A Deal with the Devil
There’s something about the Diablo games that appeals to my OCD. Venture into the field, kill stuff, gather loot, rinse, repeat. The joy of scouring every corner of the map, looking to reveal that elusive chest or optional dungeon, remains unparalleled in action-RPGs. That’s why Diablo II stands as the only game I’ve ever played through four times.
The 12-year wait for Blizzard to deliver the third installment has been excruciating, placing Diablo III firmly atop my personal list of anticipated games. So, imagine my disappointment when I attempted to log in at launch, only to find broken servers, error messages, and a complete inability to play. All of this for a game I play solo—a game that I should be able to play offline, if necessary.
You see, Diablo III requires an always-on Internet connection. Even though you might never play with another person, Blizzard requires the game to maintain a connection to the company’s Battle.net servers, resulting in the worst sort of copy protection—the kind that keeps players from enjoying the game.
These problems continued intermittently during the week following launch, with extended outages delaying my playtime—and, therefore, delaying this review. The result is a score a full point less than the game would’ve received otherwise. The ability to play offline should be added to this game via a patch, and publishers must take note of this before implementing similar systems on single-player games.
If you’re wondering why I started this review with such negative ramblings, it’s because this is how my time with Diablo III started. For two days, I tried to log in, only to be shut out—or, if I was lucky enough to get in, thrust out with an error message and kept from getting back in for hours. It was frustrating and completely demoralizing. So, it’s a testament to how good the game really is that once I was able log in and start playing in earnest, all the frustration and anger melted away, and I settled into the familiar pattern of killing and collecting that kept me up night after night more than a decade ago. Everything that made Diablo II an addictive masterpiece remains intact. Players will again joyously splatter monster guts up and down the gorgeously rendered landscapes for weeks—maybe months—on end.
Five different classes await the intrepid adventurer: Barbarian, Demon Hunter, Monk, Witch Doctor, and Wizard. The first two rely on weapons to spill demon blood, while the last two bend magical forces to their will. The introspective Monk strikes a balance between the two, in case you can’t decide.
The game handles skills differently than its predecessor; each ability type is mapped to a mouse or number button—six in all. As players advance, new skills (and skill-enhancing runes) are unlocked and can be chosen. But what makes the skill system so enjoyable is that none of your choices are permanent. Players can switch between skills at any time, so you can try every combination and strategy, discovering which particular form of bloodletting best suits your style. There’s even a fairly well-hidden advanced Elective Mode that gives you complete flexibility in choosing and mapping those skills, opening up combinations not readily apparent from the standard skills screen—a mode that’s absolutely necessary if you’re going to succeed on the later Hell and Inferno difficulties.
The game scales nicely when increasing difficulties, presenting new challenges and offering enhanced gear types; it’ll take at least two playthroughs to reach the level-60 cap. Teaming up with friends works well, with the game amping up the difficulty to account for the extra firepower. I found Diablo III equally satisfying as a single- or multiplayer game, but those who prefer to adventure with friends certainly won’t be disappointed.
Diablo III still includes an insane number of weapons and items to collect and sell. Rare gear can pop up at any time—and you’ll actually be able to make real money from it, as the game features an auction house where players can sell items for in-game gold and (soon) real money. No longer do you have to waste that rare sword simply because your character’s an archer.
I would have liked to see a system to salvage non-magical items while adventuring, to avoid superfluous trips to town. Non-magical items are worth very little, but in a game where gold is actually useful, every couple of coins count, so off I go to town whenever I fill up. Yes, gold is actually useful here—unlike most action-RPGs where you run out of things to spend your money on a few hours in. You’ve got crafters to train, inventory slots to buy, and even the occasionally piece of kickass gear for sale at the auction house. I seemed to run out of gold pretty constantly, so gathering every errant coin never felt like time wasted.
Diablo III delivers on every level. Blizzard’s even included a trove of achievements to help you track your progress—so many, in fact, that I’d be surprised if any but the most obsessive player ever gets 100 percent of them (to do so would require playing the game through a minimum of 30 times).
Were it not for the opening-week difficulties—and the presence of what I feel is an overly onerous copy-protection system—Diablo III would be flirting with a perfect 10, a score I have only given out one other time. As it stands, the game is an amazing achievement, and one players will enjoy immensely … barring any further server problems.
SUMMARY: Though marred with a dismal launch, plagued with server issues which call into question the logic behind using this person for a single-player game, Diablo III still manages to deliver an unparalleled action/RPG experience. Stunning environments, awe inspiring enemies and the most addictive loot system ever makes this the new high water mark for dungeon crawlers. Fans of this type of game should already be playing this masterpiece.
- THE GOOD: The new skill system is a dream, allowing players to experiment to their hearts content
- THE BAD: The server issues during launch week were inexcusable for a single-player game
- THE UGLY: The first time you think you kill something only to realize its torso is crawling to keep fighting with you
Diablo III is available on PC and Mac OS. Primary version reviewed was PC.