At BlizzCon 2011, Mike Morhaime waved quite the carrot in front of WoW players: Subscribe for a year, and you'll get Diablo 3 for free. For those of us who have grown up loving both the Warcraft and Diablo franchises, this is awesome news and probably a no-brainer as far as things to sign up for go.
However, maybe you never really got into the Diablo franchise. Maybe you've just been a WoW player and haven't really considered any of Blizzard's other franchises. This article is for you. We'll take a quick look at some of the major features of Diablo and what it has to offer the average WoW player.
A brief history of the prime evils
Warning! The next two paragraphs contain spoilers for the first two Diablo games. If you want to remain unspoiled, skipped a couple of paragraphs.
The Diablo series takes place in the world of Sanctuary. Sanctuary is caught in the middle of a battle between Heaven and Hell. The forces of Heaven are lead by the angels, while the forces of Hell are lead by the three prime evils, Diablo, Baal, and Mephisto. While Heaven has taken a mostly hands-off approach to Sanctuary, Hell has actively taken to corrupting and recruiting the people of Sanctuary, and their vile forces maraud across the world. Luckily, one of the archangels, Tyrael, takes pity on humanity and helps a secret cabal of mages, the Horadrim, battle and defeat the forces of Hell. Alas, the Horadrim have long since died out, and as the game begins, your character must fight Hell alone, with the help of friends such as Deckard Cain and the mysterious Adria.
Over the course of the first two games, you defeat all three of the prime evils, but at a great cost. Baal, the last of the prime evils to fall, manages to corrupt the Worldstone, an artifact that protects the barriers between Heaven, Hell, and Sanctuary. In a desperate effort to contain the corruption and prevent hell from completely overrunning the world, Tyrael destroys the Worldstone, disappearing in the process.
Twenty years later, Diablo 3 begins, and the demons are back. It's up to you to find out why and stop it.
This is, of course, a pretty basic general outline of the games, and there's a lot more to explore in the lore and story and some interesting stuff to find out. You'll notice right away some differences and similarities to the Warcraft story, of course. The story of Diablo eschews a Horde vs. Alliance type of storyline in favor of focusing almost solely on a world-ending threat, as the mostly hands-off forces of light battle the corrupting and evil forces of darkness. And hey, given the state of Horde and Alliance relations right now, that may be a bonus for some people. Maybe you're tired of butting heads with the opposite faction. Maybe you just want to buckle down and face an oncoming evil that most people agree should be destroyed. Here's your chance.
Diablo 3, like the other two Diablo games before it, is a point-and-click, hack-and-slash game. You'll get an action bar that allows you to cast a selection of spells at your enemies. In past games, you could also chug potions, though Diablo 3 has eschewed potions for health and mana globes that automatically heal you when you pick them up.
Once you have your skills chosen (in Diablo 3, you'll choose them from a list of seven), you face wave after wave of monsters as you run through levels. When they die, they drop gold and items. These item drops are almost completely random, though higher-level monsters and rare or champion monsters (monsters with special names and abilities) will have a higher chance to drop better items. The areas you fight in are randomly generated, as are the monsters. While certain types of monsters will show up in certain areas, the exact layout of the area and types of monsters will differ each time you play.
As a Warcraft player, you've been used to coming back week after week to kill a certain boss in hope of getting a certain drop. In Diablo, that's not as much of a problem. If you keep fighting monsters, you may or may not get your drop, but you don't have to worry. As long as you're fighting stuff of the proper level, it will probably drop, and you will be fighting a wider variety of monsters while you search. Eventually. Depending on your temperament, that can be a nice break from killing the same raid or dungeon boss over and over again.
In a similar vein, maybe you're tired of dying to that one big elite mob. Now, higher levels of Diablo will still chew you up and spit you out, no doubt, but once you know how to play the game, you'll have a lot of time mowing down wave after wave of demons. It feels a lot faster-paced, and your character will feel a lot more powerful. It could be just the stress relief you need after an evening of wiping on WoW. The world of Diablo is definitely different from Warcraft, but it's just similar enough that you'll find some comfortable similarity wrapped up in enough difference to be an engaging change of pace.
You should also note that Diablo 3 is not exactly an MMO, but it is multiplayer. You will sign in to the game via Battle.net and set up individual games -- think of them as instances of Diablo 3. These games can be inhabited by a limited number of players at a time. Four is the current maximum for Diablo 3; in Diablo 2, it's eight people. You can play with one to three of your friends, or play by yourself. You can make the game password-protected so only your buddies can join, or make it public and see who decides to drop in and help out. It's a slight change of pace from the massively multiplayer World of Warcraft, but you have a lot of control over who you group and play with, which can be a good thing in and of itself, and you can still definitely play with your WoW buddies.
In addition, a lot about the gameplay system will hearken back to WoW for you. You choose a class. You level that class up and get newer and stronger abilities as you do. If you played Diablo 2, you probably recognized the talent system of Warcraft, or a rudimentary version thereof, as you went down a branching tree of skills and abilities. The WoW paladin class, especially, seems to take as much from the Diablo paladin as it does from the Warcraft 3 hero class, and the Diablo barbarian's Whirlwind and Battle Shouts are immediately recognizable as warrior abilities. Could it be that the Diablo monk and the WoW monk will have similiar crossovers? Time will tell.
In Diablo 3, the class system is much different. Talents are out the window. Instead, you'll pick from a list of abilities. You'll only be able to learn seven at a time, but you'll be able to use runes to customize these abilities. For example, one rune might add a life drain to a skill, while another might give it AOE damage.
Is this sounding familiar yet? The new WoW talent system, of course, has you picking from little groups of three skills, and you'll have more base skills to use, but the basic idea is still the same. You work with a small group of select abilities to find the combination that works right for you, and you can use glyphs to bolster or adjust your abilities as needed. So by the time Pandaria comes out, you may just find your time playing Diablo 3 has given a deeper understanding of how the new talent system works and how best to use it.
This is something to remember about Diablo and Warcraft -- they're the two Blizzard franchises that are just similar enough that there's a lot of cross-pollination. A feature that shows up in Diablo may easily be based on stuff from Warcraft, and Warcraft spells and systems may just inspire future Diablo patches. One of the great things I've found about playing both franchises is honestly playing both side by side, seeing how they match up, complement, and play off of each other. Diablo 3 promises even more of that type of fun.
There is one final feature many WoW players may find themselves intimately familiar with -- the Auction House. Sure, there is the whole real-money aspect, but if that gets you uncomfortable, don't worry -- there's a gold Auction House as well. At the Auction House, you'll be able to post crafting items, runes, gems, and items for in-game gold or real money, as your heart desires. Sound familiar?
Of course, we'll have to watch for a while to see how the market shakes down. Since nothing is BOP in Diablo but lots of stuff is super-rare, it's hard to say where prices will drop. But if you've done a little Auction House playing on WoW and have been keeping up on your Gold Cappeds, you might be surprised at how well you do. Let your time on WoW help you get a head start on the AH and see where you get.
The devil's in the details
So maybe you're cool with a year of WoW. Maybe you're cool with a free game. But is Diablo 3 the right game for you? If you enjoy WoW, I'm going to say there's a good chance it is. You'll find a compelling story, fun gameplay, and a lot of familiar stuff from WoW in the gameplay that will let you dive right in. Come join us. I'll have a witch doctor whose just waiting to hex some demons with you.
Evil has returned! 1.2 million WoW players are getting Diablo 3 for free thanks to the Annual Pass. You can get prepared for the evil with WoW Insider's launch coverage. From the lore of Diablo, to the important blue posts and the basics of Diablo gameplay, we'll get you on the inside track for the return of evil.