Giant Bomb Review

262 Comments

Diablo III Review

5
  • PC

The first Diablo game in over a decade is also one of the most insidiously satisfying loot treadmills in almost as long.

Action-RPG combat has rarely ever been this addictive.

Blizzard made no attempt to reinvent the wheel a couple of years ago when it revitalized StarCraft after its decade-long absence, choosing instead to simply modernize and spit-polish that franchise's well-known fundamentals until they reached the company's trademark high-gloss sheen. They've taken the same tack in reviving Diablo after its own 12-year hiatus, and once again the result hews to the nostalgic strengths of its antique predecessors while also managing to feel like it belongs on a release list in 2012. And it's a hell of a lot of fun to play, with hooks that keep you playing longer in one sitting than you might have wanted to. I'm not the type to often play through a game more than once, so I guess it's saying something that after more than 35 hours with the game--first playing all the way through with my primary character, then playing through a bunch of it again on the next difficulty, jumping into numerous dungeon runs with friends, and dabbling with several other classes (all of whom I'd love, time permitting, to take to high levels themselves)--I really just want to keep playing more Diablo III.

This new game's staunch adherence to its loot-driven action-RPG conventions might tell you right off the bat if you should even be interested or not. Do you like loot? Not just a little bit of loot, but ubiquitous, shiny, delicious, stat-increasing loot everywhere you look? Just like its predecessors--and perhaps even more so than them--Diablo III is a game about constantly building and rebuilding your character with new gear and abilities to meet the challenges that are constantly increasing in front of you. It's also a game where the extent of your interaction with the world entails clicking to move, and clicking and tapping some number keys to kill everything in front of you. You play it entirely from a fixed overhead camera angle, and the story, aside from a handful of lavish CG cutscenes, plays out exclusively through small character models gesticulating a bit while their dialogue comes out of speech bubbles. In short, it rigidly assumes the form and structure of the old Diablo games, so if you already know you're burned out on that specific formula, you may move along.

The social features get you playing with your friends easily... you know, if you have any.

If that sort of game does it for you--and there are plenty of you out there--you'd have a tough time finding one that's better put-together than Diablo III. A game where you spend 98 percent of your time killing stuff (and the remaining time performing upkeep on your ability to kill stuff) would get old pretty fast if the combat weren't a ton of fun, so it's a good thing Diablo III's is. I think it's the hardest-hitting I've ever seen in the genre. There's something about the interactions between your fighter and enemies, the visual and sound cues that go along with every strike, that just makes the combat feel, for lack of a better word, right. So often you feel like an unstoppable whirlwind of destruction when you wade into a dozen or more enemies and juggle your skills back and forth to control the crowd, focus down a single tough elite monster, or kite a bunch of enemies around as you frantically try to heal. The action is just tightly designed in a way that seems like a lot of designers spent a lot of time tuning it to perfection. Fighting enemies in this game never gets old, which is a good thing since finishing the story once sends you straight back to the menu with an urging to begin again on the next difficulty, where the loot is much better and the enemies don't just hit harder but also change up their tactics, forcing you to change up yours. I can't stress enough how enjoyable it is to keep playing after you see the credits the first time.

The game's classes cover all the bases you'd want, from the pure burly melee of the barbarian to nimble and arcane DPS courtesy of the demon hunter and wizard, respectively, to the horde of sinister pets that accompany the witch doctor into battle. My personal favorite, the monk, is like a martial paladin who can effectively heal up in between roundhouse kicks and a blur of fist strikes. Each class' skills are split across a variety of categories, and almost every skill has a long list of "runes" you pick from to add some ancillary effect that further differentiates them. The breakdown of skills into those different categories initially seems constraining, but there's actually a dizzying number of ways to build the skills of a given class to fit different play styles and challenges. Why the game hides the full ability to mix and match your skills behind the optional "elective mode" checkbox in the options, however, is completely baffling to me. Elective mode is absolutely essential to getting the most out of the game's combat, so it's a shame there isn't some tutorial tip that goes out of its way to let you know how much freedom to customize you actually have. Once you click that single checkbox, the gameplay really opens up.

Seriously, play a monk.

If this were purely a combat game, I guess it could be conducted with stick figures and primary colors, but of course it's worth addressing the world and story Blizzard built up to propel your loot grind along. The plot proceeds with equal parts gravitas and cheese, about like you'd expect from a story about a literal war between heaven and hell, but that setup does make for some truly epic, screen-filling boss encounters and sieges for you to fight your way through. It's also fun to revisit some memorable old locations like Tristram (which comes with just a hint of the discordant acoustic guitar that practically defined that first game) and catch up on the continuing events of familiar characters like Deckard Cain and the skeleton king Leoric. Much more impressive is the expertly considered art design that bathes the game in exquisite detail and makes excellent use of color choice and lighting to create unique mood specific to each location. Don't think that the tiny character models and bird's-eye view of the action somehow make this game outdated from a visual standpoint. The art is so strong that each scene takes on a painterly effect that almost transcends its polygonal makeup, and I kept noticing how much detail was crammed into the periphery of each map, like a collapsed bridge here or some old statuary there, in places you can't even explore. There's a liberal use of ambient animations, like birds flying at the camera or old architecture crumbling when you run by, that make the environments feel more lively, and the game's excellent use of ragdoll to send enemies flying over ledges or into the water is always amusing.

But again, it's about the loot, and how much fun the fighting is that gets you more of it. The game changes dramatically when you join up with other players, since the monsters get harder and you're able to settle into a more specialized role while other classes cover their own roles, allowing you to change up the way you play and what combination of skills you're using. The game isn't incredibly difficult your first time through, but I found it doled out new equipment and better drops at a good, steady pace as I got a handle on all the things my class could do, so that by the time the next difficulty rolled around, I was jumping at the chance to get in there with some friends and explore a range of new combat possibilities under much greater duress. It's when three or four high-level players are all in there doing their thing at once, with the action devolving into a high-speed orgy of colored lights and particle effects, that Diablo III is at its best. The game makes the elegant choice of distributing separate loot to each player, so you don't have to worry about some jerk grabbing the spaulders or daibo you wanted, but so far I've found there to be a nice spirit of sharing among all the players I've played with as we pass loot around that suits other people's classes.

The auction house is certainly capable of saving you some time.

It's too early to say what eventual impact the game's persistent auction house will have on Diablo III's economy and the value of rare items, especially since Blizzard hasn't rolled out the ability to sell stuff for actual dollars yet. It's safe to say that launch will have a profound effect on the way items are bought and sold, but even now the transactions being conducted with gold are providing an interesting case study in the ebb and flow of in-game economics. It's been amusing to see comparable items being listed right next to each other with an order of magnitude disparity in their pricing, leading me to believe some players are listing items as high as they can to see what they can get away with, or others are trying to sell gear without knowing the value of what they actually have, or both. Who can even say what the absolute value is of a one-handed sword with 100 damage per second and a bonus to attack speed? More practically, the game's auction house gives you so much control over search filtering that it's almost embarrassingly easy to specify the exact type of weapon or armor you're looking for, the level range, the stats you want, and exactly how much you're willing to pay for it. At the moment, there are enough people selling great loot at bargain-basement prices that too much time in the auction house can sort of trivialize the gear you find in the game itself. Whether that's a problem for you probably comes down to personal preference, and given that the auction house exists only at the game's main menu, it's easy enough to ignore if you want to maintain some sort of loot-lust purity as you make your way through. If you don't have a ton of time to grind through dungeon runs in an endless search for more loot, though, it can be a real time-saver.

Speaking of multiplayer and that auction house, you could scarcely know about Diablo III at all without having heard about the game's always-online connectivity that requires you to be constantly in touch with Blizzard's servers to play it at all, even by yourself. That approach to maintaining the sanctity of the in-game economy (and making sure a bunch of people don't hack and/or pirate the game) comes with plenty of ups and downs. On the upside, the level of integrated connectedness is pretty impressive, letting you chat with friends while you're playing alone, seamlessly invite them into your game or join theirs whenever you feel like it, and even inspect their characters and see their achievements popping up in real time. On the downside...if you can't connect to Battle.net, you can't play the game, no matter whether you want to play it with other people or not. That has real, unfortunate consequences when Blizzard doesn't have its act together, as evidenced by the calamity that ensued in the first 36 hours of release when I frequently had a hard time getting into the game at all, and latency-related issues messed with performance and booted me out a couple of times. It's been smooth sailing in the week since then, though, and given Blizzard's experience running large online networks for long periods of time, I'm hopeful those problems were an isolated incident under massive launch-day stress and not something we can expect to see again.

I can't stay mad at Diablo III for long, anyway. It's such a rare thing that my interest in continuing to play a game keeps increasing not just toward the end of the game but past the end, yet somehow the more Diablo I play, the more Diablo I want to play. It doesn't do anything especially new with the action-RPG genre, but it does all the old things very, very well, and sometimes that's more than enough.

Brad Shoemaker on Google+
262 Comments
Posted by mlarrabee

So it's good?

Posted by Elow

Looks good!

Posted by Vegetable_Side_Dish

Weird, I've heard this game Diablows. 

Posted by h37s3m

YES!! i love this game

Posted by zombie2011

It stumbled at launch, but Diablo 3 is still an incredibly well made game.

Posted by Video_Game_King

Seeing your review, how hard was it to transition from a clickclickclickclickclickclickclickclickclickclick mindset to a typetypetypetypetypetypetypetypetypetypetypetype one?

Posted by laserbolts

Amazing game definitly deserving of 5 stars. Sure it had a few problems and people may have connection issues but as far as my experience goes it's been awesome. Well written review Brad.

Posted by TheSilentGod

Glad to hear the poor launch doesn't manage to ruin the experience.

Posted by hanktherapper

Oh I love this game. Wish I had more free time to play it.

Edited by sanzee

I love Brad's 5 star review avatar.

Posted by buft

@Video_Game_King said:

Seeing your review, how hard was it to transition from a clickclickclickclickclickclickclickclickclickclick mindset to a typetypetypetypetypetypetypetypetypetypetypetype one?

I know from experience that its a hard transition, when your essay consists of "12341234 you mean i need more than 4 buttons!" its tough remembering other buttons when youve had a long session

Posted by Enigma777

Shame about that draconian DRM...

Posted by LiK

i knew Brad would love it.

Posted by TripMasterMunky

@LiK said:

i knew Brad would love it.

Brad loves everything.

Posted by Napalm

Looks good. I'll take it.

Posted by Brother_PipPop

Never has the reviewer icon been so relevant

Posted by Bourbon_Warrior

Its a good game. Just that I have to play with a 200ms lag when playing solo is unacceptable.

Posted by sins_of_mosin

BS.  A 5/5 score is just BS.  Brad you are a tool.

Posted by GalacticPunt

Good job finishing up the review while apparently being super-sick. I picture Brad vomiting the skulls in his 5-star avatar!

Posted by Tesla

Good review Brad.

Diablo III is that rare form of video game crack, so easy to lose hours in. Launch issues kinda suck, but I'm one to just go do something else when I can't connect instead of moaning and groaning.

Posted by Overbite

Brad is there anything you didn't like about the game? Unless I missed it the only negatives mentioned were the launch issues.

Edited by Draxyle

I think this was a given, but it's deserving.

I really don't like the WoW art and storytelling style and the damage they do to the atmosphere (I know D1 and D2 had little story, but they were still oozing with atmosphere and immersive qualities), but this is still a phenomenal release. I don't remember the last time I've had this much pure fun playing a game.

I am a goddamned wizard and I am blasting demons in the most ridiculous of ways.

Posted by leejunfan83

Booooo!!!!!!

Posted by Godlyawesomeguy

Dammit! Why did I say that Ryan would review this game in that thread? I can't believe I'm going to have to come up with fifty Brad Bucks now.

Posted by TooWalrus

Predictable! Also, deserved!

Posted by MichaelBach

I am playing from Mexico since launch day and didn't have any login problems. Great review!

Posted by csl316

"Seriously, play a monk."

Yep, I've said that sentence repeatedly for the past week.

Posted by Itwastuesday

Sure, Blizzard has turned me into a mouse seeking cheese in a maze, but cheese sure is delicious.

Posted by Marz

it's very addictive, despite launch issues i can agree with the score 100%.

Posted by laserbolts

@sins_of_mosin said:

BS. A 5/5 score is just BS. Brad you are a tool.

Nope it's a fitting score. You sir are the tool in this case.

Posted by PrivateIronTFU

@sins_of_mosin said:

BS. A 5/5 score is just BS. Brad you are a tool.

Go cry in a corner somewhere.

Posted by chiablo

Brad likes a Blizzard game... did anyone not see this coming?

Posted by Mechanized

How could you give this a 5/5? Really? I mean come on, it should be 6/5.

Posted by gla55jAw

Yup.

Posted by lordofultima

@Bourbon_Warrior said:

Its a good game. Just that I have to play with a 200ms lag when playing solo is unacceptable.

Especially for a hardcore character on hell. Imagine when you die! Though the game is good, you're correct.

Posted by liquidcabbage

I feel that people don't even need to give this sort of game a score, gamers will choose to buy it or not almost definitively.

Posted by Toxeia

@Bourbon_Warrior: If you're able to NOTICE the lag, instead of just staring at the bar at the bottom, then there's something wrong. Even when it's spiking at 600ms for me it's not noticeable. The ONLY time I notice lag is when I pause/unpause and it jerks me back to where I paused if I get moving too quickly.

And in before everyone rages about this game getting a 5/5 when an online game that's immensely popular didn't get totally clean launch.

Posted by upwarDBound

If my computer were capable of running this game I would be playing it. No PvP at launch is disappointing but far from a dealbreaker.

Posted by SadPatrol

hi

Posted by Slaker117
@SadPatrol: Sup.
Posted by ArchTeckGuru8

The game is great, i hate the constant net connection though, been dropped so often its getting discouraging.

Posted by Xeirus

@laserbolts said:

@sins_of_mosin said:

BS. A 5/5 score is just BS. Brad you are a tool.

Nope it's a fitting score. You sir are the tool in this case.

People who obviously haven't played to game are mad at Brad !

Posted by kishinfoulux

My personal GOTY and I don't see it being toppled. Well deserved score. Haters can suck it.

And no play a Wizard. :-)

Posted by MasturbatingestBear

At Diablo right before Inferno mode right now. What a sick game.

Posted by JJWeatherman

Quite a review there, Bradley. I read it all in a British accent.

Posted by l4wd0g

Awesome review Brad! I can't wait to hear the discussion in the Game of the Year podcasts!

Edited by weegieanawrench

Didn't see that one coming. Ah, who I am I kidding, of course I did.

Posted by lordofultima

@Toxeia said:

@Bourbon_Warrior: If you're able to NOTICE the lag, instead of just staring at the bar at the bottom, then there's something wrong. Even when it's spiking at 600ms for me it's not noticeable. The ONLY time I notice lag is when I pause/unpause and it jerks me back to where I paused if I get moving too quickly.

And in before everyone rages about this game getting a 5/5 when an online game that's immensely popular didn't get totally clean launch.

I disagree, input delay is instantly noticeable, especially when you need to avoid being oneshotted on hell or inferno difficulty. You need instantaneous response. 200ms is enough for me to cuss.

Posted by Nephrahim

I'm normally not one to be the peanut gallery complaining about a review, but come on now. This game is only 5 stars to someone with a completely addictive personality.

Edited by bybeach

Once again I just say I do not like GB's numerical scoring, and good review Brad. I got the game, and once I got past the replacement of a router, I can tell this is an exceptional game.