In my ongoing efforts to cure myself of the WoW cravings, I’ve spent the last couple of weeks experimenting with gamer methadone in the form of Diablo III’s free trial. I played the hell out of Diablo II during the sixth form, before finally getting a computer that could handle Neverwinter Nights and promptly forsaking all allegiances thus far held.
My first port of call was a Monk, ’cause that’s what I spent most of the last two years playing and missing in WoW-land, and here’s the result.
First things first; I really like his pseudo-Russian accent. Second things second; Diablo III is absurdly generous with its loot – by the second go around (I missed a couple of sub-quests, you see) I think I had more or less fully rare/legendary gear. Third things third; Monks are fun.
I’m generally leery of melee classes in RPGs – ranged folks can have their damage done before you’ve even made it into combat – but the Monk, like its WoW namesake, has some cool ways to close the distance, either short-ranged teleporting or barging headlong through packed adversaries to reach a target at the back. Most of the attacks have a substantial radius on them too, meaning that when you do close the distance you’ll probably be hitting several targets at once. Massacre rewards for killing 20-30 targets have not been uncommon when the game has been kind enough to provide me with a big group of enemies.
Play itself is pretty fast, with the only real breaks coming if the resource on the right of the screen (unique to each class and powering various abilities while being charged up by others, or by waiting) is running out, or if one’s bag is full of precious loot that needs to be disposed of. This could be done through selling the items, but I’m finding that gold is plentiful in Sanctuary, and so I’ve been salvaging everything instead.
Salvaging is new – basically, items are broken down into raw materials, which vary depending on the rarity of what was broken down to make them, and the blacksmithing NPC in town can use those materials to craft new stuff for you. Said NPC can also be trained up, at a cost in gold, learning to produce better quality items and items for different slots on the character pane, which is useful for equipping henchpersons or starting off new characters (by dumping the items in the shared stash and then picking them up once the new character’s arrived in Tristram).
Getting back to town involves finding the time-honoured waypoints (which are integrated into the game’s storyline and quest progression more than in the past) or using the inbuilt Town Portal, which creates a one-use waypoint between where you are and the nearest base of operations. The presence of the Town Portal as a built-in ability rather than a resource-managed item as in II is a welcome addition, as is the quick-bar of additional abilities – with six whole buttons to press one actually feels a bit like one’s thinking, sometimes, now and then.
Talking of thinking: the Demon Hunter (the other class in which I was particularly interested) requires a good deal more of it than the Monk. While the big Russian fella can bounce around with impunity, only occasionally needing to knock back a healing potion or blind nearby opponents for a breather, the Demon Hunter has a much less forgiving resource system (two to keep track of, and one that only regenerates over time) and is much more fragile. The playstyle therefore makes much of disengagement abilities, various things that slow, stun or reposition one’s enemies, and the multi-shot ability (apparently there are other things you can do with your right mouse button as a Demon Hunter, but I have yet to find any merit in them).
I also find myself paying much more attention to destroyable objects, like the walls propped up with planks and the chandeliers that can be dropped on enemies; the Demon Hunter requires that one mind one’s environment, keep one’s distance and disengage with skill. It’s rather like playing the WoW Rogue, at least the way that I used to play the WoW Rogue (i.e. with much made of the various throwing weapons and speed boosts rather than anything so crude as actually shanking anyone).
Another thing that helps out with Demon Hunting is the henchman. The Templar is the only one available within the demo content, and – in an improvement on Diablo II – there’s a degree of customisation in the abilities he has. My Monk’s Templar is set up as a healer, which might explain why my Monk’s been so resilient, while my Demon Hunter’s specialises in taunts and interruptions, placing himself between his squishy mistress and her enemies. A half-and-half build also seems very possible, although I’ve not had much of an excuse to try that yet.
The henchmen are chattier than Diablo II’s, as well, with short exchanges between them and the player characters (differing across the classes, which is nice) as the quest to seek, locate and destroy the Skeleton King continues. Along the way, you will find yourself picking up scrolls which a) award bonus experience and b) deploy various bits of information about the monsters, the world of Sanctuary, the major monsters and NPCs, and the background to the new Crusader class, all through the medium of voice-overs. Again, I like this; stopping the violence to read the quest text is something most Blizzardites simply do not do, and this is a more seamless, organically flowing way of presenting that information.
The other character to whom I’ve given any serious attention so far is the Witch Doctor, and while I love her style (the masks, the summoning, the body parts) I find her to be the exact opposite of the Demon Hunter in that players barely have to think at all. Her summoned minions run on autopilot, and all you really have to do is keep your zombie dogs summoned and mash whatever ‘summon a handful of critters’ attack you happen to be using at the moment and let the AI do the killing for you. It’s not actually any less mindless than any other Diablo gameplay has ever been, but one feels more removed from what’s happening since so much of it is being done on one’s behalf by the things one’s summoned. I think I like necromancer archetypes much more when I get to control the minions too, or at least when I have a significant attack that doesn’t just manufacture more critters.
I still have to test out the Barbarian and the Wizard, but let the key point here be that I want to test out the Barbarian and the Wizard. Diablo III is fun. It’s not clever, it’s not challenging, it’s not something that one should be exercising one’s bragging rights over – but it is fun. Perfect for sick days, bad moods and other occasions when one just wants to murder everything. For that it might be worth tossing some money into, if I happened to have thirty quid burning a hole in my pocket and nothing better on which to spend it.