This game needs no introduction, Diablo and Diablo 2 were old favourites of many a gamer and still are, now Blizzard returns to the fray with a leaner, meaner and more action packed iteration of the game: Diablo III.
A lush CG animated intro sets up the tale of Diablo's triumphant return and paints a grim picture for the town of New Tristram as terrible things happen in the wake of a fallen star. The story is told with a mix of in-engine graphics and vignette sequences that build act by act into a cohesive whole with some surprises here and there.
Diablo III is an action-rpg and there are no dialogue trees, it's about hacking hordes of monsters to bits and levelling up, getting cool loot and making your mark on a dark fantasy world beset by demons and undead. It's about a game that generates awesome replay value through randomised dungeons and builds things on the fly for you to explore so that when you play again with a new character, it won't be the same.
It's about FUN!
Diablo III takes what made Diablo 1 and 2 pretty great and retools it, making it easier for a new player to get into and smoother for veteran Diablo gamers to handle. There are 5 distinct classes that all add something to the whole experience and feel fairly different from each other.
The Barbarian: Your tough melee brawler/fighter with a good damage ratio and a lot of health to soak up close and personal attacks. The Barbarian uses Fury as a resource to power his abilities from taking damage and dealing damage.
The Demon Hunter: A superb ranged warrior with some traps and tricks, the Demon Hunter excels in using crossbows and bows to inflict serious damage and tackle even the toughest of foes at a distance. The Demon Hunter has two resources to call upon and these are Hatred for aggressive skills (regenerates quickly) and Discipline (for tactical skills) which regenerates slowly.
The Witch Doctor: A mysterious magical class that can summon pets, mind-control enemies and has a fantastic array of magical abilities that make the class stand out from many other sorcerous classes in games. The Witch Doctor uses Mana as the class resource (restored by regeneration).
The Monk: A spirit warrior that mixes up close and ranged martial arts attacks to devastating effect. The Monk is a great class for intermediate play and for those who are seeking a more tactical combat class. Monks use Spirit which is generated via Spirit Generating skills in the game (attacking enemies with those skills) and certain items/passives.
The Wizard: A better version of the venerable Diablo 1 and 2 Sorcerer, the Wizard has far more options when it comes to magic than before and uses a variety of powerful spells with which to smite their enemies. The Wizard uses Arcane Power that regenerates over time and this can be boosted with passive skills, abilities and items.
Each class has around 25 separate active skills that are unique to each class, then there are passive skills that each class has as well, these are also pretty different, these skills level as you do so there's no need to worry about having low level bad skills. There are also tailoring options for the classes that allow them to focus on a particular kind of combat, crowd control, single target and so forth.
What is great about this is that there's no respec cost at all, you just swap out an ability that then cools down for 20 seconds until it's ready to use again. You can't swap out abilities that are already on cool-down so basically you need to swap when you're not in combat.
There are also runes that you can unlock by levelling, these can be slotted into various skills to make them even more powerful/change their ability and do other tricks. You can use up to six skills at once with minimal cool-downs and this really makes the game fun rather than a grognard's clunky grind-fest wet-dream. Again, very suitable for new players who just aren't that use to Diablo-esque games.
Having these systems in play means you're never going to regret any decision you make with your character, you can concentrate on having fun rather than trying to craft the best min/max build and since Diablo III auto-allocates ability scores as you level up you're left to enjoy the game and not get lost in mindless minutiae.
Diablo III uses a simple control system with movement on a mouse-click, attacking on a mouse click to perform one set of abilities and right clicking to do another. This way you move and navigate the environments easily, open chests, interact with objects and everything with only a few clicks and button presses.
The GUI is non-cluttered and everything you need is right at your fingertips, with a streamlined and effective inventory system. Then you have a crafting system too that lets you break down magical items and build new ones with the right amount of essence.
Basically it's packed with solid game design from the get-go and executed with a solid level of polish. It also introduces these systems into the game at a nice pace, allowing you to experiment as you play rather than have to learn a bunch of stuff all at once.
The difficulty curve of the game is just about right, with tactics needed rather than click-spamming the same two abilities over and over again all of the time.
It requires an always-on net connection and the game auto saves at certain points. The always-on net connection is really our only bone of contention.
Lastly we didn't spend much time at the Auction House but there is one that lets you dump your old items for better amounts of money compared to selling them at an in-game merchant. Time will tell if this feature is truly successful though.
Diablo III has been criticised apparently for having cartoon-ish graphics. Not sure we can see where that comes from. Diablo III is a great looking game with all the bells and whistles that you'd expect from an AAA title. Its level of graphical fidelity in-game is solid and there's great lighting and special effects with no frame drops when the game throws masses of enemies at you and there are spells flying everywhere from you and your other three buddies.
Diablo III has some great animations, especially when monsters die and are blown to bits by the most destructive spells. The combat animations, the interactions and so on are all top notch in the game and there's nary a frame that misses a single beat.
The game's physics have a direct effect on breakables, with boxes and so on being blasted apart, heavier traps and environmental hazards can be used to take down groups of foes cutting the battle in half before it's begun as long as you take your time to look for those physics based interactions. Usually highlighted in red. Big monsters can knock your character around like a pinball and they can be blasted around by some of the larger special effects from certain bad guys.
The AI is pretty solid, it does what you'd expect on the tin with each monster type reacting based on certain criteria.
Russell Brower has done a fantastic job with the soundtrack to the game and it is at once superbly atmospheric in places, mixes discordant demonic overtones with epic tracks that could well be at home in a high budget Hollywood movie. In short it's one of the best fantasy game soundtracks since both Witcher games.
There are no problems with the sound in Diablo III. The game has a great audio set with a ton of excellent sound effects and some great combat sounds. The sound has never dropped out, popped or repeated either.
Diablo III is well written, kind of generic in places but it's everything that we come to know/love and expect from the genre.
The voice work from the likes of Jennifer Hale and co is spot on, there's a lot of time and effort gone into the acting and it shows.
You and three other mighty heroes can play on the same quest and the game handles it perfectly, you play online and there are systems in place for fair loot sharing, since each player gets their own loot drops. The game is surprisingly stable and now most of the launch issues with servers seem to be out of the way it's possible to jump in at most times. It would have been nice to have an offline mode though so that if you can't get on a server, you could still pay the game you bought.
Even though it's had some launch issues and things didn't quite go as planned, the Euro servers have been pretty stable and we have had no issues getting a solid game experience from Diablo III at all, so we're not taking into account the server issues that plagued everyone else, Games Xtreme won't be marking the game down for that. Diablo III is a streamlined tactical experience that any fan should give a blast...with promised expansions on the way and the random generation of loot, dungeons and so on, the game offers tons of replay value.