A few minor demons aside, Diablo is the ultimate PC fantasy experience
Here at Gamezebo, we review what are usually referred to as “casual” games. Despite the fact that we’re constantly looking behind the scenes for a better name to describe the emerging wave of quick and accessible videogames, a simple fact stands: the games we review a vast majority of the time are going to be in the $20 and lower price range and are aimed at a general audience. So why, you might ask, am I reviewing a full-priced hardcore sequel to a game from 2000?
Quite honestly, because I’m pretty sure that the epic adventure-loving “casual” fan is going to love it. Never before has a hardcore PC title felt so easily accessible, while also retaining an amazing level of depth and fun.
But before I get any further in the review, I feel there’s a huge factor of Diablo III that needs to be mentioned, even if it seems to be the only thing most people are talking about: always-online DRM.
In laymen’s terms, it simply means that Diablo III is a mostly single player experience that requires an internet connection. While I might sound like a broken record bringing it up, this is something you must know before making a purchase: without decent, stable internet, you probably shouldn’t buy Diablo III in the first place.
The intentions for this are mostly understandable: Blizzard wants to cut back on both cheaters and piraters of their games. The big problem, however, is that Blizzard couldn’t hold up its own end of the bargain at launch, causing most of its servers to be problematic in North America.
For my first day and a half, the greatest demon I faced wasn’t a hellion, boss, or even Diablo himself. It was a line of text: error 37, “servers are busy”. Blizzard scrambled, and eventually repaired, their servers for a majority of the rest of the week, but the damage had been done.
It might seem like we’re off to a terrible foot with Diablo, but once the servers were back online, I had myself an incredible week of gaming.
For those of you unfamiliar with the Diablo series (which is completely understandable, seeing as there are ten-year-old children younger than the gap between II and III), you venture as a single unique class of warrior in isometric style, defeating all the demons, ghosts, and other off-worldly creatures as you can.
There are five classes available: the Wizard, Monk, Barbarian, Demon Hunter, and Witch Doctor. Each class has its own enormous pool of unique abilities to develop throughout the adventure. While all five classes are extremely fun and diverse, I recommend the Monk to beginners. Monks rely on simple close-combat combos, and can self-heal, too.
Whichever class you end up choosing, your adventure begins when a mysterious star falls from the heavens to the land of Sanctuary, separating the sorceress Leah from her uncle Deckard. In pursuing the fallen star, you’ll uncover a trove of secrets, randomized dungeons, and demons. Lots of demons.
Multiple combat abilities are awarded gradually, but the combat couldn’t be easier: left click to perform a standard attack, right click to perform a special attack, and press 1 through 4 on the keyboard for other abilities. Each enemy you defeat awards a small amount of experience and has a chance of bursting into valuable gold and items. It’s a simple and satisfying mechanic that never gets old.
Every time you level up you’re awarded with new abilities; either in the form of offensive skills, defensive skills, passive skills, or modifiers to already existing skills. Diablo III makes a bold move over its predecessors: players can’t adjust natural stats when leveling up, but abilities can always be changed.
This shatters a traditional RPG mold where you worry about assigning stats and abilities to create the “best” version of your class. Hardcore fans of fiddling with statistics will be left disappointed, but everyone else will love it. No longer will players be left to think “I wish I tried those skills instead”. As long as you keep leveling up, you get to try out every combination that you want.
It’s this addictive cycle of battling troves of enemies that keeps things intense throughout. The powers get bigger, the loot gets stronger, the locations grow darker, and the demons get more and more grotesque. It’s a beautiful game, both in visual diversity and purity of combat.
So what’s the one benefit to having a game that’s always online? Co-op. Once you start playing with other people, you’ll never want to touch single player again.
You can play with others in one of two ways: with friends, or publically. Friends can play on each other’s games as long as they have unlocked the same difficulty, while public games can be played in groups with strangers that are on the same mission as you. As each additional warrior is added, the enemies grow stronger, leading to some truly chaotic and strategic battles.
This type of team-based grinding and looting feels every bit like an MMO, but without the monthly fee. The only thing it’s missing is voice chat, which needs to be handled through separate programs if you want to talk with your voice amongst friends.
On the downside, the storytelling is all over the place. The plot suffers from a traditional Blizzard problem: amazing cutscenes, terrible in-game immersion. Even if Blizzard were delivering the greatest story videogames has ever known, it’s pretty hard to take seriously when all characters on the screen are the size of an action figure. It’s not a big deal when you’re distracted by gameplay, but scripted sequences really start to drag.
Just like the tale of Diablo itself, the game is a battle between angels and demons. If you can accept the demons of always-online DRM and a less-than-fantastic execution of story, then you will love this game. The combat is so easy to perform that even newcomers to the genre will feel right at home, and the leveling is as rewarding as ever.
The main adventure spans about 15 to 20 hours with about 10,000 demons to slay, but between co-op, progressing characters through difficulties, and trying out each class, this game has the same life-wasting potential as the originals.
It might not have the most glorious execution, but destroying waves of enemies in a matter of seconds has never been more fun. One might say it’s a Hell of a good time.
[While available on multiple platforms, our review was constructed using the PC version]