You can never escape...

Fifteen years ago Diablo II threatened to destroy my life. After losing all my characters in a terrible hard drive crash, I tore myself away, never to return.

Now Diablo III is back to finish the job…

Update: It seems the title of this post is quite apt, since Blizzard clearly underestimated (maybe intentionally) the number of servers they would need for players. As a result, the service is congested, and a lot of people are currently unable to play. That’s right, you bought a single player game, and now you can’t play it. Yes, I’m a little pissed off right now.

I’m a pretty big fan of Diablo. I played and loved the first one, and pretty much became addicted to the second one. That was until one day when my hard drive crashed and I lost all my characters and items. Perhaps it was due to the trauma, but surprisingly I wasn’t that excited for Diablo III. In the end however, I still decided to buy it.

Blizzard, as much as I love your games, which are always extremely well polished, I have to wonder if it’s R500 worth of polish? I still feel a bit burnt by Starcraft 2, which is pretty much only for the hardcore Starcraft fans, so forgive me if I was a little reluctant to drop R500 on another one of your games. Luckily for you, all my friends are buying Diablo III so I caved (damn peer pressure) and decided to sacrifice a weekend out in exchange for the game.

After a painless install process, and a couple of minor updates, the game launched. As expected, the cinematics are awesome, although there are a few moments where there are some pretty ugly artifacts. The game graphics themselves aren’t that impressive, but like Starcraft II, it has been designed to run on a wide range of computers. Having said that, it was awesome to have a game almost completely maxed out and running smoothly with my new 7770. Despite the fact that the graphics may not be cutting edge, Blizzard managed to get the feel just right, despite the fears of fans when Blizzard first starting show off the game’s graphics.

The sound design made me wonder if I’d ever left Diablo II, and in my mind this is a good thing.

The same can be said of the gameplay, which has had some tweaks, but still feels like Diablo. Some of the changes I’ve seen so far are:

  • Gone is the stamina bar for running! Now you just run everywhere!
  • As the barbarian you have special attacks on both your left and right click buttons, and you have a number of abilities and items hotkeyed for easy access.
  • Not all characters use mana.
  • Enemies drop health orbs, which you can pick up to replace your health in the middle of a fight. (Don’t worry, health potions are still around, although I have yet to figure out a use for them on Normal difficulty).
  • Dungeons now feature an easy way to get back to the start, meaning that you don’t have to spend hours running back if you’re cleared one out.
  • You no longer need scrolls of identification, you merely need to right click the item in order to identify it.
  • You no longer need scrolls of town portal.

Now this is quite a big deal, for those of you who haven’t heard, but the game is online only. Yes, there has been a lot of complaining about it being a single player game, and that the need for it to be online is completely unnecessary, but I can see what Blizzard are trying to do here. They are trying to make more money. Yes, there are some of us, myself included, who are going to go solo for at least one round but the auction house (where you can sell virtual items for real money) is pretty much the reason why Blizzard made this game online, so as to encourage an economy around this game. Without the auction house, a key part of the interactivity around this game goes out the window, as does the small cut that Blizzard takes on every sale. Also as a result of the auction house, Blizzard wanted to ensure you weren’t cheating and hacking your items before you put them up for sale.

At the end of the day, I am playing from South Africa, and the experience has been pretty damn smooth. I got one major lag spike, and a few fights have had a bit more delay than usual, but for the most part it’s fine. If you’re in the middle of nowhere like myself, you may have a couple of problems, but otherwise you’ll be fine (unless Anonymous kills the internet, in which case Blizzard has everything nicely locked away on it’s servers and you won’t have any way to play).

Apart from some minor lag issues, I only have one complaint which I only discovered when I partied up with some friends of mine. The story just skipped ahead without warning me it’s going to reveal every story spoiler up until that point. I guess I should have expected it, but really Blizzard, a little warning would have been nice. As a result I’m going to play this solo until I finish the story, then I’ll team up with my friends. So that aside, it’s been a pretty damn solid experience so far.

Now if you’ll excuse me, there’s an evil skeleton king in need of a good beating.