Never played D1 never played D2. They seemed really dark games. Too dark for my liking when I was in early Secondary school days. As you might have read before, I entered the world of Blizzard games via Warcraft and then World of Warcraft. You do put some faith in the company after the games I experienced from them were nicely polished. I bought StarCraft 2 (again never playing StarCraft before) when it went on sale in the holidays. It was a good game as well and I thoroughly enjoyed it. So when Diablo 3 was offered via Annual Pass, I thought it was a good time to try it.
The only RPG I had played before starting D3 were World of Warcraft (which is an MMORPG and is thus a very different game) and Torchlight (from the makers of the original Diablo). I liked Torchlight quite a bit and so came to D3 with similar expectations.
Here is an account of the first 4 hours of playing D3, and by extension the entire Diablo series. I did not plan to rush through it. Unlike many of my peers who took leave from work and decided to rush from the get go, I approach this game with a mind to take things slowly and enjoy the full product in its storytelling glory. This was a very different plan from WoW where you need to be on the edge of things to remain competitive so rushing is inevitable. Diablo in its multiplayer front is a lot more cooperative than competitive so I took a very different approach instead.
Another Well Polished Gem from Blizzard
I started playing Diablo 5 hours after launch so I missed all the early server hiccups. Blizzard is no stranger to such hiccups, every WoW launch has had its own launch server issues and it is down to the tremendous popularity and rabid fan support for its franchises. 5 hours post launch I had 0 difficulties and only 1 hiccup. I was booted to the menu midway in my first hour of play but relogging solved it.
One word to sum up Diablo is polished. Very well polished with the familiar Blizzard shine. The user interface is clean and straightforward especially to those who have played their other games. There is a certain level of standardization which makes things easy to pick up for a new player like me.
The graphics were not flabbergastingly realistic but had sufficient realism touched with a strong art style. It must be remembered that similar to WoW and StarCraft, games from Blizzard never pushes the system requirements envelope. They do so to reach a wider audience and considering that almost all their games are dependent on mass multiplayer support for success – this is a very good move. My GTX460 struggled a little on max settings on a 2560×1600 resolution so I had to tune things down a bit. Yet again, most people do not game on 2560×1600. 1920×1080/1200 is a lot more prevalent. There is little difference between different graphical settings as well as Tom’s Hardware had covered.
The sound was immersive and voice acting top notch. You do notice a lot of Chris Metzen in this game which is a hallmark of Blizzard products. Metzen is a great voice actor but sometimes listening to 101 skews of his voice over 3 different games can be freaky.
I was drawn and immersed immediately in the setting that Diablo created. It was a seamless transition into a new game.
Gameplay: Simple yet Fun with Depth
At this stage I have only just started on Act 3. There are 4 acts in this game but beating the game on Normal difficulty is barely scratching the surface. The true measure of the game comes from its harder difficulties. There are 4 difficulty levels in Diablo. Normal, Nightmare, Hell, Inferno. Top end players (with a lot of time) have beaten Inferno. Upper end players that are not the cream are stuck in Hell. Most players with jobs are completing Nightmare. I am just barely past the halfway mark on normal. Yet again, I’ve put in less than 3-4 hours into this game because of other commitments. There are 2 modes in this game that can be played across all 4 difficulties. A default mode where you can die and ressurect and a hardcore mode where you die and the game ends. That is brutally punishing. I am sure the players who have cleared Inferno are now working on the entire game again on Hardcore mode. So basically you get 2×4=8 rounds of play on this game. Considering that the later difficulties (according to user feedback on forums) are really tough, expect to spend a lot of time to finish all 4 difficulties of the game (even without attempting Hardcore mode).
You can still die on Normal mode if you are not careful. When attempting to rush through multiple packs of enemy mobs you must prepare to have your movement right and abilities timed right. If you are less gung ho and take packs one by one you can probably get through with just left and right clicking.
On a normal difficulty level, this game is just entertainment. Combat is straightforward. Coming from WoW this is refreshingly simple. In WoW you have over 30 skills that are all usable. You can understand why I bought a keyboard with extra macro functions and also a mouse with 9 extra buttons to get an edge in WoW. In Diablo all you ever need in combat is 4+2+1 buttons. That’s all. You couldn’t make it more complex even if you wanted to. You can only use 6 abilities at any time. 4 are bounded to your keyboard and 2 to your two mouse buttons. The last button is for your potion. And that is all. 7 easy buttons compared to the 30+ I had with WoW.
The abilities are very straightforward. You pick one for each of the 6 categories. Then you have a choice of runes that you can apply to each selected skill. Each skill can only bear 1 rune at a time. That is all. Straightforward.
Under normal, what abilities you pick don’t really matter. They can all do the job in all situations. On higher difficulties, the game does not become more complex but more punishing. Your choice of abilities in each category and its accompanying rune becomes very important. You probably have to switch them in between fights and have to optimize every ability for each situation. I like that. Same simple concept just that you need to plan a lot better with a lesser margin for error.
Diablo does an excellent job of teaching you the game. As a newbie I never had to look up the game guide or use external resources to figure out what I should do. The quest line is completely linear with a lot of assistance. Directional guiding arrows are given on the mini map. Objectives have a sonar like circle to draw your attention. You seldom have more than just one quest. Any side quests have no more than 2-3 steps and are tightly fixed in the area. So this game will not have you wandering around in frustration attempting to complete objectives that are badly strewn all over the map. This added to the ‘lie back and enjoy’ type of experience.
I also like the in-game companions. By Act 2 you unlock all 3 companions. You can only have 1 with you at any time and you can switch companions by going back to the town. This adds to the fun of the game. Your companion will complement your abilities often covering for your weakness. Again optimization in such choices become important in higher difficulties of the game.
This is a simple game, run through a linear quest line and give hell to the servants of hell. It was very enjoyable unleashing well crafted abilities (graphics and sound) while tearing through packs of enemies. A great stress reliever.
Storytelling: Immersively Excellent
Unlike WoW, I came into Diablo have no idea what the storyline was like. I took a look at this video (pre launch) to get up to speed on the happenings of Diablo 1 and 2. It was done up by IGN and is pretty good. Have a look.
Within Diablo 3 the story is presented in a well paced manner with good intervals between twists and turns. The questlines are not the only source for story telling. As you venture into the world, your companions fill you in, telling you the current situation and how it was in the past. You pick up journals from fallen enemies and you can read (it will also be read to you) the back story of the enemy you just slain or the dungeon you just entered. All these extra bits and pieces fill up the gaps in the story.
You go about understanding everything that is happening and know exactly why and what you are doing. It rewards you for fully exploring dungeons, picking up new information and also spending time speaking to NPCs.
The change in atmosphere in each Act complements the story. From the dark lonely feel of Act 1 to the bright sandy oasis of Act 2 and the harsh wintery conditions of Act 3, the change in views complement the differences in the pacing of storytelling.
In the first act you are drawn into a mystery thus a dark setting. The story slowly accelerates as portions of the mystery unfolds. The second act is a tour. You play a hero’s role, being one of the few to venture in to save a town that has been taken over by a ‘Belial – Lord of Lies’. The foreign lands complement a wide array of voices. There was an Asian portion to this too. The third act which I have just started is a large scale battle where Azmodan has unleashed his minions and you venture to the point of conflict (and the harsh wintery mountains) to make your final stand. I have no idea what Act 4 will be like but I already like the variation in pacing of both story and setting.
Diablo 3 is a great game for newbies. If you have never played this game, do not be afraid to venture in. Expect hours of stress reliving fun and entertainment. At many points in the game, you’ll feel like you are part of a well told movie.
Give hell a taste of its own medicine. Diablo 3 is worth its cost.