Click, Click, Click... Ooo, Shiny!
HIGH Destroying legions of foes with the mere click of a mouse and watching the loot burst out of their mangled remains.
LOW Constantly wondering whether each new lag spike will prove fatal.
WTF Kicking open dead villagers to see if there's anything nice squirreled away inside them.
In the current age of downloadable add-ons and post-release patches for broken and incomplete games, there's an understanding that reviewers should judge a game's worth based on the state it's in at the time of release. If this holds true, then Diablo III was nearly worthless when it debuted. It only managed to take a few wobbly steps out the gate before toppling over and shattering its jaw on the nearest curb thanks to launch issues that were the stuff of legend—things like players unable to play due to online security-related problems, reports of hacked accounts, and more. The situation was a mess.
This messy launch aside, Diablo's long been a name to be reckoned with in the gaming world. Players have been clamouring for a return to the dingy dungeons of this beloved series for well over a decade. Launch issues may not have been enough to deter these dedicated gamers, but other issues past the initial batch will likely put a dampener on their enthusiasm.
For those not familiar with the series, Diablo III is a point-and-click looting game where pointing the mouse on an enemy will smash its brains down its throat, and clicking on a piece of loot will pick it up. See that bloated corpse over there lying face down in a pool of urine? Clicking on it will almost undoubtedly result in gold and wondrous weapons spewing forth from its rotten intestines. Don't mind the smell of decomposing flesh, embrace the thrill of shiny new loot!
It's a good thing all the loot is so shiny since the story is nothing special. A star falls, a hero rises, all the horrors of hell billow out into the human realm like a writhing wave of utter bastards and said hero must defend... blah blah blah. The writing and dialogue are far too heavy-handed to be even vaguely interesting aside from a few moments when it goes mental and throws weird jokes into the mix. Not to spoil anything, but keep an eye out for the randomly generated event involving a farmer and his tired wife—quite literally—nodding off.
Of course, no fantasy setting is complete without some fantasy archetypes to choose from when selecting a character, and Blizzard has everyone covered on that score. Choose from a male or female version of five available character classes—options include melee heavies such as the Monk or Barbaran, or more squishy ranged specialists such as the Demon Hunter, Wizard or Witch Doctor.
After choosing their avatar, players bravely venture out into the world of Diablo alone or joined by friends with the single-minded intention of murdering nearly anything that moves. As minions are squelched underfoot, these characters will level up into deadlier killing machines with new perks and bonuses that can be selected from a reasonably wide range of skills. However, forget about distributing skill points into strength and dexterity categories, those are now allocated automatically based on the character class in question. It works fairly well, though some may lament the diminished ability to customise these characters to suit their own particular needs.
What else is new to Diablo besides these replacement character classes? For Diablo III, Blizzard have gone back to the drawing board and added something special to the single-player campaign which has been clearly missing from previous games in the franchise: severe latency issues courtesy of an all new stipulation requiring the single-player mode to be online at all times.
It's arrogance of the highest order for Blizzard Activision to force their single-player audience to be subjected to the whims of an Internet connection which may or may not be stable for the duration of their experience. Against peons this is irritating, but against bosses or other, deadlier enemies it soon becomes incredibly frustrating—and this isn't even considering the effect that overloaded servers or downtime for maintenance will have. Want to get a little solo time in when the servers aren't feeling well? Too bad.
In addition, "Error 37" became infamous at launch as excited players attempted to log into the game only for Blizzard's creaking servers to turn these paying customers away at the door—though all the gold farmers somehow managed to sneak past the gate. They're all having a wonderful time, cluttering up the chat channels with relentless mind-numbing spam that buries anything other players might want to say. (PROTIP: Enter the game and type "/leave" right away, otherwise there will be an irritating, constantly refreshing update as to where everyone can buy "cheap gold" and power-leveling for real money.)
The only genuinely interesting addition to the mix is the auction house system, which works pretty much as expected. Loot can be sold off for a profit and players can buy other people's drops if fortune hasn't been favouring them using in game currency—or real money, the final price of which Blizzard will thoughtfully take a cut out of with each completed auction. It's tough to imagine that the online-only requirement isn't primarily tied to this, since item dupes could easily kill off the economy. If that's the case, it would have been better for all involved if the auction house had been burnt to the ground before release, as it dilutes the thrill of coming across the weapons and armor in-game.
In the end, Diablo III is a generally-enjoyable loot driven point-and-clicker which is hobbled by relatively run-of-the-mill gameplay and an always-on online requirement that offers little of value to the average player, yet demands so very much much in return. Internet-related bullsh*t aside, the pursuit of material wealth could technically last forever if the genre appeals, though eternal repetition is essentially the name of the game with few surprises in store for even the most dedicated fan. It's basically the gaming equivalent of popping bubble wrap... with added latency.
Reviewer's note: Patches have been released since the game debuted, but as to how they alter the experience? I'll be buggered if I know. I was literally weeping out of boredom with the game by the end, so after I downloaded them, I got some error and headbutted the nearest person in the crotch out of irritation. Shame that person was me, but what can you do?
—by Darren Forman
Disclosures: This game was obtained via retail and reviewed on the PC. 42 hours of game time were spent on it, primarily as a Monk, and the game was completed on Normal and Nightmare modes.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game contains blood & gore, and violence. It's probably no surprise that guts and gore flow aplenty with some pretty gruesome backdrops popping up over the course of the game. Keep the wee ones away.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing: Shouldn't be a problem—there are subtitles for spoken dialogue and there are no significant auditory cues.