Diablo III (PC)
It has been 8 long months since we first got a chance to play the Diablo 3 beta. 8 long months where we kept killing the Skeleton King, running the same dungeons, not exceeding the beta level cap and waiting, always waiting for Blizzard to deem the game finished and release it.
Well that time has come, and since the 15th of May Diablo 3 has been fully available to play. Available on digital download directly from Blizzard or from brick and mortar game stores in both standard and collectors editions Diablo 3 is one of the most anticipated game releases of 2012. Set in a dark fantasy world, Diablo 3 takes place in Sanctuary, some twenty years after the events of Diablo 2. Our player, known as Nephalem, arrives in Sanctuary to investigate a fallen star, which is shown in the cut scene before the start of Act 1.
What follows is an epic tale that takes us from the deepest depths of hell to the High Heavens to save Sanctuary from the vengeance of the seven lords. The game is set out over three Acts with varying difficulty levels, the hardest, inferno mode, only being available after the game has been defeated on normal, nightmare and hell.
Diablo 3 is a dungeon crawler, allowing our hero to explore the dungeons and caverns of Sanctuary while working through the storyline. The games uses a custom 3D game engine that presents an overhead view to the player, like the isometric view used in previous games in the series. The game engine features destructible environments which allow us to use the world to our advantage during battle. For example, we can pull over a dungeon wall on a mob of enemies which makes taking them down that little bit easier.
There are five classes available to choose from, each class can be played as either a male or female avatar. The Barbarian is the only returning class from previous Diablo games, bringing the classic hack and slash melee combat. New to the Diablo series are the Witch Doctor, Wizard, Monk and Demon Hunter. Each class offers a different style of game play, from the ranged combat of the Wizard and Demon Hunter, to the up close melee style of the Barbarian. Magic features in both the Wizard and Witch Doctor classes and the Monk uses classic martial arts skills to cripple foes but also to self-heal.
The current level cap is 60, with experience being earned by playing through dungeons and killing mobs or completing quests and the skill system was one of the most tweaked systems that Blizzard played with during the beta. In the end they settled on a system that opens up skills as we level. There are sets of skills that can be assigned to the left and right mouse buttons (Primary and Secondary skills), as well as keys 1 through 4 (Action Bar Skills).
As we level up we also access runes which are assigned to each skill and can be changed to alter core abilities. For example with the Barbarian we have an early skill called Rend, a bleed over time attack. As we level up we can enhance the core Rend skill with a rune that increases its range (Ravage) or increases its duration (Mutilate). Ultimately this system offers a simple mechanic to understand however it gives the player plenty of scope to pick the combination of skill and skill rune that suits their gameplay. Finally there are passive skills. Each character has three passive skill slots, which are opened at level 10, 20 and 30. Different passive skills are available as we level, becoming more powerful as we reach level cap.
Throughout the game we find followers who will help us on our adventures. Followers are non-player controlled (NPC) characters and their skills and play style will complement each of the classes available for us to play. While there are three followers available to pick throughout the game, only one can accompany us at any one time. Followers will level up with our character and will gain new skills and abilities as we do.
Along with the varying difficulty levels Diablo 3 also offers a Hardcore mode. Hardcore mode is opened when a player levels a character to 10 and if selected immediately gives our character perma death. That means that if our character dies, they aren't resurrected and we've lost that character and have to start again from scratch.
An auction house is available in Diablo 3 allowing us to spend the gold we have earned on our adventures on new gear. Or to sell some of the sweet equipment that we found while out on our adventures. Although not currently available coming soon is a real world money auction house, where items are bought and sold for real money, as opposed to the in game gold earned through play.
Finally for gameplay, one of the casualties of the beta was player vs player combat, known as PVP. At launch Diablo 3 will not feature PVP. It is hoped that it will be enabled at some stage in the future.
Graphics & Audio
From the start of the beta we were very impressed with the graphics on display in Diablo 3. During the beta Blizzard have tweaked the odd effect here and there however on the whole the graphics have remained a solid part of the game.
Overall the graphical detail of the dungeons is impressive but thankfully Diablo 3 is very forgiving on PC hardware; players won't need a top of the end machine to get this game looking great. Additionally the isometric layout works really well and the depth of the dungeons is impressive further enhanced by the fact that Diablo 3 will feature Blizzards custom in-house physics engine, a change from the Havok physics engine used in previous games.
The cut scenes are also very good, something we have come to expect from Blizzard studios. Featuring a combination of stylised animation and digital animation the introduction scenes to the act are amazing. It has always struck us, given the quality of these scenes that we have seen in all the recent Blizzard games, Diablo 3/StarCraft 2 and World of Warcraft, that someone need to give these talent people the time to produce a full length movie.
The audio for Diablo 3 is also very good. Like most of the audio produced for Blizzard it is to a very high standard and sets the vibe for the environment we are playing in very well. Voice acting is used throughout the game, with all quests being voice acted as well as incidental encounters with NPCs and enemy mobs.
Since its launch on the 15th of May Diablo 3 has had some issues. Although it is a primarily solo player game the digital rights management system in the game is tied to Blizzards Battle.net service, meaning that we have to be online to play the game. This caused a massive issue during the first 48hrs of availability as the Battle.net servers melted under the tsunami of Diablo players wishing to experience the game.
It took Blizzard several days and a few patches and server restarts to stabilise the game however we are pleased to report that Diablo 3 is now working much better and while we still need to be online to play and be authenticated by Battle.net at least that process is working and allowing players into the game.
In summary, Diablo 3 is a worthy successor to its predecessors. Offering classic dungeon crawling action with a fresh set of classes and skill system there is a lot to love about this game. With more features coming soon, such as PVP and the real money auction house, it will improve even further.