on May 23, 2012
The long-awaited sequel is a somewhat streamlined yet still quite old school reprise of the classic titles from 10+ years ago. Many of the complaints about the game center on the infrastructure and the streamlining, so I will address those first before talking a bit about the gameplay.
In terms of streamlining, the main element of this relates to the way skills are handled in the game. In earlier titles in the series, a permanent attribute allocation and skill tree system was followed which permitted a greater degree of uniqueness, in theory, at the cost of a higher risk of completely gimping the character in a permanent way. Diablo 3 has replaced this system with automatic skill and attribute gains happen automatically as the character levels, while the player can, at any time (other than in the middle of a battle, due to a cooldown mechanic) switch out skills (6 are active at any one time) and switch out runes for each skill (each rune having significantly different effects on the base skill). The intention was to avoid having "one min max optimal build" which all informed players followed after learning about on the internet, with the remaining customization "choices" all being suboptimal, and therefore to some degree illusory. Instead, various skill and rune loadouts are viable, and players are encouraged to experiment with various combinations to find one that is effective for their own preferred playstyle rather than following one cookie-cutter "optimal" build for each class. Some players will prefer this system, while players who like to theorycraft themselves and figure out optimal builds before other players do, will not like this system.
Another element of streamlining involves various game mechanics, such as town scrolls (no more need to stockpile them, it is a skill everyone has that can be used at any time), potions (no longer chugged, now on a cooldown) and item identification (now a skill, no longer requiring a scroll). All of these make the game somewhat more manageable compared to Diablo 2, but more purist players may find them irritating.
The other main element of complaint involves the tie-in to Blizzard's battle.net system. As with Starcraft 2, the game is intended to be played through battle.net. Unlike SC2, however, Diablo 3 can't be played in an offline mode once the game has been authenticated on the battle.net servers, but instead is actually played on the servers themselves, even when played in single player/non-public mode. That is, Diablo 3 is, in effect, an online game, but one that can be played in a private, non-public way. This was done by Blizzard primarily to limit item duping, because Diablo 3 will soon feature a real money auction house -- that is, an auction house where players can sell their items for real world currency instead of in-game currency. Blizzard will be taking a commission on these real currency sales, and because real money is involved (and potentially quite a bit of real money), is keenly interested in limiting, or making harder, the kind of item duping that was fairly commonplace in the heavily hacked Diablo 2. The battle.net system also limits other kinds of hacking as well, and provides, on average, for a cleaner game environment. The cost, however, of this approach is that the playability of the game is entirely dependent on being connected to the internet at all times, and having a fairly good connection as well. While this is not an issue for most people, it will be an issue for some people (to take one example, military stationed without constant broadband internet), and if it is an issue, it's a 100% issue, and this has resulted in a huge number of negative reviews of the game. For people who are impacted by this decision in a negative way, these criticisms are understandable. For this reason, I have deducted one star -- because while the issue doesn't impact me personally, it does impact others and that makes it a less than perfect design, from the game infrastructure point of view.
The gameplay of Diablo 3 is quite old school, true to the spirit of the older iterations of the series. Blizzard chose to go with a retro approach, rather than an innovative one. Some players will like this, as it is reminiscent of the gameplay of Diablo 2. Other players will dislike it, finding the gameplay to be dated, and superseded by gameplay developments and innovations that have taken place since the late 1990s. This is primarily a question of taste, but it can have a huge impact on one's overall impression, and enjoyment, of the game. Diablo 3 is a point and click hack and slash game where the idea is to progress through the game several times, with increasing difficulty each time, as your character advances in levels (more skills and runes) and acquires better gear through loot drops. It is not designed to be played once on "normal" mode and then put aside, so if you are not the kind of gamer who likes to replay content a few times with increased difficulty, then Diablo 3 may not be for you, because this is the core mechanic of the game, and the core design idea that carried through from Diablo 2 as well. If, however, you like a more retro, old school approach to the classic action RPG genre, you'll get plenty of fun from Diablo 3.