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Whether you’ve waged war against the Lords of Hell before or this is your first visit to the world of Sanctuary, you’ll discover that some ashes in the fires of Hell have changed. When the dusts of war settle in Diablo III, the question you might be left with is: was it worth the 12-year wait? Rest assured that this isometric, action-RPG dungeon-crawler loot-fest is a game so irresistible and wholly addictive that once it’s sunk its claws into you, it won’t let go.
Diablo III wastes no time by hiding its delicacies. After a quick opening scene you’re immediately whisked into the town of Tristram where the game quickly teaches you the ropes of controlling your character, attacking enemies and drooling over alluring loot drops. That’s not to say that there isn’t a narrative to tug you along though, as the game does an admirable job of establishing its world and fiction through gorgeous cutscenes, NPC interactions and hidden books that flesh out the backstory of the game.
The game takes place 20 years after the exploits in Diablo II and while the world is free from the three prime evils, the lesser evils are still at large. And, who else but you can stop them? After your introduction to the plighted land of Sanctuary, you’re soon introduced to the supporting characters that will accompany you throughout the game, including the always loveable Deckard Cain, his niece Leah and a few more I won’t spoil here. Over the course of the plot, the various characters evolve in meaningful ways and the few twists and turns that pop up add a great deal of urgency to the story. Although the voice acting and character development is solid, there are a few “iffy” performances that feel a bit forced or out of place. Nevertheless, the paramount importance of your triumph over evil is presented vividly throughout your journey, making your crawl through the many dungeons of evil feel much more poignant.
In your struggle to rid the world of terror, you’ll play through four varying acts. All of which feature their own set of diverse environments—the creepy and haunting cemeteries that surround Tristram serve as a nice contrast to the barren wastelands of Caldeum’s brightly lit, harsh desserts and the mountainous terrains of Arreat’s frozen battlefields. These Hellspawn-drenched environments are still randomly generated and their visuals support a robust new look. The change in art style has a more illuminated feel with bright particle effects and deep shadows. These aesthetic changes and altering map layouts give your surroundings a certain ambient brilliance through color and dread of the unknown.
The chromatic visuals are carried over into the combat, which is fantastic. A monk’s fist might make a monster explode with glorious carnage or a wizard’s control over the elements can warp space around a beam of death with beautiful devastation. Watching the spectacle of the engrossing combat is nearly as enjoyable as taking part in it. Spells and attacks have a real sense of weight and power behind them and, when you’re decimating literally dozens upon dozens of enemies at a time with a few simple mouse clicks and key presses, it’s hard not to feel joyfully overpowered.
You are not limited to feeling powerful on just one class. The five different classes all feel incredibly distinct from one another. Each class’s uniqueness is exemplified by the ingenious skill system. Not only because the system gives your character new abilities to ravage the relentless forces of Hell, but also because it drives you forward with the promise of unfound powers yet to be unleashed. With each level gained, you’re either granted a new skill, rune or a passive ability. All of these enhancements are quintessential to your character’s progression, but runes are the real boon here. Runes are different than before; instead of going into gear to create special rune-word items, they’re used to upgrade an existing ability to an exciting degree. Runes have the ability to make a skill that may have once been boring, your next go-to means of sending demons back to the flames of the underworld. When you couple the variety of options that runes bring to your skills with the fact that the leveling is fast paced and a snappier process than in most other RPG’s, it’s easy to see why Diablo III is so hard to pull yourself away from.
Of course, this is Diablo, so there is a ton of color-coded loot to look forward to, and destroying a boss is better than ever. When you’re about to kill a major enemy, you can’t help but feel like you just pulled the arm on a slot machine—you watch your treasure spew to the floor and hope to win big with some new piece of spectacular gear. Whether it’s new powerful gear to help slay evil or a new talent, character progression is always offering new skills, pieces of equipment, environments to explore and enemies to vanquish. The game also features a “new game+” option so you can do it all over again. There is also a brand new difficulty level called “Inferno,” through which even the most hardened Diablo veteran will stumble. A lot.
To take on the intensity of the harder difficulties, you might have to enlist the help of your friends and online community. Diablo III’s four player co-op mode is hands-down the best way to experience the game, and adding more people to the chaos enhances the riotous and exciting action. The game does require a constant Internet connection to play, which means that friends can seamlessly join your game. Also, you may also opt to open your adventure to the public so that strangers can join you with ease as well. But, as your party grows in strength, so does the enemy. The more people you bring with you, the more powerful Diablo’s minions become and, with each increased difficulty level come more diverse and dangerous minions. Even on the normal difficulty setting, the minions of evil will punish any brain-dead schemes by sending you back to a checkpoint with whittled-down item durability should you ever succumb to an untimely demise. If you dare to enter the higher difficulties, enemies might take on new attacks, abilities and even newfound demons can walk where they hadn’t before.
The aforementioned requirement of a constant Internet connection is a bothersome one and the servers present the extreme annoyance of being shut down for maintenance all too often. Both of these factors put an obtuse restriction on when you’re allowed to play the game and when you aren’t. Also, the necessity of an Internet connection, even in single player, means the game is susceptible to slowdowns when your screen is filled with the chaos of combat, which, in a twitch-based game like Diablo, can spell disaster.
There are some changes to the Diablo formula, some you may love and some you may not. But regardless, Diablo III is one of the most engrossing action RPGs you’ll ever play. The phrase, “just one more quest” is a brain slug that will latch onto your mind and dupe you into clicking your way throughout this demon-filled, loot-ridden, gore-fest for many, many hours. And, once you’ve beaten the four acts, you’re free to create a new character, spend time in the auction house, try the co-op and prep yourself for the upcoming PVP mode. There’s enough content here to keep any RPG lover glued to the screen for the rest of the year. Without a doubt, Diablo III’s gruesome descent into Hell is one you can’t deny.