Written by Nathan Love and Micah Messer
Every Blizzard release is one of the most hotly-anticipated games of the year, and Diablo III certainly was no exception. Blizzard didn’t even need to promise a lot for the expectations of gamers worldwide to be through the roof- the teasers, trailers, and beta leaks were more than enough to whet the appetites of Diablo fans and new players alike. We here at IPGR simply couldn’t wait to see what kind of pointer-finger-tiring fun we could get into- and it turns out, it’s quite a bit.
The gameplay is no surprise to anyone who played Diablo II (or, realistically, even Torchlight, or other point-and-click action RPGs). You click to move your character around, you have a variety of spells and abilities at your disposal based on your class that you can bind to your mouse buttons and keyboard, and you use them against vast hordes of monsters to turn them into delicious monster jelly. Monsters drop gold and loot, you equip what you like, disenchant what you don’t, craft more loot, kill more monsters, lather, rinse, and repeat ad nauseam. Diablo III is, like its fellows in the genre and its previous installments, not much more than a loot grinder at its core, but there’s still quite a bit of fun to be had reducing thousands of demons to a fine red paste. As far as visuals, Diablo III definitely has its ups and downs. The environments are downright gorgeous and stylistically engaging and the spell and ability effects are solid, but the character models tend to be a bit lackluster, which is certainly a disappointment in such a cool-factor-centric game. Of special note is the loving and disturbing detail paid to the death animations for various enemies, some of which are more than mildly stomach-churning and horrific. Larger enemies often explode when they die, and powerful physical hits have a tendency to punch all the flesh off an enemy’s bones.
Where Diablo III really shines is when playing cooperatively. Grinding content alone is a bit of a chore- it’s lonely drudge work against generally small packs of enemies that melt quickly even at higher difficulties (though not later Hell and Inferno). However, add even one more person to support you and the fun factor goes up by five. It’s a blast chainsawing vast swathes through enemies with a friend or three. You can share your loot around and create builds to play to your comrades’ strengths. Speaking of builds, the number of fun and playable builds for most classes is almost mind-boggling. Wizards, for example, can tailor-make builds that rely on projecting themselves into groups of enemies and then becoming living bombs that detonate and kill whole waves, or slow massive groups of enemies to a crawl while whittling away their health with chunks of ice, or simply disintegrating them with mighty death beams. Monks can fulfill a variety of different roles. From a beefy front line tank, to a quick, deadly single target assassin, or just adjusting your abilities to give yourself massive spirit regeneration and becoming an AoE nuker, the Monk is a very versatile class. Demon Hunters are the masters of mobility and traps. They have a large number of gadgets and abilities that let them slow their enemies and kite them around. Witch Doctors do most of their fighting via proxy. They control armies of pets that consist of giant spiders, zombie dogs, and even plagued toads. Barbarians can become area of effect sweepers or single-target stun-lockers, and so on, and the best part is that each individual player can experiment with many different builds in the course of a few minutes.
The rune system for abilities is creative and interesting and gives your character new and exciting things to ponder over every time you level up. The difficulty of Diablo is, frankly, almost schizophrenic. Normal is laughably easy for competent gamers, particularly if you play through it with friends, and Nightmare occasionally throws a tricky curve ball, but Hell’s difficulty ramps up very swiftly, and Inferno is maddeningly tough. This presents a problem for the solo player, as the average gamer certainly can’t solo clear the hardest content, forcing people to group up or miss out on the most challenging difficulty levels. The hostility of Diablo III towards the solo player continues with the requirement of an active internet connection to play the game, whether you’re doing multiplayer or not. This, quite honestly, is pretty inexcusable on Blizzard’s part. It causes people playing a single-player game to disconnect and be unable to play when Blizzard’s servers go down, or there is a connection issue, or in a multitude of other circumstances. Blizzard’s rights-management zealotry here is not only completely unwelcome within the gaming community (we here at IPGR included), but is compounded with tinfoil-hat levels of paranoia, as Blizzard certainly isn’t hurting for resources. Requiring an active internet connection makes perfect sense for features such as multiplayer and the auction house, but the constant connection requirement for the game as a whole has had everyone scratching their heads since launch.
Diablo III also suffers from mindless clicking syndrome. Once you and your friends have effective builds, you can clear waves of content pretty much reflexively. The plot is not especially engaging, though some characters are memorable and fun (The Stranger and Covetous Shen in particular come to mind here) and Blizzard’s sense of humor is rampant throughout. The only thing that drives you forward while playing it is the promise of more gold and better gear, and isn’t that what dungeon crawlers have always been about anyway?
The bosses, though, are hard as hell. Pun intended.
Overall Score: 87
Diablo III is certainly a fun diversion. Be prepared for it to eat up your time like a starving wolverine when you first get into it, but its lasting power is lacking for the solo gamer, and the more you play, the more the minor flaws in Blizzard’s long-awaited release compound themselves. The multiplayer experience is almost too enjoyable, but playing through chapters alone can be a real drag. In short, Diablo III is a heavily polished, smooth-playing Blizzard game that is a lot of fun, but it has some issues that keep it from being one of their greatest.
Genre Score (Action-RPG): 98
Diablo III is without a doubt the best point-and-click dungeon crawler ever made, but the term “Action-RPG” encompasses way too many games to call Diablo III the best among them all. Still, within the genre, Diablo III offers a polished experience chock-full of character options and customization and plenty of great loot.