Page 1 of 6Diablo III is a game with some incredible expectations to live up to, though that's perhaps par for the course for Blizzard. Close to ten years in on-and-off development is enough to get just about anyone a little bit apprehensive, and some controversial decisions by Blizzard regarding DRM, the character system, and art style have soured some opinions as well. Moreover, perhaps the question that looms larger than ever, is how can we expect a game developed specifically with the PC in mind, in an age largely dedicated to console ports, to fare?
The answer, perhaps not surprisingly, is very well. I've had around a week to play through the Diablo III beta test, perhaps with more intent to scrutinize than others, and still ended up walking away impressed. Diablo III is a well-made, extremely playable and polished game even in its still incomplete state, and while there are plenty of decisions that will cause thousands of discussions amongst the more hardcore fans, none of these really get in the way of the fact that Diablo III is simply a lot of fun.
A quick note in this preview: I'll be going into heavy detail about the game mechanics, including many of the changes made from previous games and how it affects the overall gameplay experience. I'll be drawing attention to both the strengths and weaknesses, both to give readers a comprehensive idea of what to expect and in the hopes that Blizzard might take something away from these impressions. Of course, it's worth reiterating that nothing I mention here is final, and Diablo III still has a way to go in development. With that said, let's get to it!
My Old Love
Diablo III continues the classic "kill monsters, loot items" formula that has been a staple for the franchise since the first. Though over the years, the focus has shifted a bit more from "graphical roguelike" to "loot-driven hack and slash", the core of Diablo remains more or less the same as far as the basics of gameplay go. If you've ever played any Diablo-style game or one inspired by it, you should be able to slip right into the point-and-click interface and get to slashing, burning, crushing, freezing, exploding, and generally decimating waves after waves of undead, demons, and other hellspawn. As you kill enemies and complete quests, your character gains experience points and levels up, while loot, which erupts in fountains from the bodies of the slain, serves just as much role in your ability to dish out damage.
More than anything, Diablo III revels in its atmosphere and nostalgia appeal to fans of the first two games. The game positively oozes style, whether that's in its beautiful, hand-painted look, or the appearance of Deckard Cain, and yet another return to Tristram and its Cathedral. There's tons of smaller callbacks too, such as a return to Adria's Hut from the first game, a cave heavily implied to be the Den of Evil from the second, the design of the Cemetery of the Forsaken heavily mirroring a similar location in Diablo II, mentions of Bul-Kathos by the Barbarian, and many others.
I'll admit that I'm a bit ambivalent about all this - Blizzard are clearly trying very hard to play to the memories of fans, and much of the early game's structure and references might reach just a little too far in appealing to nostalgia. Diablo III is beautiful and polished, but I also get the sense that it's trying just a little too hard to stick to its roots - I would appreciate something more adventurous and creative, instead of more grim jokes at poor Wirt's expense. Granted, as the beta only covers roughly the first half of Act 1, it's possible the game will become more adventurous later on; it's just not apparent from the slice I played.
Where the game also gets its Diablo cred is in its sound design. Diablo has always had great audio, from memorable and moody music to the crunch of bones, splatter of blood, ooze of melting flesh, and howls of monsters, but Blizzard have outdone themselves as far as sound effects go. There is a great consistency in the audio that's rarely seen these days, and it goes a very long way towards lending a sense of gravitas and impact to the game. Music is similar enough to the previous games, with the dark strings and twangy guitars returning to haunt once more. And, of course, Deckard Cain's distinct croaking is in there amongst a complement of overall solid voice-acting. It's rare for me to rant and rave about audio in this sort of game, but it adds so much to making Diablo III feel like Diablo that I think it deserves the attention.
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