Blizzard’s highly anticipated next release, Diablo III, has a lot to live up to. Diablo II set a very high bar – one that many games have reached for, but few have come close to matching. Blizzard is not only trying to recapture that magic, but also push the genre forward with the lessons it has learned from World of Warcraft.
I got a chance to play both the co-op story campaign and the PvP arena while at BlizzCon. The first thing I noticed about Diablo III was the amazing sound. The effects for each character really give them flavor and life. The Barbarian plods along and the boom of his attacks gives real weight. The deep thud of each shot the Demon Hunter fires says “I should not fear these monsters, they should fear me!”. The atmosphere the audio engineers created really is top notch.
One noticeable difference between Diablo II and III is the increased focus on the story. Diablo II didn’t seem to have much of one to me, and my character certainly never felt a part of it. In Diablo III you interact with characters outside of the town. There are short dialogue scenes where your character actually talks. Not only that, but during gameplay your character will comment on the going-ons around them. This gives the game a narrative voice and makes it so you feel connected to the other characters and even other players, as you thank them for healing you. There are also lore books scattered about that can be read to you while you bash through monsters, telling the story without interrupting the flow of the gameplay which is always a huge plus.
As I got started in my co-op campaign, with a party consisting of two demon hunters, a wizard and a monk, I noticed we were all naked. I understand level 1 characters are not supposed to feel powerful, but I was expecting to at least have some clothes! We did eventually get to clothe ourselves in the loot we dropped, though. The levels felt a more linear than I remember Diablo II being. That could have just been a factor of the story sections we were in, though, and I did see some wide open spaces. While the combat didn’t feel difficult (we were low level after all) it did have one aspect that I’ve been craving for a long time – large hordes of monsters. There was also lots of tasty loot. But co-op players don’t need to be afraid – it looked like the loot onscreen is only for you, so you don’t have to worry about speed clicking to pick it up.
The level up process felt, unsurprisingly, a lot like WoW’s new expansion Mists of Pandaria. When you level up, a notification splashes on the screen and you automatically learn new spells. While you have plenty of spells, you are limited in how many UI slots you have to put them into, with more unlocking as you increase in level. This gives a Guild Wars-like strategy to the gameplay. Luckily it was really easy to swap out skills so you could try out different combos at will.
Another feature Diablo III is borrowing from WoW is achievements. In an arcade-y twist, they’ll also show your high score. Kill 17 mobs in a row and Massacre will splash across the screen showing your total. Kill only 15 next time and, while you’ll still get the Massacre, you’ll see your previous kill total, taunting you to beat it.
Diablo III’s PvP arena was fast and frenetic. The 4v4 Team Deathmatch felt much more like an FPS than an RPG. You pick a class that comes with preset abilities that I assume was max level from their armor (my computer lost network connection and the game had to reboot, so I missed the first few minutes of play). Before the match started, everyone got practice time where kills didn’t count, allowing them time to get an understanding of their class. The large arena had plenty of cover to run around. After each death, there was a short respawn timer and then we were back in the fray. The fast-paced action seemed to favor ranged classes, although an enraged Barbarian could make short work of anyone he could get close to.
When I walked away from playing Mists of Pandaria, I was blown away and couldn’t wait to play more. Playing Blizzard DOTA left me intrigued and, again, I wanted to play more (ironically, I may start playing League of Legends now). After playing Diablo III, I did not have these same feelings. It was fun, but it wasn’t the same euphoria I remember from Diablo II.
Diablo III is still a good game and it is doing everything right, everything a game coming out now should do. I’m still going to get Diablo III and I’ll probably have a lot of fun playing it, but 11 years of looking back through rose-colored glasses is a high bar to overcome. Here’s to hoping that the extra time Blizzard is taking with it will really make it shine.