Itís been 12 long years since Diablo II came out and Blizzard have finally unleashed the latest instalment. After playing it with a freshly minted Barbarian character for about 3 hours or so Iíd like to share my initial impressions of the game.
Smooth, very pretty and a huge step up (as youíd expect after 12 years) from its predecessor. The levels are highly detailed and incorporate a variety of destructible elements which can be used strategically against your enemies (i.e. squish monsters with chandeliers or knock out wooden struts to collapse walls onto foes etc.).
Other nice touches include an array of dazzling lighting effects, some cool looking mist and fog, and a zillion intricate monster models replete with silky smooth animations.
The gameís angled, overhead viewing perspective appears to be locked but is pretty much ideal, well for my tastes anyway.
Admittedly Iím playing it using a decent graphics card (Radeon HD 6900) but I havenít noticed any slowdown yet, regardless of how many enemies are onscreen.
Diablo III Gallery
So far (playing as a Barbarian) Iíve found Diablo IIIís combat system to be great Ė Blizzard have definitely learnt a thing or two about making fluid and fun combat encounters with World of Warcraft (WoW), and Diablo III certainly takes some cues from the WoWís central combat mechanics Ė incorporating traditional combat elements like stuns, snares, mobility and damage dealing.
Boss fights are also reminiscent of WoW and encourage players to utilise all of their characterís abilities. For example, during the Skeleton King fight I used my Leap ability to pull myself out of range during the Skeleton Kingís ethereal phases (where he becomes transparent and appears to deal extra damage). Iím still only in the early stages of the game but hopefully these strategic elements will become even more pronounced.
On a side-note I love the play style of the Barbarian with his brute force, mobility (i.e. the Leap ability), stuns and snares.
Movement and Interface
While Diablo III is predominantly mouse-controlled Blizzard appears to have hit upon a perfect synergy of responsiveness and intuitiveness. Donít be concerned about the game being too simplistic Ė while you certainly do a lot of clicking, there are also four hot-keyed secondary abilities (Iíve unlocked 2 so far) which provide the potential for a surprising amount of strategic depth.
To my mind Diablo IIIís character control feels like a distilled version of WoWís.
As you progress you unlock new character abilities which can be further beefed up with Runes. While the game does appear to want to hold your hand during the levelling up process, thereís still plenty of scope to customise your character the way you want to. However I need to play far more of the game before I can make any meaningful judgement on how well this system works. Suffice to say: so far, so goodÖ
Reminiscent of WoWís professions, Diablo IIIís crafting system allows players to salvage materials (similar to the process of Disenchanting in WoW) from loot they pick up and then use it to create powerful crafted items. At this early point in the game I havenít experimented too much with crafting but it appears to be extremely intuitive and has loads of potential.
Ever since I first played the original Diablo over 15 years ago Iíve been amazed by just how well this series provides players with the proverbial dangling carrot: loot and lots of it.
Of course back in the original Diablo I shudder to recall seeing my character murdered time and time again by other human-controlled players, only to have all his hard earned gear (and severed ear) looted by said players (you sneaky bastards) into the bargain.
Hard as it may be to believe, Blizzard has managed to up the ante even further with Diablo IIIís loot system. While the game must contain millions of randomly generated items Blizzard seems to have taken a leaf out of WoWís book and applied Common, Magical, Rare, (and hopefully) Epic classes to Diablo III loot. In fact theyíve got the formula down so well that I canít help but feel a ridiculous shiver of excitement whenever I spot anything blue or yellow (yellow is the best Iíve picked up so far) amongst the loot piles of fallen enemies. Of course before I finish the game Iím hoping to spot my favourite loot colour of all: purpleÖ
Blizzard pride themselves on imbuing their games with vast backdrops of lore and Diablo III is no exception. Many familiar characters (i.e. Deckard Cain) make a return appearance (voiced by the same actors too by the sound of it) and each quest is anchored in the characteristically dark, Diablo-esque storyline. Of course many players will ignore the storyline totally in favour of simply wading in and killing stuff, but the narrative backdrop is certainly there for those who care.
The only negative aspect of Diablo III Iíve encountered so far relates to the erratic nature of the game servers: sometimes theyíre up and sometimes theyíre down. Being an old fart I tend to get a bit old-school about these things and it infuriates me that I canít play a game Iíve just bought because the bloody server happens to be down. However these sorts of issues always occur when a massive online title launches and I expect that the Diablo III Battle.net servers will become less erratic once things calm down a bit.
So far Iím really enjoying Diablo III and will post a full review once Iíve finished the game.