Review: Diablo III

Twenty years have gone by since a Dark Wanderer passed through the Kingdom of Khanduras, a path of corruption and woken fury in his wretched wake. Frightened children still whisper of the heroes who followed him into in the dust and dark of Tal-Rasha’s tomb, and there saw him revealed as Diablo, Lord of Terror and Like, Omg, That’s A Major Sunburn. And then followed him to the Burning Hells, where they smote him with many mighty clicks upon the stony ground, and looted his broken body a hundred times over for the epic stuff he dropped. Then followed his brother, Baal, Lord of Destruction, and smote him atop Mount Arreat. Again and again, for he dropped epic stuff too, and there wasn’t much point to any of it otherwise.

Because when you think about it like that, the Diablo series isn’t exactly about the story – it never has been, and it definitely isn’t now. In fact, I’ve absolutely no idea what happened in Diablo III, and in between joining different friends’ games at different times, I’ve probably finished it three times already. I killed loads of things, though, and I have some super-mega cool stuff, and the reasons don’t matter.

I mean, Diablo is basically a game about stuff.

Ikki farmed this stuff for us in the harder difficulties, because Ikki is awesome like that.

You kill stuff to get stuff to kill more stuff better to get better stuff, and that’s it, repeat until the credits roll, and you start over again on a harder difficulty with more, better stuff. The story is just a disguise, and if you never stopped to ask yourself why you were killing stuff to get stuff to kill more stuff better to get better stuff, it’s also a pretty clever disguise. That it’s also a kind of a vapid, predictable story is just more subterfuge.

Honestly, anybody playing a Diablo game for the story is doing it wrong. I mean, Diablo was killed in the first game already. It’s all reruns now. And stuff, obviously. For stuff, even.

And to more easily facilitate the speedy acquisition of stuff, Blizzard’s game designers have dumped a lot of the unnecessary clutter from previous games, including all that dreary mucking about with numbers. The decision to remove manual attribute point allocation has been a predictably controversial one because gamers like to complain about everything, but in reality, it puts them into what you were going to put them anyway.

The skill system has also been completely reworked, and – perhaps most significantly – you can reconfigure your abilities whenever you like. This flexibility promotes constant experimentation with your class, and makes for a much more varied and, dare I say it, interesting gameplay experience than before – a feature complemented by correspondingly varied and interesting enemy encounters. It’s not that consequences make your decisions worth thinking about anymore, but the decisions themselves.

My only gripe with it is that, somewhat inscrutably, there’s no option to save loadouts to swap on the go. This becomes immediately, and instantly tragically inconvenient in harder difficulties when enemies are much tougher and have resistances, and the dreaded “Immune! Immune! Immune!” warning text precedes another lonely death (yours) on the scorched moor. Sob.

The Cuddle Bears kinda make up for that.

The always-online DRM has also been a subject of complaint, and while the connectivity interruptions at launch were a tremendous frustration, things have improved considerably since then. With no local servers, though, latency is an unavoidable problem, with (blessedly infrequent) lag spikes during heavy load on the weekends making the game unplayable for up to one or two minutes at a time.

The game’s online operation makes co-op a snap, however, with quick drop-in, drop-out play between games, and without losing progress in your own. While some reclusive sociopaths might prefer to play on their own, the real fun is in multiplayer and there’s nothing quite so magical as a pair of Demon Hunters flipping double chakrams all over the screen as everything on it is turned to a delicate red mist, and a Witch Doctor casts a great, vomiting head over the gore-spattered ground for the big finish. True life drama.

Whether or not Diablo really appeals is almost entirely up to your capacity for mindless violence in the endless quest for stuff. In the opening difficulty mode, the game doesn’t require much in the way of strategy or character management, but not everybody wants to replay a game to get to the “real thing”, so there’s some question of subjective value here. That said, there’s simply no denying Diablo III‘s tremendous sense of style, elegance, and compulsion. And besides, there’s always more stuff.