Diablo III – Impressions

Platform | Release Date
PC | May 15, 2012
Developed by Blizzard Entertainment
Published by Blizzard Entertainment

The Pitch:

Twenty years have passed since the Prime Evils were defeated and banished from the world of Sanctuary. Now you must return to Tristram and investigate rumors of a fallen star, an omen that the End Times have begun.

I’ve played each installment of the Diablo series on a new PC. My first battle against the Lord of Terror back in 1996 was on my family’s recently purchased Packard Bell desktop. Later, I took up arms against the legions of hell in Diablo 2 on a new gaming rig I managed to build using money from college summer jobs. Now, over a decade later Diablo 3 has arrived and I’ve purchased a new gaming rig after eight years of keeping my old one on life support. I felt justified buying the new system to continue the tradition, since Diablo is one of the few franchises that has the kind of mass appeal to put PC games at the forefront of the conversation. Was my purchase truly justified?

I picked up Diablo 3 weeks after the initial release date so I didn’t experience any of the “Error 37” debacle. I won’t be scrutinizing the requirement of a constant Internet connection beyond saying that A) I don’t agree with it, and B) on a wireless connection I have experienced sporadic lag spikes. That said, it’s definitely a sign of the video game landscape changing since we last saw the Lords of Hell crawl from their wretched pits. I don’t fault Blizzard for wanting control over their game and to limit would-be cheaters, but I feel like this was the wrong way to go about things for a primarily single player experience.

After the incredible opening cutscene I chose my character and a feeling of familiarity washed over me. Part of what has always made Diablo titles great is their simplicity. Blizzard mastered a few fundamental mechanics and put loads of polish on them. For all of its perceived depth, you are still just clicking on monsters until they die and collecting better loot. It’s a game you can play with one hand if necessary. For better or worse, that core is left completely unchanged in Diablo 3 and it feels like stepping into a time machine. It’s a good feeling, rooted in hours of grinding loot in the hopes of getting that vaunted rare drop of equipment you’re looking for. The problem is this type of game play hasn’t held up perfectly over time.

There can be no debate about the quality of the world Blizzard has crafted. Diablo 3’s graphics are beautiful and vibrant. Care has been put into the detail of every last bookshelf and tree stump. The twisted minions of hell are frightening, plentiful, and have myriad gory death animations depending on how you choose to dispatch them. Animations are smooth even when the action gets furious, and it’s all underpinned by an excellent musical score. The entire package is covered in the fine veneer you’ve come to expect from Blizzard.

Game play has also been streamlined. Gone are the days of min-maxing and fretting over builds. Players can simply swap skills as they unlock to create any combination that best suits their play style. Various runes can be assigned to each skill, allowing for even further customization. I really appreciated the flexibility of the new system, which appears to have taken a page from the Guild Wars playbook, since it allowed me more ways to test out all the abilities of my witch doctor and find the ones that worked best in each situation. While some die-hard Diablo fans might take issue with the system, I felt like it made my character feel more accessible without the limitations of locked out skill trees.

Ironically, it was only after I had already beaten Diablo 3 that things started to go wrong. The game’s greatest strength (its core mechanic) has also become its greatest weakness after all these years. While the genre-defining giant slumbered for a decade, so many similar titles flooded the market and I feel like the industry has moved on. This may seem like a strange criticism, but one of Diablo 2’s greatest assets was its replayability. I remember spending hours upon hours with my friends, grinding out loot and farming bosses to get the best drops for our characters. It was the centerpiece of countless LAN parties and late nights on Battle.Net.

I just don’t feel that same je ne sais quoi with Diablo 3. After defeating the final boss (no spoilers here!) I felt very little incentive to go back and try again on Nightmare difficulty or higher. Some are theorizing that it may be due to a higher emphasis on story in this latest installment making the game feel more linear. Or it could be that Diablo 2 was the only game in town of that style and quality when it arrived, and things have changed quite a bit since then. However, the inclusion of achievements and the ever-present lure of co-op play still draws me back in periodically.

For what it’s worth, my gaming habits have changed as well, and even with limited time, I have still enjoyed popping back into the game here and there to work on a second character for an hour at a clip. While Diablo 3 might not have the same mesmerizing, obsession-fueled power of its predecessors, it is still a fantastic game. Blizzard have delivered a high quality product that is definitely worth your time and money, and it certainly has potential replay value packed into it for players who become hopelessly obsessed with getting that next legendary gear drop.

About Ben Daniels

Ben Daniels is Community Manager for Splitkick and co-host of the Rocket Jump podcast. He frequently disseminates misinformation.
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