Next month we dine in Hell.
Have you ever waited twelve years for the release of a sequel to one of your favorite video game series? I have. Thinking back to the year 2001, during my college days, I fondly recall a whole day spent in a 10-player LAN game of Diablo 2. That experience is not only one of the things that made me fall in love with Diablo 2 but it was really when my long affair with co-op gaming began. While we all knew it was eventually coming, and we first really started hearing about it in 2008, Diablo 3 finally has a real, actual, release date. May 15th is the day and we had a chance to, once again, visit the sleepy hamlet of Tristram ahead of the release.
In case you’ve been living under a rock, or you’re just not as old as I am, the Diablo series are hack-and-slash dungeon crawlers that wrote the book on looting. The view mimics most Real-Time Strategy games and the controls are simple, with one attack on left click, and the other on right-click. The action is fast, the enemies plentiful and the loot litters the ground. In these core elements, Diablo 3 keeps the faith but there are a number of new components I would like to show you.
You’ll start by choosing one of the five character classes; Barbarian, Wizard, Monk, Witch Doctor or Demon Hunter. Some of these may be familiar archetypes if you’re a fan of fantasy games but within these choices lies something for everyone. Personally, my two favorites were the Witch Doctor and the Demon Hunter. The Demon Hunter can dual-wield crossbows and the Witch Doctor can summon Spiders and Zombies to fight by his side. If those two things excite you much more than ‘big muscly guy who swings swords’, you and I will get along just fine. Each character is also available in either male or female this time around for those of you who think it’s weird to play video games as ‘the girl’ (you know who you are).
While we’re talking about the characters we can’t forget one of the most distinct of the new features in Diablo 3; followers. These are secondary characters you’ll meet during your quest that will offer you the option of having them join you. They fall into three classes, Templar, Enchantress or Scoundrel, and have their own personality and fully voiced dialog as well as their own skill tree. You can also set them up with gear you find to make them a valuable part of your team.
When you actually get to delve into the dungeons of Diablo 3 you’ll notice that the world is much more interesting and alive than it was in the previous games. The environments are still randomly generated but they’ll now contain traps and environmental hazards you can use to your advantage when battling the Demon hordes and certain pieces are destructible. The dungeons also now include random ‘Events’ which may involve coming across a room which pits you against a large horde with the objective of surviving for one minute, or dismantling the summoning circle of a group of warlocks. These events act like mini-quests and award you experience and loot when completed.
Combat has also been the target of a few tweaks with the addition of kill streaks, called Massacres, which offer bonus XP and a number of defensive skills that can be mapped to the number pad. I spent the majority of my time with the Demon Hunter and his defensive abilities included vaulting out of harm’s way and dropping caltrops to slow enemies.
Another welcomed addition, this time around, is crafting. Blizzard have added Artisans to the mix and these craftsmen can be leveraged to break down your gear for supplies and build new gear. They can also be trained and levelled up to unlock the ability to make progressively better gear. Looting is no longer simply a matter of equipping what you need and selling what you don’t. Not only can you pass it on to Artisans, you can sell it in the online auction house. How very Blizzardy of them.
Though Diablo 3 sadly won’t have a LAN option, Blizzard have made playing with others easier than ever. At any time you can open your game up to allow co-op players to join. Everyone sees their own loot drops so there’s no fighting over gear and if you get separated you can always find your teammate’s banner, in town, to instantly transport to their location. Playing co-op was a fun and seamless experience, but I am disappointed by the fact that you will always need to be online to play Diablo 3. That’s right, if your internet is down, no single player for you. Go outside. (Or, more correctly, stare at your cable modem until the lights come back on.)
I had fun during the short time I spent with Diablo 3 and I’m pleased to report that it still doles out heavy doses of the things that made you love the first two games, while including a number of cool tweaks. Diablo 3 hits stores on May 15th. See you in Tristram!