It has been 12 years since the last release in the Diablo series, and even after a decade of gaming innovation Diablo 2 still stands tall as the king of the dungeon crawler genre. Something about its simple point and click gameplay and ridiculous amounts of loot struck a chord with gamers, and never stopped strumming it. Whether you played the game 10 years ago, or last month, it feels fun and fresh. Blizzard really knew what they were doing, and I’m happy to report that they still do. Diablo 3 is an amazing game, and a worthy successor to the Diablo lineage.

Beautiful loot. Lootiful?

Diablo 3 continues the story of the previous two Diablo games, completing the trilogy and the story of Sanctuary. The tale begins with Deckard Cain and his niece, Leah, doing research in an old cathedral when a meteor crashes into the building, releasing an army of demons from below.  Your hero gets pulled into the story when he or she meets Leah in the first town, New Tristram. Though each hero goes on the same adventure over the course of the game, each class has their own back story, and reason for pursuing Diablo.  My Demon Hunter's family was killed by hell's minions, and his journey was fueled by a desire for revenge. The game world's story is continually expanded by lore books that are scattered throughout the game, and monster lore that is offered up with every new enemy you vanquish, all of which are fully voice acted. The story doesn’t do anything too flashy or surprising (don’t expect any surprising twists), but story has never a big concern of mine with dungeon crawlers. My only complaint is that the game's ending is extremely unsatisfying. I won't spoil it here, but you should check it out for yourself.

The game looks spectacular. While playing Diablo 3, I felt for the first time that the world of Sanctuary had been fully realized. Don’t expect to trudge solely through dark dungeons and caves. By the time Diablo comes to its end you will have gone through a decaying forest, a burning village, a lush oasis, and many more. Every single area looks great, managing to be colorful without losing the creepy vibe. Haunting yet beautiful. And for anyone who thinks the game is too colorful to be a Diablo game, there are plenty of hellish dungeons and castles to battle through. The game presents a nice balance between the pretty and horrible. However, some repeated areas cause the game to lose its sense of progression, and can actually cause it to become somewhat boring. The third and fourth acts are especially guilty of this. Even so, I think the game has a great art style, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.


The game isn't all fire and demons, but this area is, and it looks great

Now onto the real flesh and bone of the game: gameplay! Diablo is known for its simple, fast paced combat. This isn’t World of Warcraft, where you have 50 different skills that are used in slow, strategy heavy battles. In Diablo your character is a one man army that tears through his enemies with ease, and Diablo 3 nails that feeling with a critical hit. Combat is still quick, reflexive, and a heck of a lot of fun. But that doesn’t mean nothing is new. The combat system may feel familiar, but in truth it has been completely revamped, and with an obvious influence from World of Warcraft. From Diablo 2 to 3, your number of active skills has increased from two to six. Your primary attacks are still mapped to the left and right clicks, but now you have four more key slots to make use of. These are mainly used for more strategic attacks. For my Demon Hunter, these four slots were occupied by a trap, dodge roll, turret, and a powerful area of effect spell with a long cool down. Cool downs may seem out of place in a game as fast paced as Diablo, but with so many attacks to choose from it never hinders the slaughter. Skills are fueled by a different source for each character. For example, the Monk uses Spirit Energy, which he gains from his various primary skills, and the Wizard uses Arcane Energy which recovers slowly over time.

But the number of skills isn’t all that has changed about the skill system. Whether you like it or not the skill tree is gone, but I encourage everyone to embrace this change as it truly improves the game. Diablo 2’s huge skills tree was full of skills I would never want to use. No matter what character I played, I always found myself pumping all of my skill points into a single ability. Diablo 3 fixes this by allowing you access to every skill gradually as you level up. By the time you hit level 30 or so you will have access to all of your character's skills, but that is only the start. Each skill has 5 runes that change the way the skill behaves. Some are very simple, such as adding an elemental effect for extra damage. But some are much greater. My Demon Hunter has an ability called Elemental Arrow, a strong shot that pierces through anything in its path. With runes, it can become a frost arrow that explodes on contact, slowing anything nearby, or a ball of chain lightning that moves slowly through a group of enemies. It can even become a screaming skull that scares enemies away. By giving you access to all of your skills you are free from skill commitment, allowing you to experiment and find your best skill set. I could be playing defensively with traps and turrets one second, and minutes later be going all out with offensive area of affect skills. The only issue with this new system is that it leads to a slow start. For the first 10 levels or so you are stuck with the few low level skills the game presents you, none of which you picked yourself. It will feel limiting at first, but once you find a few skills you like you will be anticipating each new rune and the new possibilities it presents.

Unlike the skill system, the equipment system hasn’t been changed at all. You still have your helm, chest, leggings, boots, etc., some of which can be augmented with various gems to become even better. Each class still has equipment types that are specific to them, such as quivers for Demon Hunters and Masks for Witch Doctors. Getting an awesome new piece of gear off of an enemy or boss is just as satisfying as ever, but the experience is somewhat cheapened by the existence of the Auction House. Having access to amazing items at any time is nice, but it does detract from the fun of the hunt. I would recommend avoiding the Auction House, but given how intensely the difficulty ramps up after normal mode, it feels necessary to buy some top tier gear. The other big new features (and one that is more welcome in my opinion) are your two artisans. You have access to a blacksmith and a jewel crafter, which can be used to improve your gear within your own game. These artisans are trained using money, and items dropped off of enemies. Some great gear can be made at the blacksmith using materials you salvaged from other gear, and gems can be combined and improved with the help of your jewel crafter. Making your own gear is an alternative to the Auction House, but because enchantments on gear are random it is very unlikely you will get just what you are looking for. The game places extreme importance on a few stats. Some enchantments like chance to blind and health steal were cool, but if an item didn’t have dexterity and vitality it was useless to me. All of the gear designs are very cool, and you are even able to customize them with various dyes, which makes up for the lack of character customization at the time of creation.


Comparing gear at my blacksmith

You will want to be sure you have your skills and equipment just right, because combat has evolved as well. Gone are the days of enemies slowly coming toward you in a predictable manner. Enemies in Diablo 3 are extremely varied, and almost every enemy presents a new challenge. Some will leap toward you rather than walking and some will drop fire bombs at your feet. Some will hover overhead, waiting for you to get distracted, and some will do the distracting by popping in and out of the ground. While there still are plenty of plain trash enemies, the variety is sure to keep you on your toes, and get you thinking about each and every move. That is especially true when you encounter one of the game’s many unique enemies. Unique enemies have subtitles such as “vortex” or “jailer”. The subtitle “waller” means the enemy can create walls to block your escape, and “molten” enemies leave a trail of fire in their wake. As you progress through the game’s four difficulties these unique enemies will get increasingly nasty. Nobody is safe in the presence of a “mortar shielding fast extra health” enemy. However, dispatching these enemies is always worth it because they are usually good for a few rare drops. Items are ranked by color, with blue, yellow, and orange being the best three. Blues are commonly dropped by unique enemies, with yellows and especially oranges being less common. I have heard complaints about the loot system being much less satisfying than in previous games, but I think it feels just right. Winning a long fight with a unique enemy will usually earn you two to three good drops, and bosses are even more rewarding. Boss battles have also been greatly influenced by Warcraft. They are now big cinematic events, usually with multiple stages or forms. Bosses will use a wide variety of attacks, and the battles against them favor strategy over skill spamming.

Going hand in hand with the importance of gameplay is multiplayer, and Diablo 3 does it right. When you log on, you can see which of your friends are online, what they are up to and their character’s level. If they are in a game, you can quick join them, as long as you have access to the difficulty they are playing on. The game always remembers your progress, so even if a friend is ahead, you can join them for a while before returning to your own quest. You can have up to four players in one game, and the difficulty increases with the number of players. Having more players does make the game easier, allowing you to revive each other and mix skills for new strategies. It also creates more loot, as your loot is always your own, and each enemy drops enough for everyone.

The biggest complaint (it is a big one) I can levy against this game has more to do with its medium rather than the game itself. PC games and I have never seen eye to eye. I spent $800 dollars on a gaming PC two years ago to play this game, and I still experience lag from time to time. Also, I have never been big on a mouse and keyboard set up. But I am not counting my personal PC bias against the game, because my real problem is with the always online requirement. On the night of the game’s release, it took me over an hour to start playing the game single player, and for a few days after there were server issues. This is a step in the wrong direction, and I hope Blizzard changes this to offer an offline mode in the future, or maybe even a console version.


Celebrating our first Diablo kill (spoiler?)

Despite a few odd decisions regarding how we play the game, Diablo 3 is still the best dungeon crawler out there, offering Diablo 2 some well-deserved rest. From the improved combat to the quick and easy multiplayer, it has everything you would ever want in a crawler, with hundreds of hours of gameplay to boot. Only time will tell if Diablo 3 will hold up as long as it’s predecessor did, but I can tell you that I will be playing it for years to come.