Diablo III Review - Diablo Is Back Again. Grab A Partner And Conquer The Demon Horde Together.
Watch out minions! The Wizards are coming.
At the end of Diablo II the dastardly Diablo and his beastly brothers, Mephisto and Baal, have all been defeated by the heroes of legend. A peaceful calm has fallen over the world of Sanctuary, and its residents can start to rebuild after all that chaos and destruction. 20 years of prosperity go by and just as people think life couldn’t get any better, the darkness creeps back from the pits of despair where it hides. The Prime Evil is once again causing havoc and threatening Sanctuary and even the High Heavens this time around. Bad guys never learn their lesson, do they?
Diablo III kicks off with a literal bang, a shooting star crashes into the cathedral in which Deckard Cain (I can’t believe this dusty, old geezer is still around!) and his adopted daughter Leah were studying ancient texts. It’s your job to go investigate the fallen star and find out what it is and where it came from.
Let me preface this review by saying Diablo II is one of my all-time favorite games. I played it like crazy, the main game, the expansion and even fan-made mods. So if I ramble on a bit more than usual, please forgive me.
Just like it’s predecessors, Diablo III is a hack and slash, action role-playing game (RPG) with a heavy emphasis on randomized equipment dropping from defeated enemies. The random loot is honestly the key feature of Diablo that keeps me coming back to play more, hoping that when you defeat a boss or open a treasure chest that a bright and shiny new piece of gear increases your power enough to help you destroy the next challenge.
Grinding, the killing of enemies over and over to level up, tends to scare non-RPG fans away. Within reason, grinding doesn’t bother me and Diablo III does a good job of pacing the player’s level when following the main story quests. You shouldn’t need to grind too much until you get to the end game/post game content. However, this game is very, VERY dependent on having good equipment. In fact, that is one of the main complaints players have when comparing Diablo II and Diablo III. Your player level almost doesn’t matter but having a set of powerful gear that boosts a particular set of skills for your character’s class is vitally important to surviving the demon onslaught.
Speaking of classes, at the start of the game you can pick from seven:
Barbarian - close range, brute force warrior.
Demon Hunter - long range, uses crossbows and lays deadly traps.
Monk - close range, punching and kicking martial artist.
Witch Doctor - long range, mostly poisons enemies and summons minions.
Wizard - long range, typical spellcaster focusing on fire, ice or lightning magic.
Crusader (requires Reaper of Souls expansion) - close range, heavily armored knight.
Necromancer (if you pay for the DLC or buy the Diablo III: Eternal Collection) - long range, raises slain enemies as your minions, does a lot of summoning.
For the first time in Diablo history, you can choose to be male or female of each class, previously each was gender-locked. Every class plays a bit differently, for example, the Barbarian fills up his Fury meter by doing and receiving damage while the Wizard’s Arcane Power recharges over time. My wife, Julie, started as a Wizard and never changed. I played each class to max level and then settled on Wizard as well when I couldn’t get anyone else to do as much damage as the Wiz easily can. The Disintegrate laser just can’t be beat!
Leveling up your character unlocks skills on the skill tree for free (no skill points needed), well it’s not really a tree anymore as skills are organized linearly and everything is available at max level, 70. This method has pros and cons in my opinion, the good being you can switch to using any skill you want without worrying if you didn’t invest enough skill points to maximize its damage, but the bad is that every single character you make of a class ends up being exactly the same, so no need to have a fire-based Wizard versus an ice-based one. It’s a small knock on replayability but nothing to cry about. Each class has about 26 skills and each skill has five modifiers that can be applied, which can change the damage, cost, element (fire, ice, lightning etc) or more. That leaves you with 130 combinations to choose from, so mix and match to find the set that let’s you plow down fields of Diablo’s minions.
Like with many RPGs, equipment is categorized into different levels of rarity. Ordered from junky to amazing Diablo III uses, Common, Magic, Rare, Set and Legendary. By the end of the game you will want to have as many sets and legendary items as possible. I’ll use a sword as an example to talk about each one:
A Common sword has no bonuses and should be ignored or sold ASAP.
A Magic sword has one to a few extra properties such as faster attack speed or increased damage, they’re better than nothing!
A Rare sword has many bonuses making them superior to the Magic rarity.
A Set sword is like the Rare one but is also part of a larger group of items where every other item you equip of the same set at the same time unlocks stronger and stronger bonuses. For example, with a made up Set, if you equipped the Sword of Blue Blazes and the Shield of Blue Blazes you unlock a special bonus of +500 hit points. Adding on the Helmet of Blue Blazes and Boots of Blue Blazes brings the set up to four items and now you also get +1000 strength. Sets that contain six items are the largest and therefor hardest to complete but give crazy pants bonuses when you wear all six items.
A Legendary sword always has a unique name like Deathwish or Shard of Hate and comes with powerful predefined bonuses that will always be present even if you found a second copy.
To me, the best part of Diablo III is the inclusion of couch co-op. Diablo I and Diablo II both have multiplayer but they are exclusively on PC so it is online only, not local. Julie and I played on PS4 and the only trick is that each player needs their own PSN account on the console.
Just like in real warfare, something that is only possible when playing with others is synergistic team combinations. There is a reason highly armored knights are in front of long range archers in medieval battles. For example, if one of you is playing as a frontline, close range Barbarian or Crusader the other could be a longer range Wizard or Witch Doctor. This isn’t required by any means (remember, we both played as Wizards), but something to keep in mind.
All players share one screen. Diablo III is not split-screen multiplayer. The game does a good job keeping all players visible on the screen though, but if someone walks too far away they get teleported back to the center. It’s a pretty nice feature, in my option, as not all RPGs do this (looking at you Secret of Mana!).
While playing co-op mode, items dropped by enemies or chests are tied to one of the players, e.g. P1 or P2 in a two-player game. So P1 can only pick up items designated to P1 and same goes for P2. Since all drops are randomized, P1 may get equipment for a different class than themselves, hopefully for whatever class P2 is. At that point P1 can drop the gear on the ground for P2 to pick up and equip. Remember what you learned in kindergarten, it's important to share.
One downside to co-op is that only one player can change their gear or skills at a time, the other(s) just has to sit, watch and wait. Maybe that’s a good time to refill your water/soda/snacks. Luckily there is a quick equip UI that pops up when you first pick up an item which compares it to what you’re currently wearing, and if you want to use the new gear it's just a press of a button to put it on, no disruption at all. But like I said, if you ignore the quick equip prompt or want to change multiple pieces of gear, tell your teammate to refill the chips so they aren’t bored.
As with the last two Diablos, your objective is to stop Diablo from taking over Sanctuary and this time also the High Heavens, or maybe he wants to destroy it, I’m not too sure. Either way, it’s up to you to crush his evil plans, Heaven is for the angels, not you stinky demon! If you also have the Reaper of Souls expansion, it adds a fifth chapter where you need to defeat the fallen angel, Malthael, who is wreaking havoc in the town of Westmarch.
Also with expansion, once the main story quest is completed you are free to play in adventure mode, which unlocks new areas to explore and quests to complete. Another thing that becomes available is Nephalem Rifts, which are randomized dungeons where you need to kill 999 enemies before a Rift Guardian boss is summoned. If you can beat him, you are rewarded with a hefty amount of gold and experience points and a Greater Rift Keystone which is used to open Great Rifts. These are even harder, timed rifts with increased rewards if completed. Legendary equipment has a higher drop rate in rifts so it pays to do many rift runs in search of powerful gear.
With a good set of gear you can start testing the higher levels of difficulty of which Diablo III has many: Normal, Hard, Expert, Master and Torment I thru Torment XVI (16 if you don’t know Roman numerals)! Each step up increases monster health and damage but also boosts experience, gold, and the chance for Legendary items to drop. Challenge yourself and see just how high you can set it and still survive.
What Makes This Game Unique
There are many games in the same vein as the Diablo series. Of the ones I have personally played, Titan Quest is like Diablo in ancient Greece, while Path of Exile and Grim Dawn are also set in dark fantasy worlds. At the time of Diablo III’s release it was the only one of these to be release on consoles and therefore the only one to have couch co-op. Titan Quest has added couch co-op when it was brought to consoles in 2018, but Grim Dawn and Path of Exile are online multiplayer only.
Diablo III is also the only game of these where you can freely change the difficulty regardless of where you are in the story. Normally, you need to beat Normal mode to unlock Hard mode, and then Hard mode to unlock Expert mode. But with Diablo II Normal, Hard and Expert are available from the start, Master unlocks when you beat the main story and Torments open when any character reaches level 60.
While all of these games have multiple classes for you to pick from, Diablo III feels special in that every class has a build (a particular set of equipment/skills) that can reach the highest level of difficulty. There is no bad choice as each class has been balanced over the past decade. Plus with no skill points in this game you are free to change your build at any time without any penalty.
To give a real example of changing builds, I mentioned when Julie and I played she was Wizard the whole time and I jumped around testing each class out. Eventually I changed to Wizard as well and started outfitting my Wiz with as many pieces of the Firebird set as I could get, eventually completing it. When that happened my damage far outclassed Julie’s and she wasn’t having fun then so I gave the set to her and set up her skills like I had. Time to raid my storage and dig out the next strongest gear I had. I happened to have a legendary ring called Manald Heal that has a bonus where if you stun an enemy it takes massive lightning damage. Aha, I can work with that. I changed all my skills to be lightning based and equipped the passive skill Paralysis that makes all lightning damage you do have a 15% chance to stun enemies and I was in business! Again, I was killing enemies quicker than Julie and this time she wasn’t too happy that I kept surpassing her, we stopped playing soon after that… I suppose being too powerful has its own weakness.
Gameplay - How fun I find the game itself.
Co-Op - Does co-op exist in the game and if so how well integrated is it.
Replayability - Once I beat the game how likely am I to go back and play it again.
☆☆☆ - Terrible or functionality doesn’t exist, eg co-op in a single play only game
★☆☆ - Bad
★★☆ - Good
★★★ - Awesome
Columnist | Gaming & Tech Whiz of Moody Melon Magazine
I am a game developer, technical engineer, an animator and entrepreneur with a forward-thinking mindset to bring cool ideas into existence. In my free time I read lots of news articles. I enjoy using my knowledge of the IT world to give my opinions on various tech-related topics.