Gaming: Diablo III Review

By Leif Johnson

An hour or two after midnight on the morning of May 15, hundreds of thousands — maybe millions — of men (and even quite a few women) crawled into bed feeling powerless and frustrated.

No, not for that reason. The culprit was the newest Diablo game, a celebrated hack ‘n slash that last saw a new release way back in the days when Brande Roderick was Playmate of the Year.

The reason? So many players were trying to get in that the required servers were crammed past their limits (and this from the same studio behind World of Warcraft), which seemed unforgivable for a game that’s technically a single player game at heart.

Naturally, players resorted to that tried and true form of Internet protest: Slamming it with so many excessively negative user scores on Metacritic until its rating almost mirrored that of Gigli. But now that the dust has settled, it’s clear that Diablo III isn’t as bad as all that. After all, when the game inspires cosplay outfits like the one below, though, there has to be something to it, right?

Angels never looked so devlish.

The good news is that, much like Roderick, it still entices after all these years.

Blizzard didn’t fiddle with a lot of the core gameplay; instead, they focused on secondary changes such as advanced visuals and enhanced cooperative play. The basic concept is simple; you navigate and aim by clicking your mouse on the screen and execute your favorite attacks with the right and left mouse buttons.

That might not sound like a lot of fun on paper, but think about it — it’s basically what you do when you’re scouring this site for pics of Dana Hamm and Ashley Salazar. Couple that gameplay with a wide range of powerful and interchangeable skills that you can bind to your number keys with relentless and addicting encounters and variations on combat, and you may even find yourself forgiving Blizzard for their connection blunders on the first day.

You can, of course, hack and slash your way through Diablo III demonic hordes alone in the single player mode, but that’s a terrible way to enjoy Diablo’s thrills.

Here’s you’ll find one of the most user-friendly cooperative modes on the current market; one that allows you to party with your friends or jump in or out of any public quest with just a click of the button. Even better, switching over takes maybe five seconds at the longest, and the game’s difficulty automatically adjusts itself to the number of players running around.

It’s best to stay in practice. Playing cooperatively becomes even more important if you stick around for the harder difficulties that appear after each of the roughly 15-20 hour playthroughs, since going alone becomes almost impossible once you reach the brutal “Inferno” difficulties after level 60. Gameplay even changes, since the ramped up difficulty means you likely won’t be using the same skills you used on an earlier playthrough.

Thankfully, Diablo III ‘s five classes offer a decent variety of gameplay, ranging from the Conan-styled Barbarian, the voodoo lovin’ Witch Doctor, and the spell-slinging Wizard.

For my own playthrough, I chose the female Demon Hunter. The thought of impaling demons with a barrage of bolts bursting from a crossbow sounded awesome in itself, but I also found it hard to dismiss the appeal of a character whose high heels matched leather battle gear left her looking a little like Kate Beckinsale in Van Helsing. I think it’s safe to say that the female’s the only way to play the class. Not only did Blizzard play her up in almost all of its marketing for two years, but the male version looks a little uncomfortably like an emo Voldo (of Soul Calibur fame).

 See what I mean?

Loot falls like rain from the demons trawling skulking through Diablo III, and, as before, much of the series’ charm springs from finding some powerful weapon or breastplate scattered among the heaps of garbage. Unfortunately, loot in Diablo III lacks the same addictive appeal the threatened sex lives in Diablo II, thanks to an online auction house where players can post items they don’t want.

“Thankfully, Diablo III ‘s five classes offer a decent variety of gameplay, ranging from the Conan-styled Barbarian, the voodoo lovin’ Witch Doctor, and the spell-slinging Wizard.”

Occasionally I’d find something genuinely useful on my own (or craft it with a fairly unpredictable crafting system), but most of the time I just bought my gear off the auction house since I could always search for items with the specific stats I wanted. That’s partly because the random nature of the items often resulting in an otherwise godly weapons sporting a few stats on that might be completely useless. And since the auction house currently bulges with thousands of similar items despite their supposed rarity, you can usually nab the best item available without denting your stash of gold. Eventually, you’ll be able to spend real money on items, but good loot’s so common now that I can’t see that becoming worthwhile until many months from now when the population drops.

It’s a further shame that the whole experience is soured by a forgettable narrative, crammed with melodramatic voice acting and predictable yarns about betrayal and good triumphing over evil. Jenna Jameson has starred in films with deeper plots and better dialogue. The cinematics preceding each act occasionally achieve jaw-dropping illusions of realism, but then again, so did the Transformers in Dark of the Moon.

Still, the world itself manages to impress. A few players worry that its overall visuals lean too close to the cartoony style of its cousin World of Warcraft, but such concerns seem silly when you battle Lovecraftian hellspawn atop snow-topped towers and explore stairways flanked by tortured titans in bondage gear.

Regardless of its stumbles, Diablo III is a great game. But compared to the years-long marriage that many players shared with Diablo II, additions such as the auction house and a relatively quick dash to the level cap mean the third outing might have the staying power of a cheap affair at best.

I reached level 44 (out of a cap of 60) through fairly casual play over a couple of days, which means I may see all my Demon Hunter has to offer by the time we hit mid-June. After that, the game’s lasting power hinges on whether you’re enthralled enough to do it all again with a different class.

For now, though, enjoy the show. The stability issues that marred its first few days have largely ironed themselves out, and the player population’s growing by the millions. And if Blizzard’s servers end up crashing again? Well, that’s what we’re here for.

Score: 8/10

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