It took over a decade to get here, but the undisputed king of the dungeon crawlers is back, and oh my fuck does it taste good. Being a fan of this game is like being in an abusive relationship. You’ll invest your time, heart, and soul into this game–possibly ruining your social life in the process–and in return you’ll get one of the best gaming experiences available, peppered with the occasional Error 37 and a mean case of carpel tunnel. Head past the break for my tale of delicious terror.
Odds are many of you never played the original Diablo or its sequel, since both released back in that glorious time when the Power Rangers weren’t ninja samurai dinosaur hunters, and long before Michael Bay and George Lucas had proceeded to rape our childhood. Diablo is all about kicking demonic ass with your friends, all with the hopes that when that ugly bastard finally falls he’ll drop something valuable.
In the decade after its release, I’ve returned to Diablo II at least once a year. I’ll go a year or so without playing it, then I’ll go at it hardcore for a few months, then take a break until the shakes and sweats remind me I need to get my Diablo fix.
It’s still too early to tell if Diablo III will have the same staying power its predecessor did, but it certainly seems as if it will. The highly addictive gameplay, loot-grinding and incredible co-op are all better than ever. On top of that, everything has been streamlined to make it more user-friendly and easier to play for hours on end.
Diablo III is a stunningly beautiful game. Its beautifully crafted environments and the twisted creatures that inhabit them are gorgeous. The hand-painted textures are easy on the eyes, and thankfully, you don’t need a top of the line computer to fully enjoy them.
If incredible art doesn’t tickle your delicate eyeballs the same way it does mine, then perhaps the music will. The sound a demon makes as you plunge your sword into its neck is satisfyingly squishy, almost as satisfying as the sound they make when you electrify, burn, freeze, or poison their scaly asses. One of the great things about the series, other than the plethora of ways you can beat down the hordes of monsters that are thrown at you, is how different each of the character classes are from each other. You have two familiar faces: the Barbarian, the tank, who can mow down pretty much everything that’s unfortunate enough to get in his way, and on the opposite end of the spectrum, the Wizard, a glass cannon who wields devastating power but limited defense.
In Diablo II there’s a good chance you’d find me in the shoes of the Necromancer, casting Curses from behind my army of skeletons, or zipping through the battlefield at lightning speed as the Assassin. Both have been replaced by spiritual successors of sorts, with the Witch Doctor and the Demon Hunter. The former can summon a smaller army of Voodoo inspired creatures and the latter is like a mix of the Assassin and the Amazon from Diablo II. She wields traps and can dual-wield crossbows. The final class is the Monk, who replaces the Paladin and offers a lighter side to an otherwise dark cast of characters.
This series has never excelled in the story department. Essentially, what you need to know is there are demons and there are angels. They’re fighting, and unfortunately, humanity is stuck in the middle. The standout character is Leah–voiced by the incredible Jennifer Hale, who also voices the female Shepard in Mass Effect 3– a woman who’s left with the burden of figuring out this whole prophecy thing before time runs out and humanity is eradicated by the seemingly endless legions of hell.
The skill system has seen the biggest changes, as you no longer have to grind through enemies so you can level up your character to try out their skills. It doesn’t take countless hours to craft the perfect warrior–now you can quickly choose your skills and bonuses and change them on the fly. The Runes have been changed to alter skills, rather than equipment. They are unlocked every couple levels, and each skill has a unique set that alters its function and even the way it looks when used. For example, the Summon Zombie Dogs skill’s original effect is to summon three dogs to fight for you. If that’s not quite awesome enough for you, you can use a Rune to make the dogs rabid, which means they spread poison between the enemies they attack, or even set them on fire. Now if flaming zombie dogs isn’t awesome enough for you, you’re officially dead inside.
Despite a rocky launch and some absent features like PvP and the real-money Auction House, there’s still plenty of content here to enjoy. Having to be online to play the game, even if you’re playing alone is unfortunate as it can result in lag in your single-player game. The campaign is meaty enough, and offers plenty of incentives to return to it a second (or third, fourth, fifth) time. The environments aren’t entirely randomly generated like they were in Diablo II–rather, their borders remain fixed while the things that go on inside them can change every time you play the game. This means you might run through an area and see nothing the first time, then your second time through there could be a short side quest you need to complete or dungeon that needs exploring. Fear not, that level of unpredictability is still here, it’s just not quite as obvious.
Many games have tried to recreate Diablo’s magic. It’s a delicate balance of finely tuned gameplay, loot, and dungeon crawling that makes this series so special. Other games have come close to crafting something very similar, like Torchlight, while games like Borderlands have taken some of the best things about the series and woven them into other genres. Despite this, Diablo III remains untouched. Its reign as the premier dungeon crawler has been a long one, and it doesn’t look to be losing its crown anytime soon.
The Final Word: The wait was long, but it was worth it. Diablo III is a stunningly beautiful game that will please longtime fans and newcomers alike.
This review is based on a retail copy of Diablo III, which was provided by the publisher.