In the age of yearly sequels, prequels, trilogies, remakes, and reboots, you don’t often hear about the third iteration of a beloved franchise being released twelve years after the second. 2012 marks the year we return to the realm of angels and demons, heaven and hell, and the human realm suffering in between. Blizzard, like Valve, is a company known for making us eagerly wait. Thankfully, the end products are typically well worth the wait, and Diablo III is no exception. Despite suffering from a shoddy launch, network issues, and an always-online interface, Diablo III demonstrates what over a decade of development can produce.
You begin the game as a wandering adventurer, known as the Nephalem, who has stumbled upon the town of New Tristram in search of a fallen star. In terms of continuity, Diablo III picks up twenty years later in the world of Sanctuary. Whether you choose to be a wizard, barbarian, monk, demon hunter, or witch doctor, the story will play out in the same way while tossing in bits of backstory for each class. Throughout your journey you’ll travel to various towns, cities, and locations in Sanctuary uncovering the mysteries of the battle between heaven and hell. There are plenty of people to speak with, lore to uncover, books to read, and history to learn if you choose, and all of it together provides a decent backdrop for the demon killing and pillaging. While the story is engaging and interesting, it’s clear that the 12 years of development wasn’t spent penning a masterpiece of literature.
To say that Diablo III is at the forefront of current generation graphic’s technology would be a lie. Blizzard games have never really pushed the boundaries of graphics in the same obvious ways as many other game companies attempt to do. Instead, Blizzard opts to create atmospheric environments made memorable by fantastic use of color, light, physics, and minute detail. Diablo is no different from WoW and Starcraft II in that its world is intricate, ominous, and active. Human characters and hideous creatures may look somewhat plain on their own from the panned-out, downward angle view, but they are given life by the armor they wear and the style they exude. The visual fun comes when swarms of creatures climb from the catacombs, slink from the ceilings, and shuffle from the shadows to fill the screen, and your brain, with panicky chaos. You may not be immediately struck with awe by the graphics, but the details are what count.
Throughout your journey you’ll travel through shrouded graveyards, misty harbors, overcast fields, dank caverns, fiery pits, frozen mountains, blood spattered dungeons, and a number of other moody, mysterious, and lively places each built with care and attention to detail. Ancient ruins will crumble as you pass, dead trees will quiver in the breeze, and noncombatant creatures will scurry by underfoot. Watch the way in which a pile of books explodes with realistic physics depending on how and who causes the disturbance. Pay attention to what happens when you step on a small spider running to hide. These aspects may seem minor, but when put together in a constant stream, they provide a visual experience.
Because of this, it’s easy to lose yourself in the visual stimuli and forget that the intensity of battle is made even more frightening by what’s hitting your eardrums. Sounds plays an integral role in making a creepy place creepier. You may see the amorphous blob creature, limbs outstretched, increasing its shuffle towards you when you burst through a dungeon door, but the image would be nothing without hearing the shuffle, the groan, or the resulting battle. What you hear matches well with what you see, often heightening the sensation of fear and adventure. Blizzard also did well in voicing all of the characters and NPCs to provide an extra level of immersion into the story whether those come from the pompous thief, chivalrous paladin, or malevolent sorceress.
For many of us who have been waiting for Diablo III, the story, sound, and visuals were probably not what we have been looking forward to most. We play dungeon crawlers for the obvious fun of staying up all night to dungeon crawl. This can either be an enjoyable or miserable experience based entirely on how well the game plays. The Diablo series crafted this art by creating an action-RPG where players raid an area in search of precious gold, treasure, and experience. Although there have been a number of fantastic games of the same vein from a multitude of other companies, most of these games are referred to as “Diablo Clones.” This is no exception, but it’s clear where Blizzard devoted their time. Whether clicking through the menu options, seamlessly joining friends or anonymous players online, or playing alone, the entire experience -aside from network hiccups – is smooth. The speed and ease at which you can join an online group is frighteningly quick. Moving from sprawling map, to dungeon, to another sprawling map is devoid of loading time. Battling hordes of demon spawn, selecting the best abilities, chugging a potion, and collecting treasure all become automatic processes. The gameplay is the star performer in Diablo III, and it will rarely disappoint or confuse.
Building the perfect hero with impressive stats, legendary class armor, and killer weapons usually becomes the obsession of the action-RPG player, and there is no shortage of customization options. Rather than award skill points to be doled out each level, your character’s initial class determines which skills go up the most. The classes are unique and each worth trying with every new playthrough. My personal favorite, the demon hunter, is a range-attack based hero who can fire arrows, bolts, bolas, missiles, chakram and more while laying traps, vanishing into the shadows, summoning bats, and raining arrows from the sky. There’s so much depth and customization that it’d be rare to come across another player of the same class who plays in the same exact way.
Where the true customization comes into play is through armor, weapons, jewel attachments, and blacksmithing. Diablo III never feels constraining as you aren’t locked into one specific type of character. You’re free to swap armor and weapons to match each situation. Additionally, there is a vast number of abilities and passive skills that come with each level, all of which can be changed on the fly. The result is that you can create a unique character with a staggering number of possible stat and skill set combinations.
Whether you’re new to the series – which is possible considering the time that has passed since the last installment – a diehard, or a “Diablo Clone”, fan, Diablo III shouldn’t be missed. Now that the network issues that plagued the launch have been smoothed over, playing alone or with others is a simple, subscription fee-less process. The main campaign can take anywhere between 15 and 20 hours, which then unlocks the harder difficulties. My one major complaint is that the game never feels very difficult, especially on Normal. There are frustrating moments, hordes of baddies, and increasing difficulty levels, but the same feeling of utter defeat never really happens as it did in the past. This could be attributed to the fact that most games today are much easier than they were in the past, but that’s a whole other article. Regardless, as a game that can be played over and over without feeling dull, Diablo III is worth adding to your library.