Back in the day, Diablo was the best hack and slash adventure around, but can its back to basics mechanics still appeal?
Diablo III is very old fashioned. Compared to the vast and detailed immersive worlds of RPGs like Skyrim or action games like Mass Effect 3, it's a relic.
The camera is fixed in a 1990s isometric gaze. You can't zoom in and out at will. There's no character customisation. Lumbering enemies have artificial intelligence that’s closer to Apple Newton than Siri. It's also very linear: the chance of wandering into random but somehow beautiful unscripted events – like, say STALKER – is a little lower than the chances of Blizzard giving you your money back because you can't log into the stupid always on/sometimes off authentication server. But more on that last point later.
But you sense Diablo III is slipping on a sheepskin and flares just days before the hipsters declare a '70s revival – it's so retro, it's cutting edge. After a couple of hours in its deliberately restrictive world, you'll find its seemingly tight boundaries hide tactical treasures. This is a high-fantasy RPG that demands both quick reactions and intelligent play.
Diablo's simplicity means you can complete it using nothing but the mouse, the buttons 1-4, and the letter Q. That leaves you to focus on important things, like saving the land of Sanctuary from impending doom at the hands of the eponymous demon. Or pondering why you chose to be a wizard and not the super-cool demon hunter with her Gatling gun-style crossbows.
Luckily the game throws wave after wave of enemies at you, so you don't have time to ponder these things. And then it throws up fiendishly cunning boss fights that force you to overcome seemingly impossible odds, usually with lots of explosions. Unlike other RPGs there's never a break with light questing or travelling involved. In Diablo III, the pace never lets up.
That can make the start a bit confusing, especially as it's easy to skip over bits of the story by accident. But by the second act – when you move from the gloomy woodlands to a bright, cartoony desert reminiscent of a scene from Tintin’s Land of Black Gold – the narrative becomes surprisingly engrossing, too.
The big appeal of Diablo III is its replay value. Individually generated dungeons mean a second play-through is different to the first, and harder modes present bigger challenges. You can also invite friends into any quest for co-operative play or open your current game up to the public for anyone to drop in and help out.
For all that, the simplicity does threaten to become repetitive. You can swap your active skills for strategic variation, but in the end you're still just clicking a mouse over and again. The biggest flaw is that the game is always online, like an MMO. If you're playing it as a single player game, it feels ridiculous. You can't install it on a laptop for travel unless you're sure you'll be online, and when the login servers are struggling to cope – as they were at launch – you're locked out of the game.
That, more than anything, will put people off playing. And that's a shame, because Diablo III levels accusations of repetitiveness and imperfection with an engaging uniqueness that’s hard to ignore.
Diablo III review
Diablo III’s old-fashioned ways are proof you don’t need vast maps or complicated controls to be a player in modern gaming circles
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