One cannot discount the sheer importance of the Diablo franchise to the world of gaming. Not only did it create a whole genre of Action RPGs, but it has defined the way in which the search for better and better gear can be an objective all of its own. At its essence Diablo comes down to killing increasingly difficult monsters in the pursuit of the perfect item, a click frenzy of the highest order which can pull you in and not let go for some time.
Diablo 3 features some pretty big changes to some of the game’s mechanics but at heart it doesn’t wander too far from the Lootathons that were the first two games. You choose one of five classes than begin a quest to banish a newly risen evil from the land. Once you do, it is time to do it all over again at a higher difficulty, with better rewards and more fiendish creatures to overcome.
What has changed is the RPG aspect of the game. Diablo III’s skills and abilities work quite differently to its predecessors – there is no assigning skill points or the like, rather you unlock various abilities as you level. Each ability falls into a category dependent upon your class, and at any one time you can have six active ‘spells’ as well as up to three passive ones. While this seems quite low, Blizzard has also added a secondary ‘rune’ system to the game, which also progressively unlocks as you level. These runes change your active abilities, morphing them into new versions that can differ quite dramatically from the base version.
So what seems like a simplified way of building a character is actually quite deep, and thanks to the lack of skill points and the like you can change them on the fly. This comes in quite handy when facing off against certain boss monsters or the like, where you can tailor your skills to work best against the obstacles prevented.
But more than this it means that you can find your ideal playstyle and hone it by combining skills, runes and certain choices of gear. It not only makes the game more enjoyable, but it gives you a goal when sifting through the flood of loot that the game throws at you. Plus, by keeping the number of buttons to press to a manageable six you don’t end up with an overwhelming array of action bars and abilities with situational at best uses.
While the game itself is a wonderful evolution of the previous two Diablo titles, the changes haven’t all been well received. The biggest, and most controversial, aspect of Diablo 3 is that it requires a constant internet connection to play. Behind the scenes the game works like a massively multiplayer title – the game itself cannot work without constant communication with Blizzard’s servers.
This meant a frustrating experience at launch, when the company struggled to deal with the massive influx of players, but thankfully it only lasted a few days – our experience since then has been smooth. While this does impact those who have patchy internet connections, and limits the ability to play whenever and wherever one wants, it does come with some benefits.
The biggest is the streamlining of coop play. Once you log in to Diablo 3 you can instantly jump into the game of anyone on your friends list, at which point the monsters increase in difficulty. Coop is an immensely fun experience, and drama-free thanks to everyone getting their own loot drops rather than having to share between the group.
Despite the fact that Diablo III uses a very MMO-style server/client setup, Blizzard isn’t charging a subscription fee for the game. Rather it is implementing an optional ‘real money’ Auction House for items, of which it gets a cut of all transactions. This hadn’t gone live at the time of writing, but it is going to be a fascinating exercise in the evolution of gaming business models, and has the potential to be a big influence on the future of gaming.
As long as you have a decent internet connection, Diablo 3 is a great game. Not only is it slickly designed and full of wonderful loot, but it manages the delicate balance of being easy to learn and hard to master. With four difficulty levels available, one purely designed for maximum level characters, there is serious longevity as well.