Nov 012011

What kind of game is Diablo 3?

This is a question that gets bandied about forums a lot.  A lot of folks are used to RTS (Real Time Strategy), FPS (First Person Shooter), and MMO (Massively Multiplayer Online).  The Diablo series has never fallen into these categories.  In many regards the game system it is based on (and in many ways defined) predated most of these systems and sadly is not as common in this modern day age of gaming.

Admittedly, you will still find many 3rd Person Hack-n-Slash RPGs, but Diablo is a special brand.  Unfortunately, the last update to the Diablo series was in 2001 with the Lord of Destruction Expansion.  That’s long enough for an original Diablo player to have had a child and put them through the Fifth grade.  In fact, there is an entire generation of gamers out there right now that weren’t around when the original diablo games first came out, and for many of them this classic piece of gaming history may seem alien compared to modern games like “Dragon Age” or even “World of Warcraft”.

But I digress; Enough nostalgia.

The above question is quite large, and rather vague, so let’s break it down into more specific sub-questions.

Is it a First Person or Third Person game?

First off, Diablo is played with an isometric 3rd Person view.  In this regard it’s like many MMOs, in which you view your character from above at an angle.  Except in Diablo the Camera doesn’t follow behind your character.  The camera generally maintains a fixed view point of the environment and action, and only moves when your character moves so as to keep your character in the center of your screen at all times.  This can seem like an odd point to focus on, but it is important.  The view of the battlefield helps define the unique feel of the Diablo series, and as you play through the various dungeons you’ll definitely understand why having such different vantage point from traditional games is important when there are a hundred enemies approaching your position.

You can play online with other people, so why is Diablo not an MMO?

The answer to that lies with the first “M” of “MMO”.  Massively.  Diablo can be played as a Multiplayer game online, but it is not a world setting where hundreds (or thousands) of players will be sharing the same environment.  Instead, if you choose to play with others (either friends or through the matching service) you’ll only ever play Multiplayer in a small group.  Four players max for Diablo 3 (for now), or eight players max for Diablo 2.  In this regard playing Diablo 3 multiplayer is more like playing a single Instance in WoW.  Each multiplayer game is specifically created on a server just for you and your friends, and isn’t shared with the overall playerbase as a whole.  So essentially it counts as a Multiplayer Online game, just not a Massively Multiplayer Online game.

If it’s not an MMO, then why do we have to always be logged in to Blizzard’s servers to play?

This is a point of controversy for a lot of folks, but the bottom line is that it all comes down to Security.  Diablo 2 was (and still is) a hot bed for hacks and cheats that came about because players could hack the files stored on their own machines.  This isn’t technically bad if you’re just playing single player on your own computer or personal LAN, but by and large it became an issue that plagued the old servers.

In addition, over the last seven years Blizzard has observed a drastic increase in the number of World of Warcraft customer accounts that have been hacked (on the client’s end, not the server end) just so that their gear/items/gold could be stolen, transferred, and sold on an underground market.

With the existence of the Real Money Auction house in this game, the need to create as secure and safe an environment to play in as possible becomes paramount.  People assume Blizzard is doing this to cut down on piracy of the game itself, and to a degree that’s true, but it’s far from their primary reason, and the costs to Blizzard to maintain the servers and bandwidth to run an always-logged-in game is quite substantially high, especially since there will be no monthly fees.

No Monthly fees?  So is Diablo 3 free?

Yes and No.  Obviously there is a fee to purchase the game itself (as well as any possible future expansion), but there are no monthly fees.  You can buy the game and play to your heart’s content without having to pay another penny.

However, there will be a 100% Optional aspect to the game called the RMAH (Real Money Auction House), where players can purchase in-game items sold by other players for real Money.  You don’t have to partake in this feature (there’s an in-game Gold Only Auction House too which you could use instead, or not at all if you want to avoid Auction Houses altogether), but if you do choose to then yes, that part would also cost money.

RMAH?  Does that mean Diablo 3 follows the Freemium model?

Technically no.  The Freemium model operates by providing slimmed down gameplay/features for free, and allows players to spend money to unlock/access restricted and exclusive content.  Social Networking games such as those put out by Zynga might provide players the opportunity to purchase in-game items that players whom play for free can’t access.  City of Heroes limits free players to having only two characters on their servers.

In Diablo 3 there is no exclusive or restricted content.  If you bought the game, then everything in it can be accessed given enough play time.  You don’t have to worry about exclusive items showing up only on the RMAH.  Any item posted on the RMAH does technically have a chance of dropping for you off creatures (or being crafted by you) during regular game play.  So anything you might see on the RMAH you can technically get without having to pay real money.  In fact, any item that exists on the RMAH only does so because it originally dropped for free (or was crafted for free) by another player.

What’s the plot of the game?

If you’re new to the Diablo series, then the plot may seem semi-imposing.

Essentially, the world is beseiged by an imminent invasion from Hell.  The Lords of Hell (Diablo, Baal, and Mephisto) enacted a millenia old plan to open the way for the mortal realm of Sanctuary (where you and humanity lives) to be invaded by Hell.  About twenty years ago their plan reached culmination and despite being defeated by the Heroes of the day, the way for invasion was still cleared.  Except in the time since then, the invasion hasn’t happened.  An entire generation has passed, but recently a shooting star (meteor) raced across the sky and crashed into the abandoned cathedral by the ruins of Tristram (from the first game).  This event has been taken as an omen that the invasion is about to occur, and indeed there are corpses rising from the graves which have begun assaulting people, and various beasts of the land seem to have been tainted with demonic energies, making them larger and more aggresive.

Our characters begin the game investigating these events.  Each class has it’s own reason for doing so, and subsequently it’s own backstory which develops through the game.  Ultimately our characters will face the onslaught of Hell, and hopefully find a means of saving Sanctuary.

Is Diablo gothic or high fantasy?  I heard D3 has rainbows…

Ok, this one is a controversy that has been going on for the last three-four years ever since D3 was announced.  The first two games in the series had very dark artistic themes.  Lots of blood, dark dungeons, corpses, orange firelight, dark earth toned clothes and armor, with stone or leather textures for interface windows.  When D3 was announced people saw lots of blood, dark dungeons, corpses, orange firelight, dark earth toned clothes and armor, with stone or leather textures for interface windows.

Why people suddenly think D3′s artistic renderings are more “colorful” than D2 and LoD I still don’t understand.  Anyone whom played D2 have little excuse for not remembering the green fields of the Western Kingdoms, or the Green Jungles of Kurast, or the bright glowing magenta/blue/green/electric energy flinging mages and skeletons, or the colorful gems, or the bright green poison clouds, or blue skinned Champions… etc…

D3 is no more colorful than it’s immensely popular predecessor.

That being said, it still retains an intensely dark atmosphere.  A pale fog fills the countryside around Tristam in D3 at night.  Walking Corpses explode with dark ichor.  Flickering torchlights are the only source of illumination around the besieged town of New Tristram.  All in all D3 is not a High Fantasy game.  It’s about Hell on Earth (read: Sanctuary) and the artistic theme reflects that.