Diablo III

Year: 2013
Platform: Xbox 360
Publisher: Blizzard
Genre: RPG/Action
Review Date: 3/22/15
Rating: ****

It's been twenty years since the demon lord Diablo was vanquished. The human realm of Sanctuary is pretty much back to normal, until a falling star crashes into the cathedral at New Tristram and the dead start rising from their graves. This sparks a cataclysmic chain of events in which the demon lords of the Burning Hells start a campaign to destroy Sanctuary and invade the High Heavens. In this time of crisis, a mysterious hero appears, and they are the key to saving the world from complete annihilation.

It's pretty standard fantasy fare, and the story is as deep and detailed as you want it to be, but most people are in it for the action and the wickedly addictive gameplay. You start the game by selecting which character you want to play, based on five different classes and a choice of gender. I appreciated that the default gender is female, which gave me a good feeling about the game right away. From there, you arrive in New Tristram to investigate the fallen star, interacting with various NPCs and helping out the townsfolk wherever you can. As you explore the countryside and slaughter an endless stream of increasingly dangerous hellspawn, you gain wealth, experience, and new skills. The difficulty pretty much remains constant, as both your hero and the monsters become progressively deadlier. Blizzard deserves a lot of credit for making such a well balanced game, and it features numerous options for modifying the difficulty, depending on how much of a challenge you want. I played it on the easiest setting, which provided a pleasantly engaging experience for a casual gamer such as myself, and served as a good introduction to the franchise and the genre as a whole. In fact, this may be the only game I've ever played where it got easier as I made more progress, and I never got frustrated or stuck.

As you would expect from Blizzard, the game is remarkably solid and well polished. The art direction is superb, and every area looks unique and beautiful. The controls are tight, intuitive, and responsive, and the inventory screens are easy to manage. The only difficulty I had with the gameplay was the complete lack of documentation, which caused a lot of confusion and forced me to buy the massive strategy guide. You're given a generous amount of inventory to manage, and the various statistics are overwhelming. Die-hard RPG fans will likely relish all of the depth and detail in what ultimately amounts to a numbers game, whereas I didn't understand any of it and only scratched the surface. Again, you don't need to dwell on the stats in order to succeed, but the low level details are there for people who want to optimize their experience.

What impressed me most about the game was the voice talent and the incredible amount of voice work. All of the NPCs are voiced, and even the documents you collect are narrated. Even more impressive is that all ten variations of the hero have different scripts and voice actors, and the NPC dialog is context sensitive to match that hero. That totally blew me away. The voice talent itself is quite good, and features the likes of Anna Graves, Jennifer Hale, and James Hong. I was incredibly lucky in my choice of heroes, as it turned out that the female demon hunter was voiced by the fierce and commanding Anna Graves. She gives an excellent performance, and really brings her character to life. Jennifer Hale plays a young woman named Leah, and imbues her with youthful exuberance and innocent charm. Only towards the end does her performance falter and betray the script. However, the biggest delight was hearing James Hong as the eccentric jeweler, Covetous Shen. He definitely channels Lo Pan from "Big Trouble In Little China" and is wonderfully quirky. Listening to his obscure ramblings was a constant treat and gave me a huge smile. Unfortunately, the voice work is also the source of numerous problems, as your companions often repeat themselves and start talking at inappropriate times. Nothing deflates your sense of immersion more quickly than having a companion start talking about how beautiful the scenery is when you're in the middle of an intense battle.

While the story is very well constructed and the lore is rich and self consistent, the plot becomes progressively less interesting as early as the middle of the first act. The proceedings are highly predictable, but the ending is emotionally unsatisfying. While the greater evil is defeated, lost companions are unredeemed and betrayers are left unpunished. The villains are laughably arrogant caricatures of the "ha, ha, ha, you'll never defeat me!" type, regardless of all evidence to the contrary, and that becomes a little grating after a while. Regardless, the story doesn't diminish the thrilling, yet highly repetitive gameplay.

I encountered very few technical problems with the game, and it only crashed on me once. If you rush through the game, there are the inevitable shearing problems and dropped frames, but that's hardly worth mentioning. Unfortunately, like most console games, the auto-save checkpoint system is unreliable and doesn't really work. Quite often I'd reach a checkpoint and then shut the game down, only to show up 1-3 checkpoints behind when I reloaded the game later. Thankfully, at the difficulty level I was playing on it wasn't painful to replay those areas, but it became a nuisance when I was pressed for time.

Overall, the console version of "Diablo III" is a remarkably well crafted game, and anyone who enjoys action oriented dungeon crawlers would do well to check it out.