Developed by Blizzard Entertainment. Published by Activision. Available on Xbox 360, Playstation 3, Xbox One, and Playstation 4. Reviewed on Xbox One.
Diablo III is here…again! The best PC game of 2013 has arrived on consoles new and old, and it’s made the trip with only a few minor scratches. Now you can enjoy Blizzard’s addictive monster-masher on your HDTV, and I highly recommend that you do.
If you actually care about the storyline of the Diablo games (and you really shouldn’t), here’s the setup: this dude falls from Heaven and crashes into the backwater of New Tristram, causing assorted unpleasant creatures to run amok. You play a gifted warrior called the Nephalem who shows up to save the day. Of course, a grander plot opens from here, something about big bad demons taking over the world. D3 works hard to wax about its expansive universe, but honestly, it doesn’t matter. The design philosophy behind this ARPG was clearly “more A, less RPG.”
D3 has taken the traditional formula of gutting monsters, gathering gold, and gaining levels and whittled it into a sleek machine. At its core, D3 is pretty standard RPG stuff: you run through fields and caves and castles, slaughtering any critters you encounter. When your bags are full of the junk they drop, you go to town to sell it off or salvage it, and then it’s back to the death factory for another shift. By the end of the game, you’ll have cleared dozens of dungeons of thousands of bad guys. Kill-loot-kill-loot-kill is pretty much all it is. Now, this might sound dull and repetitive, but hallelujah, praise be, D3 makes grinding fun.
To accomplish this, Blizzard has worked hard to make those two verbs as enjoyable as possible. First, it pushes more presents on you than a happy grandma. Almost every encounter ends in a shower of treasure. The gold and gear flow endlessly, and your character is always improving. Second, the game does away with the sandwich combat of yesteryear. You won’t just be pressing A until the enemies die, though that’s still partly involved. Many of the battles in the game require you to dodge dangerous projectiles and areas of effect while positioning yourself for effective strikes of your own. The fights can become absolutely chaotic, and with all the flames, blood, shrapnel, and money flying around, it feels a little like Smash TV at times.
In most RPGs, your character’s equipment determines how he or she fights. Not so here. At least, not so much. In D3, weapons are pretty much just for show. They provide the numbers. What matters are the moves. Each of the six character classes has a vast set of fighting skills, each with five tweaks called “runes,” that suit their particular styles.
The Barbarian is the chop-chop-chopper of the game, using relatively simple bashes and smashes in an effective, if inelegant manner.
The Demon Hunter cripples and confuses foes with traps and acrobatics, and then picks them off with crossbow fire.
The Crusader is a wall of defense that soaks up enemy hits while holding the tide back with a mix of melee and ranged strikes.
The Monk leaps into crowds of monsters and bats them silly with martial arts combos and super moves.
The Wizard is human artillery: physically weak, but capable of raining hell and devastation from a distance.
The Witch Doctor commands an entourage of pets that rips monsters apart while flitting about and firing into the fracas.
The key to success in D3 is experimenting with your skills and runes until you find a load out that works for you. A good combination can be devastating to opponents, dazzling to your eyeballs, and oh so satisfying to your gamer neurons. All of the moves use hefty, chunky sound effects, as well as particles and physics. What’s more, most of the environments are full of destructible objects and decor, so every battle becomes a show. Sending a crowd of monster corpses sailing into the sky, or down a rocky cliff, is a greater reward to me than any number of experience points, though gaining levels does feel pretty good. Every level unlocks new runes, after all.
Once you hit level 70, which doesn’t take as long as you might expect, every level up nets you a Paragon Point. These points can be spent on stat boosts, and when one character earns one, ALL of your characters get one, even characters created afterward. It’s a nice incentive to keep playing even after you’ve hit the cap.
The game has plenty of other reasons to keep you on the monster hunt long after the story is done. If things get too tough or too easy, you can choose from TEN difficulty levels whenever you want. There’s the genius Adventure Mode, a sort of “open-world” mode that lets you go to zone in any act at any time, and take on quests that are randomized every time you play. You have Nephalem Rifts, weird nightmarish dungeons with unique bosses and objectives. Then there are crafting plans to find, optional missions for the party members you’ll meet, player-vs. player brawling, and even a sort of gambling where you trade special currency for items that may or may not be good. The game seems small in scope at first, but it quickly gets deep and expansive, with tons of ever-changing environments to explore.
So you should definitely get this game. I think it has a place on everybody’s shelf. But which version should you get? Well, that depends, as both versions have their pros and cons. The PC version is capable of extremely high graphical resolutions, and thanks to Blizzard’s fine optimization, it runs pretty well even on aged machines. The console version runs at 1080p, but it’s still clear that a lot of the UI had to be truncated or removed altogether. Still, it’s guaranteed to run at a constant 60 frames per second, no matter how much nuttiness is onscreen. The mouse controls of the PC version allow great precision and easy inventory management, but moving, dodging, and chaining attacks feels far more natural with a gamepad, which is only supported on consoles. The PC version requires a constant internet connection, even during single player games, and if your bandwidth is low, you’ll get rubber-banding issues. Worse, if Blizzard’s servers are down, you don’t get to play at all! The console version doesn’t have that issue with local play. Hell, the console version even allows on-the-couch multiplayer, which you certainly can’t enjoy on the PC.
The removal of the online leash is what pushes me to favor the console game. The only feature it’s missing from its PC cousin is “Seasons,” a peculiar online competition that Blizzard hosts. I don’t miss that, though, and I highly doubt that anyone but the most devoted fans will either. Here’s a game that gets both the short-term and long-term flows just right, that provides vibrant challenge and satisfying reward in just the right measures, and that can be as stressful or as therapeutic as you want it to be. Most importantly, it puts its gameplay ahead of its story, just as it should.
It also has a good sense of humor. Heck, I could have saved a lot of your time with this review by simply quoting one of the followers in the game, Lyndon the Scoundrel. He sums the whole game up when he calls out, “Look at that thing over there. Let’s kill it!”