Diablo 3 Review
Game: Diablo 3
Publisher: Blizzard Entertainment
Developer: Blizzard Entertainment
Genre: Action RPG
What's Hot: Clicking, customizable skills, massive replayability
What's Not: Always-online DRM, repetitive dialogue, minor interface complaints
Reviewing Diablo 3 is a daunting task. How can I sort through the results of over a decade of anticipation, much less shed my own personal biases regarding Blizzard and the Diablo series? I'm not even sure what's important to me anymore. Do I care whether the classes are balanced? There's plenty of time to tweak things still before PVP is unleashed. What about the story? Does it matter whether it makes a lick of sense? Or am I happy simply because there's always more loot to find, another skill to unlock, another thing to click?
The short answer is no, I don't care that Diablo 3 is flawed, and yes, I am happy just having something to click. More than anything else, I think, Diablo 3 is about clicking. The loot never stops flowing, the cut scenes look better than any actual CG film ever made, and there are countless ways to personalize your characters. But you're really in it for the clicking. Click on enemies, click on allies, click on rare items to reveal their properties (hooray for no more Scrolls of Identify!). Click a portal to travel somewhere new. Click a button and all your equipment is magically repaired. Click a grave to raise your friends from the dead.
I spent some time playing Diablo 3 with a friend in the same room, and he literally never stopped clicking. You can hold the mouse button down to move constantly in any direction, but he chose to click continuously instead. When I asked him about it, he said he just likes to click. He bought Diablo 3 at launch. I imagine he has to replace his mouse fairly often—he might even have several in reserve.
When you're not clicking, it's because you're dead, or you're watching a cut scene. And the only reason you're not clicking when you're dead is that for some reason you can't go through menus to examine your loot or skills loadout while you're waiting to be resurrected by your friends. That's one of Diablo 3's flaws. As far as the cut scenes, well, you'll be skipping those after the first or second time anyway so you can get back to clicking faster.
Diablo 3 tells you about a very evil demon conspiring to become the most evil demon, and the angels, mortals and prophesied heros trying to stop him from doing so. This story spans four acts, three of which are very long and one of which (the final one) is very short. It's extremely linear, but the replay value is astounding, even without PVP. And some players will no doubt view the game's current offerings as simply what they have to play through to get their characters ready for PVP.
The view is isometric, the voice acting is decent but the dialogue is repetitive (and previous Diablos' walls of text are mercifully absent), and the game resembles a grittier version of World of Warcraft. Not very many people who worked on the first two Diablo games are still hanging around Blizzard these days, which may explain why many of the game's core mechanics stray so far from the originals. That also may explain why it took so long to create, because Diablo 3 certainly doesn't feel like a game that was in development for twelve years. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but it may be a surprising one if your anticipation has increased exponentially with each year the game hasn't been released.
We can argue the merits of this system versus that, old versus new, this class versus that, until Heaven itself is conquered. Characters' main attributes have been mainstreamed into the recognizable Strength, Dexterity, Intelligence, and Vitality. The Amazon, Necromancer, Sorcerer and Paladin are gone, replace by the Demon Hunter, Witch Doctor, Wizard, and Monk (respectively). You'll want to try them all out; I settled on the Wizard's long-range and massive damage output, relying on more robust Monks and Barbarians to absorb the hits my Wiz couldn't handle (he even sported the passive skill "Glass Cannon").
The main thing is that it works, and it feels like a complete system. As I previously said, the elimination of Scrolls of Identify (and Town Portal scrolls—you can warp to town without any special items), while providing one less thing to click, is a fantastic change. After all, it frees up inventory slots, which ultimately gives you more things to click on. Gold is picked up automatically when your character moves over it, eliminating yet more mundane clicking in favor of better pacing and more meaningful clicks in general. Magic users are no longer limited to weapons that make sense for them, so a mace with higher attack than a wand will be a better choice for your Witch Doctor. That's not a good or a bad change; it's just a change.
Most of my complaints sound silly when I say them out loud. Why do all these powerful characters stand around in town while I save the world? Why can't I interact with the game when my map is pulled up? Why do I have to be online to play a single-player game? Okay, that last one isn't silly, even though playing in co-op is practically a requirement for having fun in Diablo 3. The game is built that way (each player even gets their own personal loot drops), and it's not like you have much of a choice, anyway.
Diablo 3 is not going to usher in some second golden age of dungeon crawlers. It brings virtually nothing new to the table, besides the most obnoxious DRM ever perpetrated on paying customers (you already know whether this is a deal-breaker for you) and a slightly innovative skill-tweaking system known as "runes". Runes allow you to turn lightning spells into fire spells, or area attacks into precision attacks, or a thousand other things. Like skills themselves, they can be changed at practically any time (except when you're dead). They are superb.
But the main difference between Diablo 3 and its predecessors is something that lead gameplay designer Kevin Martens accurately described to me in a recent interview, and it's something that Blizzard has become very good at in the last decade. The game is incredibly accessible, but it's also incredibly deep. It's the warm shore of the Pacific Ocean, with a teeming coral reef 30 feet below the surface. A reef made up of hideous demons and, when PVP is released, ruthless, hardcore players, of course. But they will find it beautiful, while casual fans and curious semi-gamers will be perfectly content splashing around in the shallows. As a casual fan, I feel like I'm not even beginning to experience the game's depths, but that's fine with me; there's plenty to see up here on the surface.