Thursday, June 7, 2012

A Review of Diablo III: Part I

Today we bring you the first half of Dan Lammert's review of Diablo III, one of the most talked-about games of the year.  He's included lots of images from the game, so those of you who haven't played it yet can get a good look at things.  Make sure you come back tomorrow for the rest of his thoughts!

It's been roughly 11 years since the release of Lord of Destruction, the expansion to Diablo 2, and in that time Blizzard has had a lot of time to think about the creation and development of their vision for Diablo 3.  Was that time well spent?

First, let’s begin with the story component of the game.  The actual story is something that I won't delve in too deep into for those of you who have yet to pick the game up, or are still making your progress through the four acts.  However, needless to say, it takes place after the events of Diablo 2 and takes you through some environments that may seem familiar, such as Tristam, along with all new environments, including the desolate sands and the barbarian lands of the north, including Arreat Crater.

Cinematic Screen from Diablo II
Each setting is uniquely detailed and somewhat randomized as you make your progress, which is good for one main reason--namely, you'll be making your way through the environment multiple times on various difficulty levels, first by yourself and then again with friends and strangers alike.  The game’s four difficulty levels are Normal, Nightmare, Hell, and Inferno.   Blizzard has come out long before the release of the game to tout their Inferno difficulty setting, stating that it will be weeks, even months before a single person, let alone a group of players, will be able to beat Inferno difficulty due to the immense challenge it puts forth.

Meeting new characters in Diablo III
Difficulties aside, I will say that the story is presented well within the game through both cinematics and character driven dialogue.  Every character is voiced within the game, whether they’re a main character or some merchant you come across.  One nice feature within Diablo 3 that I believe other developers should look at is the way that the bestiary is portrayed.  Instead of coming upon a monster and then getting a small blip upon the screen telling you to go to your in menu bestiary to see what monster you just came across, with each new foe you encounter, you will be treated by a fully voiced explanation and description of the monster within the lore of the game.  While a small touch to the overall presentation of the game, it adds a lot to the overarching atmosphere that’s presented to the player.

The rich environments of Blizzard's latest game
Over the previous decade, gamers have pushed developers into creating better graphics and physics engines within their games, and that is exactly what Blizzard has done with their latest installment in the Diablo franchise.  Every dungeon, cavern, snowy wind-swept valley is randomly generated while still looking detailed and handcrafted.  See a handful of skeletons under a chandelier?  Pull the lever that releases the heavy light fixture to fall upon your foes.  Come across a barrel of oil?  Bust it upon a group of goblins and set them ablaze.  You can almost feel the mustiness of the multiple caverns as you make your way throughout sewers and crypts.

Along with the environments, the characters and enemies themselves look great.   Animations of attacks and deaths bring the game to life as you spend hour after hour combing for loot (because that’s what it’s all about, right?).  Diablo, while somewhat story driven, has first and foremost been about loot and the idea of spending hours grinding out a boss or a group of enemies to find that rare chest piece or last set piece. 
Blizzard has definitely found their sweet spot with the amount of loot that is in the game.  All of the items look great and while a helmet may look one way on a barbarian, it will look dramatically different on a wizard character.

Fighting a boss to take his epic loot!
One new idea that came out of this game was personal loot drops.  While in previous Diablo games or those of the same genre, whenever an enemy was felled and dropped loot, anyone and everyone was permitted to pick up the item. But now, in Diablo 3 now, what you have is whenever an enemy is killed, the loot you see on the screen is solely yours.  That means, when playing with a friend or random stranger, when you open up a chest, they might see a two-handed sword, while you might see a wizard’s staff.  It’s a nice system that negates any style of ninja-looting.  While you can still easily trade between characters, this system just puts a little more security into your hard work adventuring.

Is this loot for me?
The loot is basically broken up into your regular MMO-style system where there are white items (normal), magic items (blue), rare items (yellow), orange items (legendary), and green items (sets which provide benefits by the amount of pieces you have in a set).  While there is a ton of loot in the game, there has been quite a bit of drama about the quality of the items.  Across forums and sites, players are complaining that some rare items have better stats than legendary or set items.  While I haven’t truly run into any large problems so far, I will say that my character is set up with a mixture of magic and rare items, and I’ve ended up selling the rare items because they are worse than my magic items.  This might be due to the level at which the item was found, the difficulty I was playing on, etc, but I am curious to see how it will pan out in the future.  As with other games in the genre, there is a shared stash in all towns or encampments that houses all of your character's wares, including all of your characters that you create.  This stash can be expanded by paying thousands of gold pieces over time, but you’ll find that it’s worth it in the end as compared to the amount of loot you’ll find throughout your travels.

Is my pack big enough for all my stuff?
While you can certainly play through the game alone, Diablo 3 was primarily made with multiplayer in mind.  Playing alone will give you the benefit of traveling with a follower, which is another new feature that is built right into the story.  You’ll get to choose between a templar, scoundrel, or the enchantress to accompany you upon your journey.  As you progress through the first and second act, you’ll come upon these NPCs and welcome them into your party only one at a time, so choose which one complements your own character.  These NPCs follow around your character and help in their own way.  While they won’t be traveling storage for loot you find on your way, you’ll be able to give them weapons, rings, or amulets to buff up their stats and level them up with abilities that you can select.  While you should never go head-first into battle thinking that your follower will always be able to save you, it definitely helps when they're able to taunt and pull some aggro off of your character so you can heal yourself.  While the follower is a nice new addition to the franchise, nothing will ever take the place of another human player, and that is where Diablo 3 truly excels.

Come back tomorrow to learn more about the multiplayer aspect of Diablo III, along with some of the other aspects of the game!