Image

When it comes to frantic mouse-clicking and dungeon-looting, the name “Diablo” is forever revered among desktop denizens around the world, to the point that every title released henceforth with similar mechanics has been classified as a “Diablo clone”. With such a huge pedigree resulting from the last two games (and their expansion packs), it was both a right and a necessity for Blizzard to make sure the eventual follow-up would live to fans’ enormous expectations. Now, nearly twelve years later, Diablo has finally returned to fracture the click-fingers of computer gamers both new and old.

Diablo III’s story begins twenty years after the last defeat of the eponymous “Prime Evil”. Series veteran and memetic lore master Deckard Cain urges his young niece Leah to stay a while and listen to a newly discovered tome detailing an ominous prophecy; in a world where ominous prophecies involving demonic forces are as common as mild thunderstorms, all hell literally breaks loose as Leah loses sight of her uncle, while Diablo’s army returns to murder, pillage, and murder some more. It’s up to the chosen heroes (chosen by fate as well as by customising players) to unravel the mysteries surrounding Diablo’s return, ally with powerful forces both human and otherwise, and slaughter thousands of enemies, while earning more loot than they could possibly carry.

“the “twists” as
the plot unravels
are so painfully
predictable that
they verge on ’80s
Saturday morning
cartoon fare”

Though the dark fantasy setting is filled with interesting lore and demonic descriptions, the gravity of the main storyline is plagued with unintentional campiness that puts it more along the lines of Mortal Kombat than Berserk. Likewise, the “twists” as the plot unravels are so painfully predictable that they verge on ’80s Saturday morning cartoon fare. A real twist, for example, would have been a subversion where the cackling dark wizard with the blood-stained past actually keeps his word and assists the heroes after freeing him. Instead, as the choir-heavy music attempts to emphasise the unforeseen betrayals, most gamers will likely have the Team Rocket theme playing in their heads.

But even the most hardcore Diablo fans shouldn’t argue that the story is merely window-dressing in order to contextualise the change in locations and objectives. The game is structured into four acts, where progressing through quests moves characters along to the next location while locking them out of the previous area. While this creates a more linear approach from previous Diablo games, it also cuts down on pointless wandering and guesswork, instead giving players a clear path to the nearest maze-like dungeon.

The areas themselves are also randomly arranged, ensuring that no two dungeon-crawls are alike. This is thanks to the most unique and controversial addition to Diablo III, a persistent online connection. Being connected 24/7 allows the game to create a randomised dungeon layout every time players log in, as well as keep them informed of the progress and rewards earned by added friends. This feature gives a WoW-level of social integration and updates that enhances the overall experience, even for players uninterested in the multiplayer aspect of D3. The downside to this online integration is that an Internet connection is required just to play the game; with the periodic problems facing Internet providers, tripped-over routers and Battle.net server downtimes, this prerequisite may prove frustrating for anyone hoping to enjoy a reserved weekend of demon slaying and loot pillaging.

Another advantage to the online requirement is the ability for players to jump in and out of multiplayer at any given time. Players can choose to keep their sessions invite-only or public, to which recipients can take any of their existing characters and join the host’s world, with all of their levels, loot, and skills intact. For those looking to make new friends by joining a random public game, Diablo III’s multiplayer matching is tragically bare bones; the only option available is to quick join games separated by Acts… you have no say in determining what part of the Act you wish to join, how many existing players are in a room, or even which difficulty or gameplay mode is available. It is a literal flip of the coin that more often than not falls on the side of joining a two-man session in a quest you’ve already completed a dozen times.Multiplayer sessions can hold up to four players, and for every extra player present, the enemies increase in both quantity and ferocity. A full four-player room guarantees screen-filling insanity with nearly hundreds of monsters swarming your band of heroes repeatedly. But with extra risk comes extra reward, as defeating the souped-up spawns of Satan will also yield greater loot, often dwarfing whatever equipment you find in a single-player session. Even better, the visible loot is exclusive to each player, meaning you can pick and choose what items to keep without worrying about fellow players with itchy mouse fingers beating you to the prize. Health globes and stat-boosting runes (which grant a temporary boost in exp, attack speed, and so on) are also shared between players, insuring persistent cooperation between players whether they like it or not, and making online griefing virtually impossible.

But what’s more important than the obtainable benefits is how much more fun multiplayer is compared to single-player. The increase in enemies coupled with the different character classes assisting one another results in a more action-packed and overall insane experience that’s closer to arcade murder sprees like Smash TV. Grinding levels in addition to gathering loot enhances the experience even further with more powerful and often flashier abilities (having a team consisting entirely of Witch Doctors is bound to cause some massive slowdown on even the most powerful PCs), as well as open up even more hard-core gameplay modes, such as the aptly-titled Hardcore Mode.

In this mode, created characters are given one life and one life only; should players fall in battle in this mode, their character immediately becomes unusable in any other mode and cannot be resurrected. This mode alone doubles the tension of every battle, creating an extra amount of prudence and panic; if anyone manages to clear Hardcore, they are certainly deserving of some e-cred. Otherwise, Nightmare Mode can suffice in a harder difficulty with unlimited retries after finishing the game once, while Hell Mode is a fittingly named tier increase. If that still isn’t enough for masochistic monster-slayers, the new Inferno Difficulty will likely have ill-prepared players crying into the arms of more forgiving games like Dark Souls.

Whatever the difficulty selected, or the number of players partnered with (if any), a created character properly outfitted with the right tools and skills (and a few dozen levels) can take on any situation. For the sequel, Blizzard has done away with most of the previous game’s classes save for the Barbarian and a retooled Sorcerer (renamed to “Wizard”). New classes include the Witch Doctor, who can use voodoo spells to summon additional monster allies and hurl poisonous bottles, the Monk, who possesses lightning-fast martial arts and buffs, and the Demon Hunter, who utilises long-range attacks as well as offensive and defensive abilities.

“the moody art
direction and visual
effects establish
the dark and dreary
fantasy setting
where the writing
does not”

Each class carries a specific meter used to fill up (Fury for the Barbarian, Arcane Power for the Wizard, and in the case of the Demon Hunter, two meters called Hatred and Discipline), which allows them to utilise different abilities that each cost a different amount. These abilities range from offensive attacks to defensive buffs, and are all earned the same way: by levelling up. Each class can equip up to six slots worth of abilities (left click, right click, and number keys 1-4), which are by default reserved for primary attacks, secondary attacks, and the various abilities.

However, the game allows for further customization courtesy of Elective Mode, an advanced option that allows any combination of abilities to be mapped to any of the six keys. A number of unique possibilities can result from this amount of freedom, such as mapping all the different primary attacks at once (some are slower and do more critical damage, some can strike multiple enemies at once, etc.), or storing some of the bigger (and more meter draining) abilities for the most crucial moments. The addition of skill runes to further boost your abilities as well as passive skills (which add permanent bonuses like extra life upon healing or stronger armour defence) means that there’s no limit to customizing characters to suit each gamer’s play style, while also streamlining the more arbitrary customization options of the previous Diablo without stripping away the amount of variety available.

While keeping the same overhead isometric view from previous games, Diablo III utilises a brand new engine developed in-house by Blizzard. While the textures and character models are nothing special, the moody art direction and visual effects present on the screen succeeds in establishing the dark and dreary fantasy setting where the writing does not. The music and sound design also give life to the evil aesthetics, while the voice work is of top-notch quality despite the predictable dialogue.

Even though D3 doesn’t reach the same visual flare as recent PC powerhouses, the gameplay is as easy to pick up and difficult to put down as the very best modern titles. Even when fulfilling the specific objectives and clearing the main story in less than 12 hours, the primary motive is the same as it ever was: loot. For every major monster slain or treasure chest procured, stacks of equipment, gold, potions and other valuable items surround your feet minutes at a time. And before you curse the limited inventory space, the game is generous with its nearby waypoints to allow quick access to the nearest town. If that’s not enough, a more convenient ability allows you to instantly teleport in and out of town no matter where you are, with the two-way portal only wearing off once you log out, get killed by enemies or use it again in a different area.While in town, the typical method of lightening loot load is to sell what you don’t want to merchants. However, one alternative is to salvage magical items to the Blacksmith, who won’t pay you cash for the destroyed equipment but instead recycles materials to allow the crafting of newer and potentially better weapons and gear. Tossing money to train the Blacksmith will expand his workshop and open up newer and more powerful items to craft, thus creating a balance between earning cash and earning materials. Another valuable vendor is the Gem merchant, who can create new gems to attach to weapons and armour with available slots. Similar to Final Fantasy VII’s Materia system, each gem offers an additional bonus depending on the item its attached to (such as either an increase in damage for a weapon, or an increase in health for a helm). Once gems are attached, they can only be removed by the merchant, and he too can be trained to craft more powerful gems, so long as you have the cash and materials to do so.

For players looking to make hand-me-downs of their unwanted gear, they can offset them to one of their followers, who act as AI companions that follow you wherever you go. Each of the three companions (Templar, Scoundrel, and Enchantress) can only be brought over one at a time and are unusable in multiplayer, but their battle prowess is invaluable, as are the skills they can obtain through levelling (and as another bonus, all three Followers share the same exp regardless of who you use). If you’re still looking to profit from your rare items, the online Auction House can suit your need, while the upcoming Real Money Auction House will even allow you to earn real-world cash by pawning off that precious swag.

With a development time of over a decade, Diablo III may not reinvent the genre as much as fans might have hoped, but instead rebrands its time-tested gameplay for a new generation. For gamers new to the series, a few minutes is all that’s needed for this demonic game to tempt you with its shiny loot and multiplayer madness. Break out the balm and bandages for those mouse fingers, because you’re going to be staying a while… and clicking.