capsule review

Diablo III a fun addition to Blizzard's iconic RPG series

At a Glance
  • Blizzard Entertainment Diablo III

It’s been almost 16 years since players were introduced to the world of Diablo, full of danger, magic, loot, and more danger. While Blizzard’s iconic dungeon crawler has had a long 12-year absence between Diablo II and Diablo III, a whole slew of dungeon crawlers have tried to further a genre that Diablo once dominated. When you return to the town of Tristam in Diablo III, a lot has changed, but you can’t help but get the feeling that you’re saying hi to old friends—if your friends are the horned and hellish lot.

Blizzard seemed to acknowledge the way that roleplaying games were heading—towards further stat manipulations and exceptional customization—and instead chose to pivot and return to a more streamlined, linear approach in Diablo III. Don’t expect to have different origin missions for each class or unique dialogue choices or any of those modern trappings. The story is the same for each of the five classes (Barbarian, Demon Hunter, Monk, Witch Doctor, and Wizard) attacks are essentially a left and right mouse click (plus a few hotkeys), and side quests are few and far between.

But not all of the revamping has been for the better. Instead of being able to control where your upgrades go and how your character progresses (maxing out certain stats, for example), you’ll gain access to specific abilities and skills only at certain experience levels. Not only does Diablo III eschew a traditional upgrade tree, but it takes an unintuitive and cumbersome approach to utilizing your powers.Your primary attack buttons are your left and mouse click, and while you'll unlock multiple attacks per button, you can frustratingly only assign one attack each. You'll have to strategize which combination works best for your attack style without knowing which powers (runes and all) deal the most damage. The net result is a lot of trial and error and wishing Blizzard would just let you assign your many powers to any hotkey of your choice.

Diablo III’s plot centers around a falling star colliding with Tristam’s cathedral, causing the undead to rise from their graves and signaling the end of times. Series regular Cain has gone missing, and you must help his niece, Leah, find him again and confront the evil that is plaguing Sanctuary. The plot is a secondary concern in a game that plays fast and loose with Judeo-Christian mythology about heaven and hell (there’s plenty of mention of angels and demons but nothing overt like crosses). Characters have simple motivations, conversations, and arcs—ultimately all problems in Sanctuary can only be solved through the use of the sword. You’re playing a dungeon crawler—in the vast sprawls of death traps and undead, there is little room for nuance.

The first ten hours will see you slog through old favorites from the dungeon-crawler genre, including castles, torture chambers, graveyards, caves, and spider nests. The first three hours are particularly well scripted and intuitive, ensuring the player knows exactly where to go, what to collect, how to upgrade their armor, and how the whole battle system works. Each class has its own weapons and energy sources, and learning how they’re managed early on will set you on a path for dozens of hours spent poring over loot looking for powerful weapons and armor that you can equip.

The second act will transport you to a more Arabian Nights type of setting, proving once again why Diablo is such an enduring series: it gives dungeon crawler fans more of what they love. Many dungeon crawlers are content with auto-generating levels or a new paint job on an old level; Blizzard does a great job of creating new worlds with compelling challenges. In a genre that is always about simply clicking on an enemy to kill it, variation and challenge is what keeps players coming back. The boss battles in particular are brutal, grandiose, multi-round prize fights; each battle has a significant build up and pay off, giving you a definite sense of accomplishment.

The rendering of the worlds is beautiful in its darkly gothic aesthetic, with little details like torches and collapsing bookcases making the world feel alive. Due to the scale of the game, Diablo III won’t wow you with its realism, but it’s graphics are still better than any other dungeon crawler you’ve likely played. On my 2GHz Core i7 MacBook Pro, the game ran fairly well, with a couple caveats: since Diablo III requires players (even in single player) to be online at all times, how well Diablo runs is somewhat determined by your connection. So I can’t say for certain if it’s due to Internet lag or a simple gameplay bug that some undead would occasionally disappear and reappear right at my side. This isn’t because they could teleport; the game simply hiccupped and skipped a few frames, preventing me from keeping them at a distance with my Demon Hunter’s bows. Blizzard’s DRM policy will likely irk some users, though the ease of dropping in and out of co-op games through Battle.net is something that few dungeon crawlers can replicate.

Macworld’s buying advice

As I said before, Diablo III is a bit like meeting old friends. But over the last ten years, dungeon crawlers and RPGs have changed dramatically, and so how much you enjoy the charms of Diablo III will be ultimately dependent on how much you like its comparatively narrow focus, its simple story, streamlined upgrade system and its linear path. But even if you’ve outgrown certain elements of the Diablo series, Blizzard does a great job of reminding you why these games are fun.

[Chris Holt is a frequent contributor to Macworld.]

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At a Glance
  • Blizzard Entertainment Diablo III

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