Summary [9 out of 10]
The long awaited next chapter of the Diablo series ported over and optimized for consoles, Diablo III delivers on the core experience of the series and with it brings along the rising tide of near fanaticism for ‘just five more minutes to see if I can get some better loot’ that stretches on for hours at a time. For consoles, Diablo III is much a one to one action game where the point and click gameplay is eschewed for direct control over the action but with a more limited set of options. This changes the dynamic a bit but still manages to deliver a fundamentally consistent experience. With a story that continues where the last one left off and a continuation of series conventions Diablo III feels like an extension of Diablo II rather than a reinvention of the series as a whole and honestly that is exactly what I was looking for. There are still a fair number of tweaks to the formula, many, it seems, for a more balanced experience, but at the end of the day this is Diablo for better or worse.
What’s It Like:
Diablo II: With a story that finds Deckard Caine and his family in the middle of a potential uprising from hell following a comet crash and gameplay that generally sticks close to pervious installments, Diablo III feels a lot like the last game. As mentioned above, this is not a reinvention of the series and there are no major overhauls to the formula. If you were at home with Diablo II you will be at home here and I am pretty glad that Blizzard didn’t try to mess with what works too much. On the other hand, if you were not a fan of Diablo before there is not much to change your mind here.
Marvel Ultimate Alliance/Champions of Norrath: With the tweaks made to the controls for more action based gameplay, Diablo III plays a lot like action RPGs like Marvel Ultimate Alliance and Champions of Norrath. This is kind of like a snake eating its own tail as the collection and upgrade aspects of these games were cribbed from Diablo in the first place but the actual gameplay here is very reminiscent of those titles.
Gameplay: There is something very basic and simple about the core gameplay here and it then becomes interesting that it is also fairly deep and addictive. The leveling system doesn’t offer a ton of direct control over your character but you unlock new attacks and new buffs for those attacks which you then assign to the limited number of buttons for them. This forces the player into some hard choices about how your character is going to play but also allows for a surprising amount of variety and nuance. The ability to further tweak these attributes with the special abilities of weapons and armor and all that the customization of those available further opens up the field. You can tinker with all of these things on the fly so if you find that you are in a situation that calls for one playstyle over another you can flip over to it or you can find the build that you like the most and work it out with that. To add some further depth, each character class has its own strengths and weaknesses so a deceptively simple system unfolds into something a lot deeper than at first glance. The mix of exploration with action finds good balance and the pace flows nicely so you get breathers when you need it, story beats to keep you engaged and challenging encounters and bosses to keep you on your toes.
Item Collection: This is such a given it is almost silly to mention but Diablo’s crack-like item collection is intact here and keeps players going well past the time they should have gone to bed or picked up their girlfriend’s birthday cake on the way to her party by offering up a good selection of items with just the right distribution of awesome shit sprinkled in to keep you hooked and asking for just a couple more minutes. Chances are you will stick with some of the same gear for awhile but the hope and possibility of better keeps players grinding without feeling like grinding just to find some rare and powerful loot. This also keeps you stuck in the inventory menu trying to make some hard choices which isn’t necessarily as fun given that these menus are not great but it still drives and feeds the obsession. This is a major source of replay value right here.
Controls: I have not played the PC version of Diablo III but Diablo II ruled my life to an almost detrimental degree and I think my college GPA would bear this out. Because of this familiarity with the previous game’s controls I worried how well it would translate to a console and I am happy to report that it does the job well and without hiccup. The controls are responsive and the button layouts and assignments make sense and are easy to get used to. The controls also make for a fun playing experience as you are more engaged in the immediacy of the action than some of the dial up controls from the PC version (at least Diablo II).
Graphics: While the soon to be last gen consoles cannot match high end PCs at all as far as graphics are concerned, Diablo III still looks great with designs consistent with the tone and look of the series as well as the proper lighting and accent. There was fear prior to the game’s release about it looking like World of Warcraft and losing the dark edge of the series but this is not the case. Some assets are shared with WoW here and there where it is appropriate but Diablo looks dark and nasty with requisite blood and violence that are not cute or particularly cartoony. The fidelity is important here as well given the intensity of the action on hand with a lot of moving characters to keep track of but graphics allow for the action to be clear and I never found myself losing track of what was going on.
Voice Acting: This may seem weird in a game like this but I always really liked the voices in Diablo II and I was very excited to hear Deckard Caine again. The rest of the voice acting is top notch with the inclusion not only of fully voiced story moments and character interaction but also fully narrated journals to be found that provide texture to the story. It would be easy to neglect this aspect of the game but Blizzard provided full high quality voice work and it upped the overall quality of the game that much more.
Story: The story is a pretty basic continuation/partial rehash of Diablo II’s storyline but what elevates it from blah to good is the detail injected in to flesh it out to feel like something with weight as opposed to a thin excuse to carve through monsters and collect their bullshit. The side quests and incidental stories add even more flavor and help get you invested beyond just wanting to kill more things to take their stuff. It is not going to change your life nor does it approach the depth of story driven games like the Last of Us or Dragon Age but it gives you a compelling reason to keep doing the things your are doing to not bore you or make you roll your eyes.
Companions: When discussing the gameplay depth above, I didn’t mention the extra wrinkle the companions throw into the mix. There are three different characters to choose from who have their own progression, attributes, inventories, powers, strengths and weaknesses. These are quite a step above the hired mercenaries of previous games as they each have their own storylines and agendas with companion quests to undertake. Further they have distinct personalities and interact with the player character accordingly. They each come with their own class and skills which make them another movable piece in the customization puzzle to further add to the depth of gameplay and personal choice.
Maps: With the whole game essentially being a top down map, it would be easy for repetition to set in or for the maps to just look generic and blah (see also Dragon Age II) but Diablo III sidesteps that pitfall with maps that are different and interesting enough that you never get bored. The addition of dungeon specific traps, enemies and details help to further differentiate each of them to make for a consistently interesting adventure from one end to the other.
Checkpoint system: Death is not so bad in Diablo as if you die you have the option to go back to town, go back to your last checkpoint or resurrect right there. This is generally good because sometimes the situation is too hot to pop right back into but it does suck for fighting bosses because you no longer have the resurrect right there option and when you show back up from the check point, all progress is lost. This was likely done to do away with portal exploits and resurrections from Diablo II that allowed you to whittle away at a boss while getting killed over and over again in a morbid war of attrition. This is fair enough but in order for this not to be vein poppingly maddening the checkpoint system would have to be a bit more quick on its feet. As it is, if you miss in a boss fight you get sent back just far enough to be a real pain in the ass. It could at least restart you at the checkpoint with the stuff you had at that checkpoint but it doesn’t. If you used six healing potions in that failed boss assault then you no longer have them. Likewise with any other potions or bombs or poisons or whatever. Given that the Boss is completely reset it seems that your inventory should be as well. The moral here is to stock up on a shit ton of resources for boss battles or just be a better player when you get there because otherwise it only gets harder and more frustrating.
Inventory system: For a game that relies so much on inventory it would be nice if the UI for managing your loot was better. As it is you deal with a touchy wheel that is confusing and imprecise and you will find yourself popping in and out of the slots several times when trying to figure out what you want to wear or hit shit over the head with. The system is not exactly broken but it is way more irritating than it should have been given how big of a deal inventory management is in the game.
Conclusion [9 out of 10]
Diablo III is not going to change many minds about the fundamentals of Diablo but for fans of the series it offers up a consistent experience that provides new challenges, gear and playstyles in a familiar way that still manages to feel fresh and fun. The action is a bit different on the consoles but it translates well to the platform and is executed excellently without glitch issues and broken gameplay. I am not sure if the new gameplay is enough to coax PC fans over to try it on consoles but if you haven’t played it on PC already I definitely recommend it. With all the customization and difficulty levels there is a lot of replay value here and all you really need is to clear your schedule a bit.