The lights are on
Power Member - Level 10
I invested thousands of hours in Diablo and Diablo 2. That's not a typo, and it's not an exaggeration. Thousands of hours. I've logged more time in this series than in most other games combined. I've written stories in this world, created databases to help make leveling and loot finding more efficient, and written programs to manage my inventories and stats. It's safe to say I am an expert on the subject of Blizzard's forays into fiery real estate.
That's not to say I can give any better impressions than anyone else that played the beta. On the contrary, I'm likely to be much more or less forgiving than most gamers. But I can speak on one aspect of the new game with absolute authority, and that is how it adheres to the Diablo formula. And it is from this perspective that I will likely spend the majority of my time today.
Before I get started, I must state that my computer is seven years old, and is therefore the equivalent of a steaming pile of horse manure. That said, I was still able to install the game and run it at slightly better than the lowest graphical settings. It was good enough to get a feel for the game, but certainly no real impression of the animations or particle and lighting effects. So I won't be critiquing its look, except to say I think it looks great. Instead, I'll be focusing on how it feels. In other words, does this game stand worthy of the title of Diablo III?
As you can see, Diablo has retained its basic user interface from 15 years ago, and why not? Blizzard basically pioneered this style, and it still works just as well today as it did back then. It has evolved into a more World of Warcraft style of managing skills, but that's a good thing. Nothing to complain about here.
The mouse is still the primary means of interacting with the world, and it's better at its job than it ever has been. Subtle changes have made combat more efficient than in past iterations, like the fact that holding the left mouse button over an enemy seamlessly transfers the same action to any other enemy that overlaps the cursor position when that creature dies, rather than sending your glass-jawed wizard into the midst of a throng of bloodthirsty demons. Back in the day, I made extensive use of my mouse wheel to facilitate quick skill changes, but thanks to the new skillbar never found the need to try it. In fact, I'm not even sure if it would do anything if I did.
Though I can't really complain about the graphics overall thanks to my woefully underpowered hardware, I can talk about the graphics in general. Blizzard built D3 on a new engine, though it basically looks almost identical to the engines they used for Warcraft III and Starcraft II. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but in all honesty it appears a bit dated to me. Not surprising, really, seeing as how they started developing this game ten years ago. Still, I expected more.
One thing I really did like is the ability to zoom in to about half the scale of normal. This is great for seeing details for things like the Skeleton King's resurrection, but doesn't seem to be practical for standard combat. However, it's possible that my lack of resolution was preventing me from using that feature to its fullest potential.
The sound is standard fare for a Blizzard game. Suitable and moody music in the background. Nice sound design for spells and abilities (the rapid fire in particular brings a smile to my face every time). And the voice acting...well, let's just say that it's there. I don't know if Blizzard has intentionally amped the cheese level in each iteration, but the characters speak in dramatic tones using ridiculous accents. The comical Scottish brogue blacksmith is back, as is the ever-more melodramatic Deckard Cain, whose delivery sometimes makes me cringe (he says the word evil as if it were an Austin Powers game, like "EEE-vil!"). Again, this may be intentional, as it is equal parts amusing and annoying, so it's tough to truly complain.
The RPG aspects of the game are a seriously mixed bag for me. I am accustomed to having to plan my progression to the Nth degree in Diablo 2, but here everything simply opens up as you level. There are no stats to assign, no decisions to make on how to spend skill points, and no consequences to any of it. Skills are simply there for the using, and the only control you have is which ones to assign to active slots at any given moment. To be fair, I don't hate this new streamlined level system. The remorse that was present in Diablo 2 when you realized you'd wasted way too many skill points in Teeth won't happen here, and in a way that's a good thing. But the days of debating whether an Ice/Fire mage is more effective than a Lightning/Fire mage are gone. Just switch back and forth at will.
I don't really have an issue with not assigning character stats. After all, barbarians need strength and wizards need intelligence. Anyone who's ever played an RPG understands that. But if feels weird to hear the ding and not open up my character sheet to start clicking plus signs. In fact, there is no traditional character sheet in D3, and that's just downright unnatural! Sure, it can be inconvenient in any game in the genre to assign too many points in the wrong place, but there were so many nuances in this system in D2 that it's hard to simply leave them behind. Your stats played a huge role in deciding what equipment your character could make use of, and there were serious tactical decisions in tuning those stats just right. Maybe it's just the purist in me, but this is the part of D3 that bothers me the most. I click the 'C' key all the time and what pops up is the inventory screen, which is downright disconcerting. I expect I'll get used to it, but for now it's a tough pill to swallow.
Not much to say here. Blizzard is the undisputed king of loot-fests, and that doesn't seem to have changed in D3. There's very little to see in the short public beta, but there was enough to get me excited when I found a piece of equipment that was considerably better than what I currently had equipped. The familiar sound effects that have represented specific types of item drops through the years appear to remain intact, and that is a very good thing. There appeared to be no rings in the beta, so I never got to hear the oh-so-iconic "TING" that used to set my excitement meter on fire. But I'm sure it will be there when the time comes.
It looks like the crafting system will basically take the place of gems, charms, and runes from Diablo 2. I have to reserve judgment on it, since there was very little to see of the system in the public beta. I was never really impressed with the rune system in D2, so I can't say I'm sorry to see it go. The mini-game of collecting gemstones to make better ones was omnipresent in the old days, but also took up valuable inventory space and acted more as a distraction. Again, I won't miss it. In regard to charms, I found maybe one out of a hundred to be useful. No loss there.
I guess what I'm saying is that I don't think any part of the old Diablo 2 supplemental items systems will really be missed. It remains to be seen whether the new crafting system in D3 will fare any better, but I remain cautiously optimistic. As for the auction house, I have no opinion one way or the other. I actually sold items on eBay back in the day, so it doesn't particularly bother me that Blizzard is doing the same. I won't be using real money to buy anything, as that just isn't my style. But I may very well put some stuff up for sale periodically.
This is where it's at, right? This is what really matters over everything else. And it is in this area that my opinion as an expert in all things Diablo truly matters. How does it play? Is this what we were all expecting? Does it live up to the hype? Does it, in short, feel like Diablo?
Yes. Yes it does.
There was no hesitation as I crossed paths with my first evil minion. Everything in the game (other than the aforementioned 'C' key) was as natural to me as breathing. The mouse interface improvements were a welcome surprise, fitting seamlessly into my Diablo gameplay experience. The atmosphere, combat, and flow are all pretty much exactly as I expected them to be. Granted, I've only seen a very small slice of the hellish pie, but I very much like what I see. Yes, I have reservations with some of the design decisions. But I don't think they will degrade my enjoyment of the game in any significant way.
Come May 15th, I expect I will be a very happy gamer. A very happy gamer indeed.
i wonder how many times Tyreal will tell me i'm too late...