Diablo III Review

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Diablo III couldn’t be any more video game if it tried. This is a title so happy and content, and perhaps more importantly, confident, within the confines of its platform that it can essentially do away with all unnecessary padding associated with many of today’s video games. Diablo III has no pretences to being anything other than what it is – a brazenly addictive, surprisingly simplistic, but nonetheless, fantastically made slice of loot-centric brawling.

Honestly, the majority of this game is played, and won, by holding down a single button and vaguely aiming in the direction of the enemy (which is usually, anywhere). That may sound like a slight, and in most cases it would be, but again, in the case of Diablo III, confidence prevails. With its subtle tactical depth, gorgeous visuals, mostly convincing game world and technical prowess, Diablo III is the very definition of a well-made, carefully constructed video game. The real draw though? The real reason that you’ll likely end up playing this game for hours on end, often well into the wee hours of the morning? The loot! The constant, seemingly unending collection of loot.

Many video games in the past have played to gamers’ traditionally addictive nature, but few have managed to capture that sensibility, to bottle that addictive nature quite as successfully as Blizzard have with, Diablo III. Strangely, if there is one aspect of the game that sums up its perversely addictive nature better than any other, it’s its barrels……seriously.  Usually something to be simply smashed in the search of further loot, here, while loot is still the core reason for all that good ol’ fashion smashiness, barrels and other such breakables are placed strategically so that, when combined with XP bonuses that are acquired for smashing a certain number in succession, turns the mere act of breaking scenery into an addictive mini-game in its own right. It’s a minor part of the game, but a perfect example of how Diablo III keeps you in that collectible state of mind, eager to keep the games’ incessant sense of forward motion running at all times.

And that’s what it’s all about – forward motion. Despite the occasional room for a bit of wandering, this is, at its heart, a very linear journey, one in which the destination, or story, isn’t nearly important as the journey itself. In fact, I’d be amazed if anyone gave a monkeys about the destination at all. Diablo III is fantasy by numbers in which clichéd characters and dodgy English accents abound. The story is essentially a non-event with just enough meat on the bones to have you vaguely pointed in a specific direction. But to criticise Diablo III for its simple story and clichéd characters would be to miss the point. These are all simple framing devices and a basic excuse to keep you killing and looting, and in that regard, it mercifully keeps out of the way.

And my, won’t you be doing a lot of killing. Across an array of beautiful created backdrops, all brought to life via Diablo III’s gorgeous hand painted art style, there are few more stunningly created worlds in which to do a wee bit of fantasy massacring. The character and enemy design might not be imbued with the same level of detail, but considering the sheer number of characters and subsequent effects on screen at any one time, that comes as little surprise. In fact, the only surprise is that it manages to run so smoothly; given the sheer levels of mayhem on screen (especially towards the end of the game), it’s amazing that the engine doesn’t slow to a complete crawl.

While many of the enemies might be a tad nondescript and certainly lacking in the brain department, this is made up for by the ludicrous amount of depth that goes into your own characters creation. There may not be a skill tree, but with all skills unlocked at a set-time, this gives you the opportunity to change up each characters move sets and abilities on the fly meaning that you are never locked down to one specific play style. It may seem overly simplistic at first, but once you realise that those enforced upgrades free up your options, the decision soon starts to make sense.

From chargeable attacks to timed perks and an array of passive abilities, the wealth of option for each of the playable characters is staggering. Add to that the seemingly never ending collection of potions, runes, weaponry and armour and you quickly realise that what once seemed a tad simplistic is actually engrossingly deep.

The same could be said for the combat. While unlikely to keep Dante or Bayonetta up at night, those repetitive button presses are soon interspersed with, well, more repetitive button presses. On the surface, it is nothing more than simple button mashing, but as you progress and the enemies become more powerful and your move-set ever more varied, you realise that, rather than being a game about dexterity, it is instead a game in which crowd management and carefully timed item use are king. With an army of enemies all swarming your position, battles become a matter of positioning yourself correctly, choosing the right enemies to deal with first, and above all else, when to use those rechargeable abilities.

Of course, a great battle system and collectible loot are all good and well, but if you don’t have a menu system to house it all, a game of this ilk can quickly fall to pieces (you do after all spend half your time looking at the menu screen). With a mouse and keyboard, that is rarely an issue on PC, but as has been the case on many occasions in the past, the move to console can be fraught with peril. Luckily, Blizzard have dealt with this potential monkey wrench admirably. With a clear menu system and a slick wheel system used to slide between items, Diablo III’s menus feel about as intuitive as one could have hoped.

In fact, thanks to Blizzard dealing with the finer details with such finesse, a few omissions and one notable addition might arguably make the console releases the definitive version of the game. While the visuals aren’t quite as slick and the gameplay, while smooth throughout, invariably not quite as accurate as its PC counterpart, the removal of the always online requirements and the ill-advised auction house combined with the addition of local co-op make the console releases that much easier to recommend.

The local co-op in particular feels like a major boon for console owners. It’s far from perfect given the need to delve into menus and the potential mismatch in player levels, but get a few evenly matched gamers on the couch together (not that you really need to be a ‘gamer’ to enjoy Diablo III in co-op)  and Diablo III turns into one of the finest co-op gaming experiences of the year. Sure, online is fun too, but like the majority of co-op experiences, playing it with friends in the same room is still an experience quite unlike any other.

It might seem simple on the surface, but Diablo III has depth and content to spare. As a console port, I honestly don’t know how Blizzard could have done a better job and, with the removal of the ill-conceived auction house and addition of local co-op, the console versions could arguably go down as the definitive, or at least, most successful version of the game to date. Diablo has always been a PC stalwart, but thanks to the considered approach of Blizzard, it now feels equally at home on console.

REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Microsoft Xbox 360 code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to press@4gn.co.uk.

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