Of course, in this age of entitlement, gamers can bask in the reflected glory of other, harder-working players by cherry-picking items from the auction house. Prices range from reasonable to utterly outlandish, but there's almost always something on offer that is affordable and shiny enough to make a difference in battle. For reasons possibly related to capacity, Blizzard has opted to restrict listings to 10 per player, so always leaving one slot free for an unexpected-yet-unusable windfall is a safe strategy.
Even those approaching a retailer with a credit card and no friends are entitled to new ones, as the singleplayer aspect of the game allocates followers to aid in combat. Essentially Diablo III's answer to Diablo II's hirelings, these three colourful companions can be swapped out at any time and entertain with off-topic ramblings of their own, even if they do become a bit repetitive at times. New follower-specific items and a trimmed-down skill tree for each are welcome additions too.
Those blessed with robust and deftly-clicking squadmates can assemble using the utterly brilliant drop-in, drop-out co-operative system which clearly espouses the benefits of Blizzard's Battle.Net 2.0 construct. Players can join their friends' games, automatically creating parties, or a solo match can be opened up to the public. It's not revolutionary in any way, but then neither is a Rolls Royce; it merely differentiates itself by working unimaginably well.
With so much on hand to admire, and so much Diablo II DNA apparent at every turn, it seems almost impossible to concede that Blizzard has engineered this title with some fairly glaring problems, some of which will undoubtedly put many players off.
Minor annoyances can be found in the oft-repeated NPC townsfolk chatter, which isn't particularly robust the first time around and even less so after the thirtieth. The dialogue in general – with a few exceptions, it must be noted – is average at best. Characters deliver clichéd lines as if it's Macbeth's opening night at Hamilton East's amateur dramatics society, while massive bosses chortle and threaten to reveal dark secrets with all the conviction of Alan Rickman but none of the talent. In addition, and rather worryingly, the in-game cutscenes smack of a media school presentation spliced together by hungover second-year students.
This is particularly confusing when compared to the full cinematic scenes, which can easily be regarded as amongst the very best in gaming today. And because the difference between these two layers is so jarring, the only conclusion drawn is that Diablo III is now either cleverly parodying itself by referencing the fairly woeful graphics from the first and second instalments, or merely settling into a comfortable hackneyed genre of its own invention where the goal is to create the most advanced RPG possible yet deliver it garnished in cheese.
Had the story any real legs of its own, perhaps this could be forgiven. Plot extrapolation has hardly ever been a strong element in this franchise, and any hope that Diablo III would flesh out the eternal struggle between heaven and hell in any meaningful or convincing way is now pretty much lost. But when expectations aren't high, the predictability of a lumbering story with little cohesion isn't too difficult to swallow.
None of this will really matter to the vast majority of players who intend to settle down to play Diablo III for extended periods, because neither the story or accompanying dialogue add anything to the hunt for loot, and will be mercilessly skipped after the first playthrough. What is an ongoing issue of contention, and one that has acted to fairly divide and isolate a large number of vocal RPG fans is the always-on Internet requirement.
The first incarnation of Battle.Net in the late '90s was, in short, fatally flawed. Hacking player killers all but ruined it for legitimate subscribers, and even Diablo II couldn't rid itself of griefers who exploited holes in online functionality for their own twisted reasons. An always-on requirement is acceptable when viewed in the context of adding legitimacy and longevity to a title by verifying characters server-side. Unfortunately, Diablo III's implementation has been suitably ham-fisted enough to draw even the most apologetic of commentators to argue against it.
It's hard to say for certain which avenue of attack is less valid. That Blizzard are executors of a Machiavellian plot to reap millions in profit from an as-yet untested and unimplemented real-money auction house that could just as well end up costing them more in customer support, or that the game is primarily a co-operative experience and an offline single-player is simply too difficult to deliver. Either way, the downsides are obvious; the game can't be played when Blizzard decide to initiate server maintenance, or at any other time when a reliable Internet connection cannot be sourced.
How this affects potential purchasers is very much an individual outcome, but that such compensatory decisions must be evaluated and made at all is a shame, and ultimately reflects a poor decision by Blizzard to press ahead despite strongly subversive mutterings emanating from gaming communities. Only a flawless always-on implementation could have redeemed Blizzard; this is far from the case.
Happily however, Diablo is a series blessed with unnatural long life. Diablo II is still a remarkably popular title today, but behind that success it's important to note that Diablo II v1.0, as released in June 2000, is a far cry from the Lord of Destruction v1.13d patch released October 2011, and this kind of evolutionary progression will feature strongly in Diablo III as well. Many of the major problems that required over a decade of work to ultimately iron out will be addressed in the coming weeks, months and years, along with the introduction of PvP and the controversial real-money auction house.
Future modifications will greatly change the way Diablo III is viewed by hack'n'slash aficionados, but to sign up for those changes gamers should be prepared for a period of unsettled and cautious refinement from Blizzard's development teams. Those who want to come along for the ride will need to make friends with the always-on Internet requirement whether or not it suits them to do so.
Regardless of faults and delivery woes, the raw combat and loot mechanics clearly show the level of talent and experience Blizzard take delight in displaying at all opportunities. That the company can produce a successor able to encapsulate so accurately the fundamentally engaging gameplay passed down from Diablo II, yet include so many new improvements and overhauls speaks to a development team at the top of their game.
Despite controversy, despite teething issues and all of the other problems, Blizzard has produced a robust foundation that will come to be known as one of the most significant action role-playing games ever made.