I had just slain the final boss, my level 31 Barbarian and his Templar sidekick now standing in the triumphant glow of victory. As the story concluded and the final credits began to roll, I truly felt like a badass. Yet when I was prompted, almost mockingly, to advance to “nightmare” mode, I couldn’t help but take a look to see what I was about to encounter. Surely it would be more of the same, and there was no way I had enough interest to battle way through the 15+ hour campaign again; once I began anew, though, it was impossible to stop.
This is the hold Diablo III has on me. It’s a game that builds you up, makes you feel like the most powerful warrior in the world, then slaps you back down, tossing you into a world where common enemies are suddenly stronger than some of the toughest bosses. You start from Act I, playing through everything you had already experienced, and it’s damn enjoyable!
The fabled franchise from acclaimed game developer Blizzard finally made its much-anticipated debut on home consoles. As a teen growing up, its predecessor Diablo II was one of my first real experiences with PC gaming. It had me hooked with its intense combat, deep and lengthy story, and addictive loot-based collecting. I was excited, as was much of the gaming community, when the sequel was finally announced, but I knew deep down that without an upgrade to my laptop, I was going to be unable to enjoy the new game. Imagine my elation when a console port was finally announced! Despite hearing about all the troublesome reports surrounding the PC version, I decided that this was going to be my kind of game – and I was right on the money.
Diablo III picks up 2 decades after the events of Diablo II. The last of the demon lords, Baal, along with the Worldstone (which housed the evils Mephisto and Diablo) have been destroyed by the archangel Tyrael. Your character, in my case the Barbarian, enters the town of New Tristram in search of a great falling star that had been seen crashing into the area. Upon entering the town of lore, you find undead minions attacking the entrance. After taking a few rounds and gaining entrance into the town, you find Leah, the niece of the legendary Deckard Cain, who ends up being a main protagonist in the story. Investigations into this fallen star lead you to Cain himself, whom fans of the series will instantly recognize as the great prophet and scholar who has aided heroes in the quest to slay Diablo since the franchise began. This series of events unfolds and lead you to the cause of the fallen star, a man with no knowledge of who he is or why he is there. Through the first “act” of the game (which is spread into 5 chapters), you’ll discover the true identity of the man and the message of doom that he brings: there are more prime evils in the world, and you must go and stop them before they unleash total chaos once again.
Gameplay-wise, it’s non-stop and intense action, with intervals of adventure and loot grabbing only coming when you visit your town or camp to unload your unwanted gear for money or salvage at the blacksmith. For me, the game is all about loot, to an almost addicting level. From the moment I began my adventure, it became almost a requirement to uncover all of the blacked out areas of the map and find every last piece of loot available to upgrade my Barbarian. The beauty of Diablo III’s loot system is that it rewards you for going off the beaten path, uncovering everything, and breaking pots, crates, and all of the other destructible pieces in the world; some of the very best gear can be found in the strangest of places. Items of course drop at random rates, and the rates increase if you are fighting high-level monsters or bosses, but I knew I was hooked into the random style of treasure drops when I found my first legendary weapon (an awesome-looking spear with insane attribute ratings and bonuses) inside of a broken bookshelf. The crazy thing is that had I not smashed open the seemingly unimportant bookshelf, I would have just passed by one of the game’s rarest and most powerful artifacts. That alone had me uncovering and smashing everything I could, totally changing how I approached the game.
I had been concerned about Diablo III’s combat system since it was made for PC, but it works exceptionally well. Attacks and special skills are all mapped to the face buttons, bumpers, and triggers, and they all work flawlessly. Regular attacks are done with the A button, and any subsequent skills you unlock while you level up are mapped to X,Y,B, right bumper (RB), and right trigger (RT). In no time at all you’ll have multiple skills unlocked to each button, but you can only choose 1 to use at any given time. The barbarian for instance, has skills that fall under 6 different categories for the 6 different buttons. These categories are Primary attacks (A), Defensive skills (X), Might (Y), Tactics (B), Secondary attacks (RT), and Rage (RB). Only having a mastery of these different types of attacks and skills and a strategy for using them will get you past some of the more intense enemies in the game, especially in the later acts. Within the skills you unlock, you can also open up “runes” for each of them, which give you added bonuses to that particular skill such as a knock back effect or freezing enemies in their place. The skill tree system is pretty deep, and I look forward to playing through as the other characters to see how different combat works in the game, as my melee-focused barbarian is the only one I have really spent any time with.
Speaking of characters, the game boasts a roster of 5 different classes to choose from, each with their own weapons and gear. The 5 are the Barbarian, the Witch Doctor, the Demon Hunter, the Monk, and the Wizard. The Barbarian uses heavier gear and can dual-wield two single-handed weapons or one two-handed weapon. The Witch Doctor is a shaman-type class that uses skills such as raising the dead and summoning pets as his main skills. The Monk fights using either quick fist weapons or combat staffs, linking skills together into combos to deal greater damage. The Demon Hunter uses crossbows that she can dual-wield, choosing to fight from afar and lay traps for her enemies instead of being up close and personal. Finally, the Wizard is your traditional elemental-type, using fire, lightning, ice, and arcane magic coupled with a staff to lay waste to enemies with ranged attacks. All of these character types play out quite differently; after spending time with each of them at the start, I felt the barbarian suited my style more than the others, at least for my initial play through.
Loot is the name of the game in Diablo III, and the main reason why I just had to keep playing. As you finish your first play through and head into your second on Nightmare mode, the enemies are stronger, and you soon realize that your gear set is quickly becoming outdated. This is an odd feeling, since you had JUST taken down the game’s main boss, and yet common enemies are now giving you a challenge. It’s sometimes tough to say goodbye to an epic legendary item, some of the best in the game, in favor of a less rare item simply because it’s much more powerful. Gear in the game comes in a number of different rarities, which is displayed in the text of the gear; white is common, blue is uncommon, yellow is rare, goldish-brown is legendary, and green is an item that is part of a set. The legendary and set items are the real chase of the game, as they are often very unique-looking and have stats that blow away anything you are likely to find for quite a while. Green set pieces, once completed, yield a totally awesome outfit and some really wicked stats, but are some of the hardest to find in the game.
Throughout the course of the game, you meet 3 heroes that choose to accompany you: the Templar, the Scoundrel, and the Enchantress. These NPC characters have their own backstory, and, for whatever reason, have a score to settle with the evils you are facing. The Templar is a traditional Paladin type who uses a one-handed weapon and shield in combination with skills that heal you throughout battle, while the Scoundrel is a thief-type character who prefers crossbows and diversionary tricks to aid you. Finally, the Enchantress is a wizard-type who uses various skills to damage the enemy or create buffs for you to better deal with the demons you encounter. Each of these followers upgrades and levels up with you, changing their appearance as they go. As they level up, they also gain skills that you can choose to outfit them with, and they will use them as they see fit during combat. You are also able to outfit them with parts of gear such as weapons and rings. The AI is pretty impressive – my Templar friend would come in and heal me when I was in trouble, hold his own against the toughest enemies, and step in and take on foes if I was in danger, allowing me a moment to heal or escape. In this sense, it is almost like playing the entire game co-op with a friend. If real people are more your thing, though, Diablo III offers up some interesting multiplayer components.
One interesting aspect of Diablo III is its multiplayer component. It’s there, but not intrusive or expected of you in any way. If you are feeling social, you can hop into a quick match with 3 other players in a number of different game types. You can match up with others who are doing the same quest as you, or just people who are on the same act. You can choose to hunt monsters and collect loot together, or you can jump into a sort of battle-fest where the other characters will all be out to kill you. Once you have beaten the insane inferno mode, a new section opens up that allows you to pair up with other top tier players and hunt boss monsters for some of the rarest gear the game has to offer. You can choose to pick up right from where you left off in your solo campaign, start playing co-op with friends, then go back to playing by yourself if you’re more in the mood to go it alone. MP adds to the experience for sure, but not to the point that playing it single player feels trivial. It’s great if you have a group of friends who are all playing, as most would agree that it’s much more fun to play with people you know rather than random gamers you link up with in a quick session.
The presentation in Diablo III is top notch, with some of the best-looking environments I’ve played in a game this generation. From the start, the world around you is perfectly colored to match the atmosphere, and many times the areas around you look almost like paintings. The details are all so beautiful. From the trees and rivers to the broken down crypts and deep caverns, areas feel pretty unique throughout the 5 acts. On rare occasions you’ll enter a cave system or broken-down church that looks similar, but these sections are usually smaller areas with a big reward at the end such as a gold treasure chest or a rare treasure monster that, when killed, drops some pretty rare gear. Beyond looking so damn good, the areas were all varied. From marsh-like swamp areas to deserts with sandstorms to snowy mountainside castles, all of the main areas in each of the 5 acts were completely unique and incredible. On top of that, they all had incredible amounts of destruction in them, as well as environmental areas you could trigger to cause damage to your enemies. Traps such as hanging chandeliers that fall and crush groups of foes and logs and trees that can be toppled to cause destruction really added an extra level of planning before going into battle. Scattered throughout the areas are other objects such as downed trees, bookshelves, crates, and barrels, all there to be destroyed in search of that next piece of gear that can make your warrior just that much stronger. I was continually impressed with how immersive the world was; enemies hide in trees and spring out at you, the world crumbles around you in areas of war, and the demonic levels you are tossed into bubble over with lava while screams of torture can be heard all around you.
All of the gear you can pick up is represented on your character, from helms to boots, shields, swords, chest pieces, and shoulder and arm guards; everything you pick up aside from rings and amulets can be seen. As you finish your first playthrough on normal, you will find that your character is looking pretty awesome. It becomes very clear during the first bit of your second go on nightmare that the gear you find even in act I is not only much more awesome looking, but way more powerful as well. As I made my way through the difficulties, fighting off harder enemies, it became more about what items I was finding than how tough the game was getting. It was awesome to beat a really strong enemy, but that legendary drop made it all worthwhile. The gear represented on your character is not only useful for the stats and abilities it brings, but also as a sort of an epic badge, to show off to other players when you head online and say “look at me, I am LEGENDARY!”
The game runs like a dream too, with the only noticeable slowdown coming in the later levels when surrounded by 20-30 enemies at the same time with skills and attacks going off left and right. Even then it was very minimal and didn’t really have any effect on me or the gameplay as a whole. The voice acting for the main characters is top notch, although I was a bit disappointed that there wasn’t more voiced dialogue throughout the game instead of just in the cutscenes that separate the acts and little bits of conversation during the game between you and your ally that travels with you. Speaking of cutscenes, they are presented beautifully and really help tell the story in key moments. One of the more noteworthy scenes is between Act 4 and 5, where the true terror is revealed and you see what you are up against as you attempt to save the world.
Enemies are all pretty awesome as well. From the common grunt type to the lumbering boss enemies, you will almost never encounter the same type of enemy across the different acts, which, considering how many you fight, is pretty impressive. It would have been easy for Blizzard to just color-code certain types differently and re use them, but to their credit only 1 or 2 of the enemy sprites are seen in separate areas; everyone else you fight is different, and it really keeps the game feeling fresh and keeps you on your toes. The sound and music in the game is great too, really pairing well with the different environments you’re fighting in. The creepy sound of a crypt that’s crawling with undead is just as eerie as you would imagine, and the howling wind from fighting atop a snowy mountain is as brisk and cold as you would expect. The team really did a great job of getting the sounds of the world down pat.
The first playthrough of the game took me around 20 hours with one single character. On top of normal mode, you have Nightmare, Hell and Inferno modes, all with increasingly tougher enemies and bosses and greater loot to be had. If you do the math, you’re looking at about 100 hours of gameplay to finish all of the difficulties with a single character, and with five current characters to master, were talking a crazy amount of gameplay to be had (around 500 hours) for the low retail cost of $59.99. That’s just the main story; factor in multiplayer fun, hunting for the best gear in the game, and playing with friends, and there’s no reason you can’t get close to 1000 hours of loot-collecting adventuring with your copy of Diablo III. Of course, dungeon crawling and collecting loot has to really be your thing, especially considering the main quest doesn’t change at all no matter what difficulty you play on. I can see this as being an issue for many gamers, who will get bored with the game after experiencing it the first time. For me personally, it is the game for which I have been waiting for quite some time.
At the end of the day, Diablo III is a gem; it’s beautiful and deep, addicting and fun. It suffers from none of the major issues that the PC version had; there is no real money auction house to speak of, and no cheating people out of hard earned gear for cash. If you want an item, you have to earn it. The quest for that next piece of gear has had me coming back almost nightly since its release, and with the multitude of characters to choose from and the rumblings of some downloadable content down the road, Diablo III is one game you should really check out!.
This review is based on the Xbox 360 version of Diablo III. The game is also available on PlayStation 3 and PC.