PC, Mac OS X, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
Review based on Xbox 360 version
Developer: Blizzard Entertainment
Release Date: May 15th, 2012 (PC / Mac)
September 3rd, 2013 (PS3 / X360)
Diablo III isn’t that different from the previous two entries other than it is set about twenty years after the events in Diablo II. You play a character, from a class of your choice out of six, who hunts demonic and undead beings in the land of Sanctuary. He or she is then swept up into the battle between Heaven and Hell, becoming the hero of the human plain of existence. As you rid the creatures from various locations near New Tristram, you happen upon a stanger and have to help him not only recover his memory, but also his sword. By doing so, he reveals just what he is, and the plans of Diablo’s return come to light, leaving you to battle various hordes and prime evils, such as Belial, worshippers, and other human and unhuman things over the course of four extensive acts, leading to a grand finale that will determine the fate of the world.
While the story to Diablo III is well done with some superb voice acting, you don’t really need to follow every cut scene or section of dialogue to follow the plot. There’s no major twists outside of the truth behind the stranger that fell from the sky, and right away you already know what he is so bypassing the main story arcs won’t really hurt much. However, it’s the side stories that some of the other characters have that are really engrossing, and are often left rather short. Even the blacksmith has a more engrosing story than half of what is really going on in each act, including Deckhard and Leah, the latter of which becomes one of the most important characters to advance the plot point of Diablo’s return.
First of all, let’s look at the sound, as there’s a good amount to talk about. The voices are somewhat varied, though many actors are clearly used more than once, especially when you are read a journal entry you happen to find somewhere. It gets the job done as far as narration and story progression goes, but they aren’t anything special other than some of the voices for the prime evils in the last two acts, though some of the general banter from your hero, especially when talking to a partner, can become repetitive despite each occasion being triggered pretty far apart. You can only hear your hero or heroine telling the enchantress that the druid is love with her so many times before you immediately want to head back to town and swap her out with the thief in hopes it stops. The same goes for the many cries for help and healing. While beneficial when you’re mobbed by enemies, only having two phrases repeat constantly does get rather tedious.
The sound effects for the creatures aren’t anything that spectacular either, and some of the effects actually sound like they may have been taken out of World of Warcraft at times. Given that it’s Blizzard, creators of that series, this isn’t that surprising. But, again, they are effective enough to get the point across. The same goes for the music, though it does feel a little more original overall. In some spots it does end up rather grand and epic, especially during the cut scenes between acts where the stranger and Leah are usually talking to one another to push the story along, or during a boss battle. But, for the most part, the soundtrack is rather subtle, and at times you won’t really even pay attention to it, leaving you to throw come up with your own customizable soundtrack to keep you alert to what is going on.
The one issue with the audio, however, is that the voices never really end up that loud, even when you mess with the levels in the options menu. You can boost or lower pretty much every piece of sound this game has, but almost every character’s narration outside of reading those journal entries sound distant, or have a slight echo to them that seems a bit out of place. It’s hard to say some of these were literally phoned in and recorded that way, but there are a few actors who sound like it against the others that are a lot louder and far more crisp. This makes it all the more infuriating to try to enjoy both the story, and some of the most epic compositions unless you choose to follow the text instead of use your ears.
Diablo III also suffers a bit visually. While the narrated cut scenes, especially between acts are simply a feast for the eyes, the in game graphics aren’t really all that diverse, and just look like any typical dark dungeon-crawler out there. The lands themselves have subtle variances, as do the towns and characters, but many dungeons and basements generally look the same, offering little variety to keep gamers interested, especially if you’re playing for extended periods of time. There is a mini-map available in the game that is far more useful than it should be. If not for that, you’d end up wandering around lost and exploring areas you already cleared out. The equipment you put on, however, is reflected on your character in the game, which is a nice enough touch to give you something a little different to look at.
The controls are simple enough to make the game move smoothly along, and end up the best part of this title. As you level up you gain more skills, attacks, and powers you can choose to attack with, and are commonly associated with the number keys of your keyboard. However, for the consoles, it is set up to work with all the buttons on the controller. The ability to dodge in done with the right analog stick, and it makes avoiding attacks rather easy regardless of what difficulty you happen to choose. It’s not going to evade all the hits, but you’ll be successful enough over time.
Sadly, this isn’t where some of the standard elements come to a stop. Diablo III allows you some character customization, and has plenty of equipment for you to use in the game. Sadly, this is one of the biggest flaws. You get the chance to level some non-playable characters after you find them, but they end up only going so far in each difficulty except the three battle companions you can use in single player (Druid, Enchantress, Thief). These three stop gaining powers when they hit level twenty, and can only use certain items you buy or pick up. Then there’s the jeweler and blacksmith, and both of them are essentially worthless.
The blacksmith himself has an interesting story, but the weapons and gear he creates are so far beyond par for your level, and never offer anything with bonus attributes that truly matter. Using the weapons and gear that drop from random enemies and boss battles are more important than anything he can put together. Even some of the vendors in town have more useful gear for sale. Then there’s the jeweler, who does come in handy somewhat thanks to the four different jewels you can combine to add additional stats to slotted items. Of course to get the most out of these two, you have to be on your third play through, and even then it is still incredibly limited.
Also, in he console version, the auction house is not available. This was a huge plus for the PC version given the equipment limitations that were just outlined, and helped gamers to obtain gear they might not have been able to get until later replays in modes like Inferno or Diablo. It’s sad to see such an important, if not still kind of flawed piece not be included, but perhaps someday it will become available to console gamers looking to get that little bit of an edge over the competition.
The multiplayer game play, however, is what really stands out and offers the most fun depending on your partner. This is a game that was designed with co-op in mind, and with the console version it bring back the dying out same screen approach. While not a split-screen style of gameplay, you are limited to the general space your characters can fit in, and if one happens to stop moving for a second, or is just screwing around, he or she will be transported, or you’ll end up reappearing next to the slacker. However, if you need to get up and stretch your legs, the game will automatically take over walking for you, but not combat, which is a shame. Of course on-line multiplayer allows each gamer to go their own seperate ways and cover more ground, which, unless you feel the need to search the entire map yourself, really does help to cut a lot of time from the main story mode.
Despite the rather traditional dungeon-crawler approach and the only gear really meaning anything ends up being the random drops, the game still handles well enough to be entertaining. Having six different classes that all function different enough to offer some variety in attack patterns, and some can be a little more stressful then others. The wizard, for example, is nearly invincible eighty percent of the time thanks to the magic shell it can summon. Tack on the enchantress when you unlock her and you’re good to go. The only problem is the combat itself and stagnant level designs and environment really do make this rather extensive story a little rough to sit through, especially during Act two and most of Act three where it seems to just drag on. There are some additional events, but even those are few and far between.
Overall, the easy and familiar controls, the equipment and how it affects your character, as well as the multiple classes all do lead to some smooth dungeon-crawling exploration. The addition of local co-op makes it that much more fun, of course it all depends on who you’re playing with, which is what this sadly outdated endeavour is really about. With more to do with each play through, it makes going for a level sixty character a little more enticing, though after the first time through you will find yourself skipping over the story as a whole. If you loved Diablo II, this is a suiting follow-up, but a bit lacking given the amount of time the title had been in development for, regardless of the hell it may have been stuck in.
Digital review copy of this title provided by Blizzard Entertainment.