It was a long time coming, but the mythical day finally arrived: Diablo III was released on May 15 to much fanfare. Over the ensuing weeks, I’ve poured less time than I wanted to into the game, deterred by my inability to sign into the servers and play the game. You must be online at all times and signed into Battle.net in order to play, so when servers crash, even your solo campaign is brought to a grinding halt. In spite of the constant server maintenance, annoying lag, and abrupt changes made to gameplay, I still had plenty of fun. But the question remains: was Diablo III worth the long wait?
Genre: Role-Playing Lootfest
Release Date: May 15, 2012
ESRB Rating: Mature
There’s no doubt that Diablo III is fun to play. Just as with the first two games, it’s a veritable time suck. There’s room here for hundreds of hours of replayability – not just playing your primary character through the game and then through additional difficulties, but also playing through with all the other character types. Even just replaying those characters with different powers and items feels like an entirely different experience. The possibilities are numerous, though certainly not endless.
The introduction does a great job at recapping the first two games, bringing you up to date on what you’ve missed if this is your first game in the series, and offering a refresher to those of you who haven’t played any of the games in years. My first playthrough was with the barbarian – I had so much fun with her in the beta that I decided to keep her through the entire game. You can now play as a male or female in any class, eliminating the typical sexism of having female characters only do magical ranged attacks. I named my tough lady Willa, and we went in for blood – the blood of evil demonspawn, that is. I worked my way through the first Act, leveling up, unlocking powers and runes, and generally being a badass. Your character is included in the cutscenes, which is very cool – her voice and her story became part of Diablo III’s lore. Scattered throughout the game are various audio logs you can collect as well, some of them talking about characters from the older games. Some of those characters even make cameos in this game.
The most obvious change in Diablo III is the new powers and runes system. Instead of having a skill tree that you assign points to as you level, you now have powers that you can unlock. As you level up, the powers gain additional runes that you can also apply to them. But sometimes, the runes you unlock aren’t as good as the ones you already had. For example, the barbarian has a power called Ground Stomp that stuns all of the enemies around her. This is an amazing power, especially when you’re being swarmed by minions. One of the runes you unlock adds in a pull effect, drawing all the stunned enemies closer to you and making it even easier to smash them to bits. The rune after it isn’t as good, and it was then that I realized that the runes don’t stack – I’m not sure why I would think they did stack, but it turns out that they don’t. So I went back to the pull rune and continued to smash, smash, smash.
This may seem far more limiting, but there are many ways that you can mix and match your powers. Your two main powers are assigned to the right and left buttons on the mouse, while the rest are assigned to number keys. Each one has a number of powers that can be assigned to it, each with its own set of runes. But if you have one set of powers that you don’t care for, you can use Elective Mode, which allows you to switch to a different set of powers and assign one of those, allowing you to have more than one active from a single set.
The powers and runes take a bit of getting used to, but once you fall into the familiarity of them, they’re easy to use. I had a deadly combination set up in which I would stun my enemies and then drop a bunch of fire on them, devouring dozens of enemies mercilessly. It was glorious. I also teamed Willa up with the Enchantress, one of three followers you could get – the other two were the Templar and the Scoundrel. While the Templar and Scoundrel are good companions – the former is a good fighter who can heal you, and the latter is a ranged fighter who can give you bonuses to critical hits – the Enchantress’s spells and witty dialog won me over. Here the sexism returns, though – the Templar and the Scoundrel are male, while the Enchantress is female.
As your companion levels, at certain milestones, you get to choose what powers they unlock. My favorite, by far, was the last one I unlocked for the Enchantress, in which she turned your enemies into chickens. This is as hilarious as it sounds, and also works for bosses. We were in the middle of a boss fight, battling him and his minions, and suddenly there were just a bunch of chickens. I couldn’t figure out where he had gone, and suddenly he popped back up again. He was only a chicken for a few seconds, but the fact that she was able to turn him into a chicken at all was pretty impressive.
There are several additions to your base camp – you’ve still got Deckard and other characters around to give you lore, as well as several merchants and your stash. Now you’ve got a healer, and you can go on quests with certain characters to unlock them in the town. Added to your band of merry followers are a smith and a craftsman, so you can build better equipment and combine your gems. You can spend money to train the smith so he can build you better items. And crafting gems also costs money now, which is kind of a bummer. (I miss the Horadric Cube more than I care to admit.)
In fact, many things cost money now. You can expand your stash, but only if you pay a ludicrous amount of money. It’s 100,000 gold pieces to expand it once, and then 200,000 if you want to expand it again. And, of course, there’s the auction house, where you can buy things with your in-game gold pieces, or buy them with actual money – though it doesn’t go live until later this week. This seems completely counterproductive in a game that relies heavily on grabbing loot. Why incorporate a way to avoid one of the main draws of this series? In fact, loot grabbing itself has changed – now, instead of fighting over it in multiplayer with someone else, items drop that only you can see, taking out even more of the challenge. Sure, this makes it less harrowing – especially when you’re playing with people who hog all the loot – but it just seems to dumb the game down.