With Diablo 2 and its 2001 expansion, Lord of Destruction, Blizzard set a standard for loot-based action RPGs that everyone else struggled to meet. There were better looking games over the course of the following decade, but almost none had the same unifying aesthetic, or the sense of place that Blizzard built into the wilds surrounding Khurast or Lut Gholein, or Hell, for that matter. Few could match the world-building that Blizzard wove into every corner of Diablo 2, from weapons to monsters to stashes and chests. And every game from the last 11 years, even the Torchlight series, created by veterans from Diablo 2 developers Blizzard North, failed to build a loot system as persistently rewarding and aggressively addicting.
Other games did some things – well, if not better, perhaps newer – but Diablo 2 has never felt irrelevant. With Diablo 3, Blizzard has taken the fundamentals of the franchise, broken them apart and rebuilt them into an action RPG so refined and compulsively playable that it’s done the unthinkable: It’s finally rendered its predecessor a footnote.
From a thousand feet up, Diablo 3 resembles Diablo Past, more or less. It’s still a game defined almost entirely by clicking on things – you click on the ground to move your character to that point, you click on Diablo 3 gold to pick them up, you click on enemies to make them dead. Enemies yield randomly generated loot. Loot, more than levels or character progression, remains the beating heart of Diablo 3.
While all of this is familiar, Diablo 3 quickly makes scandalous departures from previous games. Skill points and attributes are out. Instead, each class’s attributes increase automatically when a new level is gained, and new skills unlock over time at specific levels.
Potions are a thing of the past – replaced by one-time health globe pickups dropped by downed enemies. Town portal scrolls? Magic weapons already have their properties laid bare. Rare and unique items merely require casting time to identify, rather than a depletable resource.
It’s no secret that Diablo 3’s launch night went rougher than anyone would have liked, this reviewer and Blizzard included. Things are bad when there’s a Twitter account named after your most common error message.
For the first week of Diablo 3’s release, it eloquently demonstrated all of the pitfalls of the “always online” requirements that so angered consumers since its announcement. I had repeated issues signing into my account throughout the week – I have three identically named characters in my account because of server-side character storage and creation issues. I was greeted several times by a general chat message informing me that Blizzard was taking down Diablo 3 gold
servers for general maintenance while I was playing the game.
Ordinarily, my position as Reviews Editor at Polygon is that we review a game as it exists on release day, because our responsibility is to our audience. While we do all we can to maintain due diligence with regards to giving a game every opportunity to deliver, we choose your wallet and your time before the benefit of the doubt.
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