Diablo 3: Our first ten hours in Hell -
16th May 2012 | 16:10
We've lost track of how long we've been fighting this demon. No matter how hard we try, the creature won't fall. It's relentless, unstoppable. We're exhausted, and losing faith. Will Sanctuary ever be spared from the wrath of Diablo? At this rate, it doesn't seem likely. We're close to giving up.
And the demon's name? Error 37.
For many early adopters, logging in was their first battle in Diablo 3. The launch of Blizzard's anticipated dungeon crawler has been blighted by busy servers preventing people from logging in, and even affecting the single-player experience. No, we don't know why either.
We were playing solo, and were kicked out moments after defeating a boss. The game still registered that we'd killed him, but none of the loot he dropped was saved, nor did we get our achievement. So we had to go back and do it all again, which was deeply annoying. It's utterly insane that single-player should be affected by crowded servers.
Luckily, normal service seems to have resumed. We can log in with no problems, and finally enjoy what is, when you get past the unforgivable DRM, an incredibly fun, polished, and madly addictive game. We've played for about ten hours so far, mainly as a wizard, and this is what we think.
Your time spent in Tristram, the main town hub, is spent crafting, talking to locals, and picking up quests. But it's when you venture outside the safety of its walls that the real fun begins. Dungeons are huge, and stuffed with hidden loot, alternate paths, and so-called 'events'; self-contained challenges that test your skill, like surviving endless waves of skeletons for a set period of time.
Every level is randomly generated, so if you replay a quest with a friend, it'll be a completely different experience. So far we've done the Reign of the Black King series of quests about five or six times with different groups of friends, and each time it's felt unique; save for a few key story moments, which are always the same. This gives the game genuine replay value, and enemy AI scales depending on your level, as well as how many people there are in your group.
Cutting through waves of enemies is madly satisfying. As you attack, they get sliced in half, pop like blood-filled balloons, and tumble down stairs. Unleash a volley of magic and the screen lights up like a violent fireworks display, and the world crumbles and shatters around you in real-time. When you've got four players in a group, the amount of stuff on the screen is dizzying; enemies, spell effects, beasts conjured up by the Witch Doctor, loot drops. It's mental.
Playing with other people is way more fun than going it alone. To avoid World of Warcraft-style disputes, loot is unique to each player, so you won't find yourself getting into an argument over a pair of magic pants. You can share loot, though, by dropping it on the floor, which makes it visible to all players.
What some may find strange is that your gold is shared among all your characters. This means that if you start a new alt, you'll have access to the fortune amassed by your main. We like the system, but it doesn't make much sense from a story perspective.
As with any good dungeon crawler, it's the random loot drops that make the game so compelling. What we've noticed about playing with other people is that, despite there being only four classes to choose from, everyone looks different. There's such a wealth of weapons and armour, that you can make your character stand out.
The best gear is dropped by elite enemies and bosses, and there's a colour coding system to help you sort the worthless crap from the valuables. Grey and white trash items can be sold to vendors, while unwanted rare items (blue, orange, and so on) can be broken down by a blacksmith into materials, and used to craft new stuff. The more gold you invest in blacksmith's shop, the better the weapons and armour you can create.
Each run through a dungeon will see your inventory overflowing with items, but you can use a portal to return to town at any time and dump them. There's a stash chest in Tristram that you can store items in, and that can be greatly expanded for gold. Handily, just like currency, anything you store in here is shared among all of your heroes.
Since we've spent the most time with him, let's talk a bit about the wizard. He's an incredibly fun class to play, and has a variety of both ranged, and close-up, spells. To begin with you get a basic Magic Missile projectile that actually becomes quite formidable when you equip Runes: special buffs unlocked at certain levels that beef up existing abilities. You also have Ray of Frost, which sends out a long-range beam of chilling ice that can slow enemies down. Together, they're just as good at taking down foes as a sword; if not more so.
Signature spells (like the Magic Missiles) don't cost anything to cast, but secondary spells drain your arcane meter. This recharges, but there are ways to speed up its recovery. We're fond of the Power Hungry passive skill, which fills up your arcane meter whenever you pick up health dropped by an enemy, which happens frequently. Other passive skills include Evocation, which reduces your ability cooldown time, and Unstable, which releases a shockwave when you're low on health. There are 15 of these for each class.
It's when the wizard levels up that he becomes really fun to use. Shock Pulse sends out a medium-range splash of lightning that dances across the ground, shocking enemies. Spectral Blade unleashes a flurry of magical sword slashes. Arcane Torrent releases swarms of glowing missiles from your hands that devour enemies' health. By combining passive skills, runes, and spells, you can create some really interesting character builds, and you're able to change them up at any time, even in the middle of a battle.
We've only just dipped our toes into Diablo 3 as we write this, and there's still lots to discover. Some claim to have finished the story in six hours, but where's the fun in that? Diablo's rich mythology, quality voice acting, and immersive world make it an experience to be savoured.
Even if you don't have co-op buddies to play with, it's still a great single-player RPG, and can easily be finished solo. We'll be back soon with a full review - and that all-important score - but for now, we've got some demons to slaughter. If we can log on, that is.