Introducing the most generous of all feedback loops…
It’s been a long time coming, but finally gamers from around the world have finally gotten their hands on Diablo III. There’s no doubting that Blizzard’s latest release is one of the biggest arrivals on the PC gaming calendar, but despite the core loot-based gameplay being as riveting as it always has been, in the back of our minds there’s a thought gnawing away at us that keeps asking the same question; did this really need to be an online-only game?
Rather than sticking with the offline template of previous entries in this series, Blizzard has added an MMO-like framework to Diablo III, which means that all progress requires an active internet connection, regardless if you’re playing on your own or not. For a deliberately old-school isometric RPG, that’s a very odd move despite the lengths they’ve gone to adding features like an auction house and streamlined co-op. This kind of counter-piracy measure, and that is undoubtedly its primary motivation, inevitably leads to frustration as gameplay suffers latency issues. Even with a perfectly acceptable internet connection, our play-throughs regularly experienced lag spikes, stuttering gameplay and lost progress alone. For such an equipment and XP-driven experience those shortcomings are immensely frustrating, but we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
If you’ve been living under a rock for the past decade, you might not know that Diablo III is a loot driven RPG which tells the tale of five perfectly pitched classes in their struggle against a demonic invasion at the hands of you know who. There’s the warrior-like Barbarian, the necromancy expert known as the Witch Doctor, magical Wizard, the Monk which has fists which are faster than lightning and the bow and arrow sporting Demon Hunter. All of these classes have skills which frankly put other RPGs to shame, with abilities that shatter, explode, pulverise and liquefy not only enemies but also the landscape around them, with world-ending visual effects to match. While playing as any of these archetypes it’s impossible not to feel empowered after even only a couple of hours questing. We spent the majority of our time as a Demon Hunter, and we found the progression curve both enticing and challenging, with new skills, runes and functionality introduced gradually over the sixty levels. Rather than having elaborate skill trees, all your combative options unlock over time, and while this may seem reductive when compared with previous games, there’s a new skill-based Rune system which applies modifiers to existing skills and the ability to socket equipment with crystals to differentiate your character to others. Both of these systems work really well and aren’t as hard to get your head around as incremental attribute allocation would be. All of the classic depth associated with Strength, Dexterity and Intelligence values is still here, but you can only see that level of detail if you go looking for it.
Diablo III has the sort of depth more equatable with an MMORPG than a dungeon crawler, and as you’d expect it’s a much more enjoyable experience when played with friends or even ‘randoms’. Under the online umbrella of the Battle.net framework, it’s easy and fast to team-up with others online. When joining another game you aren’t shackled to another player, instead you have free-reign to go wherever you wish, which again is welcome.
Story has never really been this series strong suit, but with Diablo III Blizzard has made good steps to make gamers feel engaged with the world. Whenever you face a new type of monster a journal entry is read aloud describing the whys and wherefores of their scaley existance and as per usual with this developer, there’s ridiculously sublime cutscenes which bookend each of the game’s four acts. The plot lacks the depth of other fantasy releases, but really you’re just playing for the smartly implemented feedback loop associated with loot and the promise of always progressing your character regardless of how well or badly you’re playing.
That’s really the trick of Blizzard’s latest release. Unquestionably Diablo III offers a sublime dungeon crawler experience, but at its core it’s the perfect interactive embodiment of comfort food. It’s fun to play, offers hundreds of hours of interesting progression across it’s handful of surprisingly different difficulty modes and demands so little of the player enjoying it. It’s just a shame so much unnecessary online-only design has been placed upon what used to be a really engaging and simple loot-driven concept. We just wish there was a compelling offline component to compliment that, or the ability for gamers to cacoon themselves away from the online madness. A fool’s wish to be sure…
An incredibly addictive and rewarding online experience, but its spell is sometimes broken by server gremlins.
Tags: Diablo III
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