Diablo III Review: A heavenly journey through Hell

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If dungeon crawling ever becomes an Olympic sport, medal winners will train with Diablo III, the gold standard of action-RPGs. Diablo III is so good, in fact, that it might be more akin to the performance-enhancing drug of Olympic dungeon crawling–everything else simply can’t compare.

Allow me the chance to explain these analogies.

Diablo III, the mega-hit action-RPG from Blizzard Entertainment, has made its leap to PlayStation 3 bearing all the hallmarks of its 2012 PC forebear. The PS3 version has seen little alteration to Diablo III’s winning formula. Its story opens with your hero, selected form one of five character classes, dispatched to the town of New Tristram to investigate the strange rumur of a falling star that has caused the undead to rise. Once there, it quickly becomes apparent that things are far worse than a few animated corpses running amok. You encounter Deckard Cain, an ancient mage who tells you demonic forces have awoken to claim the world of Sanctuary–and only your hero can stop their invasion.

So begins an epic journey that sees you exploring the world of Sanctuary from a semi-top-down perspective to banish the monsters that plague it back to hell. Eventually, you will be ready to face the archfiend Diablo himself, as he breaks free of his ancient prison and storms the gates of paradise. All told, the plot serves to provide loose context for gratuitous amounts of action. It’s really just a device to drive you from one dungeon to another, but it also surprised me on occasion, with a few memorable twists and turns that ensure the narrative isn’t merely an afterthought.


Players can choose to adventure as one of five classes: Barbarian, Witch Doctor, Demon Hunter, Wizard, or Monk. Each class boasts a distinctive look, and has a wide variety of specialty skills and bonuses to unlock, catering to different playstyles. If you adventure as a Barbarian or Monk, you’ll be fighting up-close and personal, pummeling enemies with weapons or fists. Meanwhile, if you play as a Wizard or Demon Hunter, magic or ranged weapons await for combating evil from afar. The most unusual class, though, is the Witch Doctor, who likes to raise the dead, employ a blowpipe, and cast spells.

Your character’s skills and powers are limited to start with, but as you adventure and gain experience, you’ll unlock more skills until you can slot the maximum of four. Increasing your level also allows you to equip and/or craft more powerful gear. In addition, Cain’s daughter Leah initially aids your cause, while other worthy companions will pledge themselves to your banner as you find them. Some encountered NPCs can teach you blacksmithing or jewelry crafting, which also enables further gear improvement. Still, these companions have wonky AI and die easily, but as death is a very temporary state and resurrection is swift, this isn’t a problem so much as an inconvenience. A bigger problem with companions is that they often say the same piece of dialogue over and over again. For example, the Templar, upon dispatching a powerful monster, will crow in his best Sean Bean voice, "Can we fight more like that?" It’s chuckle-worthy the first time, boring the second, and obnoxious from there on out.


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If you don’t fancy crafting or spending your gold, then gear and other loot can be found in chests, tree stumps, vases, or, most commonly, on the dead bodies of your foes. Of course, to get the best gear, you need to defeat tougher creatures, and Diablo III has a multitude of these formidable foes waiting to take you on. These opponents range from normal monsters who make up in numbers what they lack in power to elite creatures that employ varied tactics, from teleporting to poison damage. These elite creatures, once vanquished, drop better loot, but if you want the best rewards, Diablo’s end-game bosses await. Legendary foes in and of themselves, late-game bosses have jaw-dropping powers, can manipulate terrain, or can summon allies to give you a truly memorable fight.

Dungeon-delving comprises the majority of quests, but I lament the lack of certain RPG elements. The occasional puzzle element would have been a welcome breather between monster onslaughts. I was also disappointed to see that, like with the original release, NPCs don’t bother taxing you with riddles, escort quests, and the like. Instead, most serve to simply signpost you to yet another monster lair. It’s effective, but I can’t help but feel some wasted potential for meaningful NPC interaction.

If you fancy a more social challenge, you can adventure with up to four friends (online or splitscreen!) or take on the ultimate challenge of playing the game in Hardcore mode. Hardcore mode lets you create a character and tackle the game as normal; however, once you die, your character cannot be resurrected and becomes just another name in the halls of memory.


That’s without touching on the extra difficulty levels–Inferno and Nightmare–which will push even seasoned Diablo players to their limits. PS3 has rarely seen such rewarding challenge.

Speaking of reward, Diablo III has an impressive range of trophies; some are easy to complete, such as leveling a character or defeating a boss. Other achievements will test your mettle, as they involve multiple playthroughs to beat harder difficulties or finding rare loot drops. In-game achievements can also unlock patterns for the banner used to represent your character in multiplayer games.

However you choose to play, control of your hero is simplicity itself. Each of your four chosen skills is assigned to Square, Circle, X, and Triangle, while the left and right analog sticks control movement and dodging (a console-exclusive ability), respectively. Intuitive radial menus govern your inventory and skills. After a bit of learning, you can quickly swap gear, change your active powers, and equip your companion.


And then there’s the graphics.

The level layouts and their environments are utterly gorgeous; each new area you encounter looks magnificent, while use of depth and height bring the world of Sanctuary to life before your eyes. As you explore and fight, scenery shakes or is destroyed, monsters emerge from pits or climb down walls to fight you, and paths weave and twist in and out of terrain that is rendered in immaculate detail. Meanwhile, each class has a distinct look that changes as you alter their gear, while their animations are smooth and detailed. Same goes for the monsters, but best of all are the game’s weapon-dependent effects. If you utilize a fire spell, enemies and scenery burn, while electricity-based attacks send sparks dancing among your foes and cold blasts freeze your opponents in frosty style. Victory over your enemies sees them explode into a great looking pile of gory bits. It’s satisfying enough without the tangible bonus of gold and loot.

Of course, great graphics need a compelling score for balance. Here, Diablo III excels, with grand, swelling musical themes and Oscar-worthy orchestration. Excellent sound effects supplement the action, as enemies scream, cry, or roar to great effect. NPC voice acting is similarly impressive, with a variety of different accents and tones used to make sure no one sounds too alike.

Overall, like its 2012 forebear, Diablo III on PS3 is superb, frantic fun. As you explore and fight for your life against waves of monsters, the five classes play differently and their unique unlockable skills really allow you to carve a playstyle all your own. The addition of multiplayer, Hardcore mode, a vast trophy cabinet, surprise encounters, secret levels, and increased difficulty settings all serve to keep you hooked on the game long after your first playthrough is in the books.

Reviewed on PlayStation 3 (PS4 version coming 2014)



The Final Word

With atmospheric graphics, a stirring soundtrack, deeply customizable characters, and non-stop action, Diablo III is the king of action-RPGs and a crown jewel in the late PlayStation 3 library.