When someone familiar with videogames mentions the word ‘blizzard’, chances are the first thing that comes into their head will be the purveyors of PC games who go by the same name, rather than the fearsomely cold weather inclement.
Famous for their titles such as the hugely popular StarCraft and World of Warcraft games, Blizzard Entertainment have at long last decided to cut their teeth on modern gaming consoles by stepping down from their PC mantle to provide us with the third installment to their just as revered Diablo series, with Diablo 3.
It should come as no surprise that Blizzard want to make themselves much more recognized on modern consoles, and maybe this is the first step to a more established footing, but you have to question the timing. Releasing a game on two consoles just as the curtain is about to fall on them could be seen as too little too late as far as lasting impressions for the game are concerned, but the truth is, Diablo 3 has enough in its locker both comparatively to the PC version and in its own right to warrant a purchase, even this late in the modern console lifespan.
The release of Diablo 3 on consoles isn’t without its hitches though, as the series is still carrying a lot of excess baggage following its less-than-straightforward PC debut. Following a rocky beta, the full game was originally released on PC back in May 2012 and it wasn’t long after that when the only talk regarding the game was the damning criticism of the series wagered by veterans, critics and new players alike. So, where exactly did the PC version of Diablo 3 go wrong? Well, next to a consistently choppy latency problem, a real-world auction house that allowed players to wield game-changing weapons in the early stages of the plotline, an always-on DRM feature, no local co-op and no way of evading enemy attacks other than via repetitive strafing, and it’s clear to see that there were several areas of Diablo 3 lacking in both refinement and application. But does the console version of the game rectify these foibles? Well, let’s take a look.
If, like me, you haven’t played any title in the Diablo series before this one, then the first thing you’ll likely notice when you load up the game is the menacing figure that lurks behind the main title logo. This is Diablo, key antagonist of the series and the youngest of three decidedly dastardly Prime Evils that skulk the world of Sanctuary. With his primary goal being to instill fear into all whom dwell beneath him, Diablo represents the biggest threat to the survival of the world, and you are the sole being that stands in the way of him completing his task.
For the great journey ahead of you that will begin with battling possessed humans called ‘Risen’ and end with you staring evil in its smoke billowing face, you will require the help of a Hero, and thus you must choose a character best suited to your play-style. With five choices in character class that can be utilized as either male or female gender, your choice now will be one that ideally you don’t want to be regretting once Diablo has begun the process of pulling your soul through your nostrils, so choose carefully.
The first character on offer is the brutish Barbarian. As deadly with a sword as he is with an axe, the Barbarian is a straightforward character for the player who is likely to swing first and ask questions later, and is perhaps best befitting a player with a penchant for wanton destruction and racking up a high kill count. Next on offer is the Monk, a close-range character who has the ability to increase the range of their attacks as they advance in level. Most notably, the Monk can utilize attacks in progressively more powerful stages, meaning the more that you attack in a short space of time, the stronger your attacks will be. Up next is the Witch Doctor, a character seen as the spiritual successor to the Necromancer class which failed to return from Diablo 2. With a specialty in using the dead to his advantage, the Witch Doctor is mightily proficient in commanding the battle from afar, with their ability to influence the minds of their foes a key factor in successfully navigating a battle. The penultimate character class is the Demon Hunter, a class that, like the Witch Doctor, is best employed operating from range. With either a two-handed Bow or a Crossbow in one hand and a shield in the next, Demon Hunters can use a number of increasingly varied bow strikes to stun, slow down and ultimately kill all who stand in their way. Finally, we have the Wizard, an arcane master who is just as useful at close range as they are attacking from afar. With his magical potency and high damage attacks, the Wizard prefers to rely solely on his own magical prowess rather than staggering his progress by picking up a sword and shield.
With your character at long last selected, named and eager for a fight, it’s time to begin your adventure and absolve the evil that is plaguing Sanctuary. Onward we go.
The story of Diablo 3 picks up some twenty years after the events of Diablo 2, in which the evil lord Diablo consumes the hero from the original game and, along with his two brothers Baal and Mephisto, unleashes the remnants of hell unto the world. As far as the games lore is concerned, that’s all you really need to know as it is the consistent leveling up and gradually improving characters that drives this game, rather than the relatively straightforward plotline. Even if you’re unfamiliar with the base plot of the Diablo series, it can be assumed that there will be a huge endgame battle ahead of you, and knowing this makes the leveling up and character improvements seem all that more important and necessary, and is especially noteworthy when your character references that they’re getting stronger mid-battle.
After your first skirmish with some fairly straightforward foes outside of New Tristram, you’ll have access to new, more leveled areas outside of town in which to test yourself. As you’re tasked with putting down some of the foes that have been attacking the barricades of New Tristram, you’ll be really put through your paces for the first time as enemies come at you thick, fast and in droves dense enough to form a meaty fist gunning right for you. It’s here where the brand new console exclusive ‘evade’ comes into its own, as a perfectly timed roll will allow the player to negate all damage that otherwise would’ve drained their health bar. Not only that, but seeing as the player now doesn’t have to constantly run around in circles hoping that their shield has a high enough block percentage to survive an attack, battles look much less needlessly frenzied, and the satisfaction of a perfectly timed evasive roll is one that will leave you cracking a satisfyingly wry smile on the side of your face. Enemy targeting is automatic too, meaning that if there’s an enemy in range, their body will glow with a red outline. Although this targeting system is functional enough for the most part, it does have a tendency to snap onto incremental environment objects like tree stumps at some very inopportune times. There is a great degree of freedom and fluidity to the combat in Diablo 3, though. Combining a spritely player speed which can be increased depending on what equipment you’re using with the evasive roll, aggressively challenging enemies and a variety of open and enclosed environments leads to a chaotic yet structured series of skirmishes through each area that are only ever improved by the varying series of attacks that your character can perform.
And governing your direction of attack and how you approach each series of battles is a series of beautifully rendered environments that make up Sanctuary. Fully accentuating the gothic lacquer Diablo 3 is smeared in, each location feels like it is breathing and brimming with life even if there’s not a single soul to be found within them. Whether it is a dark, chilling forest, a damp cellar or the warmly glowing village of New Tristram, each area that makes up the Diablo 3 subsection of Sanctuary has something about it that makes it definitively recognizable from its neighboring locales. And adding to an array of environments eked in evil substance are things like small bouts of destruction to objects such as gargoyles, bookshelves and tables that although don’t seem too big an evolutionary leap in themselves, really add to the life force of each area, making the settings you find yourself traversing seem less like you’re walking through a diorama and more like you’re baying to the will of joyously nefarious dungeon master who is reveling in each small detail of your hellishly perilous journey. Diablo 3 definitely isn’t the best looking games of its kind, and this extends to much more than the scenery, but what it has it makes the best of, and next to its incredibly well-rendered locations, occasional CGI cut scenes and slick character animation, there really isn’t any graphical ambiguity that can detract from your enjoyment of the game. If anything is going to detract from your enjoyment though, then it will likely be the depth of the game.
Diablo 3 thrives in its simplicity. The cycle of kill, loot and kill again isn’t necessarily a formula for failure, but it is awfully repetitive. We have seen this formula succeed in the past, though. Aside from the previous Diablo iterations, the Borderlands series has made the absolute best of this approach, however the latter title in the Borderlands series has something the Diablo 3 just doesn’t; a story-driven venture that goes hand in hand with the base game experience. That’s not to say that Diablo 3 will get increasingly more predictable and ultimately more boring the more you play, but it does mean that a weekend of playing the game on your sofa may leave you having to wait a few days before the urge to play again strikes.
Sticking with the Borderlands comparative for a moment though, for people who have delved into both game series, it’s clear to see that the Diablo 3 skill paths and levelling perks provide far more depth than that of Gearbox’s cell-shaded loot-em-up. You have a number of skills that will steadily unlock as you level up, with each new talent being unique enough to completely alter the way you approach your character. Next to the mandatory skill unlocks are a series of ‘Runes’ which allow you to personalize each skill to acutely suit your needs. For example, if you’re playing the Demon Hunter you may find use in the ‘Vault’ skill which allows you to quickly zip past enemy foes and flank them accordingly. One of the first runes you will be able to make use of that is used in accordance with this skill is one which allows you to recoup some of your Discipline points that were used to execute the move doubly quickly. With many combinations each applying to a more diverse aspect of character play style, there is tremendous freedom in character customization, and although you can’t pick and choose what skills you unlock and when, having a full arsenal of skills all specialized in a specific aspect of attack is tremendously satisfying. And what’s more, you can improve your character build even further through clothing and weaponry that you find on the battlefield.
The joy of acquiring loot is something that is unique to the ‘shoot them, loot them’ sub-genre, and the feeling of absolute delight that surrounds attaining a brand new item of clothing or a weapon is something not lost in Diablo 3. Loot can range from the common (denoted by white text) to the rare (yellow) and even legendary (orange) with each colour increasing in rarity, strength and having more useful additional bonuses. And with such a system comes a delicate balancing act as you try to give your character the most powerful possible arrangement of items. You may find a white weapon that does more damage than its blue counterpart, however as blue weapons (as well as yellow and orange) have extra bonuses that range from more experience per kill to electrically charged output, it may be more useful take a small loss on the damage stat to take advantage of the things offered by the weaker weapon. And, if you aren’t lucky enough to receive that oh-so perfect loot drop you’ve been craving, then you can also turn want-away gear into raw materials that can be used to construct further items via your local blacksmith. Of course, you always want to be in the best possible position to fight the droves of enemies ahead of you, and don’t worry, for there are plenty of them to occupy your attention.
Whether it is the zombie-esque Risen, the scuttling horrors of the Aracnae or the hulking mass of blubber that makes up the Grotesque, the aggressors of Diablo 3 are both numerable and terrifying. Organised in ascending difficulty via the same colour-coded structure as gear and weaponry, the enemies that tread Sanctuary’s lands are diverse enough to present a much different challenge during each fight. You may find yourself content when being attacked by Risen, but when you’re swarmed by the much quicker Imps or attacked from the air, you can quickly find yourself being overwhelmed. And after adding together the masses of varying enemies, the fast-paced combat and the promise of loot after every successful fight, you have yourself an addicting concoction that makes the core gameplay of Diablo 3 a very gratifying experience.
On the whole, as an isometric action-RPG with little emphasis on plot and much more on character personalization, Diablo 3 is uncompromising, unflinching and, to console players at least, unexpectedly enjoyable destructive romp. With several ways to play, tremendous emphasis on ‘just one more play through’ and a constantly flowing river of loot lapping enticingly at your feet, Diablo 3 is a superb game and the truest form of the PC game that fell so very far, so very fast.