Diablo II was launched almost 13 years ago, and the Lord of Destruction expansion was 11 years ago. In that time, countless loot-based action RPGs have been released, but few have come close to generating the pure, unadulterated loot lust caused by the original.
Diablo III is here to set the standard again, but at its core, not a whole lot has changed. You still click on monsters until they die, and you are still compelled forward more by the ravenous need for new gear than to see what happens next in the story.
Blizzard has done a bit of streamlining. You no longer need to buy identify scrolls to find out the stats on that rare item you acquire. Enemies now occasionally drop health globes, so you aren’t as dependent on potions as you once were. No scroll is needed to get back to town; you can pop open a portal whenever you like. These changes may seem small, but they are very deliberate attempts to make sure you stay in the action and get back to the action as soon as possible. The end result is less time doing things that can be a chore, and more time just having fun.
The biggest change is probably in the skill system. Again, Blizzard has streamlined the process. Gone are the branching trees of skills. You now have a core set of skills with augmentations that unlock as you level up. This might seem like a “dumbing down” to some, but the end result is that you can respec your character on a whim, and you can make sure that you have the right skills for your next encounter or for who you are playing coop with.
Combat remains very satisfying. The customary Blizzard polish is there, and every spell, special attack and punch are animated gloriously. The encounters are exquisitely balanced, especially on your second and third playthrough, so you will need to utilize all of your tools to stay alive.
Surprisingly the loot itself is one of the aspects of the game that has left me a bit confused. There are three ways to acquire loot in the game. You can find it when defeating enemies, you can craft your own, or you can buy your hearts desire in the auction house with either in-game coin or real-ass money. Because you can find pretty much exactly what you want (with the exact stat increases and other bonuses) in the auction house at reasonable prices, the loot you find in game is almost always demoted to stuff that you will dump in the auction house yourself for a few thousand gold.
The auction house is a fun meta game itself, and I have found myself logging into Diablo III just to check on my auctions or to see what new trinkets are for sale. I do feel like it drains some of the excitement out of getting drops on at least the normal and nightmare difficulty levels. And crafting is just an absolute waste.
Diablo III is at its absolute best when playing with friends. PVP isn’t available at the time of this writing, but will be available in the future as a free patch. Right now, coop is where it is at. Dropping into a friend’s game is seamless, as long as they haven’t gotten to the next difficulty level ahead of you. Diablo III’s combat shines even brighter when you are in a group with each taking on different roles. Each player gets their own unique loot drops, so there is never any squabbling over who gets what. In fact, I’ve usually found that other players tend to offer up items that would be useful for their group members.
The fabulous coop and social integration has one very real drawback. Diablo III requires that you are always connected to the internet to play. Most people will only rarely have an issue with this, but there will come a time that your internet will go down, or the servers will be having issues, and this will cause your single player game to be unplayable. Personally, I ride a bus most days for over an hour, and I have a lovely Macbook Pro that runs Diablo III like a champ. I would love to play the game on my ride to the office, but it just isn’t an option for me, and that is frustrating.
With Diablo III, Blizzard has shown once again why they are a dominant force in PC gaming. Because they have been so successful, they are allowed to go a full decade between releasing new iterations of a franchise. This isn’t wasted time though – Diablo III has been polished and balanced and play tested to near perfection. There is so much replayability that you will be happy playing it for years to come.
This review is based on a retail version of Diablo III provided by Activision/Blizzard. It is a PC exclusive.