Developer: Blizzard Entertainment / Publisher: Activision Blizzard / Played on: PC / Price: $59.99 / ESRB: Mature [Blood and Gore, Violence]
Diablo is a big deal. Just ask anyone and they’ll probably tell you exactly what they were doing and where they were in life when they played the game. In fact, you’re probably thinking of your own story right now. For some people, Diablo and Diablo II were more than just great video games, they were life milestones. When a game is so good that you can identify a period in your life with it, how do you make it better? Fuck if I know, but Blizzard found a way. Every change in Diablo III is for the better, creating a game that is almost perfect if it weren’t for annoying online issues.
The story in Diablo III isn’t extraordinary, but it is intelligible and enjoyable, which means it’s improved over previous games. The main plot follows a fairly standard path of deception and corruption and concludes in a predictable way — especially if you’re familiar with Blizzard’s story tendencies. Diablo’s greater success is providing charm and humanity through incidental dialogue. All of the game’s NPCs have interesting back stories that are revealed through chunks of dialogue as you progress in a very Bioware or Left 4 Dead sort of way. These impromptu discussions are well-written and often humorous. By the end of the game, I was actually attached to some NPCs because of their dialogue, which is a new experience in a game that’s usually about clicking a bunch of demons to death.
The big question here is “Does Diablo III feel like Diablo?” and it absolutely does. You still click on a bunch of demons and collect glistening loot. There are some tweaks to the formula in Diablo III though, and nearly all of them fix problems you never realized were problems. The biggest change is the game’s skill system. Unlike previous Diablos, you never actually attack with your equipped weapon. Instead, all of your attack skills work as modifiers on your weapon’s basic stats. Equip a faster weapon, and your skills will come out faster, and the same is true for weapons with higher damage. It works, but it is a little logically incongruent, especially when your character does an attack that doesn’t involve your equipped weapon at all, like blowing darts.
Here’s the smart bit though; every time you level, you’ll unlock a new skill or a rune for an existing skill that modifies its behavior and appearance. This, combined with different enemy types, means that Diablo III constantly prods you to experiment with new skill combinations that can drastically change the way you play. For example, as a monk I had a combination of skills that would pull enemies towards me then do area of effect damage. Then I tinkered with my loadout and created a set focused on dashing and knockback, meaning that I was zipping all over the battlefield slapping enemies around instead of pulling them to me. This is an incredible improvement over Diablo II, where you’d dump all your skill points into one or two select skills and do the same attack all game.
There are a host of other tweaks on top of the core mechanics that make Diablo III a more enjoyable experience. Sub-quests called “events” are randomly generated into the map, and if you stumble across one, you’ll get a ten-minute quest involving saving a group of bystanders from monsters or running through a dungeon to find the treasure at the end within a time limit. This capitalizes perfectly on Diablo’s sense of spontaneity and is a great way to break up the hours of demon slaying. The game’s crafting system is simple and brilliant, too. The results you get from crafting are randomized, meaning that you have to roll the dice and hope you get the stats you want. You also have to invest money in the crafters so they can level up to make better equipment, which is a fantastic money sink and prevents the in-game gold from becoming completely devalued like it did in Diablo II. There’s even an in-game auction house that you can use to capitalize on rare loot drops that may not fit your class. It functions nearly identically to the auction house in World of Warcraft, and it’s trivial to search for equipment or list your own for sale.
In fact, I have to get incredibly nit-picky to find something worth complaining about. You can’t compare gear to your follower’s equipment, which is a slight headache. You also can’t run around with the map overlay on, which is also a slight inconvenience. Uh…crafting recipes don’t pull items from your stash, meaning that you have to have the components in your inventory… and that’s about it. The limited and minor complaints I have about the game should speak more to the game’s quality rather than its downsides.
Of course, that’s all ignoring the elephant in the room – online DRM. While I expect logging in and playing stable games will be less of an issue going forward, it’s still a hassle to log in to an online server to play by yourself. That means you’re at the mercy of lag and disconnects even when you just want to play a quick twenty minutes. When a server goes down or you can’t log in ‘cause your internet is screwy, you can’t play the game you bought and that’s no different than a bug or a crash interfering with the experience. Like everyone else, I experienced several disconnects and connectivity problems in the game’s first week, and that’s a real problem that shouldn’t be ignored.
Though you’re technically online even when you’re playing alone, Diablo III deserves special mention for how easy it is to play with your friends. You can add a friend from either their battle.net e-mail or via their battletag, which is a chosen handle with a random number appended to the end. Once friended, it’s trivial to the point of clicking once to join someone’s game. Given how complicated PC multiplayer can be, that’s amazing and deserves special mention. My only complaint is that the game doesn’t have any voice chat support, which is bizarre. Granted, you’ll probably be using Skype or Vent instead, but it’s odd that a game would ship without that functionality these days.
Diablo III is Blizzard’s best-looking game yet, and Blizzard makes some gorgeous ass games. Astounding use of vibrant color make Diablo III look like a moving metal cover. The environments work with the background and foreground now, too. Enemies will now crawl up at you from below or jump down from above, which makes it feel less like you’re playing on a large sheet of paper.
My only problem with the game’s visuals is that the environments dip into familiar Diablo territory too often. Act 2 of the game takes place in a giant desert, which is extremely reminiscent of Diablo II’s Lut Gholein. Act 3 even opens in a snow-swept castle and sends you out onto a battleground filled with siege equipment, hearkening to Mount Arreat from Lord of Destruction. Granted, Diablo II came out 12 years ago, so I didn’t mind seeing these environments recreated in 3D, but I was hoping for more original settings. That said, the game is still gorgeous, so even though you’ll recognize these environments from past games, you’ll never get tired of looking at them.
The sound in Diablo III is incredible. Every attack has a meaty thunk that makes you feel like an unstoppable badass on the field. Enemies die so vividly that you can almost see them vomiting blood and guts as they die. That is only multiplied when you’re playing with other people — hearing four players locked in combat creates a buffet of sound that doesn’t compare to any other game. I mean, just LISTEN to this —
Diablo III is also packed with voice acting, and I mean packed. There are audio logs for most monsters you kill, in addition to flavor dialogue with NPCs mentioned previously. In fact, there’s so much dialogue, that sometimes one bit of VO will cut off something else, resulting in some half-said statements that are a little confusing. Regardless, the voice acting is universally excellent and does a great job exposing the world of Diablo.
It’s been a long, long wait, but it was all worth it. With Diablo III, Blizzard made one of the most approachable and enjoyable games in the world even better. In fact, aside from the annoying online-only infrastructure, I can’t imagine a single thing I would change to make this game better. That’s when you know you have a classic on your hands, and that’s also when you know you should play this game as much as you can.
9.5 / 10