Review by UltimaZER0

"Third time's the charm? Not quite, but stay a while and listen!"

Ah, the classic hack-and-slash RPG: for years, the Diablo series has reigned king in this genre with its sinister environments and addicting gameplay, and it has made such a mark on the gaming community that you will often find circles that still speak very highly of Diablo II and its expansion. So what about this third installment? Does it live up to all the hype that had surrounded it leading up to its release? While not perfect by any means, it certainly delivers a good gaming experience that will please veterans and newcomers alike.

Welcome Back to Hell

Diablo III takes place twenty years after the events of Diablo II. Some recent events have caused some unwanted trouble to show up at New Tristram's doorstep, and you've been called to battle to investigate the matter, which leads to the revelation that the battle against the minions of Hell is not over. Now you must go forth and put an end to it once and for all.

Through the first hour, the game warmly greets you with familiar faces, and brings you up to speed with characters and stories of Diablo lore. Once the nostalgia wanes and progression takes hold, you will find yourself immersed in a cycle that is typical of any RPG: go on your quest, kill monsters, gain experience, level up, venture through dungeons, and come home with loot. It's a simple formula but it makes for some very addicting gameplay.

A Time For Change

The game tries to improve upon many of the features that were present in Diablo II, and one very big improvement is the inventory. Items of different sizes would take up different numbers of slots, and that ranged anywhere from one to an obnoxious six slots. Now most weapons and armor take up no more than two slots apiece. Town portals and item identifiers that came in the form of scrolls and tomes are now a part of your skill set. Even the stash has been revamped: it can be expanded for a price, and your items and gold are accessible by any of your characters, thereby eliminating the need for mules.

Another improvement is the addition of two special merchants. One is the jeweler, who can combine your smaller stat-enhancing gems into larger ones, and remove gems from obsolete gear. It's a valuable service that's worth every gold coin, and it saves me the trouble of having to find new gems each time I get a new weapon or piece of armor.

Then there's the blacksmith: he breaks down unwanted gear into materials that can be used to craft new weapons and armor. Although this can be a good way of getting upgrades that you may not otherwise be lucky enough to find on your own, this guy is a huge gold sink with no guarantee of getting something worthwhile. I also find that his wares never keep up with my current progress; by the time I collect the gold to train him, his new offerings are already a few levels behind. On the plus side, both he and the jeweler are shared across all of your characters, which makes him an easy source of upgrades for your lower-level alts.

One change that has been the subject of many a heated debate is the overhauling of the skill system. Previously, you would gain skill and stat points by leveling, and you were free to pick and choose how your character grew, which paved the way for a wide variety of builds. Diablo III takes a more traditional route: you automatically learn new abilities as you level. Though some have argued that this results in fewer variations for builds, it hasn't had any negative impact on the overall experience. Abilities can be augmented with runes that add different effects, such as snaring or stunning, and I'm still able to experiment with different ability combos.

One nice touch that I particularly like is how each class has its own resource, rather than the one obligatory mana pool. For example, the barbarian's attacks build up Fury, which can then be spent on more powerful abilities, while the demon hunter features two resources: one for his offensive shots, and the other for his defensive abilities. This adds a little flavor and uniqueness to each class, since each type of resource has to be managed in its own way.

Computer-controlled companions make a comeback in the form of the bow-wielding scoundrel, the magic-empowered enchantress, and the sword-and-board templar. Each follower has his/her own stats and abilities to choose from, and can equip weapons and accessories. It would have been nice to throw some armor on them though, but having to manage equipment across three followers is probably a bit excessive. I have found the templar to be the best of the three, thanks to his healing and defensive abilities, though I've been told that the other two become much more viable later on.

The World Is Your Playground

One thing that I noticed while playing is that a lot of effort was put into keeping environments busy and lively. Destructible objects are everywhere, including things that you can't even target or mouse over, such as tombstones in a cemetery, or wooden chairs in a room. Enemies pop up unexpectedly from the ground, from the sky, from walls and crypts, from the side of a cliff. There are even environmental hazards that you can take advantage of, such as chandeliers that can crash down on hordes of enemies, though I often forgot that they were there to begin with.

Like its predecessors, the maps and dungeons are also randomly generated, which means that while landmark locations and levels will always look familiar to you, the paths that you walk may not be the same ones you took the last time you were there. On one hand, this gives players a need to explore their whereabouts. On the other hand, I often found myself too immersed in killing things to really take note of it.

Multiplayer is also a lot of fun, and much was done to keep the experience smooth. Friends can freely slip in and out of your game, and the monsters scale accordingly to keep things on an even playing field. For those concerned about loot disputes, fear not: every player gets their own drops. My only gripe about the multiplayer is how you are restricted from using your follower when a friend joins in, but I can see how having five templars healing your party would be a bit much.

The End Is Only The Beginning

Lengthwise, the game is decent. Given maybe an hour or two of gameplay a night, an average player can beat all four Acts in about a week. Following in the footsteps of Diablo II, the obligatory Nightmare and Hell difficulty settings with better weapon and armor prospects follow the default Normal mode, and neither one is a walk in the park. Once you manage to trek through all of that and make it to level 60, the challenge of Inferno mode awaits you.

Though having higher difficulty levels extends the game's life and gives players something to look forward to, I have mixed feelings about this. On one hand, it allows me to re-experience the earlier Acts on an even playing field, using all of the abilities that I had acquired along the way. On the other hand, playing through the same story for a third time can grow tiresome, let alone a fourth. I had hoped for a little variation each time around; perhaps bosses having new abilities that they didn't have the first time, or new side quests, or access to locations that you could not get to previously.

Graphics: 8/10

The environments that you come across are very vibrant, thanks to the bright color pallets that accent environmental effects such as lighting, spells, ambience, and whatnot. Dungeons are also very detailed and well textured; you will often come across rooms filled with all sorts of subtle things, such as tables, books, clay pots, and whatnot. Animated foreground and background effects add depth and liveliness to your environment, and give dungeons the feel of being more expansive than it really is.

My only complaint is that the characters models and armor textures could've been a little sharper or crisper. It's hardly noticeable from the in-game 3/4 perspective, but you can definitely see it when viewing your character from the menu screen or when zooming in.

Sound: 8/10

The orchestral soundtrack highlights the dark and foreboding environments, and blends well with the background ambience. Different instruments accentuate the overall theme of the Act; acoustic guitars for grassy knolls, vibrant wind instruments for deserts, and whatnot.

The voice acting is good for industry standards, and is plentiful in this game. Bystanders can be heard gossiping as you run past them, bosses taunt you as you progress through the dungeons, and your character will often chat with your follower. You can speak with key characters to find out more about them, and tomes and journals scattered across the world also offer audio logs that offer players detailed insight into monsters, lore, and the land.

Controls: 7/10

The controls are very simple: primary and secondary attacks assigned to your mouse, and the rest are assigned to your keyboard. The mouse can also be used to point your attacks in whichever direction you need. My only problem with the controls is that I've had moments when I would forget that the mouse directs my attacks, which may not seem like an issue, but I've had moments when I would point an ability in the wrong direction, or I'll plant something on a location that I didn't intend on pointing at. However, this can be resolved with a bit of practice. For the most part, the hotkeys are intuitive, and maneuvering around dungeons is smooth and easy.

Gameplay: 7/10

Mechanically, the game plays well. New levels come at a reasonable pace, and each monster archetype has its own unique trick up its sleeve. Most monsters can easily be killed in only a few hits, and I've had moments when I would simply use area-wide damage abilities to decimate entire armies in seconds. Bosses require a little more thought but many of their abilities are telegraphed, and I found it easy enough to improvise and hammer out an effective strategy on the fly.

As far difficulty is concerned, Normal mode is an easy, laid-back experience that does a great job of breaking in new players. The real challenge is in the harder modes, where your damage intake is much higher, and the stronger monsters will have more attributes on them, which means that you will die often. I don't mind a good challenge but I've come across some game-breaking monsters that I couldn't handle alone but couldn't skip because it would chase me through an entire dungeon.

Overall: 8/10

While not a perfect game by any means, it's still a lot of fun to play. The hack-and-slash formula, coupled with traditional level-ups, dungeons, and quests makes for an addictive and engrossing experience. The radical changes to the way characters grow and learn new abilities work well for what they are, and the runes and ability configurations allow for some degree of customization. Though I would have preferred a little more variation between the four difficulty levels than just stronger monsters and better loot, the streamlined multiplayer and challenging gameplay will provide you with many hours of playtime.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.0 - Great

Originally Posted: 05/30/12

Game Release: Diablo III (US, 05/15/12)

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