Time to Sell My Soul to ‘Diablo’

Courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment

Booting up “Diablo III” for the first time was a surreal experience. Having played through its predecessor with friends far too many times to count over the last ten years, I was excited, and I wondered how Blizzard would top one of the most addicting and satisfying games of all time. While “Diablo III” does not exceed “Diablo II” in every way, the underlying core of the experience has largely been carefully reconstructed and refined.

“Diablo III” will immediately feel very familiar for “Diablo” veterans. Like previous games, “Diablo III” has you fighting your way through demonic hordes across randomly generated fields and dungeons. After nearly every kill or treasure chest opened, you are rewarded with tons of loot (armor, weapons, etc.) for your effort. This cycle between exploration, fighting and acquiring loot presents players with constant feelings of satisfaction.

In “Diablo III” there are five classes to choose from: Barbarian, Demon Hunter, Monk, Witch Doctor and Wizard.  While the Barbarian and Wizard will be immediately recognizable for “Diablo” veterans, the three new classes are partially inspired by elements of classes from “Diablo II.” For example, while some of the Witch Doctor’s special abilities are reminiscent of both the Necromancer and Druid from “Diablo II,” he is still fun and fresh in other ways.

Blizzard’s new approach to character progression is easily my favorite aspect of “Diablo III.” There are many viable playing styles within each class, but in the past, this freedom was constrained because misallocating skill points created less than ideal characters. In “Diablo III,” skill points do not exist and every character learns all of its class’ skills. Additionally, by leveling up, you gain access to runes that vary each skill’s effect.

Choosing which runes to use or what skills to slot are not permanent choices in “Diablo III.” At nearly any time, you can change your runes and skills by going into the menu. This is a fantastic improvement because not only is it easier than ever to find what works best for you, it also gives you extra freedom to experiment without penalty.

Another area where Blizzard has made great strides in since “Diablo II” is its approach to multiplayer. Up to four friends can easily get into a game together with just a few mouse clicks, thanks to an improved interface. Once inside a game, it is easy to connect with one another because all you have to do is click on your friend’s banner in town and you are instantly teleported to them.

The game feels great when playing with friends. The maps in “Diablo III” are more direct than they were in “Diablo II,” which works well for the smaller player count and slower pace. While I do wish there was an option to disable this at times, all the loot dropped is individualized for each player so everyone obtains rewards.

Yet, while Blizzard has improved the “Diablo” experience to a large extent, the decision to require “Diablo III” to be always connected online is incredibly frustrating. As evidenced by their rough launch week that saw numerous system errors and disconnections, this decision is not at all friendly towards gamers. While “Diablo” is known for its multiplayer, it is still fun to play in single player, so to not even be able play at all when the servers fail is disheartening.

What is ultimately disappointing about “Diablo III,” however, is that it is missing that special spark that still lies at the heart of “Diablo II.” “Diablo III” feels too safe at times. Its welcome improvements are simply that: they aren’t revolutionary advancements to the formula. The slow pace of the game works as much for it as it does against it. As a result of the slower pace, I didn’t always feel compelled to keep playing, which isn’t something that occurred often in “Diablo II”.

There are many great features in “Diablo III” that almost make you forget this particular shortcoming, though. The many different enemies types in each location (that even gain new powers on higher difficulties), the variety in the constantly changing environments and the in-game auction house are just a few of the other areas where “Diablo III” triumphs over “Diablo II.”

Ultimately, “Diablo III” is a great experience that is a blast with friends. It is easy to be critical of the game at times, but that doesn’t reflect how much the fun game still is.

Rating: 4 out of 5