From the perspective of someone who played the first Diablo but never finished it, Diablo III has turned out to be quite the treat.
Having not looked into the game in advance, I was surprised to see it was the same as the original — slightly fancier graphics, but same complete lack of camera control and same environments rendered from only one direction. I went in almost expecting a standard high fantasy hack-and-slash RPG in three dimensions with some hell to explore.
I never did pay much attention to the story of the original Diablo. The devil is somewhere beneath the Cathedral. I’m going down to find him and destroy him — or to get bored once things start actually looking like hell.
In Diablo III, I paid a bit more attention, assuming the game’s namesake must have been destroyed in some version of its predecessors and their expansions. Thanks to my lack of knowledge, the continuity wasn’t too fragmented. The story, however, was extremely standard fare. At least it was pretty?
Metzen’s traditional token character with too much power that everybody loves takes a starring role (echoes of Mary Thrall, anyone?), but there were two characters that redeemed the tale for me. First of all, Lyndon, the Scoundrel companion, had me falling in love with him very quickly. And second, of course, everyone loves Covetous Shen. Without those two, I expect I would have been bored stiff, but they kept me quite happy to keep exploring the world.
I completed the story quickly. It was only after that I discovered Diablo III.
It’s not about the story. It’s about dungeon crawling. The randomly generated dungeon and open world maps mean each place is worth exploring again, just to see what has changed. And it’s about achievements. Simply knowing that there is a recorded achievement for reaching maximum level for each character class gives me a reason to put far more hours into it than the story on its own ever could. And of course, there are hundreds of other achievements to coax me into trying endless variations of the game, simply for the glorified check mark on the to-do list. It’s almost disturbingly satisfying.
The Hardcore mode also fascinates me. As someone who occasionally competes against herself to see how long a character can survive in other games, the possibility of a Diablo character being permanently erased on the first death is just as intriguing as it is terrifying. Diablo III, of course, requires a lot more time investment than most of the one-life-only survival games I have played. Will I be distraught when my Hardcore character finally meets her end? Will I draw a line in the sand and immediately attempt to surpass it with a new character? I’m not sure. So far, I’ve been very careful with Hardcore, only playing it when I’m feeling fairly certain of my capacity to evade death.
The character classes are all interesting in their own ways. I found it impossible to choose a favorite, so I decided to play them alphabetically.
The greatest flaw of Diablo III, as many have noted, is the required online connection in order to play as a single player. There are many advantages, including Blizzard‘s ability to control cheating and ability to offer real money player-to-player auctions sometime in the future. (The launch date for that has been continually pushed back, but I can’t say it interests me as anything beyond a social experiment.) What makes the online connectivity a flaw is the innate fallibility of online networks. If Blizzard’s systems go down, I cannot play the game I purchased, even though I have no intention of playing with anyone else. If there is any disruption of the connection, such as weather or trouble with the network anywhere along the line, I suffer from lag which has unexpected effects on gameplay. You can imagine how this might infuriate anyone attempting to play Hardcore.
So I can’t recommend Diablo III to anyone looking for a particularly compelling story. If traditional fantasy — monsters and magic, angels and demons — will satisfy, then Diablo III fits the bill. However, I can recommend it as a glorious time waster along the lines of Solitaire and Minesweeper, but considerably more attractive and more interesting.