As you may have heard from the team here at Sumonix, I have been anticipating the launch of Diablo III for quite some time. For the last few months leading up to this release I have been following all the press releases, all the developer diaries and hounding my editor for a crack at reviewing what was easily going to be a candidate for game of the year.
Just how long has the wait been? The last instalment, Diablo II: Lord of Destruction, released as an expansion set in 2001 and probably still had people playing it until a couple of weeks ago. The long wait for Diablo III has been partially due to the Blizzard allocating their resources to World of Warcraft (and its subsequent expansions) as well as Starcraft II. The official announcement came from Blizzard in 2008 that they were working on the third instalment of the classic dungeon crawler.
As the years drew on the frustration grew, was this game EVER going to see the light of day? More importantly, by the time it actually released, would it be already obsolete? Blizzard were so incredibly tight lipped about the release date that false rumours were circulating the game blogs vehemently. When game journalists asked Blizzard directly when they could expect to play D3 the reply was simply “when it’s done”. As much as we all threw our hands in the air at such an audacious statement, coming from Blizzard, that statement had some integrity. A couple of years of playing World of Warcraft had taught me that, every Tuesday night the WoW servers would shut down for scheduled maintenance to ensure smooth running of the game. There is no other developer in the industry so obsessed with getting it right, and they’ll take their sweet time doing it if they have to.
Starry, Starry Night
The first act begins with the Fallen Star, a fiery blaze descending from the sky and crashing through the grand stained glass window of the cathedral in Tristram. Deckard Cain, the most schooled man in Sanctuary and last of the Horadric Mages, plummets down the hole left by the Fallen Star into the labyrinths of the old cathedral. The battle between the High Heavens and the Burning Hells, fought on the mortal realm of Sanctuary, has begun.
It has been prophecised that a lone adventurer will come to the aid of the frightened villagers and make safe the town. You, the hero, have risen from your tribal roots and now seek a greater destiny. Travelling across the lands to New Tristram, you will uncover the mystery of the Fallen Star and uncover the darkness that lies within.
But let’s get real, we all know that the story telling in this game is secondary to two words: PHAT LOOTZ.
But let’s get real, we all know that the story telling in this game is secondary to two words: PHAT LOOTZ. Yes there is more loot than you could ever dream of in this game. You can slap it onto your hero as you find it, break it down into its magical essence for crafting and even make some real life loot in the real money auction house. Blizzard, as the overseers, will of course take a cut for their troubles. But hey, so does eBay.
Click, Click, Click
The Diablo series has always been renowned for its fast action gameplay with ‘stylisation over realism’ being one of Blizzard’s game design fundamentals. Each class has its own set of sub skills with defence abilities, buffs, pet summoning and various knockback attacks. The classes are all completely distinct and the skills trees reflect the unique fighting style of each. Some hardcore fans have complained about this WoW-influenced UI being over-simplified, but I actually preferred it. Spending hours of game time tweaking skill trees and laying out a modded UI is not what Diablo III is about. The coolest thing? You can switch between skills at any time during the game. No costly re-specs or commitment to any one fighting style. Just as your avatar upgrades their armour and weapons as they drop, you can try out new skills as you level up and re-activate older skills as you qualify for rune bonuses. This is particularly useful as you head into a boss battle, instead of the explosive area-of-effect skill you can choose one that snares or deals damage over time to focus damage on your boss target. Bring the pain, Azmodan!
The Dark Arts
The art design of Diablo III went through a a number of iterations during development with fans stating they wanted a more dark and scary feel as opposed to the colourful environments reminiscent of WoW. Blizzard stuck to their guns for the most part with the theme of a ‘Dark Gothic Fantasy’ and as you move through the different acts the environments become more saturated and more colourful. They also retained the classic isometric view, an essential foundation of the Diablo experience.
What players may not realise is how efficient the construction of this 2.5 dimensional environment is. With such a low polygon cost the screen can get loaded with several heroes performing devastating damage to an army of monsters with no hiccups in the animations, provided your PC’s graphics capability is accurate and your internet connection is up to scratch. Watching the monsters get launched into the stratosphere by the Barbarian’s forceful blows and seeing bosses explode into a climactic fountain of loot never gets old. The narrative scenes are just as impressive. The intro cinematic especially, was mind blowing.
The soundtrack of Diablo III was composed by a formidable team of seven musicians and features symphony orchestras, twangy guitars and dark ebbs that conjure up images of Arabian Nights invaded by a demon overlord. Was it catchy? In parts. But after recently adding the masterpiece indie soundtracks of Bastion (Darren Korb) and Superbrothers: Sword and Sworcery EP (Jim Guthrie) to my playlist, I think I’ll pass on the Diablo III offering on iTunes. With regards to sound effects, however, there are no disappointments. Shrieks as you cleave imps and goblins , roars from the heroes as they devastate the legions, even the projectile vomiting of the wretched mothers sounds genuine.
Crafted In The Fires Of Hell
I know many are reading this review wondering when I’m going to get to the controversial issue of the game’s DRM and its vexatious need for a constant internet connection to play. In all honesty, I began playing on the night after the launch and have had little to no problems staying connected to the North American servers. Unfortunately, many were not as lucky (including the Sumonix website editor Illiya- sorry Illiya!) and members of a stung fanbase are staging a Mass Effect 3 style revolt to overthrow the oppressors. I’m not going to begin preaching about gamer entitlement against publisher heavy handedness in this review, but to to summarise – the connection to battle.net makes it easier than ever to log in and play with friends, it boots cheaters and pirates and, whether players like it or not, this will soon be the norm for the gaming industry. I don’t necessarily endorse it, it’s more I’m just coming to terms with the reality of the situation. If you boycott Diablo III over this issue, power to ya. But it’s your loss.
A review code of Diablo III was provided courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment.
Demon’s Got Soul
After all the years of anticipation, does Diablo III live up to its expectations? If you look at the game for what it is – a fast paced, ass kicking adventure with all shiny armour and pointy sticks to keep you entertained for the countless hours you are willing to throw at it, then you won’t be disappointed. If you are anti-DRM activist bent on having the game designed your way, then there are plenty of other games out there for you to enjoy.