Diablo III (PC)

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If there is one game that many PC gamers were looking forward to for quite some time now, it’s Diablo III. The hype machine kicked in years ago (right after Diablo II was released…) and somehow kept the momentum going. Through online petitions about the art style and April fool’s jokes about ponies shooting rainbows, the game finally arrived on store shelves. Having played the online beta I had a good idea of what to expect, and the end result did not disappoint.

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Diablo III is the epitome of an action RPG, so let me try to sum it up in on sentence: Diablo III sees the player travel through level upon monster-filled level, beating the monsters into submission, using the dropped loot to make them wealthy and powerful, while using the earned experience points to level up and unlock new skills.

Such a long and wonderful sentence does not do the game any justice, however, so I had better elaborate a bit. In Diablo III, you can play any of ten characters – there are essentially five classes but each has both male and female versions. Some classes might be named differently to what you’re used to, but you there are the usual suspects, from a ranger type Demon Hunter to a melee focused Monk.

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The town of Tristram has been struck by a huge meteor, which was followed by the dead suddenly walking around. As a travelling warrior, you show up to cleanse the world from these unspeakable evils, and soon get sent on your merry way to find the root of all evil. As it turns, out the root of all evil is not money, after all.

As most Diablo games and expansions before it, the story of Diablo III is solid, but ultimately forgettable. You simply need to know that you will end up going deeper and deeper into the dungeons and crypts and you need to clear them out of all baddies.

The levels of Diablo III are mostly randomly generated, and as much as this adds to the replay value of the title, it becomes very clear that they’re just a mash-up of level pieces put together which often caused me to lose track of where I was and what I was doing because of the repetition, and after the first few deja-vu moments I realized what was going on.

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Combat in Diablo III is as slick as ever, though. You use your mouse for two standard attacks of your currently-equipped weapon, and then you have four short-cut keys for other spells and skills. I know of a few players complaining that this is not enough short-cuts, but this never posed a problem for me. The real trick is how you use these available options together to combine them into a smooth killing machine.

Depending on your class, you have a few combat options available to you. Each of these skills can level up as your character increases in experience, and no skill points can be assigned – these skills all unlock automatically. Because of the four available action slots, however, it becomes a skill in itself to decide which of these you will actively use. In addition, passive skills are supplemented with runes – only one rune can be equipped at a time, so again your choice makes a big difference.

With your skills set correctly, you become a killing machine. Through the hours I spent playing Diablo III, I killed thousands of monsters, destroyed endless barrels and, I have to regrettably admit, crates, too. Since this is an action RPG all about the loot, it feels compulsory to destroy and kill as much as possible to ensure your loot collection is worthy of the best.

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For the first time, crafting has been introduced to a Diablo game. You won’t be doing the crafting yourself, but rather you’ll be able to invest in the local blacksmith to master his trade and craft things for you. He can also disassemble items into their components that can then be used to make new items, provided you already have the recipe in question.

Diablo III sets a great pace for the action, but really shines when you play co-operatively. Up to four players can go dungeon-crawling together which adds an extra level of strategy as the right character classes and skills used can make the difference between success and failure, especially on the higher difficulty settings. This adds a ‘mini-raid’ feel to the game, reminiscent of World of Warcraft’s huge raids that those players love.

Diablo III also features an auction house which allows you to can put any item you have collected up for sale and ask other players to purchase those items with their in-game gold. Rare items fetch higher prices, and my steel dagger is still available if anybody is interested. Where the auction house comes in most handy for me, however, is in purchasing items. If you try to fluff up a particular skill of your character, like the attack speed, then waiting for the right weapon or armour to assist with that can be a very long wait. Searching for items on the auction house is much easier and quicker, and you get exactly what you want.

Blizzard is also about to launch a real money auction house where you can spend real world dollars on items. How they will control this is a bit of a mystery right now, but I will update you when I hear more.

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Diablo III is a beautiful game that manages to suck me into its world, and drained hours of my life before I even knew what is happening. Grass sways as you walk through it; enemies flop down after being killed like the best ragdoll physics allow. Your ears are treated to soothing music and gut wrenching sound effects. And what really stands out is the sheer level of polish.

The amount of times I went to bed in the early hours of the morning this last week while playing Diablo III is shocking. As a future father I guess this training to get along with no sleep will come in handy.

Not once did I see any texturing artefacts, either, or special effects mishaps, or any bug whatsoever. I was fortunate enough not to encounter any problems on launch day as others did, and the reports of online play issues doesn’t really stem from any technical difficulties, but rather from Diablo III’s biggest concern of all: There is no offline play.

More than just an online activation, Diablo III requires an internet connection at all times, even when playing singleplayer. If you are halfway through a quest and your connection drops, you lose your game’s progress up to the last save point. It also means that if servers are being flooded by a record amount of people trying to play the game, then you won’t be able to enjoy the game you just purchased.

Besides the questions this makes you ask about what you own and what you don’t, it is more a question of being annoying. As always, piracy is one of the main reasons a developer decides to require a constant connection, and as always it is the legitimate users that suffer most.

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Diablo III doesn’t really add anything new to the action RPG genre, but it does provide a level of polish not often seen in videogames any more. It is engaging and will suck your life away but with no offline play, the disconnections that this causes can be frustrating and disappointing. If these are factors that will sway your decision then keep it in mind before purchasing.

For those with solid internet connections and a love of all things action RPG, this is your early Christmas present!

The Good: Epitome of action RPGs; Especially polished; Co-op FTW!

The Bad: Disconnects and lost progress due to online requirements.

The Ugly: Permanent connection is hampering online for the legitimate purchasers of the game!