It’s not that bad going to hell. In fact, it’s a hell of a lot of fun, especially when you get to kill demons. Lots and lots of demons, plus spitting zombies, monstrous insects and corrupted angels.
Welcome to the world of Diablo III, where a little thing like death never gets you down. Twelve years in the waiting - Diablo II was a massive hit in the early 2000s and has maintained a loyal playerbase to this day - the multi-player, dungeon-crawling RPG has just about everything you could hope for, even if it has a handful of things you may not want.
The story, such as it is, takes place 20 years after Diablo II, where the titular demon is long-dispatched but a fallen meteor raises the both the dead and the demonic. By fighting through waves of hellish spawn, you’ll discover secret plots and backstabbing twists on the way to finding who’s behind an assault on heaven itself. (Spoiler alert: His name is on the box.)
The story’s not the important part, which is a good thing, because the story is pretty weak and predictable. What matters are the waves upon waves of enemies chomping at the bit to bring you down. You’re not helpless, as you’ll have a lot of your own death to deal out, by either magic or melee. You have five classes to choose from - barbarian, demon hunter, monk, witch doctor or wizard - each of which brings different approaches to battle.
Your apparent goal through each of Diablo’s four acts is to find the bosses and advance the storyline. But your actual goal is to repeatedly run through the randomly generated maps and dungeons, in search of more powerful enemies, better weapons and armor, and copious amounts of gold. In most games, the boss battles are the pinnacle of difficulty and achievement, but not here. Diablo’s main bosses are actually fairly easy when your character hits the appropriate level. The golden-tinted elite and rare monsters are where you’ll find your greatest challenges and, like the dungeons themselves, they are random, encouraging multiple dungeon runs to test your skills (and luck).
And you’ll need a little luck. While the basic gameplay is simple - point and click to move or attack, using a handful of offensive and defensive skills - it quickly gets complicated as you choose which skills best suit your play style, and then modify those skills with runes that unlock as you progress. As you figure it out, you will find yourself swarmed and slaughtered many, many times. But death is never permanent; just repair your armor and head back into the fray.
Diablo encourages multiple playthroughs with multiple characters. There are four difficulty levels - Normal, Nightmare, Hell and the well-nigh-impossible Inferno - to conquer, and your loot and gold are shared among all your characters, a nice touch for those of us who obsessively level every available class. Diablo’s gameplay is wildly addictive; once you get a taste for it, you’ll have a constant craving for just one more run.
Diablo also pushes you to play online with others. You can easily navigate the early difficulties on your own - the game even provides followers you can hire for some extra, if limited, firepower - but as the game gets harder, having three other real people on hand can be a lifesaver. Playing with others is simple. Your friends can jump into your session anytime, unless you deactivate that setting. You can open your game to the public, allowing other players to be randomly dropped in. Or you can directly join someone else’s game at random.
Playing with random people can be entertaining, but it comes with the standard problems of anonymous online gamers. Some people will join, thereby raising the difficulty level of the monsters, but just sit around town doodling with their armor rather than fighting. Others take great joy in running through the dungeons attracting the attention of every demon in sight to guarantee a quick wipe. But the griefers aren’t that prominent, so with some patience you’ll find a group that will get you through some difficult and exciting dungeons.
The downside to Diablo’s relentless multiplayer focus is the game’s requirement to always be online, even if you’re playing solo. Ostensibly, this is for anti-pirating purposes and protecting the game’s upcoming ’’real money auction house’’ - a place for players to sell in-game loot for real-world cash - but it can be onerous. Diablo’s launch was, to put it mildly, a disaster, with players unable to log in to the game’s servers for days at a time. Things have calmed down considerably since launch, though sudden shutdowns still pop up as developer Blizzard continues to patch the game.
It’s also disconcerting to play a single-player game that’s subject to server lag, another problem that has diminished since the game’s launch but still makes an occasional, stuttering appearance.
Those are minor problems that likely will fade even further as the game progresses. Overall, Diablo III is a tightly designed and wonderfully addictive gaming experience that will take your spare time to hell for weeks and months to come. And you’ll enjoy every minute of it.
PC and Mac
Available on DVD or digital download
Review based on a single wizard character playthrough of ’’normal’’ and ’’nightmare’’ modes, plus limited play time in normal mode with other available classes. Gameplay was both multiplayer and solo.