Game review: 'Diablo III'

Evil returns after 12 years to wreak havoc on the world of Sanctuary in “Diablo III”

jhoeger@thetribunenews.comMay 24, 2012 

‘Diablo II” laid down the baseline for more than a decade of hack-and-slash adventures when it was released in 2000.

Building upon the first “Diablo’s” system of randomly generated dungeons and loot drops, the sequel introduced a wider range of characters for players to use, each with a variety of abilities arranged into three trees, with points paid into lower-level skills paving the way for more powerful abilities later on.

“Diablo III” tosses that skill-tree system — copied by so many games over so many years — right out.

There are five character types to play as in the game — the melee-focused Barbarian (the only class to return from “Diablo II”) the punchy-kicky Monk, the quick-drawing crossbow0wielding Demon Hunter, the creature-summoning Witch Doctor and the powerful elemental Wizard.

Each class has a unique set of abilities, but you don’t get to choose which ones to learn — they are unlocked automatically as your experience level increases, with the last active skill unlocked at level 30.

However, you can customize which set of powers you are using at any given time (two or three at the start, up to six later), and tweak the fine points of those powers by assigning them runes, which are also unlocked as you gain new levels. Early on you don’t have many powers or runes to choose from, but after a few hours of playing you’ll have an arsenal of options.

For example, the Wizard has a spell called Ray of Frost, which slows and deals cold damage to enemies it hits. With one rune, you can increase the slowing effect; with another, you can increase the damage the ray deals; but you can’t use both at once.

There are several runes per ability, so add in the various passive abilities that allow you to boost your heroes in certain areas, and you get a hint of just how flexible a system is offered in “Diablo III.” The game is all about killing hordes of monsters and taking their loot (and saving the mortal world from evil demons, of course), but your freedom to optimize how you go about doing that is a large part of the game’s appeal. (Adventuring with up to four others is another part.)

There is, however, a big issue with the game: It requires a broadband online connection at all times, even for the single-player game. Your characters, progress, items and gold are stored on Activision-Blizzard’s servers rather than your own computer.

This measure has some advantages — the previous games were rife with hacked items and other issues the constant connection is supposed to curtail. It also makes joining other games a snap. But it can also present real problems — if your connection to the server is interrupted you are kicked out of the game immediately, possibly losing progress and items.

This is acceptable in large online games like Blizzard’s “World of Warcraft” — the whole point is that you’re playing online with hundreds or thousands of other people, all the time — but not for a game played by a maximum of four.

The always-online system isn’t foolproof, either — reports began surfacing earlier this week of players’ accounts being hacked, their inventories stripped bare. With the game’s auction house for items set to use real money in addition to the in-game gold it uses for transactions now, account security is going to be extremely important, and it is clearly not yet up to snuff.

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