Diablo 3 is a AAA game released for the PC and Mac by Blizzard Entertainment. The previous Diablo games are generally well regarded as quality hack n' slash adventure games. A long time in development, no doubt due to World of Warcraft's success, Diablo 3's release comes with very high expectations due to its groundbreaking forebearers. Have Blizzard put out another successful game?
Blizzard has always released high quality and, due to long development cycle, very well polished games. Diablo 3 bears all the hallmarks of a quality Blizzard offering. Unfortunately, Diablo 3 features an online MMO style encapsulation that detracts from the enjoyment of the game, especially the single player experience. No connection to the Internet means no Diablo 3. You will encounter this always online MMO shell every time you start the game.
Starting the game involves creating a character, you have a choice of witch doctor, barbarian, wizard, monk and demon hunter. Classes are split between melee and ranged variations, each has a unique skill and rune empowerment system. You also have the option of both male and female characters of any class; an option that is severely lacking in most games. Assign yourself a family friendly name, as anything rude, racist or lewd will not be accepted. Diablo 3's cinematics are first rate and are used to tell the game's story, so make sure you stay awhile and listen.
You character's gamestyle will revolve around the skills you select to play and the runes you choose to empower them with, for example, barbarian's have shouts and bash skills, while monk's have mantras and fist based combinations. As you level your character, new skills and runes will be unlocked and you gain some arbitrary attributes and HP. Diablo 3's main character customisation comes through equipment stats and ability bonuses. Having quality equipment enhances your characters skills, damage, resistances and survivability.
As with all Diablo games, equipment is dropped randomly and you might find yourself stuck with the same piece of equipment for half the game. Equipment bought from the auction house is your best chance of finding something adequate for your level and is generally seen as a non-negotiable necessity in hell and above difficulty. NPC equipment vendors, which are adequate during a normal playthrough, are useless for players on harder difficulties. NPC equipment level is based on region and not player level, so you could be level 55 while NPCs still vend poor level 40 equipment. When playing, equipment doesn't really start to define your character until the final stages of your first playthrough. Socketed equipment can be further customised with gem stones.
Gameplay is generally fun as you, either solo or multiplayer, smash through demon infested environs. The difficulty of a multiplayer game is increased or decreased according to the number of players present. A solo playthrough on normal is hardly challenging and it's only on nightmare difficulty or above a decent challenge exist. Solo players have the option of a henchmen to help them through the game. Having a NPC buddy adds some flavour and makes difficult opponents and situations even easier. Difficulty levels cannot be skipped, so joining your advanced buddy in hell is not an option. Diablo 3 is split into a series of acts, some which are better than others. Randomly structured levels help replay, but only in a aesthetic sense.
Diablo 3's story, told through cinematics and NPC dialog, is solid. Most of an act's story is a lead into the inevitable boss fight. Needless to say, after your initial playthrough, the story is just a nuisance getting inbetween you and the demons. The story can be skipped, but I find it a hassle that the story and main quest line can never be deviated upon, you will be undertaking the same quests to defeat the same boss monsters each playthrough. The story is definitely a linear, although action packed, experience.
Diablo 3 offers a few unique features including a real money auction house and custom equipment/gem NPCs which need to be invested in. The auction house sits outside the game, some could say tacked on, which allows players to auction their surplus items to other players. The auction house is still being fixed and the real money feature has not yet been implemented. I could only imagine the hoopla if real money was mixed with a buggy implementation. Investment NPCs are a mixed bag too. The gem NPC Covetus Shen, excellently voiced by James Hong, is probably the most memorable character in the game.
Diablo 3 is really a mixed offering. It's a decent hack n' slash adventure and co-op gaming with friends is always fun. Plagued by initial release problems, Diablo 3 still has some major issues that need to be resolved. It's arguable if always being online has hurt Diablo 3 more than it has helped it. I think the auction house will end up being a forever troublesome problem for Blizzard. Eventually, after a series of large updates, the majority of problems will be solved and we will finally have a solid game.
-Stay awhile and listen...