Blizzard is a legend in the MMO scene as the developer and publisher of World of Warcraft and the Diablo series (starting way back in 1996) has not failed to impress multiplayer and solo acts since it hit the market. With Diablo III now out for everyone to enjoy, this multiplayer game is likely to hit the charts and make them burn once again—as a triple-A gaming studio, we know that Blizzard and their Battlenet service will not fail to impress.
Diablo III is a buy-to-play game (with a price of $59.99 new) that is free-to-play online after that on Battlenet. As a game, it’s a single-player RPG with hack-and-slash elements and an isometric view. This is all in line with the nature of the series.
The events of D3 take players back to the ill-fated town of Tristram, which became the epicenter of the horrible events of Diablo and the untimely resurrection of evil (and Diablo) into the world. Tristram was even seen in Diablo II as a location visited by players in order to rescue the venerable Deckard Cain (a recurring and awesome character in the series who provides a font of information and exposition for the narrative.)
Evil seems to be resurrecting again with the inauspicious arrival of a falling star—a bright-blue meteorite that struck a cathedral near New Tristram. (Why people rebuild such an ill-omened place as this is beyond me.) As a result, the dead have been returning, monsters roam the countryside, and horror stalks the highways and byways.
Graphics and Sound: Triple-A breathtaking isometric graphics and beautiful sound-and-fury
The original D1 and D2 ran at 800×600 but the minimum resolution for D3 is 1024×768 meaning that we’re moving into a new, brighter, crisper era for graphics.
Past Diablo games produced generative-maps by randomly putting them together when the player loaded into them. This provided a sort of replayability that many other games lacked—add that to the multiplayer and MMO aspects of the game and it would draw people back to D2 in droves. D3 lacks this generative aspect to the maps themselves—they’re still complex, interesting, and contain lots of architecture, but they’re not randomly generated.
However, that doesn’t mean they don’t have randomly generated elements: overland maps might have different locations that open up into submaps such as wells to search, basements to pilfer, and the like. Dungeons might have differing placement of chandeliers full of candles to drop of enemies, levers to pull to slide away doors, or shattered walls of masonry precariously set to crush the badguys.
Like any good hack-and-slash game, D3 provides a spectacular and complex set of animations across the board.
I must say, I certainly enjoyed the first few runs with my Barbarian when a zombie was flung into the air and sailed across the map after striking them with a hammer-blow.
Sounds are also fairly nice in this game. With a bit of voicing to quests to tell the player where to go and what to do—and like previous games, characters even voice their own opinions of different narrative events.
Then there’s the atmospheric sounds—they’re everywhere—not just the music (and the music is beautiful) but the sounds of things moving in the dark, crumbling masonry, chirping crickets, and croaking frogs. Each of the environments have their own ambient effects that give an idea of what might be in them; or just tend to lead to a jump scare or a bit of wary paranoia when you think the area is clear.
Each of the abilities come with their own sounds as well, the Foley is excellent (another Triple-A aspect of Blizzard production.) The vase smashing sound of the Witch Doctor, the skittering of the spiders, the screech of bats; then there’s the Demon Hunter’s twang as crossbows are fired; and the dying of enemies on all sides. In a sort of way it might even have some surround-sound or 3D sound as well carefully using stereo to make sounds feel like they’re coming from a particular direction.
Gameplay: Same-old mouse-click system with class-based character progression but…different
Whereupon starting the game, players are given a choice between five different character classes: Witch Doctor, Barbarian, Wizard, Monk, and Demon Hunter. Unlike previous Diablo games all classes can use either gender (previous games had gender locked classes) and each one delivers a different type of experience from spellcasting, ranged, melee two-handed, melee one-handed, and traps.
Just like previous games, it is click-to-move with primary skills bound to mouse clicks as well. As the character enhances their skills they can be bound to the mouse buttons. Alternative skills also rise up that can be added to different keys on the keyboard—some of which require particular weapon loadouts. It also means that as players level their characters, they’ll be able to pick and choose how they’d like to play.
For example, the Witch Doctor does a lot of ranged spell casting with some summoned minions—such as undead dogs. As the WD rises in skill the undead dogs can be made tougher, attack faster, gain a poisonous bite. The WD can also throw casks full of spiders which can explode with little spiders that can leap, or swarm, or gain one giant spider. There’s also a swarm of frogs that can be summoned—or just one gigantic frog that swallows enemies whole. Each new level unlocks either a new skill or a new way to use an old skill.
It’s an experience in advancement and gameplay customization.
The multiplayer—the most important part of the MMO aspects of the game—gives players a chance to enter New Tristram and further afield with four other players. The matching system is fairly quick and players can make themselves games or just join up with one that’s already in progress. Some characters even sport abilities that provides buffs across groups (such as Barbarian shouts and Monk auras.)
When new players enter a game, the balance of monsters reacts by making them stronger and more numerous.
Buy-to-Play: $59.99 nets the game and access to battlenet and thousands of players
In order to play Diablo III there’s a price tag of $59.99 for the basic box and from there the game is free-to-play with access to Battlenet, enabling players to become part of the community and play online. Although, Blizzard added a controversial element of DRM that requires players to have Internet access and log into Battlenet to play what could otherwise be a single-player game.
While it’s unlikely the game will have a cash shop, Blizzard has added a second controversial element to the game with a real cash auction house. With this element to the game, players will be able to sell items to one another using microtransactions (and thus dollars) rather than just in-game currency (in Diablo this would be gold.) As a result, players will be able to purchase items from other players in the fashion of a cash-shop except that the economy and items available for sale will be driven entirely by the player base.
Blizzard will be receiving some nominal or small fee from each transaction on the auction house—both in the form of a fixed charge when an item Is posted and a fixed-charge when a sale is made. This means that they will be making some money off the cash auction house player economy. Although, that they’re not taking a fraction based on the sale price means that Blizzard will probably not be making money hand-over-fist; but they will be making some money to upkeep the service.
A Diablo III Collector’s Edition is planned (and appears on Amazon.com) but availability and price tag hasn’t been released yet.
Diablo III is a game about more than just nostalgia—it’s a very real triple-A title with excellent development behind it that takes a solo genre and still maintains the online multiplayer elements (giving it MMO aspects.) Blizzard has done an excellent job developing a game that looks good, plays well, and provides a huge number of different provisions for customization and a giant potential population of people to play alongside.
There’s also the unexpected aspect of a pay-to-play game reaching into its player market (that already has a black market on eBay) in order to give them a reason to buy the game and keep playing in multiplayer. The addition of the real cash auction house will become a model for a make-or-break concept for a lot of different MMOs and some have already been trying their hand at alterative cash shops—such as, those, for example that permit players to trade the microtransaction currency in the game for in-game currency.
As a game, it’s extremely good and probably is worth the $59.99 price tag; but this gates it from the standard of the free-to-play MMO game and means that it probably won’t be reappearing in the GameOgre blog. However, when Blizzard does something of the MMO variety the gaming community sits up and takes notice.
Bon voyage, Diablo III.