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.