Diablo 3 takes place 20 years after the second game’s conclusion. Or so I assume, because the world of Sanctuary is entirely new to me. Don’t worry, new players. You shouldn’t be too lost. Your character is most definitely an audience surrogate; coming from a strange land to figure out what’s up with that whole ‘falling star’ business. Every time you come across a new monster or a new concept, you get the Diablo equivalent of an audio log explaining stuff like why that Witch from Left 4 Dead is puking monsters, for example.
A lot of this stuff seems fairly basic, though. If you can’t figure out that anything that calls itself a Lord of Hell is probably a bad guy, then I wonder how you figured out a computer in the first place. The usual rules of character design are in full effect here, with horrible monsters being the things you kill and righteous Templars as your allies. There’s not much ambiguity there. Even if the particulars of these monsters are lost on the newest of players like myself, it doesn’t take much brainpower to figure out what those guys are up to. It’s the big ‘hello-I-am-only-here-for-a-big-punch-up-later-on’ characters that have more complex motives, but those characters never seem to want anything more than ultimate power. The story beats are fairly predictable, and never really entertained me. But the atmosphere and the world you’re exploring are interesting enough to overshadow the mediocre story. The music is great, everything looks great, and the talented voice actors deliver some great dialogue.
I’d go so far as to say that, when the servers weren’t screwing me over, I actually enjoyed the combat quite a bit. I played a Wizard during my main playthrough, and tinkered around with a Monk for a few levels. Both classes had responsive and diverse attacks, and from what I’ve seen of the other classes, it looks like there’s something for everyone here. Each class has weaknesses, to be sure, but you’ll quickly find the right mix of powers and equipped items to suit your combat style. As for special attacks, instead of mana usage for each class, there are unique pools for each character to use with the only major difference being how you get it back. For example, the Wizard regenerates his/her Arcane Power fairly quickly, while the Monk requires successful hits in combat to recharge Spirit.
Combat itself is fluid and easy, though, and there are certain skills that make you feel like a badass Demon Hunter or Wizard. Considering just how much combat you’ll be doing, it’s a good thing that I actually found myself exploring caves just to find more creatures to put down.
When it’s time to fight, you’re usually going up against mobs and mobs alone, so if you don’t have area of effect powers, then you’ll probably have some problems. Having a power mapped to your left mouse button can also be an issue when you’re trying to kill a particularly annoying enemy on a battlefield littered with items. You can just hold down the ‘shift’ key, but that’s not where my fingers are during a tense combat sequence. However, these problems can be fixed with the right spells (or by going into the ‘options’ menu and clicking ‘elective mode’, which I highly recommend since it allows you to choose which power is mapped to a certain key).
Death isn’t a huge issue either. When you die, you just respawn at either the last checkpoint or the last teleporter you found. Monster health and items on the battlefield remain consistent, so if you found a rare item but a skeleton warrior got the best of you, just run back over to where you died, finish off the skeleton, and pick it up. The penalty for death is your equippable items lose some durability, but you can just throw up a town portal, walk over to the nearest merchant, and repair all your items for an incredibly minimal fee.
Since Diablo 3 is all about the loot, there must be an easy way to sell all that nonsense, right? The advancements you might have gotten used to since the release of Diablo 2 are just not here; there’s not a ‘sell all non-magical items’ button or a pet that goes back to the nearest settlement to drop all your crap, for example. That’s where the aforementioned town portal comes in. Pressing ‘T’ starts the town portal opening process, which lasts about ten seconds. Once that happens, you pop back to your home base with a lasting portal that will take you back to the dungeon once you’re finished with whatever business you were working on.
Getting loot is crazy satisfying, I have to admit. Fighting your way through a particularly difficult encounter, only to see those yellow items pop up is one of the most satisfying experiences I’ve ever had as a gamer. There’s the auction house, where you can buy or sell items for real money or gold (although the real-world auction house isn’t working at the moment), so I guess if you absolutely hate fun you can just buy rare items and circumvent the entire point of Diablo 3. But the game is crazy long and has quite a bit of replay value, so if that addicting loot grind is your thing, Diablo 3 will last you a while.
Depending on your internet connection or how many people will be playing the game at the time, always-on DRM may be a huge issue. The idea that you have to rely on luck to play a game that you paid good money for seems absolutely insane to me. You also can’t pause the game and put your computer to sleep if you want a break, because there’s no way to save aside from playing to the next checkpoint. Would a ‘quicksave’ option really be that bad? I don’t want to choose between being late for work because I can’t save here or lose all the loot I’ve earned.
I enjoyed my time with Diablo 3. Objectively, the game has DRM problems, but I can’t be too hard on a game where you can summon Arcane Hydras to murder Satan. That’s kind of awesome. But if you don’t want to spend the money on Diablo 3 because the DRM is absolutely nuts, then I don’t blame you. Just know that you’re missing out on some great combat, fun atmosphere, and some of the best examples of loot grinding in recent memory.