I just completed my first run through Diablo III on Normal difficulty, and I've got to say I definitely enjoyed it. Having been playing the Diablo games since I was about twelve years old, the game certainly doesn't disappoint on the gameplay front. The action, as always in Diablo, is front and center, and is ramped up even beyond my expectations. In Diablo II, released over a decade ago, players were killing hordes of zombies, demons, and cows (it's a long story) in style with fancy spells and weapon attacks, but this time things become even more explosive with Diablo III being rendered in 3D, allowing for an actual physics engine.
The physics engine itself is mostly aesthetic, since the game still plays in a top-down view like the previous games and very few actual gameplay mechanics use it, but it makes the game seem that much more fun every time you manage to smash a statue, or a wooden scaffold collapses because you shot it, or an entire column collapses in a ruin. I remember at one point laughing hysterically as one monster's head went flying across the screen after my friends and I caused what can only be described as a cataclysmic level of destruction with our powers.
Speaking of friends (and an obligatory shout-out to some of my guild mates from WoW who joined me), the game's multiplayer, the feature that made the first two games take off as online co-op hits, is still as fun as ever. I would even argue it's more fun now, as with Battle.net's features the game now has achievements and the ability to set your game so that only friends can join. You can also now jump into a friend's game with a push of a button after logging in, making casual multiplayer that much easier. And now there is an auction house where players can bid or buy items from other players for either in-game gold or real world cash.
That said, there are a few issues with the online service. For one thing, the game is now permanently online as a system of DRM and a way to protect the auction economy. This means that you literally cannot play the game, even single player, without an internet connection. Also, your ability to play is entirely dependent on being connected to Battle.net's servers, which means that if those servers go down, for whatever reason, you are unable to play the game, even alone, which happened numerous times throughout this first week after release, resulting in a lot of fan protesting. Finally, this also means that your play is at Blizzard's discretion. If you are banned by Blizzard, you will not be able to play the game, regardless of how much money you may have paid for it. While Blizzard has maintained relatively positive service in the past and not abused their ability to discontinue service for customers, it gives them a LOT of potential for abuse that I am not sure is a good thing to want to see in more titles.
As to the real money auction house, it still has not been fully implemented, so I can't say yet what impact that will have on the game. For the most part, I didn't actually participate in the auction house, as I never had enough gold to afford anything being sold, nor did anyone buy anything I attempted to sell. The economy is relatively unnecessary in a game so full of randomly generated loot, so you can certainly get by without using it, but so far the economy still seems to be unstable in its infancy. With people being able to buy and sell for real world cash, it does not seem entirely unreasonable that some people may attempt to buy their way to the top at the highest difficulties, but it is still possible to enjoy Normal, Nightmare and Hard mode just fine without ever touching the auction house.
The game has five classes, which for the first time can be either male or female, and are fully voiced. And when I say fully-voiced, I don't mean just the one-liners from Diablo 1 and 2. They now carry on full conversations with other characters. Throughout the game, you acquire hireling characters, a "scoundrel", a "templar" and an "enchantress", who each have their own dialogue and customization options for their abilities, but they only join you in combat in single player games. There are also two crafters that follow you on your quest and set up in town, a blacksmith and a jeweller, each with their own personalities, and you can pay gold to level them up and make new items.
As for character abilities, Diablo III does away with Diablo II's "skill trees" in favor of a system capable of much more flexibility while still limiting characters from being "masters of everything". You start out at level 1 with one ability assigned for your left mouse button, and as you level you gain more ability slots, new abilities, and "runes" for your abilities. You get up to 6 skill slots, and each ability continues to unlock new runes up until the maximum level. The runes alter the abilities in sometimes dramatic ways, allowing for an old ability to take on an entirely new function in your skill set. This means that there are seemingly limitless combinations of abilities and runes that play very differently, and it becomes almost an art in determining the best combinations, which makes for a lot of strategic fun. Also, your character's abilities can be changed at any time without cost, though, unless you're in town, there will be a short cooldown until they are useable, so it is best not to do it in the middle of a warzone.
And finally, on the story front, I generally liked the story of the game. Blizzard has previously stated that this essentially brings the story arc begun in the first game to a close, and it certainly doesn't disappoint on that front. Admittedly, the writing is somewhat predictable, but that's nothing new. The story has always taken a bit of a backseat to the action anyway, but the story in this game does not disappoint, and the voice acting is significantly better than some in the previous games, including the always wonderful Jennifer Hale playing one of the key characters. The drama is increased, even taking some somewhat shocking turns, but not in ways that are detrimental to its enjoyment. In fact, some of the startling events in the game definitely serve to increase the tension in important ways.
So, I can definitely say I've enjoyed the game, and intend to continue to enjoy it. However, I still hold some serious reservations about the DRM, as I think there's a slippery slope to go along it, and it while I don't expect anything terrible to come from Diablo III, I would not like to see the "always online" feature being added to most single-player games. There is just too much potential to abuse that level of control, and I think Blizzard is starting to run into the first signs of a rebellion against that sort of feature. Also, I wouldn't recommend the game if you are looking for a stimulating story. The story is not the major selling point of the game, and unless you really enjoy hack-and-slash gameplay, you will find yourself disinterested. That said, it's also not a bad story in spite of being a bit predictable and sometimes shallow.
Advance Recon: Diablo III
Blog entry posted by Breefolk, May 19, 2012.