Diablo III is once again set in the dark fantasy world of Sanctuary, a world where demons and angels fight each other for supremacy, with the hapless mortals of the world being caught in between. Twenty years after the events of Diablo II, Deckard Cain is still alive!
Sorry I found that to be the most shocking aspect of the plot. Okay let me start again...
Twenty years after the events of Diablo II, Deckard Cain, last of the Horadrim is in Tristram's old cathedral with his niece Leah (a new character to the series). While studying ancient tomes (as he normally does), Cain discovers that a great evil will beset the world of Sanctuary (again). Unfortunately for Cain, a giant meteorite crashes into the cathedral taking him down into the abyss below. Leah manages to escape and she returns to the town of New Tristram, which is built next to the ruins of the old town. Reminds me of this Monty Python sketch:
Anyway, the player character is a traveller from afar that follows the meteorite's trail to New Tristram where they meet up with Leah. The player agrees to aid Leah in finding Deckard Cain as he is the most knowledgeable person in Sanctuary – at least when it comes to prophecies of doom!
The plot itself is rather so-so especially considering it's so similar to the previous games in some regards, however the world of Sanctuary is so rich with history and culture that I can't in my right mind reduce the score. Each character's story generally follows the same path – this is after all Diablo, a linear hack 'n' slash action RPG! However, just like in Diablo II, there are subtle differences. It's not only the cutscenes that have subtle differences but also how you talk with NPCs. On occasion, NPCs reveal different facts about the world depending on which character class is asking the questions. For example, playing as the monk and talking to a Chinese-like fellow called "Covetous Shen" reveals that in his homeland they too practice polytheism and he tells it using a humourous anecdote. It's not much but it helps immerse you in the world and get a feel of the NPC personalities.
Just like previous Blizzard games, they usually follow the mantra "if it ain't broke, don't fix it". 90% of the gameplay in Diablo III is going to be very familiar for Diablo veterans. Basic attacks are done by clicking with the left mouse while you can assign special skills to the right mouse button. Now you can also assign some special skills to the number keys giving you a greater variety of skills at your disposal. As you level up you can either unlock more skills or improvements to existing skills. For example you may choose to self-heal when you perform an attack or knock the enemy back – this allows your character to specialise. So far, so good.
One aspect that has changed is that you can't just quaff a million health potions as you used to in previous games. Health regenerates every so often as you kill enemies but now potions have a cooldown period which means you're quite vulnerable for those few seconds especially if you're up against hard-to-kill enemies that don't drop much health. Personally, I'm not such a big fan of this system since it usually means you have to surrender some choices with your character build in ensuring they can regenerate health in these situations. i.e. it's more difficult to make a truly offensive build that can survive.
There are multiple difficulty levels in Diablo III, just like previous games. However, once you've finished the first difficulty level (Normal) for those who don't care about loot there's not much incentive to play it on a higher difficulty setting. Even for those wanting loot it's frustrating since drops of good gear is really low. The cynic in me says it's because they want the newly added auction house to be used, meaning you'd need to spend real money in order to acquire good gear. Which is lame.
There are some slip-ups in pronunciation but generally high quality voice actors have been recruited for this game, including the voice-actor-that-has-been-in-almost-everything, Jennifer Hale as Leah; Steve Blum as Zoltun Kulle (another voice-actor that-has-been-in-almost-everything); Claudia Black (known for her role in Stargate SG-1) as Cydaea (one of the bosses); James Hong (known for his role in Big Trouble in Little China) as Covetous Shen; and Michael Gough reprising his role as Deckard Cain.
Blizzard decided to re-use many of the old sound effects from the original Diablo games, which is a nice touch (e.g. the sound effect played when loot drops). They also continued to include hotkey taunts/voices for your character via the numpad (and there are different ones for each class/sex combo :)).
Music is of a high quality and appropriate to the genre. Sure Matt Uelman (the composer for the first two Diablos) isn't aboard and the soundtrack won't be your favourite track in the CD player (or iPod playlist) but just like in Starcraft 2, Blizzard didn't hold back when creating this soundtrack. A live orchestra is employed to give an almost Wagnerian feel to the music instead of the typical creepy guitar music we're used to hearing from the previous games.
Blizzard has once again decided to adopt an isometric viewpoint for Diablo III except a 3D engine is now employed. Animations, just like in Diablo II, are a highlight although there are occasional framerate drops on even modest systems and the character models tend to have a low polygon count (although you never look at them close-up unless on the character selection screen anyway).
The Normal difficulty campaign (if you're not rushing) will take you about 20 hours to complete. Once you've completed it the first time, there's basically two ways to replay Diablo III: either playing the game again with a different class or playing again on a higher difficulty. The former is actually more appealing to me as at the very least you can experience some (subtle) differences in the storyline as you're playing with a different character and slightly different conversations take place with NPCs. The latter option requires you playing the whole game again with poor quality equipment and much harder enemies. Sure, for those who like the challenge and the ability to boast, it's great – until you discover how much time is required to "farm" for good enough gear. Unless you use the Auction House of course...
Anyway, I haven't replayed Diablo III since the few weeks shortly after it was released. The only incentive I now have of playing is if a friend wants to go through the campaign again – and that's about it.
Besides network teething problems when the game was originally released, the game is actually fairly polished. However, this is to be expected considering the formula hasn't really changed much, all Blizzard have done is refined it. However, I have started to receive several annoying emails in the past few months to do with apparent security issues.
Even though I haven't really played Diablo in the past few months, I've been accused by Battle.Net several times of spamming and my account is continuously suspended as a result. Sometimes I'm threatened that my account will be deleted if the spamming continues. While the chances of someone having taken over my account is possible it's very unlikely. Even after changing my password each time (with passwords identified as "strong" by Battle.Net) the emails continue – which is pretty annoying. While it's good that Battle.Net is taking security seriously they don't give much avenue for the player to prevent the flood of annoying emails (besides closing your Battle.Net account for good I suspect). It also leads me to believe that Battle.Net may be identifying a lot of false positives since sometimes accounts are suspended simply for "suspicious behaviour" without really mentioning what specifically prompted the suspension in the first place. Anyway I've changed e-mail address so I'll see if that works.
Score – 7/10It's really hard to fault Diablo III as 90% of the game has stayed true to the exact same formula used in Diablo and Diablo II. While playing the game through the first time was a blast it remains to be seen if the game will have the longevity that made its predecessors legendary.
If you want to get the game, you can get it off Battle.Net.
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