Diablo III Review

Lee Abrahams

Diablo III is a maths game. It’s also an RPG but, somehow, that feels much less important to the never ending quest for statistical perfection. Diablo itself is much heralded as the greatest of all dungeon crawling games, a peculiar genre that focuses less on story and more on exploration and treasure snagging. It is basically designed to appeal to anyone with even the slightest hint of OCD and does so very well and, for a game that came out on PC a year ago, it has finally made the progression to your home console.

The tweaks inherent in changing a mouse and keyboard driven title to one that functions with a controller have actually been implemented with the minimum of fuss. Your skills are assigned to different buttons, analogue sticks steer you to your next confrontation and menu screens can be pulled up and browsed with ease. On the whole the interface has been superbly managed. In fact, sacrilegious though it may be, the game feels even more at home on a controller than it even did on a PC and having that feeling of direct control over your character (rather than the old point and click) is more than welcome. Though the cost of this freedom is a touch of imprecision when it comes to directing your spells and attacks against specific foes, for which a mouse will never be bettered.

Other tweaks are also obvious. Gone is the in-game auction house that allowed players to buy and sell rare items. This move is probably for the best in the console world, where even the merest sniff of micro transactions can send adults rushing to their blogs to start a fiery tirade. Instead the loot drop rates have been amended to make sure players still have a bevy of useful items at their disposal, though that comes with its own pitfalls. Diablo III is also fairly nice to look at, but sacrifices have clearly been made as aside from the wonderful and sparse cutscenes, the game never overly dazzles you. Plus, there is no sign of that always online requirement that so bedevilled the original PC launch.

This is us killing stuff.

The game has the usual array of weird story clichés that you would come to expect from any RPG, and any Diablo game, as the forces of heaven and hell do battle with the puny world of mortals caught in between. At times the story is entertaining but it never quite catches your imagination as the best RPG titles seem to do. In places the plot merely feels like filler material designed to occupy your time between one randomly generated maze and the next. It’s a shame as the voice work and lush CGI scenes are wonderfully utilized at times, with the moody Tyreal and boisterous Covetous Shen being particular highlights. Still you can never shake the nagging suspicion that a solid story was far down the list of priorities.

Thankfully the roster of playable characters is where the real work seems to have gone in. The beauty here is that the age old question of “which character is best?” really doesn’t seem to have an answer as you can freely choose to suit your own personality. A Barbarian may seem like your typical tank, but can also be sculpted to maximise speed and self-healing, likewise a Monk is actually a superb damage dealing machine if tailored the right way. Demon Hunters can churn out impressive damage per second (DPS) but are a bit on the frail side, while Wizards unleash a bevy of spells but can be surprisingly adept up close as well. The oddball is the Witch Doctor with a plethora of animal familiars and abilities to call on, but even here you have the perfect meld of skills to take numerous approaches. The cast is well fleshed out and selecting, using and combining skills is made easy enough as you browse through your options. Plus, using a range of characters in co-op can lead to a wonderful array of handy combinations among well-versed players.

The game's meat and drink then, comes in the form of wandering the breadth of the world using one of these badasses and killing mobs of foes, ransacking treasure chests and using those spoils to become as ludicrously powerful as possible. This is where the maths comes in. Every piece of armour, every weapon and every level you go up, all helps to tweak your stats just the way you want them. Each class focuses on different attributes, with the secondary function that all attributes have some positive impact. So a high dexterity for your Monk will lead to a bonus for damage, but high dexterity in general will improve your chance to dodge attacks with all classes. The game thus becomes the quest to get just the right skills and equipment to make your chosen character into an unstoppable killing machine. The problem being once you figure that out then the urge to play the game significantly dims.

Still killing stuff.

You see the game has been built purely, and simply, to encourage players to grind for loot. Then grind some more, then just for an hour or two on top of that to be safe, in the pursuit of extra items that will add a touch more DPS, buff your armour a bit more or enhance your stats. To this end each area is uniquely generated each time you play, with some exceptions for the storyline, so that you can find new hordes of foes, new chests and new events along the way.

The RPG aspect of the game is streamlined in such a way that you never get to assign your own attribute points, which is disappointing, and your skills unlock as you inch towards the maximum level of 60. After that you still level up, but the only bonus you get is towards gold and item drops which shows you exactly what is expected of you in the end game. New items highlight whether they are significantly better or worse than what you have already and you can sell or scrap the extra junk, though actually making weapons with the blacksmith or even buying them from vendors seems ultimately pointless as you will generally get better gear dropped in your path.

Assuming you take your time to scour every location, fight every monster and complete every event and quest you come across, then a full play through will likely only take twenty five hours. At this point you will either be tired of simply hitting the standard attack button over and over, like Dynasty Warriors, or will have actually bothered to tweak your skills and mix them together to slow foes, stun them and then beat them to pulps. The problem is that either method works just as well, so players are never really challenged to do anything else. Assuming you delve into a second playthrough then the difficulty ramps up, with four to unlock upon each completion of the game, and you can expect more foes, more loot and more of a challenge. Only not really, as by this point you will have so many boosted skills and items that you can still brush aside most enemies.

Indeed the only way to make the game a bit tougher is to bypass the three general settings altogether and to try your hand at one of the five Master settings. These further increase the power of monsters, imbuing them with a range of skills to test your character build against. Though, once again, the only reward for taking this moral high road is a further increase in loot and gold drops. Yay. Assuming you want to push yourself even further then you can also try Hardcore mode, after you reach level 10 on your first character, which threatens you with perma-death should your chosen paragon fall in combat. It’s certainly a novel twist but one that will likely frustrate novice players and only truly appeal to those that have already dedicated hours to looting every corner of Diablo III already.

Yeah. You pretty much just kill stuff.

For fans of dungeon crawlers this is the ideal game for them. The storyline is decent but never integral and the random nature of the world means you can always expect something slightly new every time you head off for an adventure. Each time you complete the game the difficulty grows, and you can tweak the difficulty at any time to suit your own mood with a neat risk/reward system to encourage those up for the challenge. Those seeking achievements can also take solace in the fact that subsequent playthroughs often feel that much faster, as you don’t hang around chatting or watching cutscenes. Plus, mercifully, the developers didn’t feel the need to make some of the more taxing challenges into Gamerscore tasks so at least you can have a realistic prospect of wrapping things up.

The longevity of Diablo III will purely come down to your own disposition. If you love mindlessly killing the same enemies over and over, in areas that are just vast open areas with subtle tweaks, all in the name of the Legendary Pants of Doom – then this is for you. However, most players will have fun with a single playthrough and then never pick the game up again as the combat, story and rewards just never feel satisfying enough to keep you in it for the long haul. Co-op can add to the fun, but only if you are playing with identically levelled friends, otherwise it loses all meaning. So while Diablo III is a statistical dreamland for those people wanting to craft the perfect specimen, over repeated playthoughs, for the rest it will be a slightly unsatisfying and streamlined RPG experience where our expectations have far exceeded the reality. Diablo III is an excellent loot grabbing game, but it is only decent in every other regard.

A suitably epic score and some mighty fine voice work, but both feel a touch underused which is a real shame.

The cutscenes, as rare as they are, are a thing of beauty but the rest of the game is easy on the eye without ever being stunning.

Easy to pick up and play, but with a hidden depth if you pour enough hours in. Combat can be as straightforward or tactical as you want it to be.

A decent enough RPG, without ever being spectacular, but the real pull is the endless grinding for statistics and loot. If that doesn’t float your boat, then steer clear.

A bog standard list and most players will baulk at having to play a game four times, but subsequent runs can be pretty quick if rather dull.

Daiblo III is a pretty poor RPG but probably the best loot driven dungeon crawler on your console. So if you aren’t too fussed about the rushed story and are prepared to lose countless hours to find THAT legendary item and get your DPS just so, then Diablo III is probably for you. Everyone else will play the game once and wonder what the fuss was all about.

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