When you play Diablo 3, you’ll be prone to a certain behavior. You’ll tell yourself that you’ll only play for one hour before getting around to the dishes, laundry, or whatever task you have to do that night. I’ll tell you right now, unless you want to try to squeeze a second wearing out of your scuzzy underwear, you need to finish the housework first. For all of your promises that you’ll put Diablo 3 down, you won’t. It’ll be ‘one more checkpoint’ until three in the morning.
I wasn’t quite prepared for this when I started playing. Not having a PC while growing up, I had no chance to play any of the greats, Diablo among them. I did mess around with Diablo 2 with a few friends one night, hopping into a high-level game with no experience or idea of what I was doing. I didn’t understand the stats, the skills, how to examine and pick up item drops, or how not to get completely torn apart by the enemies. I found the whole thing tedious and frustrating, and I came to Diablo 3 with pretty low expectations because of it. Now, I have to fight with myself to put the game down long enough to review it.
If you’re new to the series, I’m glad to say that the game is more than happy to help you along. Given that the last game was a decade ago, a first-timer isn’t that much worse off than someone who loved the series. The game assumes it’s been a long time since anyone read up on the lore, so it’s conveniently explained while the game installs. It’s an ingenious move, since it saves them from having to explain it in-game, and everyone can hit the ground on the same page.
I would have hated to be behind on the storyline, because I really like it. Having seen the interesting things they’ve done with the heaven/hell war, I’m surprised that more fantasy stories haven’t tried to use it. They’ve created a world that is extremely dark and hopeless. I really don’t know where the mayor expected to go with that cart of stuff he had, since taking a single step outside of Tristram would result in being eaten, at best. In town, you’re told tales of danger and evil, of the many terrible things that are coming. Given how many awful things are already outside the walls, this leaves the game with a feeling of desperation right from the start. It never lets up, through plot, game, and world design. It’s fantastically dark, and a great setting for a video game.
I’d wonder why the handful of survivors even bothered to set up camp, except for the fact that they have an array of powerhouses in their corner; a group of men and women capable of single-handedly turning back the unending night. You have five options of character types, depending on how you like to play. I chose the Witch Doctor, since I remembered how badly things went when I tried to play a melee class in Diablo 2. I’ve been enjoying it so much that I haven’t really played with the other classes at all. Again, once Diablo 3 gets its claws in you, it’s not about what you need to do any more, but about constant joy pumping through your veins.
I was given two attacks to start off, one that fired a long range shot and one that slowed all of the enemies within a radius of the spell. Right from the beginning, I was using them off of each other, keeping enemies slowed and waiting for me to clean them out. It felt a little weird that I couldn’t choose which attacks I had to start with, but I got over it in a hurry when I saw how effective even that basic setup was. As I leveled up, I got new attacks, or I would gain runes that added more effects to the spells I already liked. Each time I got a new one, though, I would typically use it until the next level came along.
Big deal, why wouldn’t I experiment with new powers? Well, let’s look at Game of Thrones. I was given a choice of powers with each level, but as I went through the list, I found a lot of them were stupid, or had uses I just couldn’t see myself wanting to set up. Diablo 3, while forcing choices on you instead, has abilities that I can always find a use for. Each ability feels like it was planned out, leaving me without any pointless abilities. If I had chosen each of these level-up bonuses myself, I would never find that I’d wasted an ability. The developers put a lot of time and effort into making sure that each power is something you’d be able to use, rather than filling up a huge list just so people felt they had more choices. I’ll take more well thought out abilities any day.
They’re also spectacular to look at. I mean, one of the Witch Doctor’s powers is to throw a jar of spiders at enemies. A jar of spiders. This stuff is fantastic. It’s not some piddling effect either, but rather a huge bottle that bursts open, tossing out huge, disgusting spiders that start hissing and attacking everything within reach. When they finish their cycle, they flip over onto their backs and die, legs twitching in the air. This happens with every single attack, leaving finished battles looking like real scenes of carnage.
That hiss they make, though? That’s part of the real treat: the sound design in this game is top notch. Attacks land like someone got hit with a ton of bricks. Pottery breaks with a loud crash, my entourage of dogs growl and bark when nothing is happening, and my AI partner shouts battle cries as he charges into trouble. There is a lot of sound, all of it big and powerful. It adds a lot of satisfaction to everything you do. Breaking monsters and boxes feels good because the sound makes it really appealing.
That’s good, because you’re going to be hearing a lot of those sounds while dealing with the reams of enemies this game has. I’m used to games that introduce new monsters every few hours at best, but Diablo 3 has a huge menagerie at its disposal. The undead alone have more variety than I’ve seen in any other game, with dozens of zombie variants like crawling torsos or weird sack things that exploded into smaller beasts. I’ve fought demonic trees that I thought were part of the background, evil frogs, and all kinds of other bizarre creatures. A lot of thought went into the enemy design in this game, keeping it fresh and interesting. You won’t know what will be waiting around the next corner, but it won’t be another palette-swapped goblin.
None of this is what really keeps you going in the dungeons, though. The game’s main lure is in the stuff you pick up to equip your character with. I swear, I’ve spent almost as much time comparing items in my inventory as I have fighting monsters. You’re constantly poking around, looking for more stuff to make your character that much better for the next fight. Dungeon loot is far better than anything I saw in the shops, too, so I never felt it would be worthwhile for me to grind for money at any point.
What this does is make every fight exciting in a different way. When you fight a lot of enemy groups for a really long time, it’s very easy for combat to get dull. Take any old brawler, like the recently re-released The Simpsons Arcade Game, and you’ll see what I mean. These fights get boring after a while, as nothing really changes from fight to fight, but Diablo 3‘s loot system adds some luck and hope to each battle. You get excited for mobs because you don’t know if this is the one that will drop something really cool. I’ve gotten a lot of my best gear from basic enemies, so I always get a little happy when I see the next group coming. Plus, it also gives me an excuse to try out the bonuses on my new gear.
All of these little things combine into a tight, fun action game set in a grim world. You really feel like you’re making progress into the darkness as you hack away at the sickening monsters that have polluted the land. Every step feels like it’s making you more powerful and better equipped, leaving you feeling like you’re never wasting your time. It will devour every hour you’re willing to give to it, but you won’t ever regret the time you spend with it.
And just when it’s all over, and you’ve killed every last enemy, the option comes up to take your character to the next difficulty and try again. And you will, because this game is pure fun. Just pick it up and remind yourself why you started playing video games to begin with.