As I began playing Diablo III, I quickly decided that I’ve had enough of the Diablo III franchise. Little things like how characters advance in power (not too much customization) and an over familiarity with the entire style of what is now Diablo-esque gameplay. However, I gave it a chance, and played on – after all I am a sucker for leveling up my character even if I might have preferred other choices. What I found, was that I was soon engrossed in the game. The main storyline seems to be cut and paste from any other “save the world from demonic enslavement”, but where Diablo (and Blizzard) shines are the little touches of humanity and creativity within the game. Sure, there are boss battles and epic loot to find, but stumbling across a touching (or perhaps morbid) little interlude in a side-quest is where Diablo III really shines. I have to conclude that Blizzard has done it again. Sure, there are many little (or even medium-sized) bits of the game I would have designed differently, but the polish and creativity put into the nooks and crannies of the game make it worth yet another dip into Diablo universe.
As with all previous Diablo games, you play a protagonist setting out to protect the world from evil domination. Choose from five classes (barbarian, witch doctor, monk, demon hunter, or wizard – all coming in male and female versions) and fight the forces of evil by clicking on enemies to attack with right and left mouse buttons. Additional attacks (and other buttons such as inventory) are accessed via the keyboard. The game can be played solo or online with friends, although even in the solo mode you are able to join up with companions periodically to help round out your fighting party. In one big strike against the game, solo mode is still an online affair. It can’t be played if you don’t have an internet connection.
As you increase in level, each class unlocks new powers that can be mapped to the mouse keys or keyboard hotkeys. Rather than spending points on attributes or skill trees, the game simply unlocks new abilities every level. Starting with only a few accessible open skill hotkeys, players slowly acquire more as they progress in level. However, characters more quickly acquire new options for open hotkeys as they level. Simply choosing the most current option isn’t a necessary strategy as older character spells and abilities will also get customized enhancements that can be chosen at higher levels. While I miss being able to customize my character and have him/her grow as the game progresses, the new setup prevents players from having to “re-spec” all their abilities if they wander down a pathway of useless abilities. Even better, an experienced player may entirely change his/her outfit AND abilities depending on how he/she might best fit into a multiplayer combat party.
As I mentioned in the introduction, the main plotline felt fairly linear and unsurprising – go there, do this, kill this evil guy blocking your progression. However, where the Blizzard magic happens is in the little things. Books dropped in musty libraries that tell of the history of the place. Minor side-quests where you get a glimpse of the devastation the entire infernal war is bringing to normal folks. Its these little things that make the game engaging and seem to be sprinkled liberally enough within the game that a player may have to play through it several times before seeing all there is to offer. This is nice, as it allows players to go through the game on harder levels or give other character classes a try.
Online play is where a lot of replayability will be found. With a fairly high level cap, and multiple levels of difficulty that can be played, there is a lot to explore. Gamers can even give themselves more of a challenge by starting a multiplayer game (for 5 players, for example) and then play it with fewer characters (like only 3). This means more and tougher monsters for gamers who just need that many more monsters in their face. Blizzard is also implementing a “real-money” auction house. Yes, you can plunk down real cash for in-game currency or items, but even more intriguing – you can sell the loot you find to earn real cash. Not sure how I feel about the idea, but it definately in an intriguing way to make an end-run around all the far more grey-area third-party dealings that might otherwise crop up.
All in all, Diablo III is a very nice third effort by Blizzard. I had thought I might be burned out on Diablo (there certainly has been an absence of Diablo clones for awhile now) but the professional little touches to the game have changed my mind. Due to the extreme nature of the content (it’s rated “M”, see below) I have to wait til my young-ins go to bed in order to play, but it’s worth the wait.
Kid Factor: With an “M” rating, this isn’t one you want to play around little kids. However, 17+ may be more extreme than necessary. Obviously, the entire series has piles of demonic overtones, hell and demons figure into it almost excessively. Death is common, even among main characters, and many side quests and discoveries are quite morbid. Make no mistake, there is some dark humor here. However, I would almost consider it fairly “classy”. No potty humor, gratuitous sex/nakedness, or swearing. Yes, grotesque monsters explode into snakes when killed and then you have to kill the snakes. This is a great game to induce nightmares in younger kids. Also, dark themes such as NPCs who ask you to kill their spouse for them – because they know it’s necessary but can’t bear to do it themselves. There are some skimpy outfits around, but nothing that puts Diablo III past traditional unrealistic outfits in fantasy images. If your teen is mature enough to deal with some more disturbing situations (rather than gore and guts), then there are some very interesting human moments to be had.