Format reviewed: PC
Other formats available: Mac
Developer: Blizzard Entertainment
Publisher: Blizzard Entertainment
Price: £39.99
Rating: 15

It’s been eleven years since Blizzard did anything Diablo related, that being Lords of Destruction, the add on for Diablo 2.

As time passes, things change, and gaming is by no means an exception. Gaming a decade ago was much more open ended, with player choice playing a much bigger part in his or her destiny. These days everything’s much more streamlined with the game developer generally steering more toward railroading the player through ‘experiences’, while (sometimes) cleverly giving the impression that it was through the gamer’s decisions all along.

Enter Diablo 3, and while it has maintained most of the core gameplay ethic, it’s adopted some of the traits of more modern games, splicing new ideas into a sturdy old framework. A risky, difficult but, we think, necessary manoeuvre if this legendary franchise is to survive.

And with that, gone are the skill points of old, with which you would methodically adorn your skill trees, creating your own unique character in Diablo 2.

We think Blizzard has learned from the little known World of Warcraft (itself controversially streamlined over the last year) in that if you give players too much freedom to develop a skill set for their character, ultimately some will end up over/underpowered when faced with the environment around them, which isn’t good for either PvP (Player vs Player) or PvE (Player vs Environment) gameplay.

Instead, with each passing level, which occurs when the all too familiar XP bar fills up, a set amount of rewards are given to you, based on the character type you chose at the beginning of the game.

A typical example of these gift sets would be a new move, optionally attributed to your left mouse button (primary attack), a new defensive spell, triggered by pressing 1-4 on the keyboard, and a rune to tweak any of the moves you have allocated to the right mouse button (secondary attack).

Also gone are the days when what you choose as a skill has to stick, some of you may remember Warcraft charging more and more gold each time an indecisive player would change their mind and reallocate all their skill points. It certainly wasn’t cheap. Nope, now you can tweak and retweak away to your heart’s content, which ironically lends a much more flexible feel to the proceedings.

Sure, your skills are doled out to you by the game, rather than currency with which to go shopping, but you’ve now got so much more freedom to experiment with different combinations of attacking, defensive and runic strategies.

There are other changes to gameplay, but none as fundamental as this and all of them positive. The focus has been shifted away from inventory management and more toward gameplay. You can still micro manage if you like, but it’s an option rather than an obligation here.

As for that gameplay, it’s a pure joy. Sure, Diablo has always been a bit of a clickathon. Click here to walk, click there to open that chest, click that shambling zombie to attack him, but this is what Diablo is all about: moving swiftly through increasingly dangerous dungeons, taking on waves of enemies of all types, sending them flying with ever more spectacular AoE (Area of Effect) attacks or weapon based combos, not to mention a few slices of magic thrown in.

There are five character types. First up is Barbarian, a mental beefcake who wears the heaviest armour and wields the biggest weapons, using rage build up to trigger special moves. Wizard comes next, using the power of the elements to dole out his or her attacks. Next is Monk, our favourite, who’s a martial arts expert, with some optional healing powers thrown in.

Demon Hunter uses awesome ranged attacks, at the expense of decent armour or melee skills. Weirdest of them all is Witch Doctor, who looks like a lunatic shaman, conjuring familiars of all shapes and sizes out of thin air to fight alongside him.

That’s it, the one you pick is the one you get. You can choose gender but this has no bearing on performance, and neither does anything else. Again it’s this streamlining that lends an immediacy to Diablo 3 that makes it very hard to stop playing.

This review can’t finish without mention of the server issues that have dogged Diablo 3 since its midnight launch. Day one was the worst, with virtually the whole world experiencing a complete inability to log in, for hours on end meaning that any kind of gameplay was impossible, seeing as the single player requires an always on internet connection, a puzzling decision that has enraged many gamers.

A lot of them, it has to be said, have quietened down, now that the issues are largely resolved and Diablo 3’s outstandingly polished gameplay is starting to shine through consistently. It is tempting to mark D3 down for this unacceptable performance in such a hotly anticipated game, but it’s as good as fixed already, and us gamers are a forgiving lot. As long as we can play it now it’s often the case of to hell with yesterday.

A remarkably playable, streamlined and, overall, fun experience. Diablo 3 with its entertaining campaign and infinitely easy drop in/out multiplayer modes will be giving your clicking appendages a workout for years to come.

Review by Marketzero for BCS

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