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SummaryLame start, awesome mid-game, but reward-less grind near the end.
- Great fun in coop!
- Literally two clicks and you're in the middle of coop action
- Great polish
- Low system requirements
- Cool classes
- Stupid difficulty curve
- Unrewarding itemization
- Unrewarding character leveling
- Activision game pricing
- Lots of server down-time which makes it impossible to play even singleplayer
- Boring in single player
- Lag can easily kill you
The Bottom LineWhen Diablo was originally released, I couldn't really get into it. The monotonous clicking and looting wasn't my thing. While the atmosphere was nice, I felt the gameplay was to bland and repetitive. I skipped it and stuck with the likes of Baldur's Gate and Morrowind for my RPG experiences.
Having skipped the sequel I decided with the release of Diablo III to give the series another chance. Blizzard has since grown up to be one of the powerhouses of PC gaming. And though I skipped World of Warcraft and Starcraft 2 entirely, I did have good fun with Warcraft III despite not caring about RTS games at all. And if anything with Blizzard games you can expect a tremendous level of polish.
My first impression with the game was in the open beta weekend shortly before launch and my impressions were definitely positive enough to warrant a purchase on launch day. So my first point of irritation is the pricing of games released by Activision. While usually I can buy any PC game for €35 or less (I think the only exception in the last 5 years was Deus Ex 3, which was €40), I had to pay €46 for Diablo III and in most stores it went for €60. This seems to be the case only with Activision titles (i.e. Modern Warfare).
Seeing how on the open beta weekend was down the whole first day I didn't really expect to be able to play on the first day. And I was right, the servers were all down due to the massive surge of players trying to connect and a bug that had to be fixed. In the almost three weeks since release there have been 4 days that the game was unplayable due to server issues. Which is unacceptable.
So on next day I could start playing. I started with a barbarian character, but then decided on a wizard (which I had also been playing in the beta). Most of the classes have great attacks and abilities and deciding which one to start playing with was quite a difficult choice. I played through the game with a friend who went for Barbarian and from time to time joined some colleagues from work who played a variety of classes. Playing this game in cooperative mode is really awesome. Thrashing mobs together is just a lot of fun, particularly when the characters skills and attacks are chosen to complement each other. On the flip side of this coin, the rare moments when I found myself playing alone I didn't think it was fun at all. My wizard is great at killing large mobs of squishy enemies, but when it comes to small numbers of heavily protected mobs I have to kite like a madman, and that's not fun at all. In those cases I need another player to tank the mobs for me.
Minor annoyance during coop is the lag, which manifests itself in your character sometimes being teleported back a couple meters. Usually it's harmless, but in some instances it can mean the difference between life and death.
So despite the online and pricing issues my initial experience was definitely a good one. But there are some issues with this game that will impact the long-term fun you'll have. There are three really weird design choices the developers made that at times seriously made me consider just stopping the game entirely.
The first one is the difficulty curve used in the game. Whenever you start playing with a character you first have to complete the entire game in "normal" difficulty. A difficulty which in other games would have been called "super easy". In my first run through the game I died three times. All three times because I totally wasn't paying attention. And all three times could have been avoided by drinking one of my abundant potions which I never did in the entire first run. So the first run left a bit of a sour taste because everything was so ridiculously easy.
After normal comes the "nightmare" difficulty. In which I was challenged especially by the "champion" and "rare" enemies, but not at all by the bosses in the game.
Currently I'm at the "hell" difficulty. Which at the start throws enemies at you that you can never ever defeat until you've found the right loot appropriate to your level (an issue I'll discuss later on). Once you have that loot it's still a challenge, but all doable. And I must say that even though enemies become tougher with three players, the game is much easier with three players than with two.
I haven't touched the "inferno" difficulty yet, and I doubt I ever will. Also I will never ever start a new character, because no way am I going to spend six or more hours steamrolling the normal difficulty again...
The second weird design and perhaps my biggest annoyance with the game is itemization. In the normal difficulty you will find a lot of loot and quite often this loot will be an upgrade of whatever you have in use at the moment. It definitely feels as it should and feels like what made the original Diablo (for the small part I played) addictive. In the hub villages there are merchants. I doubt anyone who played the game bought more than three items at these merchants. I bought one piece of armor I was still missing at level 4 or so. And two rings that are rare to find near the start of the game. After that merchants will sell only absolute crap compared to what you find.
Near the 60% mark of the normal difficulty, it's also possible to have upgraded the blacksmith to his maximum. At this point you can craft items (with randomized stats) which are often better than what you find. My friends and I did this a lot and at 75% of normal difficulty we had items which are pretty much as good as it gets on normal. The last 25% all loot drops were crappy.
Then at the start of nightmare the game starts quite tricky, because the difficulty has jumped up and suddenly your top normal gear is no longer sufficient. But if you have to wait for your level appropriate gear to drop you'll be grinding that first level for a while. So basically you're forced to the auction house. Where you'll quickly discover that you can buy an item up to 10 times as good as the one you have for a couple thousand gold (from other players). So in no time at all the game becomes a breeze again. And most of the costs you make buying these super powerful items is by selling the crappy loot you find to players 10 levels lower than you.
And from this point on, you will NEVER EVER AGAIN equip an item you find in the game. Everything will be bought and sold on E-Ba-...err.. I mean the auction house. The auction house becomes the centre of the game. And while the combat stays fun, looting becomes a chore.
In addition to this we come to point three. Each class comes with a big range of attacks, passive skills, defensive skills, and runes to boost or transform skills. These unlock whenever your character goes level up. But Blizzard's intention with these skills was to have them all being equally useful. So when you level up the new skill you get isn't better than what you were using, but simply different. While I think this idea is amiable, in practice it doesn't quite work. Because after level 30 or so, you will only unlock more runes (about 3 of them per level). And 90% of them you will not want to use, because they don't fit with your build. On level 54 I got a new rune which was useful. It was the first useful thing I got from leveling for the last 6 or so levels. That's a week of play time.
To end on a positive note; the graphics are really cool. There's a lot of cool special effects, and the battles really look awesome, particularly when mobs get hit so hard they start flying around or get disembowelled. And the framerate stays high 100% of the time.
To sum up. The game can be blast to play, but starts out weak because of the incredibly low starting difficulty (which you can't skip) and just when the game starts picking up you'll notice that none of the new skills or loot you get are worth while and the whole game starts to revolve around the auction house. I'm currently at level 54 with my character, and I'll probably continue to play until I've reached the maximum 60, but for me the game has past its prime.
If you are torn up about buying this. I recommend waiting until the price has gone down. The game is great fun, but for only a limited amount of time. After that it turns into a grind with little rewards.