Diablo III Review (PC/Mac)

Blizzard Entertainment is starting to set a trend with its franchises, reviving old (but popular) games like Starcraft and Diablo II. Starcraft II was a hit less so because it does anything groundbreaking, but takes a proven formula and improves it in every way. Now, after years of waiting, Diablo III is here. Will Blizzard keep its reputation for releasing blockbuster hits, or is Diablo III better off in the Hell-hole that spawned it?

Story: 3/5

The Diablo series, frankly, has never really been known for having a strong story. They were mainly meant to simply drive the gameplay, giving you a reason for runing around and slaughtering monsters. However, Diablo III does an admirable job of presenting you with an overarching plot, characters you want to relate to, and twists and turns. The main problem with Diablo III’s story is that it doesn’t try hard enough. The plot is there, but it’s pretty generic. The characters are voice-acted well, but they really don’t do enough to make you want to care about them. And the plot twists, while properly placed, aren’t too difficult to predict. Still, it’s a decent story, and it’s told in an excellent way through Blizzard’s cinematics, something the company has always been known for. These cut-scenes have never looked this good, though – the art team has managed to produce cinematics with the most realistic animation and texture you’re likely to see anywhere else. All in all, it’s a commendable effort, but not quite at the level where we’ll be talking about it after the game is over.

Gameplay: 5/5

Diablo III is built on the successes of its predecessors, offering an exciting, intense action experience with the simplicity of point-and-click controls. While it isn’t the most daunting task to improve on such a simple concept, Blizzard has managed to take the core elements from Diablo II and improve them in every way. At the heart of Diablo III’s gameplay experience are the five character classes the player has to choose from: The battle-hardened Barbarian, swift and deadly Monk, elusive Demon Hunter, dominant Wizard, and mysterious Witch Doctor all have unique playstyles, and every player is sure to find their niche. To add to their uniqueness, each class also has their own type of resource they can tap into to power their special abilities, and they all behave differently. While the Barbarian’s Fury only builds when giving and taking damage, the Wizard’s Arcane Power quickly regenerates at a constant rate. This creates the dynamic to use one skill to build resource, and another to spend it, creating a nice one-two punch that’s very satisfying. Each character’s skills are unique and serve a certain niche and playstyle, but players can also choose to add “skill runes” as they level up, which improve and change the function of each skill. While the Barbarian’s Cleave skill is deadly on its own, a player can choose a rune to improve the damage, or another one that will cause enemies to explode on death. And Diablo III gives you no shortage of enemies to test your strength against. There’s a huge variety here, with some even having unique behaviors or requiring more than one “kill” to eliminate. Rare monsters occasionally present themselves, with unique properties you’ll need to overcome to defeat them, such as knockback and freeze. The game also has a few dozen boss fights which require unique strategies to defeat, and play out like scripted events. It’s a nice way to break up the inherent monotony of point-and-click action games.

It’s hammer time.

The revamped resource system is just one example of the major reason Diablo III feels so solid: it’s incredibly streamlined. Moreso than anything else, Diablo III strives to keep tedium at a constant low, allowing the player to focus on the action. Just to name a few features in this vein: you can pick up gold by running over it, teleport to other players from town, open town portals at will, fire ranged weapons without the need for ammo, view stat changes on gear at a glance, and more. All these streamlines help to keep you focused on the action and are excellent for the type of fast-paced game Diablo III sells itself as. The interface is designed to be streamlined as well, and definitely takes a lot of cues from Blizzard’s other smash hit World of Warcraft. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, though – despite the lack of ingenuity, a lot of WoW’s best interface features really help the experience when playing Diablo III. On level-up, you’ll be told exactly what stat improvements you get, what new skills you can use, and more. Not all is good however – many WoW players will notice that a lot of its flavor carried over to Diablo III, sometimes in overwhelmingly obvious ways – for example, the parallels between the Barbarian and the Warrior (Rage/Fury, Rend, Cleave, etc.) and even the Wizard and Mage (who share skills like Arcane Missiles and Arcane Barrage). Still, Diablo III is its own game, and feels immersive in its own universe.

The Diablo series’s hallmark has always been the loot, and Diablo III continues this trend in a big way. There are many ways to arm your character with dozens of pieces of gear with hundreds of possible magical combinations. And monsters drop these treasures like they were all taking them to the bank. It’s all part of the Diablo experience and it’s a huge thrill, especially when you find a rarer piece of treasure. These pieces truly make you feel more powerful. Any magical gear you find can also be broken down into components at the Blacksmith, who can then use them to craft more gear for you. This is a great way to have more control over the type of gear you can get, and it’s exciting to see your Blacksmith learn new recipes as you train him.

Loot is still at the forefront in Diablo III.

Blizzard has billed Diablo III as a complete online experience, and it shows in every aspect during play. You can chat with friends or join a chat room at any time, join friends mid-game, or even buy and sell items for gold at the auction house. Blizzard plans to also open up a real-money auction house at the end of May, allowing players to actually earn some money for the treasures they find in-game. Another plus with Diablo III’s online angle is that you never play alone: you can hire one of three computer-controlled followers in town to supplement your hero’s abilities. When you join a game with friends, these followers will wait in town. Despite the pitfalls of online play, like lag and disconnects, the online experience feels solid, and it’s a great social environment where you’re never far from your friends no matter what you’re doing. Users on slow wi-fi connections might have some issues, however.

The game’s campaign spans four acts, all of which should take around 3-5 hours to complete. All in all, one playthrough of the game should take anywhere from 12-20 hours, but the beauty of Diablo III’s gameplay is the high replay value. After beating the game on Normal difficulty, you’ll unlock access to Nightmare difficulty, where enemies are tougher, deal more damage, and have unique abilities that will really test you. This trend continues on to Hell difficulty and the new Inferno difficulty, which is sure to really put players to the test. Players are rewarded for this higher challenge with more and better loot, and honestly, what other motivation do you need? With five classes and multiple levels of difficulty, Diablo III is a game players will have trouble putting down, especially once they can sell their legendary loot for real money on the auction house.

Graphics: 5/5

The cutscenes are absolutely stunning.

The art direction for Diablo III has changed greatly from its predecessor, again drawing inspiration from World of Warcraft’s art style. While this does make the world more cartoony looking, it still presents itself as a dark, gothic world under siege. The characters look a big exaggerated, especially once armored, but it really gives you a sense of progression when you see your Barbarian running around in big, hulking armor with bloody metal spikes while swinging a gigantic, serrated sword. From a technical aspect, the game looks great as well – skills are accompanied by stunning special effects and blood and gore spray all over your character and the environment when you connect with a particularly hard-hitting attack. The game’s physics engine, like its characters, is extremely exaggerated but fits in perfectly with the visceral style of combat. Body parts will fly on critical hits, and parts of the environment shatter into hundreds of pieces when destroyed. It’s especially satisfying to smash a skeleton warrior with a critical hit and watch the bones fly and ricochet off the floor and walls. As previously mentioned, the cutscenes are also some of the most amazing we’ve seen yet, and really showcase Blizzard’s talents. All in all, from a visual standpoint, Diablo III is stunning.

Sound: 4/5

The Wizard’s Disintegrate spell crackles with energy.

Going hand-in-hand with Diablo III’s excellent graphical presentation is its sound design. One thing you’ll notice is that there is a lot more voice acting this time around – everyone from the lowliest of townsfolk to King Leoric himself is voice acted excellently. You might even recognize such actors as Jennifer Hale, Gideon Emery, Paul Eiding, Steve Blum, Crispin Freeman, and more lending their talents and bringing the characters of Diablo III to life. Even less prominent characters like New Tristram’s townfolk are voiced well and believably. Sound effects are stunning as well, and really lend themselves to improving Diablo III’s visceral approach to combat. The ground resonates with the Barbarian’s ground stomp ability, and the air crackles with the Wizard’s electrocute skill. The audio’s only shortcoming is its soundtrack. While it isn’t bad by any means, it doesn’t really do enough to stand out and even repeats certain tracks at different points in the game. Every piece fits the moment properly, but it’s just not one of those soundtracks you’ll find yourself hummimg to yourself when you’re away from the game.

Overall score: 17/20 = 8.5 out of 10

Diablo III is exactly what fans have been asking for – a refinement to the addictive point-and-click action of its predecessor with improved graphics, scintillating sound direction, and an online integration that is sure to help a big community thrive. While the soundtrack is unmemorable and the story is bland and generic, Diablo III delivers where it matters most, creating a riveting action experience that new players and die-hard fans shouldn’t miss.

PROS:

+ Diverse and unique classes to suit any player

+ Excellent graphics and sound direction

+ Online integration delivers a deep, rich experience

+ Come on – it’s Diablo!

CONS:

– Unmemorable story

– Soundtrack is somewhat generic

– Online nature is prone to technical problems