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Diablo III: First Playthrough
Wow. What a few days for us Diablo fans eh? Apart from ripping out clumps of our hair whilst struggling to log in, I would say the last few days have been pretty awesome. After a minimal amount of sleep, I’ve completed my first playthrough of Diablo III having explored every nook and cranny possible. This review will deal with what the first playthrough has to offer, along with a few complaints and observations. Diablo III being a RPG with a colourful backstory, I’ll keep the spoilers on the down low so as to not cause an angry mob. Enjoy!
I’ll start off with the negatives, mainly because I don’t like bashing games much and I just want to get the moaning out of the way. So, DRM always-online gameplay. An idiotic move on Blizzards part to say the least. Diablo III went live at 23:00 GMT in the UK, yet I was only able to log in at around 1:30, and even then I was plagued with server-drops, immense lag and constant connection issues. I understand that it was launch day and all, but Blizzard knew that 2 million copies had been pre-ordered, the majority of those pre-downloaded and ready to play; so why didn’t they prepare better? A company such as Blizzard has vast experience dealing with massively-online capable games, so there is really no excuse for them being caught with pants around their ankles sucking their thumbs. Even two days after the launch I was still experiencing lag, which is crazy considering I wasn’t playing co-operatively at the time, meaning my singleplayer campaign was lagging. Plenty of people have rallied around Blizzard defending them with a fervour that can only be described as maddening fundamentalism; which is ridiculous considering that the points raised are not bashing the gameplay of Diablo III, but are directed at the inability to play the bloody thing.
Anyway, that’s it for my gripes with Diablo III, so let’s get on with the review. For my first playthrough, I opted for the Witch Doctor, because let’s face it, it’s an awesome class to play. Towards the end of Act IV, I was summoning so many slobbering, puss-filled minions that food seemed to lose its appeal for a short time. Words cannot describe fully the scenario of a giant toad swallowing whole flaming imps whilst my giant mummy-gargantuan enrages to twice its normal size pounding spiders into a gooey mush, which is all encompassed within a circle of grasping eels, fire bombs and puddles of acid-vomit cascading from the sky. To put it bluntly, the Witch Doctor is disgustingly fun to play.
The incredible thing about Diablo III that sets it aside from other hack-and-slash actions-RPGs, is that you are thrown straight into combat. Most games of this genre spend a good hour telling you an elaborate backstory of fallen heroes, ancient evils and deep-set betrayals. Diablo III does all this while you make sure a zombie never reanimates again, primarily through lore books gained from killing monsters, finding lost satchels, or by walking post townsfolk. This way of story-telling embedded into near-constant combat does not distance the player from the story, if anything I felt more involved as the story I was being told at the time was relevant to the actions my character was currently doing. Killing flying flame bats? You’ll get told their history. Exploring a dessicated crypt of fallen kings? Not to worry, you’ll be filled in on what happened. All this happens without a pause in combat, forming a seamless flow between story and gameplay.
The levelling system in Diablo III is fairly unique in the genre. Instead of an overarching tech tree that you can spec into, a missing feature that has annoyed certain ‘hardcore’ gamers, Diablo III opts for a system whereby upon levelling up, the player gains a new rune (or at lower levels a new spell), which changes the standard effects of an ability. This system makes me feel like I actually gain something significant with each level gained instead of one more point to instantly slap into a skill progression, boring tech tree. What’s even better, however, is that it takes barely any time to switch out abilities and runes, meaning that there is a large amount of tactical thinking involved in combat. Going up against a horde of low-HP enemies renders non-AoE abilities pretty useless, and all it takes is a quick switch to a better AoE rune or ability. Whilst this is done with a few clicks, I do feel that a better, hot-key based system should be looked into in order to make this more efficient. This system enables the player to never be locked into a poor tech-tree decision, something that has plagued us RPGers at least a few times in the past. In this way, Diablo III encourages the player to experiment (I did this with maniacal laughter to befit a Witch Doctor) in order to find out what play style works best for them and for certain situations.
The health system in Diablo III requires a little bit of explanation. Diablo II, also known as ‘Pot Madness’, had a health system whereby as long as you had potions in your backpack, you could not die. Diablo III changed this mechanic pretty drastically. You still have health potions, but there’s a fairly hefty delay time on how often you can guzzle them down. Instead, Diablo III gives players health orbs, dropped by monsters/minions, healing abilities for some classes/companions, and also a regenerating health system. Initially, I thought that this was a silly move and would lead to the same results of Diablo II but with a different method of getting there. However, I’ve come to love this new health system; it enables the player to constantly be a fight (maybe not in the best shape, but you’re always there) and the resulting flow of combat feels a lot more fluid and rewarding.
The boss fights in Diablo III are very refreshing in a world that has seemingly forgotten the thrill that a good boss fight can offer. Without ruining the story, bosses have phases whereby they switch up their tactics occasionally, forcing the player to do the same to combat this new situation. This is so refreshing in an RPG-style game, because boss fights have pretty much vanished from this genre. Sure, we had Dragons in Skyrim, but they weren’t really bosses, so it’s nice to actually fight an over-large monstrous being that uses a variety of weird mechanics in an attempt to squish you like the annoying bug you are. Oh, and the best thing about boss fights? An brief, yet intense, rain of golden coins and epic loot.
Speaking of loot, Diablo III does loot beautifully. Even playing through on normal difficulty, I was getting some serious cool items. For example, my Witch Doctor is currently wielding a multi-coloured viper as a focus that wriggles around in his hand – I like that a lot. Diablo III is a game built for replayability. The multiple difficulty levels can be simplified into; Decent loot, Lookin’ Good loot, Beastly loot, and then Godly loot – that’s all they are, a method for the player to have a tougher experience, but also gaining better and better loot, and I have no problem with this. The genre pretty much requires replayability in order to maintain longevity, just look at how long Diablo II was, and still is, played; that’s all because of loot. The excellent thing about Diablo III, from my experience, is that replaying the game will be no problem. It won’t be tedious, dull or grindy due to that the environments and locations are changed at random, the combat is immensely fun, and there are 5 very distinct classes to play the game through with.
As to co-op, Diablo III pulls this off fairly well. The only problems at the moment are the servers issues, nothing detrimental shows in the gameplay. It is very easy to join a friends game, or even a random one, with the progress you’ve earned saved and the ability to select parts of the game that you wish to replay easily accessible. Akin to Borderlands, when you join a co-op game in Diablo III, the enemies scale and become harder and drop better loot. Co-op’ing is extremely fun, and can lead to some hilarious situations. For instance, I was playing with a wizard and a barbarian when we were mobbed by a seemingly endless horde of club-wielding trolls. The wizard froze the horde, the barbarian ran around smashing them into tiny little shards whilst my spiders and frogs dined on a medieval-style frozen TV dinner. For some reason, I couldn’t stop laughing at this situation, and it was the most fun I’ve had in a co-op game since Borderlands.
Even though I’ve ‘finished’ the game in the eyes of many gamers, I’ve barely scratched the surface of this gaming leviathan. There’s the difficulty modes to scrap through, loot to gather and my (hopeful) fortune to earn on the real-money auction house when that goes live, and the other classes to play through in their entirety. I would definitely recommend Diablo III to anyone who is a fan of the genre, and even to those who aren’t, because it is truly an amazing game. Yes, problems do exist, primarily server-issues and a few teeny-tiny bugs, but ultimately these do not detract too much from the actual enjoyability of the gameplay itself. That’s it for my first playthrough review of Diablo III. I’ll be posting some more reviews later on regarding the different difficulty settings, a mini-FAQ on the real-money auction house (when it’s released) and an in-depth look at all the classes and their abilities.