Lets face it, if you're even remotely excited for the Diablo series (or are simply a fan of Blizzard games) you were likely one of the thousands of people who sat around at their computers on launch day desperately waiting for the servers to go up and running. This isn't a review for those of us who have made up our minds long ago, but rather for those who may still be on the fence. Perhaps you have a friend who has invested in the game, or may not be so sure about the controls. If that's the case, this is the review for you. Over the next week or so I'll be taking time to break down each of the classes, their strengths and weaknesses, and whether or not Diablo is a worthy time investment or another overpriced dungeon crawler.
Controls in Diablo 3 are easy to learn, and coupled with the game's slow scaling difficulty shouldn't prove a challenge for even the most casual gamer. Movement, item pickup and primary attacks are all controlled via the mouse, while the other four abilities each class gets are spread out over the 1-4 keys. What makes the controls even simpler is that there is very little micromanaging that players need to do in order to keep attacks going. Any ability that doesn't have a cooldown can be used rapidly simply by holding down the appropriate button, and as players are able to completely customize which abilities are tied down to which button, there's no real worry of a miss click. Most attacks cannot go off without explicitly selecting an enemy regardless, making Diablo 3's incredibly simple in that sense. It's real success lies more in world design and questing, particularly when in a group.
Aside from towns, small pathways and a few quest events, the zones in Diablo 3 are not pre-generated, which means that players must fully explore a map each time rather than wander it once and have everything discovered. Assuming you're entering a zone for the first time (or otherwise failed to reach a checkpoint) the area may have different special monsters, mini-bosses, dungeons or special events that spawn, which is good because without this kind of variety D3 would become a boring experience very quickly. Much of Blizzard's dark humor is tied into these world events, and trying to find each one is the best part of map exploration. Because only two events at most are ever going to be present during a single loading it may take a few runs to see them all.
The real meat and potatoes of the Diablo series however, is its difficulty. At its heart D3 is a dungeon crawler designed to challenge players as much as possible. The starting difficulty (Normal) is what all players are defaulted to, and unlocking each additional level of difficulty requires players to fully beat the game with a class. As this is the base level of difficulty for anyone to work from, it's fair to say that the experience isn't meant to be a challenging one, and for most veterans of the game it'll be easy enough to blow by without sustaining more than a death or two at most. Enemies are scaled well, and classes are given access to their core abilities quickly to ensure that they have a full arsenal of gameplay styles by the time they reach level 15, something that's achievable within a few short hours. Where Diablo 3's enjoyment comes into question isn't how simple the game is, or how forgiving it is to franchise newcomers, but rather the overall package. If beating the game once only takes a short 7 hour gaming session what is there to look forward to?
Diablo 3's greatest success does not lie within its single player mode, but rather in it's multiplayer features. Single player (class and personal skill level aside) is a fairly straightforward, simple experience. Difficulty scales as the game progresses, but so do player skills and ability strength as new runes and armor are unlocked. Some fights may be easier as one class as opposed to another, but the overall experience won't really change across the board. The result is a series of dungeons that, when played alone, can be largely ploughed through with very little trouble, but when played with a friend becomes far more interesting.
As more players jump into a co-op campaign the difficultly increases to compensate, and though Normal mode isn't the best way to judge how hard the game can be, later difficulty levels can prove quite challenging. Juggling the right class builds becomes more a question of what's better for the group than for the individual, and the flexibility in D3's class design really shines in this respect. Ranged and melee classes all receive their fair share of stuns, snares and area effect abilities, which can be buffed in ways that range from dealing more damage, to laying down damage of a different type or even changing the direction of the move itself. Such customization means that players can set themselves up to take on a wide variety of fights, and though enemies may seem easy enough to handle it only takes one or two swings for an elite creature to land a killing blow. Naturally enemies also see a large boost in difficulty, but rather than getting a simple increase to damage and health special enemies also gain stackable abilities such as AoE damage, spinning blades of arcane energy, damage reflection, the creation of walls that lock in and trap heroes, and even projectile slowing fields that make ranged attacks quite difficult to hit with.
Next week we'll have a full overview of Diablo's classes, the auction house, crafting, and some impressions from a few of our staff members to give you a better idea of whether or not Diablo 3 is the right dungeon crawling experience for you.