Written by Joe the Revelator
Sometimes reviewing a Blizzard game feels like talking about a dental checkup. Getting one costly and ubiquitous. It's something that once you've experienced before, you probably won't be shocked by it again, and everybody's done it. Diablo 3 is exactly like this. From the install music which has been dusted off from old Diablo, to the final cut-scene, it all feels too familiar to really strike a nerve.
And although the acts are set up in the same format as the previous game, I will give D3 credit for its beautiful cinimatics and amazingly visual levels. The top-down dungeon crawler is one of the best I've ever seen. Playing through the first act by myself, even as a burly, over-the-hill barbarian, it had genuinely eerie moments. Good ambient music combined with a few monsters stolen from Resident Evil (lickers) and giant demons with nipple rings, puts D3's creepy quotient fairly high, which is important for a game that will swiftly turn into boring level-grinding and boss-running for loot.
Stay a while and listen...
For those who played Diablo II, here are a few key differences. As I mentioned, the game is prettier, and the PC specs required to run it are considerably higher than its predecessor. Diablo I and II are small enough to fit on a thumb drive, which comes with the over-priced special edition of Diablo III. The character customization has been beefed up, allowing you to create your own battle standard and dyed armor, though you're stuck with same-face characters with the choice of male or female versions of each class.
Class selection has been made leaner, limiting the player to Barbarian, Monk, Demon-Hunter, Wizard, or Witch-Doctor. Old classes and class skills have been divied up between them. A few of the old Paladin skills were given over to the monk and Demon Hunter. Demon Hunter is a mashup of Amazon and Assassin. Wizard is the old Sorcerer class, except now she's on LSD. And the Witch-Doctor was given all the weird skills that used to belong to the Necromancer and Druid.
As a 4-man multiplayer group, which is the limit for party size, the team must find a balance between damage and survivability. After you've slogged through the dungeons alone, I highly recommend joining a group, which will net more experienced points and goodies.
The breakdown for a party works like so: Effectively, the Barbarian tanks for the group until he's killed outright by suicidal exploding demons. The Demon Hunter (aka glass cannon) will do somersaults around the map and look creepy, ostensibly doing damage until she's breathed on by a zombie and dies. The Monk will run ahead of the party and open all the chests alone, and will refuse to die, healing himself faster than the bosses can damage him. The Shaman will summon an army that looks exactly like the demons you're trying to fight, confusing the party. And the Wizard will turn the map into a rave with flashy spells.
The loot system has seen vast improvements since the days of D2. Loot from dead monsters and chests, magical or otherwise, now drop individually for players. In fact, the game doesn't even display other people's goodies so there's no confusion, or begging, since the neckbeards in your game can't see the sparkly items you dug out of a demon's entrails. Gold pickup has been streamlined too, automatically (probably by magnets) leaping into your inventory when you run over it. This eliminates the issue of having one team member who spends all his time clicking on gold piles instead of fending off the hoard of ravenous monsters.
To D3, or not to D3?
I find the little touches matter most in roleplaying games. Which, at heart, is what Diablo is trying to be. While playing the single-player campaign, there's time to read the lore, and listen to the monologues given by the main characters as you pilfer through their journals like a stalker after prom night. You feel more vulnerable wandering through the catacombs with only the chatty NPC henchman to keep you company. At any moment you could be swarmed by zombies or swallowed up by sandworms from Dune.
In multiplayer there isn't time to stop and soak in the environment. The stronger, more experienced players will push the fight from one act to the next, and the game gets a little rushed. It's hard to feel threatened by dark forces of hell when they're being bombarded by wizard napalm and machine-gunned by the hunter's duel crossbows.
I recommend playing Diablo III alone at least once, a few times with your friends, and quitting before you end up buying in-game weapons with real money, or spending 24-hours on a RedBull-fueled 'Meph Run'.