New Tristram, Sanctuary, twenty years after the events of Diablo II. A star has fallen from the sky and smashed into the Cathedral. The event has mysteriously caused the dead to resurrect and the living to transform into the walking dead. The main character, chosen as a male or female from one of five classes decides to pursue their destiny by investigating the fallen star, and the ensuing troubles will pit you against some self-serving and mysterious personalities while assisting the residents of New Tristram in defending against the undead threat.
The classes you can choose from are Barbarian, Witch Doctor, Wizard, Demon Hunter, and Monk. As you may imagine they have abilities which suit their character types well. If you are somehow unfamiliar with the Diablo games they are top-down dungeon crawler RPGs that scratch a few itches quite well. Mainly there is looting, questing, and skill building. More on all that in the gameplay section. Let’s do the visuals first.
The graphics themselves are servicable, they do the job because the camera is pretty far away from everything. In truth though, they are unimpressive. Animations are fluid but limited, which adds to the feeling that this world isn’t particularly alive. It’s more backdrop than world, but Blizzard does use the tools at their disposal to make that world highly atmospheric. From the roving mist to the ambient lighting of every spooky hovel you’re going to feel how much attention has been put into making Sanctuary a foreboding place. The environments are just great all around, they pull you into the world right away and keep you on the path of exploration. The special effects are varied and enhance the visual impact of your combat abilities, making them quite satisfying.
One issue I ran into with the mechanics of the visuals was that full parts of the set pop in at inopportune times. Pieces disappear and come back so you have a clear view of your character, but instead of phasing in and out with transparencies the parts can just show up and totally block you from seeing what you are doing in an ongoing battle.
The sound in this game is also a solid draw which is at its best when pulling you into the dark atmospherics of the world. Effects are tight and always on time. The voice work is top quality, some character’s performances seem to belong in a more realistic category while others better fit a dark comics setting. Nevertheless thy are well done and in high grade audio. The range of sound effects are highly varied. This variability serves as a reinforcing reward system, from the sound of gold to the thwap of a crossbow you know you’ve done right by the clear and unclouded sounds of action. This also has the effect of keeping most auditory experiences brief, if still to the point.
The gameplay has been a subject of interest as gamers have wondered just how a mouse and keyboard game would translate to controller. I think it translates just fine. You’ve got a nice fluid range of movement with your left stick and the right stick handles a dodge-roll that isn’t perfect but is mostly effective. Instead of clicking on the targeted enemy the game predicts who you are after based on the direction you are facing. This can cause problems when enemies permeate the area at close and far distances.
The face buttons and right triggers handle your six main abilities, the options for which you earn as you level up and your skill tree expands. You can’t map the skills to any button you want but instead each button has a set of skills attached to it that crack open with XP. The abilities have a nice variety to them which keep things interesting. The big fun is in putting together a custom arsenal of favorite moves to play the game the way you want to play it.
You can play however you like with whatever class you like, that’s the appeal. This is achieved through some expert balancing so that whether you are doing the axe thing, the magic thing, or the crossbow thing the game never feels like one class is superior to another or choosing what you like damages the experience.
Questing and combat are good times but with most of the substance of the game inside the skills I found it fairly repetitive. There wasn’t much to get excited about here except the creativity with which you can dispatch enemy fodder. The randomly generated areas are pretty intriguing and some mildly destructive environments are featured. You might just knock some things apart by bumping into them. There’s a ton of gear to pick up and play with along the way, even upgrade, which helps break up the quests and give you some down time. Pretty standard but it works. The GUI isn’t wonderful but you’ll get the hang of it.
The story is simple stuff, I’d rather not give away more than the basic setup in my opening paragraph that I and everyone else puts forward because it isn’t the unfolding narrative which is important but what surrounds it. Blizzard has done a superb bit of work pulling together Diablo’s lore to shore up the experience. This shows itself in the journals and demeanor of the NPCs as well as the backstories of the many characters you do your quests for. The overall impression is depth of world, even though the main plot won’t blow anybody’s socks off.
Diablo III has practically endless replay value for those interested. With all of the different classes along with the combinations of skills plus random dungeons you’ve got a mix for a game that you’ll probably be done with long before you exhaust its possibilities.
Diablo III is a very good game. It is not exceptional though. While I don’t believe a game needs to innovate to be exceptional the problem with this title is that it stays mired in the past without doing much of anything to gain the hearts and minds of modern gamers. That is not a bad thing though, as it is mainly geared toward Diablo fans already in existence, and they will be pleased. That said, newcomers will probably be left wondering why this is a full price game with a high profile.
(Reviewed on PS3 with thanks to Activision/Blizzard)
ONLY SINGLE PLAYER SCORE
Story – 7/10
Gameplay/Design – 8/10
Visuals – 7.5/10
Sound – 8/10
Lasting Appeal – 9/10