By CHONG JINN XIUNGbytz@thestar.com.my
We battle our way through hordes of demons to face the evils that plague Sanctuary in Diablo III.
TWELVE years is a long time to wait for a sequel. At times it seemed like the day would never come but Blizzard has finally unleashed Diablo III upon the world.
Needless to say expectations are ridiculously high and everyone is eager to find out if Blizzard has delivered a masterpiece or if it's 12 years too late to the party.
Beginning of the end
The tale of Diablo III starts in the town of Tristam where a fallen star has crashed into an old cathedral. Strange things begin to occur, and the dead and all manner of dark creatures rise to terrorise the townsfolk.
You have to investigate the source of the disturbance and save the town but things are never that simple. Before long you learn about the lesser evils, Azmodan and Belial, who are hell bent on ending the world.
You can play as one of the five classes: Barbarian, wizard, monk, witch doctor or demon hunter. We chose a female wizard largely because she was the coolest looking character and has spells that are great for crowd control.
From the get go, Diablo III immediately feels familiar and the simple control scheme keeps you focused on the game.
Combat is satisfying - as you cut down droves of demons, you gain new equipment and grow stronger with more abilities at your disposal.
The game also feels more strategic now because you can no longer rush into battles and spam healing potions to recover. Large hordes can easily overwhelm your character so it is all a matter of knowing when to use your abilites to gain the upper hand.
Enemies drop health orbs upon dying but sometimes that is not enough and you will have to use potions to heal yourself. Potions, however, now have a long cooldown time as do many of your skills. So timing is everything.
Levelling up is a drag at first. The first 10 levels are slow and don't afford a lot of fancy skills or runestones.
Things start to get interesting from level 13 onwards as there are a sizable number of skills to pick and runestones to equip your character with. Runestones modify skills in interesting ways and give you more choices of playing styles.
This made our wizard build interesting - she specialised in Spectral Blades melee attack to rip enemies to shreds in close quarter combat while using Diamond Skin to absorb a large amount of damage.
One particularly annoying aspect of the new system is the inability to bind more than four skills to the number keys. The limited number of shortcut keys forces you to click through menus, even as battle wages around you, to use an unassigned skill.
The game's campaign spans over four lengthy acts which should satisfy fans. There are plenty of optional side quests and hidden areas to uncover as you explore the expansive world.
It took us at least six hours to complete the first act of the game and we are still exploring the vast deserts of Caldeum in the second act.
Also, you don't have to march through the bowels of Hell alone as you have the option to enlist the help of one of three followers: The templar, scoundrel and enchantress.
Each follower can be equipped with a weapon, two rings and a special item. They even level up and gain a unique set of skills. They, however, cannot act as pack mules for your excess inventory.
Followers are helpful to have around especially for weaker character classes like the wizard.
Diablo III has tightly integrated multiplayer aspects into the campaign. A dedicated social button notifies you when your friends are online so you can invite them to join your game.
Inviting friends and joining others' games is extremely simple, and it's really up to you if want to go solo or as a team against the hordes of evil.
Also, the new loot drop system makes monsters drop several items specific to each player so there is less chance of fighting for treasures between players.
For now players can only team up with one another although Blizzard says it will update the game with PvP (player versus player) mode for those who prefer a more competitive session.
One of the big additions is the auction house, a place for those who want to make a profit from rare items. Items can only be bought using in-game currency as Blizzard has yet to enable trading with real money.
Diablo III requires the computer to be connected to Blizzard's BattleNet server at all times in order to play the game even if you are venturing solo.
So a stable Internet connection is a must to ensure that your game doesn't get disconnected.
As expected, we ran into problems connecting to Blizzard's servers as gamers around the world flocked to play the game on launch night.
It took us a few hours to finally get past the login screen to reach the character creation mode.
Even then our experience wasn't smooth. We got booted out on two occasions, losing progress and items in the process.
Occasionally, we also experienced slowdowns but it was not game breaking to the point that our character got killed.
The problems are understandably due to heavy traffic but for someone who just wants to play solo, the inconvenience is incredibly annoying.
Diablo III is loads of fun to play. The story is the most engaging yet with lots of areas to explore and bigger and tougher enemies to defeat.
The replay value is also high as the different character classes have a unique playing style and the tight multiplayer integration means you'll be playing the game with your friends for months or even years.
However, even those wanting to play solo will have to be connected to Blizzard's server and at this moment it is not free from lag and disconnections.
Overall, Diablo III is highly addictive whether played solo or with friends but the experience is marred by Blizzard's inability to cope with the high traffic.
Pros: Fun combat system; tight multiplayer integration; lots of replay value.
Cons: Persistent Internet connection required; occasional lag; any disconnection from server ends the game.
Action CRPG game for PC, Mac
PC SYSTEM REQUIREMENTS: Windows Vista/7, Intel Core 2 Duo 2.4GHz/AMD Athlon 64 X2 5600+ 2.8Ghz, 2GB RAM, nVidia GeForce 260/ATI Radeon HD4870, 12GB HDD space
MAC SYSTEM REQUIREMENTS: Mac OS X 10.7 or better, Intel Core 2 Duo, 2GB RAM, nVidia GeForce GT 330M/ ATI Radeon HD4670, 12GB HDD space