In my earlier article ‘Diablo III: Diablo for kids’, I ranted about D3’s shortcomings, as any other dissatisfied reviewer did that has a special place in his heart for Diablo II. Still, my Switch tells me I played Diablo III: Eternal Collection for more than
65 hours. The question to ask myself then is - why do I keep on playing it? Is it really that bad as I initially portrayed it to be? Let’s take a better look and find out.
1. World Design
Sanctuary, the ‘mortal world’, hasn’t changed: destruction is still the norm, spoiled grain and broke farmers still in habit it, and there’s also a hero to save it from happening again (that is, until Diablo IV). Oldies return such as Deckard Cain, and players familiar with the Diablo world will immediately feel at home. The areas to explore are vast and neatly connected, with quick ways to jump between waypoints using the overworld map. I particularly liked the first and second world, and the expansion content. The high heavens felt a bit bland to me.
I think it’s safe to say that Blizzard knows how to create engrossing worlds. This time, NPCs and recruitable followers are especially chatty, and there are journals to be found that are all voiced and give more background insight in the main story. Sometimes, it’s a bit too much, and you just want to kill stuff; I’ve had these dialogs during intensive fights and they can certainly feel inappropriate at times. Dungeons are still interesting enough to explore and procedurally generated, there is enough variety and everything feels tight. A bit of the gritty-ness of its predecessor is lost though: the sewers beneath Kurast are much more dark than anything you’ll find in here. Still, the atmosphere is good and it did not bother me that much, except in supposedly creepy dungeons with end bosses such as The Butcher that are ridiculously colored with bright reds and flamy oranges instead of dim shades of gray. Speaking of The Butcher: compared to Diablo 2, act bosses are ridiculously big, and I sometimes wonder whether I’m playing a console jRPG instead of a western H&S. That is definitely not a good thing. Not everything needs to be grand in order to be good - something that only Blizzard North folks seemed to understand.
As you can see in the screenshot above, the scenery is simply beautiful. The 3D engine renders fluently. I played Diablo on the Nintendo Switch, and whether in handheld or in docked mode, both performed great, characters and spell effects are cool, the UI is clean and everything is easy to read and follow - regardless of the amount of wreckage going on at once. I have to admit that I’m impressed it runs that good. Compared to Torchlight II on the switch, it is lightyears ahead, especially in terms of accessibility and UI. It took the game twelve years to finally evolve to the third dimension, and it’s done well.
What is interesting to notice, is that compared to Sacred, a game that is 8 years older, Diablo III is remarkably static. There is an oasis waypoint with night-time gameplay, but there is no dynamic night/day time, and no weather - something announced for Diablo IV (including horses). Of course, it did not affect the gameplay. Your character build also visually stands out in the pause or character select screen and it’s great to see that, compared to Diablo 2, equipment as an even bigger impact on the visual appearance.
The Switch UI items are accessible through a ringwheel interface that is implemented well enough to be serviceable. It certainly is less annoying than in Torchlight II, where the game constantly mis-interprets what I am trying to do. A lot of ease-of-use features are added in D3: you automatically see which weapon will net you more damage, defense, or special abilities, without having to equip it. These things are really needed as a console lacks a mouse and precision aiming.
Enemies and Mobs
Awesome. Next section.
Imagine a Diablo installment where enemy design would be lackluster. It would be terrible. Elites, champions, unique monsters, bosses, … - they’re all here. Next to that, there are occasional ‘treasure goblins’ you can hear in the distance that, given you kill them on time before they slip away trough a secret portal, drop a lot of goodies. It gives an extra rush, quickly locating and terminating the goblin before it gets a chance to get away.
Now we enter the more muddy waters: difficulties in Diablo 3. Besides the normal, nightmare (hard), and hell, there are multiple ‘Torment’ modes that unlock after completing the game. Of course, drops dramatically improve, as do the health points of the enemy. Sadly, the normal difficulties do not provide any challenge whatsoever - even hard. Only the torment III nephalem rift runs provide a bit of a challenge. I don’t get why the game has you slogging trough
20 hours of mindless hack and slashing before deciding to crank things up a little bit. Diablo II is hard, also on ‘normal’. Ease-of-use is one of the key aspects of D3, and while mobs rushing at you look impressive, they are easily disposed of with a few button presses, leaving you behind with a bit of a hollow feeling of victory.
Health automatically regenerates fast, health globes that monsters drop automatically replenish it if that is not fast enough for you, and mana potions are absent. Diablo III feels like a modern shooter, like the last installment of Call of Duty, while DIablo II feels like an early Rainbow Six game that one-shot kills you. I prefer a mix of both, but if challenge is what you are looking for, prepare to first do a lot of yawning, or take a look at other hack & slash games instead.
The main quest feels epic enough, and as said before, fans of the game will love it. Tyrael takes up a prominent role, and making progress in the main quest felt compelling enough. Especially the expansion antagonist has an interesting back story.
In Diablo 2, there are six quests for each Act (except for act IV, of which there are only three). In Diablo 3, the word quest has gained a new interpretation. The world map is constantly littered with events you can complete to gain gold, XP, and of course items. There is a ‘seasonal’ mode, which has you hunting down specific monsters or events within a limited time frame, to gain fame and climb some sort of online ladder. Each new season forces you to start over with another character, and comes with unique new items and end-game content. This system keeps players coming back for more, and overall, I really liked it. The downside is the always online system, but to be honest, I haven’t felt anything bad gameplay-wise on the Switch, and I am not paying for a Nintendo Online subscription.
Besides those events, there are ‘nephalem rifts’, portals to increasingly difficult and timed randomly generated dungeons, akin to the lost dungeons from Torchlight. These are modern equivalent of the secret cow or mephisto runs, and provide the most loot and excitement after reaching level
70. It’s funny to see that while many reviewers praise the originality of this system, they overlook the fact that Torchlight did this three years before Diablo 3.
Another point of remark for this game is the loot system. While I generally enjoy hunting for better gear, in Diablo 3, the game throws so many magical, rare, and unique items in my face, that it simply becomes boring. I start shrugging when I see yellow stuff (rares) and I even promptly deconstruct unique items at the armory because I don’t care enough. Magic find seems to be off the charts here, and before the latest patch and expansion, it was even worse. Compared to Dungeon Siege, a game that was a let-down loot-wise, Diablo 3 is the opposite side of the spectrum - a real shame. Yes, there finally is a shared stash, but I’d rather be excited than bored with the drops.
As said before, Diablo 3 equals ease of use. Not only is gold automatically picked up, town portal and identification scrolls don’t exist: simply press a button and ta-da: another way to completely kill excitement over new equipment. The unwanted gear can be deconstructed and converted into raw material, which you will be needing to craft in the improved Horadric Cube called Kanai’s Cube. This cube even allows you to extract enchantments off items to permanently ‘equip’ these bonuses. The game went all-out on everything: too much gold, loot, crafting, monsters, awesomeness that all make things a bit more mundane than it should be.
Sure, I appreciate these more modern takes on the genre. But this is definitely not a hardcore hack & slash game. It’s a casual game that you can enjoy from your couch. I admittedly like it a lot as a Switch game: it does not require me to think too much when I’m too tired to do anything else but kill stuff, pick everything up, and haul it back to town, only to do it all over again. While my wife enjoys her favorite show on TV, I can sit beside her and play in handheld mode, instead of locking myself into my retro PC room to play computer H&S games.
3. Character Progression
Class builds are besides loot and monster design the most compelling reason to play hack & slash games. Alas, in Diablo 3, there’s little to ‘build’: you simply configure your build, instead of building it. Again, the ease of use is clearly present. This is both positive and negative: if you don’t like a hammerdin, go use another skill. No points wasted. However, as it’s that simple to swap in and out skills and runes, where exactly lies the challenge of perfecting your build?
That challenge lies in finding the correct gear to equip. In Diablo 3, ‘builds’ equals equipment. There are paladin shields that are perfect for hammerdins, providing huge bonuses towards these skills, or shields that greatly improve the bounce rate of the shield bash skill. Instead of dumping points into skills, you now need that one piece of equipment even more. As you level up, skill slots and runes are automatically unlocked. This gives you a false sense of progression, since the real game beings when you reach your max level anyway, with the torment difficulties.
One of the remarkable things is that a left mouse click doesn’t execute a regular attack anymore: that does not exist. Your main atacks replenish your mana pool, and ‘mana’ is unique to each class: the assassin (oh I’m sorry, ‘demon hunter’) has two kinds of mana: hatred and discipline. This system was to my liking and provides a bit of a unique feeling to each class - and to the game, compared to the classic Diablo clones. I do appreciate the way Diablo 3 tries to be unique, compared to just another Diablo installment. I played with a witch doctor, paladin, necromancer, and demon hunter, of which my olde corpse explosion necro build was still my favorite by far.
Sound and Music
The screams, squishes, splatters, and whacks sound great, and it is a pleasant mashup of battle sounds that keep the blood pumping. At the end of a skirmish, the game shows you how many kills you’ve achieved, and deals out temporary stat/skill boosts accordingly: a more arcade-like Diablo. Ambient music inside cathedral cellars and wet dungeons are adequate. The game tries to pay a homage to Diablo 2, but clearly, D2’s music is implemented better.
Honestly, I much prefer the sound and music from Torchlight I and II. Playing the game with headphones provides a more engrossing experience, but running into the risk of too talkative follower parts keeps me from using them too often.
Compared to all other Diablo clones, Diablo III: Eternal Collection again contains astonishing cinematics. I had high expectations of this one, and they were all met. You can even watch the D2 and D3 cinematics on YouTube, everything combined is more than an hour long and the whole thing feels like a big budget movie!
Blizzard North is no more, Blizzard entertainment made this third Diablo installment instead. And that is exactly how I would summarize this game: entertaining enough to keep you in. Still, that term does not equal grand, nor does it equal engrossing. Entertainment is for when I’m tired but still want to kill a few mobs. Entertainment is for when I don’t care for skill points and just want to play. This perfectly summarizes what Diablo 3 is all about: loot - kill - entertainment. In that sense, I wouldn’t want to play it on PC: a comfy couch and a controller is the best fit for these kinds of games.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go kill Belial for the 43th time. I hope the drops are to my liking…