This has certainly been the elephant in the room for me since the announcement of the World of Warcraft year pass, as the promise of a free copy of Diablo 3 as part of the deal was often part of my friend’s arguments that I should make the move back to WoW. They haven’t been successful, but that’s a whole different kettle of fish. What they have succeeded in however is getting me to buy and play Diablo 3.
So before I tell you why I’ve been avoided it, let’s first examine what I think of it now.
The important thing about any Diablo game is that it is not a story-driven game. I’m sure I’m likely to get a lot of negativity towards me for saying this, but the Diablo series is not one to put story before having a good time. With this in mind a lot of the reviews I’ve seen tend to gloss over this subject. I’m not going to be doing that.
The premise of the Diablo series is pretty simple. There’s a planet, much like a medieval Earth except this one is called Sanctuary. Similar to the Christian tradition, there are two sets of ethereal beings, each with designs on Earth. The Angels in Heaven tend towards leaving Sanctuary alone, with the exception of Tyrael, the character’s link to this faction. The Demons in Hell however have no plans to ignore the world, which they see as a useful staging ground for their eventual war on Heaven. Sounds pretty much like your typical angels vs demons showdown, right?
The titular Diablo is one such villain, and in fact he’s the mega-villain of the entire series as well. Though the youngest of the greater evils, he is seemingly the most resilient, and where his brothers find themselves tangled in their own plots, Diablo smashes through.
Diablo 3 picks up about twenty years after the end of Diablo 2. The player character (cutscenes imply the story may vary slightly depending on class) is newly arrived in New Tristram and has come to investigate a fallen star. After fighting through the undead they meeting with Deckard Cain (another staple of the Diablo series) and his adopted daughter Leah.
I won’t go too deeply into the plot because it would be far too easy to give away spoilers, especially since there’s not a lot of plot available. What I will say though is that the game spirals into an all out struggle against the lesser evils Belial and Azmodan, and that very little is as it seems.
Personally, as someone fresh to the Diablo franchise I enjoyed the story. I think it helped greatly that the cgi movies really are beautifully crafted. As I said over Skype to my friend “Why are they not making a movie?” Blizzard’s old-fashioned ‘story by movies’ approach is always a rewarding and enjoyable approach. I am a big fan of games such as Half-Life that attempt to tell the story while you’re playing it, but Blizzard’s movie cutscenes have a timeless charm that make you want to sit and watch them time and again even once the game is over.
That said, much of the portrayal of story ingame is at times pretty dire. There’s a scene in Act 3 that comes out of nowhere, with no build-up at all and is less shocking than it is confusing. Having said that, there are also some pretty awesome ingame moments through Act 2 which are compelling and enjoyable.
Overall I would say that the plot of Diablo 3 is not entirely memorable, but it is still enjoyable… and yes, the cutscenes make it all worthwhile.
This is the aspect that the Diablo series gains such a following for. Diablo games are intended to be played time and time again. Diablo 2 in particular is still played today, and has a considerable following of its own. Random dungeons, random monsters, random loot and random encounters mean that you could easily run the game a hundred times and never get the exact same things happen. This may lead to an element of farming, such as is omnipresent in WoW, but with the addition of an auction house with which to buy items from other players, it is simplified considerably.
There are five classes in Diablo 3, monk, barbarian, witch doctor, demon hunter and wizard, and each one of these play entirely different to one another. Which greatly simplified, each class has an array of awesome abilities that all feel unique and fun. It’s a great feeling to play with a friend, which you can via co-op mode, and compare the new abilities you both gain. In addition to this they all have a unique and interesting style. My witch doctor for example looks like a mystical voodoo priestess, with all the iconography and style one might expect from that.
Diablo 3 is a game that rewards you for experimenting and never punishes you. Some bosses and monsters won’t like your approach, but rather than make this cripplingly obvious you are given a lot of easy to choose and easy to change (even while in combat) abilities that you can turn against your enemy. In addition to these abilities you gain runes which change them to make them work a bit differently. Using my class choice as an example, the witch doctor gains an ability that causes explosive toads to spawn in front of her in an arc (yes, you read that right). A rune for this ability will allow you to spawn just one toad which can swallow an enemy whole.
Items in Diablo 3 are pretty intuitive too. When you start out you’ll be collecting everything from grey items straight through to rares. After a while it will become apparent that a grey or white item will never be more useful than a blue item, and you’ll continue to trade up. Games like Diablo are always about improving your character, so a lot of these items drop but not all of them will be useful. As you progress you will likely find that less and less of these items actually improve your character, and these can be sold to merchants, salvaged for craftable items, or sold to other players.
So going back to the auction house, the thing I found to be really great about this system is that in Diablo 3 your armour is not bound to you. You may, if you so wish, discard armour you have worn without penalty. You can sell it to a vendor, pass it to a friend, keep it for an alt or indeed sell it for gold that might then fund your next upgrade. It’s a very user-friendly system.
In fact a lot of Diablo 3 seems to have been made with the users in mind. No longer do you require town portal scrolls or scrolls to identify random items. You can now do this entirely on your own, with no hassle and no punishment. In fact it becomes more viable to skip out of a dungeon when your bags are full to sell your loot, repair, and continue onwards.
Co-operative gameplay is intuitive too. You can easily drop in on a game with friends or random players, and when you do mobs and bosses will become that much more difficult, scaling on the number of players in the group. When those players leave however the mobs will decrease in power, meaning that you are never put in a tight spot because of someone leaving, and also that bosses are perhaps easier when played alone, thus adding in a new level of difficulty.
Diablo 3 is a very good game. It has learnt from previous games and made some very smart changes that open it up to a broader market. Long-time fans of the series may be disappointed by the shortness of the game, but the promise of new expansions should make Diablo 3 a game that people want to come back to.
I would give this game an 8/10, but it could easily have been a 9 if more attention had been given to the story, and more challenging content awarded to players from the start.
So why did I swear I’d never play it?
This probably has quite a lot to do with my internal feud with Blizzard Entertainment. We’ve had our ups and downs, our good moments and our bads, but for the most part the negativity and cynicism I experienced during my time playing World of Warcraft made me very wary around Blizzard games. Diablo, as a series, never appealled to me. The story seemed kind of plain and empty when compared to the highly populated world of Azeroth. There are demons, there are angels, and there are normal people. Having played it, I realise something important: that’s kind of the point.
Dark Fantasy, or at least the Dark Fantasy that I like tends to focus a lot more on the human element than throwing in too many different races. That’s where WoW’s waters are diluted by having too many factions running around that they don’t have time to interact. When the supernatural element feels world destroyingly powerful, and I mean that in both a literal and poetic sense, then you have a compelling villain.
But I digress… the other key reason was the fact that the Diablo series has a reputation for being a time sink, with the end goal being repetitive play to farm items. I farmed a lot in WoW. I farmed for gold, for loot, for crafting items, for achievements, for rare items… I did a lot of farming. Looking back, I did too much, and that makes me feel uneasy about doing it again. Diablo 3, on the surface at least, does not feel like a grind. It feels like a progression from the normal difficulty through to the hardest.
Yes you do the same content, yes it is all about improving your character, but the rapidly increasing difficulty and the flexibility of gameplay makes it more than just a grindfest. At least… pre-Inferno Act II.
So that’s why I swore I’d never play Diablo 3. What do you guys think?