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Weekend Pass

DIABLO III: Heck yeah

Long-anticipated title stays true to it’s hack-and-slash roots

Published: 04:24PM May 24th, 2012

A lot can change in a dozen years. No one was listening to an iPod 12 years ago. Seattle still had a basketball team in 2000. Sure, things change, but there’s nothing wrong with sticking to a formula you know works. That’s the idea behind Blizzard Entertainment’s recently released “Diablo 3.”

For the Diablo purist the wait was well worth it. All of what made D2 a great action-RPG is there, along with a few quality-of-life tweaks that make dungeon crawling a bit more satisfying.

The storyline goes that there’s a war between angels and demons and you’re the last hope in this third and final act, but in reality, you’re just an exterminator here to squash bugs. See a mutant to the left? Squash that bug. See a demon on the right? Squash that bug. All the modern RPG trappings have been whittled away. No complicated NPC interactions or tedious skills trees to pore over. All this is done through a top-down third-person-perspective that harkens back to old-school button mash hack-and-slashes such as “Gauntlet” or “Golden Axe” more so that the first-person sandbox titles like “Skyrim” that have come to dominate today’s RPG market.

If you’re mostly interested in finding sick loot and immediate action, D3 is what you want. There’s plenty of both to be had while playing through the game’s four difficulty levels. Five customizable characters can be chosen for your demon safari: the barbarian, witch doctor, demon hunter, monk and wizard. They all do about what you’d expect them to do; the witch doctor raises zombies, the wizard zaps stuff, the barbarian hits things, etc.

Each class acquires approximately 22 skills as they level, each skill has five modifications to choose from. Add in three passive abilities and there’s a ton of custom builds you can tailor for your specific playstyle. All of these abilities can now be switched out on the fly, making it easier to tackle tough encounters with a little forethought. Equipment allocation has also been streamlined between classes and the introduction of item crafting takes some of the randomness out of getting the equipment you want. Player characters now feel more dynamic, less prone to cookie-cutter “best damage” builds, and more flexible in how they are made and perform.

Like it’s predecessor D3 can be tackled either alone or cooperatively with a group. Either way you tackle hell’s minions, be prepared to do so online as D3 cannot be played without an Internet connection. This probably comes down to requiring access to the new auction house system, which allows players to buy and sell items they find for in-game gold or real world dollars, or security concerns. Ironically it was the co-op features that require the mandatory Internet that got the least attention from Blizzard. Online parties have been reduced from D2’s eight to just four and much of what made co-op from D2 fun — PvP, larger enemy count with better loot — has disappeared or been diminished.

Whether alone or with a group you’re bound to get sick of seeing the same settings for four playthroughs if things didn’t look and sound good. Blizzard left the Diablo franchise with only one foot set in the 2000’s. Environments, from moldy keeps to hell itself, are engagingly detailed even if the graphics aren’t on the cuttng edge. A new rag-doll physics system keeps the laughs coming as you send corpses into orbit. The sound design is particularly well done. The tortured gurgle of that last imp you slew really sets the mood for the next wave of monsters to squash. The story is as bland as they come and nothing really engages you narratively like the combat grips you. You’re essentially just there to hit things and all else is icing. It’s a good thing that part looks as good as it does. In the heat of combat you’ll experience little cinematic moments of carnage that more than make up for the lack of bells and whistles.

There’s no real way to dress up “Diablo 3.” It is what it is: warriors that blow stuff up for gold and new pants. The formula didn’t need 12 years to perfect but there should be enough of a game here to tide the Diablo fan over, just maybe not for the next decade.

Diablo III review

Rating: A-
Platforms: PC, Mac

Genre: Role-playing

Modes: Single-player & mulitplayer co-op; internet connection required

Developer: Blizzard Entertainment

Release: Available now