Diablo is, and always has been, an excuse to gobble up loot and click on nasty bad things wrapped in a lore built with sweeping brush strokes; a war of good versus evil, angels and demons, yadda yadda yadda. But what an excuse Diablo III is. Click, click, click.
Diablo III is a very good game, and it's one that positively delights in being a gamey game. More than anything else, Blizzard's latest is a victory for the diligent systems engineers that have pumped the studio's bottomless resources into their unwavering dedication for lean finesse and steady focus, culminating in a sweeping, masterful crescendo of clicks and clinks as mathematical precision meets an army of demons so dense it stretches off into the horizon.
This is, essentially, a quest for numbers - keeping yours high, augmenting them with number-riddled items, and whacking everybody else's to zero. There are four acts, five classes, and after completing the game in 22 hours and with 11,000 kills I'm barely past the starting gates of Blizzard's latest far-reaching descent through the multi-layered dungeons of Diablo's latest hellspawn.
It's a dungeon crawler that simply refuses to crawl, and Blizzard has designed a game so taut it lends itself perfectly to those simple ludic pleasures I sometimes worry the industry is quick to forget. Any ounce of fat on the series' bones has been sheared off, leaving you with a game that places you instantly and permanently within its loops of tight combat and expansive levelling economics. Blizzard's oft-imitated original template gave you myriad hoops to jump through - get a scroll to identify this, make sure you've got enough of that, then spend more time reading up on character builds on the internet than you'll actually spend playing - but Diablo III opts for less restriction and far more flexibility.
For erstwhile aficionados, this is a game that begets multiple playthroughs, as characters advance through Normal, Nightmare, Hell and (the new) Inferno difficulties. In this sense the game becomes a fairground ride, as players run back to the front of the game for another go, and Blizzard's design focus is clearly to welcome back its players time and time again with open arms. As the risk ramps up so do the rewards, and the addition of Inferno difficulty should help calm expert players incensed by Blizzard tailored tweaks that initially render the Diablo III experience a complete doddle.
Blizzard's argument that Diablo III is a better game in co-op is also true, allowing for more specialised builds against buffed enemy forces, and it's easy to see how the system is a good idea when it works. But it's bloody frustrating when it doesn't, and we've seen the system crumble in launch week, and even days later the game hasn't quite recovered from the initial frenzy. I just don't believe the Internet is as stable as Blizzard thinks it is.
This is not the most adventurous action RPG on the market, then, but its razor-sharp and uncompromising focus on structure and mechanics ensures it's one of the most playable. Diablo III quite simply revels in being a video game, and when a game is this well-executed it's impossible to resist those charms.
Virgin Media verdict:
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