Diablo 3 review
I have to start this with a warning, then a little tantrum, a few insults and a dash of paranoia. Apologies to those of you who already know what I'm going to say and are either fine with it or all raged out - you guys can skip this section.
Diablo 3 can only be played online. You can play it on your own or co-operatively, but neither mode works when Blizzard's servers are down, and neither mode is fun when Blizzard's servers are slow. In my six days of playing it, I got disconnected twice and experienced unplayable lag five times, each time when my own internet connection was working fine. At times, the servers were down for hours.
That's pathetic. There are valid reasons for forcing multiplayer characters to play online, but none for excluding an entirely offline single player mode. If you don't have a connection you can reliably play multiplayer games on, don't buy Diablo 3. Skip the rest of this review. Blizzard have chosen to exclude you completely, and I'm genuinely pissed off by the hostility and callousness of that decision.
For the rest of us, it's worth knowing that the $60/£45 price for Diablo 3 doesn't mean you'll always be able to play it. The game itself would have to be phenomenally good for all this to be worth putting up with.
The Diablo games are simplified top-down RPGs: you click on a monster, and your guy hits him with a satisfying thwunk. If you'd asked me what made the repetition compulsive beyond that, I'd have said two things: the agonisingly tough choices in which skills to pick each time you level up, and the excitement of finding a fantastic rare item.
In Diablo 3, both those things are gone.
You never make any permanent choices about your character. Each time you level up, you get access to a new skill, and you fit these into an increasing number of slots. Eventually you can have six equipped at a time, and between fights you can put any of 20-odd skills in those slots. Every level 30 Wizard has access to the same skills as every other level 30 Wizard, the differences are just a question of what they currently have equipped.
It takes a while for your range of possible skill combinations to get interesting, particularly if you don't realise there's a hidden option to remove some of the baffling restrictions on what you can combine. But when it does, about two hours in, it gets really interesting.
Every level up brings a new skill or two, and every new skill can be the foundation of dozens of different character builds. Experimenting with new abilities, and strategising about how to combine them with the others, is the game. A seemingly feeble skill sometimes spurs you to try it with others you've shelved, and discover an entirely different playstyle that works in its own way. And a powerful one sometimes mixes with something you've been using for hours to create a spectacular new tactic.
As the Wizard, I liked to stick with a set of area-effect spells that freeze and shatter huge mobs. But once I got Disintegrate, a magic death ray that cuts through whole ranks of enemies at once, I was able to ditch some of the others to focus on survivability: teleportation, invulnerability and reactive ice-armour to chill attackers. It's incredibly satisfying when a new tweak like that turns out to be effective, and your playstyle ends up feeling like an invention.
Part of the reason for that, and a lot of the meat and complexity of this system, is in the runes. Like skills, they unlock at predetermined levels. But they offer an optional modification to a skill you already have. I can tweak Disintegrate to fire from both hands at once, hitting a wider path of targets, or channel it into one beam while smaller rays zap anything that gets close to me while I fire. Both are magnificently powerful in different situations, and I loved figuring out which one gelled well with other skills.
By a certain point, the difference between your Wizard and mine isn't your Wizard, it's you. The skill/rune combinations you've picked from the billions of possibilities are an expression of something very personal about the way you like to play, and that makes it easy to get attached.