Dungeon crawlers are a weirdly pure RPG experience. Something about that constant stream of new loot is frighteningly compelling, so much so that as a player it’s easy to forget about everything else. The story, graphics and gameplay can all fade away as the need to get a new sword, or a new pair of magic pants, grows inside. Blizzard figured this out with Diablo II, which has stood as the main pillar of the industry for years, somewhat like StarCraft is to RTS games. And, just like they did with StarCraft II, Diablo III is the biggest deal this genre has seen, and does a lot to modernize, but not necessarily revolutionize, the formula.
It all begins with a choice of one of five classes. The barbarian returns, and is as meaty a warrior as ever. New to the party are the monk, a melee fighter, the demon hunter, a ranged archer, the wizard and the witch doctor, who resemble the last game’s sorceress and the necromancer, respectively. I spent some time with each class, and though I ultimately went wizard, I thought they were all pretty fun. You can even choose the gender of your character, a nice touch if you’re one of those guys who feels weird playing girls.
So then your newly created character shows up in New Tristram, set up near the ruins of the town from the first game. All you know is that a strange falling star landed nearby, and know you need to find it. You’ll be practically naked and unarmed, but you’re still more capable in combat than the town guards, so they set you out to figure out what’s going on. Soon enough you’ll be working with Deckard Cain and his niece Leah and needless to say, get swept up in a conflict that will not only involve the fate of the world, but heaven and hell as well. Ain’t that swell.
When people talk about Diablo combat, they talk about clicking. And I’m not going to lie, there’s a lot of clicking, although you can opt to just hold the button down a lot of the time now. But playing the game is never as mundane as you think it would be, in part because each class has a wide selection of fun skills to use. Instead of a skill tree, everyone unlocks every skill for their class. The catch is you can only ever equip six at a time: left and right click and four keys. So, in the case of my wizard, I kept a two direct attacks on the mouse and on the keys I had a spell that gave me magic armor, a spell that made my weapon stronger, a spell that summoned a hydra and an area-of-effect ice spell. You can also add runes to your spells to change their behavior. There are a lot of possibilities, and with the ability to change builds whenever, I never really got bored.
That’s just one example of the ways that Blizzard has modernized Diablo III. Stat points are gone, leaving gear as your only power multiplier and level the only gear requirement. That might bother some people, but I really appreciated it. Town portals and item identification are now free abilities, because really, those scrolls sucked. The little pieces of lore unlocked by exploration and defeating new enemies is all voiced and listenable while you keep playing, a stroke a genius. All the social features of StarCraft II and WoW are here. Money and the stash is account-wide, because it had to be.
It had to be, because Blizzard introduced an auction house for players to sell items to each other. Actually, that’s not quite true. They introduced two auction houses, one for players to sell items to each other, and one for players to sell items to each other for real money. It really seems like Blizzard looked at the killing gold farmers and power levelers were making on WoW and decided they wanted to legitimize and capitalize on it. But that’s whatever. The real money auction house isn’t even up yet. The problem with the auction house is it kind of sucks the drive out of the game. The drive to play Diablo is the loot. The loot being random means you have to play a lot longer before you get what you want. But if you just sell everything and buy what you need in the auction house, that compelling force goes away. After buying new gear a couple times, I decided it was a feature I wanted to ignore, and I had more fun because of it.
Of course, I couldn’t ignore it entirely, because even though I predominantly played alone, I still had to deal with lag a few times. That’s because, to protect the integrity of the auction house, Blizzard can’t have people cheating to give themselves better gear or, god forbid, creating elite gear to sell. And the only way to stop that is by making the game always online. That meant, for the first few days of its release, diehard Diablo fans were being disconnected and unable to log into their singleplayer games. That’s pretty shitty, and something only Blizzard could get away with. I really hope this is not a model more games imitate.
A good game is a good game is a good game. Always-on DRM is lame, but at least it seems like most of the connection issues have been solved and honestly, most people who want to play this with have stable Internet connections available to them. I got way more into Diablo III than I did any other game in its genre, I mean, I actually beat it, for one. It’s simple, addictive, and, since it’s a Blizzard game, it will probably be around for a while. A great game for the long, barren slog that is the gaming release calendar in the summer.