Twelve years sure is a long time to wait. I should probably remember 2000 as the year I started college, but let’s be honest - all I really cared about was the fact that Diablo 2 had just released and I had a fancy new T3 connection in my dorm room to play it online with my hallmates. I probably have unrealistic expectations heading into Diablo 3, but I’ve been extremely satisfied with the game Blizzard delivered.
The story picks up twenty years after the events of Diablo 2: Lord of Destruction - the heroes of that game have killed five of the seven Greater & Lesser Evils and their old pal Tyrael destroyed the corrupted Worldstone to thwart Baal’s plans. A mysterious shooting star falls from the sky, crashes through the cathedral in our favorite town of Tristram, and five new heroes show up to seek out its secrets.
The campaign is made up of four acts, each taking place in a different region of the world of Sanctuary (and each one shorter than the one which came before it). Players who are afraid that the darker tone of Diablo 2 wouldn’t survive the transition to the new art style should rest assured that some seriously Clive Barker-esque stuff awaits them later in the game. It doesn’t end up being quite as “teenage metalhead’s school binder” as what came before, but enough terrible and disgusting things will be on display for those who crave it.
The actual plot of the game is fairly predictable, especially if you’ve been playing Blizzard games for the past 20 years, with plenty of plot twists being telegraphed well ahead of their reveal. There were a few nice surprises in the story, especially if you’ve paid attention to the lore of previous games - some characters return in quite unexpected ways.
Journal entries/audio logs help fill in a lot of the backstory of the world, which was a little more interesting to me than the actual plot of the game, but are oddly handled - oftentimes you’ll be listening to a journal entry and another character will start talking and overtake focus, cutting things off unexpectedly.
Gotta love those funky monks.
Two of the classes will feel instantly familiar to series veterans - the Wizard and Barbarian are brought directly over from the previous game with some fun surprises. The Witch Doctor, Monk and Demon Hunter are new to the series, and provide some fresh perspectives. Monks are a melee fighter with aura and healing capabilities, the Witch Doctor is your pet class/non-traditional caster, and the Demon Hunter is an incredibly agile ranged fighter with solid crowd control abilities.
Diablo 3 pulls off a fantastic trick when you play it - despite the fact that nearly every aspect of the game has been tweaked, streamlined or outright hacked out, everything is... comfortable. Almost everything about the UI is fluid and well thought-out, and series vets won’t even have to learn new hotkeys for critical functions. Hell, the graphics (while light years beyond the tech available twelve years ago) evoke the same “look”, with several layers of parallax, and a good combination of 3D models and painterly sprite work. Load times are almost nonexistent for people with a serviceable PC, even when portaling between the battlefield and your hub town. The music is fantastic, and once you hear the threads of the old Tristram theme woven into the new score, nostalgia will hit you hard.
Though gambling for rare items via NPC has been removed, the new crafting system seems destined to replace it. While you’ll earn recipes for your blacksmith, the type of stats crafted items receive are randomized. Luckily, if you’re stuck with an item you can’t use there are options. You can sell it to a vendor, break it down into more crafting components, or take to the new Auction House and attempt to sell it to other players.
Finishing the game for the first time unlocks Nightmare difficulty, which lets you continue to level your character by running through the campaign again, except with much tougher enemies, better loot, and more crafting options. Clearing Nightmare unlocks Hell mode and there is a fourth difficulty called Inferno, which is for those of us who want a stiff challenge and crazy-powerful gear.
If you’re insane, you once again have the option of creating a Hardcore character, which gives you a single life to clear as much of the game as possible, and yes, you can clear the game multiple times all the way through Inferno difficulty in this mode.
Joining a friend's game is a snap.
Provided you already had some folks on your Battle.net friends list, starting a co-op session of Diablo 3 might be the next easiest thing to pressing start on a second controller. Once you create a character, a “Quick Join” section will be populated if you have friends in-game, and a single click is all it takes to connect you to them. Other than not being able to access higher difficulties if you haven’t unlocked them, there are no restrictions to hopping into a game with friends, even if you’re a fresh character and they’re in the final act and level 30 (we confirmed this by sending my level 4 Monk to fight the final boss!).
If you’re new to Battle.net, or otherwise don’t have any friends playing, you can join a public game, which will show you how many players have open games and what quests you have available to you. Unlike the quick join option, these will be level restricted, usually plus or minus five levels of your current character. Players you meet in public games will show up as “recently met” in your social tab, so you can easily send friend requests. If the whole “searching for a game to join” thing is too much for you, you can always open your own session up for public players to join as well.
Once you’re in a game, you can click on any other player’s Banner to instantly teleport you to their location (negating the old Diablo 2 town portal trick), and you’re free to clickspam your way to victory.
Adventuring in co-op continues the Diablo tradition of increasing the difficulty of the enemies you fight, and usually, increases the quality/quantity of gold and loot that drops from enemies. Unlike prior games, all the drops are unique per player, so there’s no reason to make a mad dash for the rare item that just dropped while your friends get worked by elites. It takes a little bit of the friendly competition out of the co-op, but I didn’t mind.
Now these guys are just asking to be smashed.
While questing proceeds as usual, the boss fights require a little more attention when there is more than one player in a game. Usually, simple positioning tricks will suffice, but on harder difficulties (at least on your first time through, anyway), you might need to consult your partners with regards of what skills to take. If a player gets killed, their partners can resurrect them, though in the heat of battle it’s often very risky to attempt, especially on higher difficulties.
As always, one of the most rewarding things about Diablo 3 is the ability to show off all your rare and powerful gear to your buddies, and whenever something great drops, you’ll be able to show it off easily and without having to drop it on the floor and risk theft! Additionally, the ability to trade items directly is welcome (and expected, honestly).
While Diablo 2 allowed up to eight players in a single co-op session, Diablo 3 only supports four, and it’s a bit of a shame. The large number of supported players used to make it a favorite at my LAN parties, but now it’s a little frustrating to have to choose between games when your friends all want to play with you. Of course, this time around, I don’t foresee the game being a LAN staple.
You see, in addition to having to live up to over a decade’s worth of fan expectations, Diablo 3 comes saddled with even more baggage - the presence of a required internet connection, even if you’re playing solo. In short, the game has always-on DRM (in the guise of Battle.net), and as soon as you experience any kind of internet hiccup or other connection issue, you’ll be unceremoniously dumped to the main menu and given an error.
For those of us who played Diablo and Diablo 2 on Battle.net 100% of the time, this isn’t necessarily a new thing, but the classic games in the series always offered an offline mode for the folks who wished to play in peace. Fortunately, I never had any of the disconnection issues that plagued the game’s first 24 hours, but the first time you experience lag in a *single-player* game is definitely jarring. Since everything is online, you run the risk of getting your account hacked, so I’d recommend locking down your account with Blizzard’s Battle.net authenticator, especially in light of some recent reports of players getting their items and gold stolen.
Diablo 3 is not a perfect game, but it is a fantastic one, and if you can stomach the persistent DRM, it is well worth your co-op dollar. The thirty or so hours I’ve spent with it prior to writing this review are but the first of hundreds I will be spending with the game, whether it’s playing co-op with friends, relentlessly pursuing some of the more esoteric achievements, or simply seeing how many weird Hell/Inferno-viable builds I can crank out of my characters.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a *lot* more clicking to do.