloved avatar. Diablo III’s story isn’t actually about the character- it’s about Leah and Tyrael, with the character providing brute strength when needed. In free-world games like every TES game, having no past and the option to create your own character is a part of the game. In games like assasin’s creed, the game follows you so it’s okay not having that chocie. In D III you have no choice what you say or do, and aren’t even that important to the plot besides defeating monsters. That said, Tyrael in particular has an intriguing story (and some awesome cutscenes), and your companions not just have nice lines and quips, but also actively ask and comment on the other ones (another case of superb voice acting), which leads me onto the next point.
On a more positive note, the voice acting is superb- easily one of the best games released in a long time in this regard. Not only is there a massive cast of characters, but there is also a huge collection of historians and vocal “journal entries” that show you visions of Sanctuaries past through their voice. Although it’s what we’ve come to expect from a blizzard game, this definately deserves an award.
Now at this point you’re all thinking- “Okay Forrestal, so you have some cosmetic concerns about the plot and the graphics. Can we move onto the actual gameplay now?”
Now technically the classes aren’t just well done- they’re superbly well done. The five different classes in D3, the Monk, the Demon Hunter, the Wizard, the barbarian and the Witch Doctor all use different resource systems and have very different mechanics and play styles. In aditition each character has a grand total of 6 different abilities at any one time, (left click, right click, 1, 2, 3, 4) of which there are three or four options each, and then each option has 5 runes that subtly modify and enhance the effects. Providing an average of 21 ability options of five runes each, this means that even before items, each class has 105 different distinct abilities per class. The runes themselves are more than straight buffs too- one of my personal favorite is the Fists of Thunder first rune which makes you teleport onto the target on hit- not very useful in PVE, but it has some devious future PVP options, and the others are no less unique or useful. Even better each rune has it’s own easily recognsiable graphic style.
As roles, Barbs and Monks can tank, Demon Hunters are best DPS, with every other class being close behind depending on build, Witch Doctors and Monks are Support, Monks, Witch doctors and Wizards providing CC and AOEs, and Monks and Demon hunters are the best for mobility. You’ll notice that Monks come up a lot there. Although it is the only class i’ve played so far, after extensive review with other players who are playing different classes as wel as a few exhaustive hours spent on wikis confirmed it- no other class has the same verastility as a monk except for perhaps a witch doctor, and they’re squsihy.
A monk’s abilities rest half way between a paladin’s and a cleric’s with plenty of AOE moves thrown in that aren’t in either ones, but also have the the most Hard CC (stuns).
At the moment, the best PVE classes are the Monk (they can tank almost indefinately while dealing subtantial damage against just about anything with the right items and skills) and witch doctors (with correct pet use), Barbs are monks that lack the sustain but have more raw HP to survive burst but have a more localised skillset, while Wizards and Demon hunters rely on companions to tank, and are frequently suspecitble to certain bosses (belial with his unavoidable AOE) and enemy types (teleporters) although the Wizard is more durable than either the WD or Demon hunter in terms of durability.
However we can see clearly why the pvp game types haven’t been released yet. there’s some major structural issues with certain moves and combinations which risk to drastically unbalance the pvp arena game. For example, a certain rune for the monk’s seven sided strike means that each of the 7 strikes has a 25% chance to stun for 7 seconds which means on average 2 or 3 enemy team members get stunned, or just one target gets completely dominated. 7 seconds. that’s more than twice as long as any other stun i’ve found yet. this is of course in addition to 777% weapon damage over… 1 second- which you can’t dodge, (If invisibility negates this or not is unclear, but otherwise if you’re in a large area around the monk you’re going to get hit) in fact while we’re on the topic of SSS, several other versions of this ability are as terrifying. The fifth rune is the standout, which doubles the damage to 1554% of weapon damage. the additonal damage is dealt as an explosion nova that damages nearby opponents, which… dominates tightly grouped enemies. this is no LOL ulti by the way. the CD is 30 seconds, a short time in D3.
So- at the moment for that reason and more very little beats a team of four monks. Monks have mantras which effect the entire team, buffing them drastically, so a team of four monks can have all four mantras running, giving them among other things (dodge chance buffs, super-thronmails for everyone, massive health regeneration, and a general damage buff- and that’s before you add potential runes bonuses to buff them further. If everyone takes SSS and pandemonium then the enemy team runs a serious risk of being stun locked for about 20 seconds straight. Even without the stuns, that team is individually stronger than any other class due to benefitting from each of these four mantras.
Even without all these buffs and certain broken abilities, to put in LOL/DOTA terms, Monks fill the role of tanky DPS, but also have the utlility of a CC support with heals and team buffs.
A monk is a bit like a Wukong/Jarvan/Udyr/Lee Sin with a free soraka/sona/karma thrown in- Oh with a 15 second buffed Kayle/olaf Ult and abit of Ammumu if you so choose.
Then again Blizzard has a habit of making CC more important (see longer) in their games then in other similiar games (anyone who has ever played as or against a rogue will know the feeling).
Finally i’d like to point out that this is all speculation at this point. I wasn’t in the Beta, so i can’t comment intimately on how the pvp actually IS, because like 99.9% of the gaming population i haven’t actually played arena in the Beta. And i don’t know how every class works exactly, or if they have a massively broken move that is on par with SSS 3rd R.
Okay. Now i’ve talked about the Pvp, onto the PvE and the gameplay of the campagin.
It’s Fiercely Linear.
Compared to some other dungeon crawlers i’ve played Diablo III dungeon levels set you up with an goal, and then a dungeon between that goal. Sure there are mini bosses at the end of the ocassional dead end, but unlike in some others where you MUST explore every nook and cranny of this huge maze like dungeon in order to defeat everyone before finally exiting it, You can steam-role through D3 levels without much concern that you’ll miss something important/interesting in the side passages, and getting lost in D3 isn’t just unejoyable- it’s almost impossible.
The actual monsters themselves are well done. Not EXCELLENT though, and we all know what the community expects from blizzard. Monsters have quirks and occasionally you’ll run into some shiny variations that have a special ability and are substantially buffed, and if you do happen to take a few steps off the beaten track you’ll find a glowy yellow/purple mini-boss with ocassionally humorous names, that drop the bread and butter of your magic items.
However, despite from a surprisingly tricky Cannibal in one of the early ACT II levels that had an annoying habit of life-stealing/regenerating all his health back in seconds, these mini-bosses don’t require much strategy or even skill to deal with. Just make sure you’re in the right position and fire off abilities like you normally would- that said, a Monk can do this with just about anyone, a DH or a wizard might need to take a more thoughtful approach to how to deal with a waller or teleporter mini-boss.
However, what about the actual bosses themselves?
Let’s just say they’re not incredibly inspired. Most of the bosses have arbitarily large health bars, an almost pitiful attack speed but high damage, and a collection of generic but powerful moves- they also occasionally take the time to summon a horde of minions to distract you for a couple of seconds at predictable intervals. As a monk, the only real concern for most of these characters is when to hit the heal and to keep clicking the abilities in a set order, with the ocassional tweak to your skills to minimise damage output. They also get markably more easy as the game wears on. The Butcher at least was a challenge- a boss like Pudge’s grand-daddy and a occasionally and radnomly flame spurting arena that forced constant movement. Belial meanwhile started out predictably and ended up being a massive boss that filled the entire screen while using omni-hitting AOES. it just became a matter of clicking in the right order towards the boss in question. Asmodan i actually had to try twice at because right at the end he starts throwing waves of corpses around (don’t ask) so i ended up retreating and then killing him after this move ended.
As a final note don’t expect anything drastic from the plot. The interesting characters and in-game conversations they have which each other, along with the fantastic cinematics is kind of let down by the rather predictable and formulaic nature of the plot. The “twists” are entirely predictable, as stated before hand, the character doesn’t really change or reveal anything about him/herself. Disappointing, but not exactly unexpected.
Now that i’ve spent some 2000 words telling you what i found wrong with it, i can reveal that i do actually love this game. It pisses you off with the slight imperfections, the notices that turn up in the MMO style chat box about the server going down in 30 minutes while in the middle of the single player is infuriating, but the game is ultimately fun, the gameplay ultimately interesting if imperfect, the plot entertaining rather than truly engaging. At the moment it a solid 80%, it’s score carried by the enormously cool characters and abilities invovled, and a soli rather than excellent everywhere else. If it’s score goes up is entirely on how well the pvp is done and how this auction house idea plays out.