For many gamers, Diablo 3 coming out in 2012 was the biggest announcement in years; I’ve mentioned before that this sequel is over 10 years in the making. Well, the game is now playable, so how does it stack up as a title?
First, a rant…I understand that this is a big release title. However, for a company such as Blizzard, there is an expectation that they are going to be better at handling masses of players entering their game all at the same time…especially when the decision was made to make it online only, with no offline single player (unlike Starcraft 2). This is likely a combination of both digital rights management, and hack prevention to keep people from taking advantage of the Real Money Auction House. The expectation was, with World of Warcraft well in hand, that Blizzard would have prepared for their servers to be seriously pushed.
That, obviously, didn’t happen which forced hundreds of thousands of gamers to try and log on at the same time, which immediately made the login servers not work. “#Error37″ was the top trending topic on twitter overnight, referring to the inability to make it past the initial login screen, and for those who made it past that often got stuck at character creation with a “timed out” error, until they were booted. After about 90 minutes, I was able to make it into the game for a 15 minute period until the servers crashed, and I gave up for the night. The initial launch was, thus, most unimpressive from a consumer standpoint.
Later in the morning, I re-awoke and found myself able to instantly log in, and I played for several hours until “emergency maintenance” took the servers down (causing yet another wave of frustration towards Blizzard from the players), but in that time I was finally able to make my way towards some new content. Since I’m a mature adult, I made my main character a Barbarian named Muffins, and I made a Monk named Borjoyzee. Playing with three friends on my monk, it took us around 90 minutes to clear through the part of Act 1 that was featured during the beta, skipping dialogue that we had all seen before, and move into the new content. Right away, it was a refreshing change (all of us had played the beta multiple times, so it was quite boring to go through it once again), we finally had new monsters, new areas, and most importantly, new story elements to play through.
Without giving any spoilers, a story quickly unraveled that gave us more questions than answers, and to their credit, Blizzard made the story have just enough hooks that I wanted to see what was coming next right away. Naturally, this was right when the servers went down for “emergency time” and I had to wait to find out more about what was happening in the world of Diablo.
Beyond the story is, of course, the gameplay – fans of the previous Diablo games will have no trouble getting into the game, but even new players should have no difficulties when it comes time to wade into battle. The classes are pretty simple at their base: Barbarians and Monks fight up close, Witch Doctors, Wizards, and Demon Hunters fight more at range. From there, personal choice makes up a lot; as you level your character, you gain access to more abilities, and thus more strategies on how to use your character to maximize effectiveness. On top of that, you unlock “runes” for your abilities as you level, each of which will add in specialized effects to strengthen your powers. How you build your character will determine what they will do best, so there is some room for customization.
Don’t fret though, you can change out your skills and runes at any time – there is nothing sealed in stone as you level up. All in all, both the control and skill building systems are easy to use and learn, which is quite nice.
The world itself goes for the usual dark feel of the Diablo series – landscapes are almost universally dark and dismal, the music is about as far from upbeat as you can get, and the ambiance does a good job of showing you a land that seems to be rotting at its core. The word of the day in Tristram (and the surrounding areas) is “hopeless”, and you can see why as soon as you begin the game, watching a hapless band of militia try to defend their poor town. You’ll find evidence of mercenaries, grave robbers, and townspeople who fell before the forces of evil everywhere you go; this was not a good place to go for a walk in the countryside.
The game also features some interesting coding in the blacksmith element of the title, allowing each player to maintain and upgrade their personal smithy. In multiplayer games, doing these upgrades only affects your personal blacksmith, and not that of the person running the game. This is important, however, as the smith allows players to make some very good equipment that is often better than what is dropped by enemies…the cost of which is that other rare drops must be destroyed to produce those items, and it can cost quite a bit of gold to upgrade the blacksmith in the end. However, the items made from there, and dropped from bosses, are good not only for the player, but for the community as well: everything found or made can be sold on the auction house.
As of launch, only the gold-based auction house is in the game (the Real Money Auction House, or RMAH, won’t be in until later on), and any item can be sold there with ease. Most likely, the feature came about for gold and real money as a result of the black market that arose during Diablo 2, one which saw a number of players trading items over online bidding sites for real money, away from Blizzard’s control (and against their terms of service). With the RMAH coming in, estimated for May 22nd, Blizzard obviously hopes to both exercise a measure of control over the trades, and profit from them as well – they take either $1 for each sale of equipment, or 15% of the value of commodity sales…and that’s before Paypal takes a cut.
Mentioning that, it also brings up a concern that I had immediately: after having to use my old Blizzard Authenticator the first time I logged in, the game stopped asking for me to use it on subsequent login attempts. If I had my account linked to PayPal, I would already be very nervous about it not requiring the authenticator every time as a protection against someone getting into my account and buying thousands of dollars worth of items, transferring them to another account, and re-selling them there for easy profit. I’ve left it as a suggestion for Blizzard, but I expect that they will want to take great care with how they treat the matter…and customers should invest in an authenticator regardless, just to try and avoid the possibility of losing quite a bit of money thanks to a keylogger.
I will admit that, when I logged into the game the first time on my laptop, it did ask for my authenticator again – which is nice – but I would’ve felt safer if it was required for every login attempt. (Author’s Note, it was pointed out after posting that going to https://us.battle.net/account/management/authenticator.html allows you to set your account to require an authenticator every time, instead of just once per week.)
After one overlooks the disastrous launch of the game, Diablo 3 actually shapes up quite nicely. It plays easily like the previous titles, while changing enough things to keep it interesting. On top of that, the story has seen some good development, and the bleak world still manages to be interesting instead of just being a drab landscape repeated over and over with palette swaps. As Blizzard gets a handle on their servers and manages to get people online, the game will undoubtedly improve, but I still am taking bets that someone will pay the price for having their account hacked while having access to the RMAH within the first few months.
Also, just a personal note for Blizzard, would staggering the launch times to be midnight in each time zone really have hurt things that much? I can’t help but think it might have helped the congestion problem a bit…
What a difference a day makes! Whether it was people going back to work after taking day one off, or hard work on Blizzard’s end, the simple fact was that the game was much more stable for the second day of play. I got to enjoy a lot of quality time splitting my gaming hours between my Barbarian, and a Monk that I had leveled up. With some hard play, both of them managed to get past the first act, and see some big story developments.
The first thing worth noting is that the difficulty sees a definite spike once the second act begins, with enemies no longer playing the part as cannon fodder. This means that players who simply run in blindly will notice their battles being won much more painfully (if at all), while strategic players will find ways to balance their abilities properly to combat the new foes. Right away, enemies such as the Lacuni are clearly meant to harass ranged characters, while the Sand Wasps were immediately a thorn in the side of both of my characters, who relied more on melee attacks. There are many examples of this line of thinking that show up, though my Barbarian was spared by my fiancee (who plays a Wizard), while my monk used a ranged follower to help against Wasp-like enemies.
The biggest thing that I noticed was that the game continued to flow very well: the maps seemed to have gotten bigger, but not so big that I was going to get lost in the world. The enemies are harder and require more thought, but never so much that you can’t identify their weak points after some study. I was most impressed by one of the bosses I encountered (no spoilers), who combined fighting while avoiding attacks with a mechanic of avoiding damage spots that randomly appeared on the floor. It added depth to what could have been a hack and slash fight, and was a clear indication that things were not going to get easier from here on.
After the issues from day one, I would not have been surprised at slow server speeds, crashes, and so on…but as I mentioned before, most of that seems to have cleared up, which bodes well. Though I’m sure quite a few are still trying to nurse bitterness about the botched launch, I simply wanted to play the game, thus getting to do so was a pleasure all on its own. I was, however, a little miffed about the obviously buggy achievement system, which has awarded me some of the same achievements as many as 10 times, while old achievements that I earned are no longer shown. Since I tend to be a “completionist” about this sort of thing, I was annoyed when a few random achievements (like stunning 5 imps at the same time) were apparently lost.
Things aren’t all bad in that arena though: with all of the issues server-side yesterday, I had plenty of time to scour the forums and game guide to find out about features that I had overlooked. The “Elective Skills” option is wonderful, allowing players to re-bind which keys a specific ability is set to (for instance, if you would rather Whirlwind is set to left click, or the 1 key). Finding the option to keep item displays on (instead of showing for 10 seconds, then fading out unless I hit Alt…and I habitually hit the windows key doing that) was great too. Little features like that made the game more comfortable to me, and I hope they add in some new things as well.
All in all, the game is still fantastic, and I’m looking forward to acts 3 and 4. Check back soon for how those went!
The third day of Diablo was all about act 3, and a good part of act 4. The first thing we noticed was that there was another difficulty jump going into act 3, but that act 4 didn’t seem to have that same change. This is not to say act 4 was easy, but we were able to use the same tactics that we had been using for some time with our wizard/barbarian duo, and that made the level a much quicker job. The story is coming to an end soon, so the climax has really hit in the setting.
Since I’m not giving spoilers, I can only reveal this in somewhat general terms: the scenery has changed quite a bit in each of the four acts, with no two areas being anywhere near the same. This change has been great, since the feeling of boredom I had with past Diablo games never seemed to set in. While I always got bored with Diablo 2 in act 2, the third game has held my interest throughout the whole title, and I’m eager to see how the story ends by finishing up act 4. Of course, then there is the harder difficulties to deal with.
One thing I did want to mention is the blacksmith and gemsmith system, both of which I like, but neither of which is anything less than an obvious gold grind. The latter crafter only appears in act 3, but the blacksmith has been along since act 1, and both of them have been the key to superior gear while leveling. Gear that drops can, potentially, be incredibly good, but gear that you make from the blacksmith is always much higher. For instance, I can craft level 30 gear, but in act 4 I am still seeing level 15 gear drop more often than level 20 gear. There are two costs to making gear though: gold (both to train the blacksmith up, and to make the item) and supplies (magic sources and fangs) gained from salvaging magic equipment that was either useless, or that just sucked.
The tradeoff for getting higher level and potentially great items is that the stats are random, much like the gamble option from previous Diablo titles. My barbarian has gotten yellow-quality items with 60 strength and vitality, with magic finding bonuses and more…and he has gotten yellow-quality items with 1 dexterity, 1 intelligence, and minor bonuses to gold and health orb pickup range. The randomness in stats means that, more often than not, you will get a poor item rather than the one that you hoped for. As play goes on, this means you will burn through your resources faster and faster, as the items you craft will become very expensive. There is also an upper limit to what you can make from the blacksmith later on, as the final upgrade requires items that I have yet to see in normal mode.
The gemsmith works in a similar manner, though he tends to cost less, and upgrades much faster than the blacksmith does. Some items contain sockets, where you can place gems that give various effects depending on where they are placed (your choices are helm, weapon, or “other” for effect options). The gemsmith allows you to upgrade gems (3 smaller gems combine into the next quality level) or remove gems from sockets for a small price. By upgrading the craft, you can make higher quality gems, though again the final upgrade requires an item that I haven’t seen on normal mode yet, so there is again an upper limit. However, as you near the end of act 4, you begin seeing items with more than one socket slot, and upgrading the gems that drop can be an easy way to boost your stats leading to the confrontation with the final boss.
I’m looking to finish up Act 4 today, but at this point I do feel that the game has given me a good enough impression to earn a rating as well. While the initial launch was not one of Blizzard’s high points of the year, their post-launch performance has been impressive, and the server stability has been nothing but good. The game they put out has been both enjoyable and well-designed, and I can say something that I’ve never been able to say about a Diablo game: I’m actually going to beat it! I’ve never gotten through act 2 in one of these games, and I’m having a genuinely great time playing this one. Future expansions will only improve the game, and the features that are included will make this one a success in the meantime.
While it may seem that I am going through the game quickly, it features many difficulties, and I have also been powering my way through quickly for the review. At a more casual pace, it would have offered more time, so go ahead and pick this one up and enjoy!
You must be logged in to post a comment.