Recently I finally caved in and bought Diablo 3. I’d been a bit wary of it over the past couple years; as I sometimes find action-rpgs become a repetitive chore to slog through. In fact I remember posting here a couple of years ago thinking I was maybe simply bored of the genre. However, for the past week or so I’ve been totally hooked, once again slaughtering my way through a host of Demons and picking up stacks of shiny loot. It’s just as addictive as this sort of faster paced dungeon-crawling experience should be. Blizzard have refined their arpg framework, making it ever more slick and user friendly, but also addressed problems that previously could make playing for more than a few hours tedious or discouraging.


A lot comes down to how it handles development of character skills. Previously you had the “tree” system where with each level-up you were granted a point to gain a new skill, or upgrade an existing one, and with certain choices new options became available for next time. Originally in Diablo 2 your choices were permanent so if you made a crappy character or just got bored with the current abilities then, well, tough. The only option was to start again. Later patches let you reset skills, but only a few times. Titan Quest, following this sort of model, gave some reset options but only to a limited extent.

With Diablo 3 you basically have 6 ability slots for each character. Typically 2 slots represent stuff you’ll use constantly, so bound to mouse buttons, others are stuff like situational abilities, cooldowns and constant-effect. As you level you gain new skills to choose for each slot. So for the mage the primary slots might be stuff like the freeze ray, fireballs, lightning shots etc whilst the others are emergency teleport, defensive shields, or panic-button “root everyone in place while you run away” spells.

Each ability chosen can then have a further customisation option selected – so the wizard’s lightning might be one big blast, lots of little shots, one that adds freezing effects and so on. So it might sound like there’s a lot of options to choose here, and there are. But here’s the important thing – none of it’s permanent. You can change any or all of your chosen abilities at any time (except right in the middle of a fight). No choices affect how your character handles further down the line.

I guess some RPG veterans might bemoan the lack of lasting consequences in your character development choices. Myself though, I welcome it. I spend an hour with my wizard shooting magic missiles and freeze beams, then change tack and have him use the disintegration ray and lightning. Just for the sake of variety, or to field test some newly available options. It holds my interest for longer periods of time, and if I have a crappy build then, eh, can change it when I need to.

There are a few other minor quality of life tweaks – automatically picking up gold, unlimited ability to teleport back to town to sell stuff whenever I like. Also they’ve thrown in an item-crafting facility, which I think is quite popular in RPGs these days.

Diablo 2’s system of followers has been expanded on too. You have a choice of 3 characters each with very different abilities of their own. They also have their own personalities and backstories, so you can feel a little more attached to them as they follow you into battle I tend to take along the Templar as he complements the wizard quite nicely; he can charge in and get monsters attention while I hang back at a safe distance. Also he boosts the representation of Yorkshiremen in videogames. (I can’t think of many others. Sean Bean in Oblivion?)

Graphically I don’t think it was cutting edge for 2012 but I suppose that’s never been Blizzard’s priority. It does look good, though. I recall some fan gripes about it being too colourful, which is bizarre as vast swathes of the second game were yellow or green. It’s still got that ominous atmosphere to it, that reminder that you’re up against not just monsters but the forces of evil itself, crawling up from hell.

Regarding a couple of other concerns that were raised originally – that auction house that used real money is gone now. I don’t know exactly how players felt about it, for people but I imagine feeling pressured to spend ££ for weapons to participate in high-level multiplayer wouldn’t be fun. Also, the game does require you to be constantly online, as if playing an MMO. This doesn’t bother me personally as I have BT infinity, but it still seems kind of un-necessary.

So all round it looks to me like a sensible evolution of Diablo 2, and a great piece of work from Blizzard, accessible and enormously entertaining. I still giggle every time my mage hits the Archon button and briefly turns spitting death rays all round, and the game happily announces I’ve just scythed down 12 monsters in 2 seconds. Then pick through the resulting loot whilst Templar guy makes exuberant noises about how much fun that was. There’s still innately something super-repetitive about this sort of game, but from what I’ve seen so far they’ve set up the right sort of satisfaction and rewards to keep me coming back for more.