are defined by their progenitors. Doom begat the first-person shooter, Grand
Theft Auto begat the open-world game, and Diablo begat the hack-and-slash RPG.
But unlike the others, the hack-and-slash still carries the moniker of “Diablo
clone,” even 10+ years after its creation. And for good reason – while games
like Torchlight and Titan’s Quest made slight modifications to the formula,
they’ve still treated the genre as “Diablo” instead of a standalone idea. Each
game iterated on the Diablo concept, making changes that served to supplement
the tropes instead of attempting to reinvent them. In many ways, Diablo III
approaches the genre in the same way – it’s essentially a really good Diablo
clone, but more official than those other games.
At its core,
Diablo III is a game about clicking on stuff until it dies, stealing its loot,
and leveling up. It’s been dressed up in beautiful graphics, garnished in
stellar physics, and turned into a persistent online game, but anything piled
atop is supplementary to killing, looting, and leveling. There are some large
modifications to the formula, but many of the changes from its 11-year-old
predecessor are basic quality-of-life improvements, leaving the core as classic
as can be and retaining the same addictive, repeatable, enjoyable gameplay that
had us hooked for hundreds of hours back in 2001. Though Blizzard made great
strides to assure that the mechanics fit more in line with 2012’s standards, it
did so without sacrificing Diablo’s essence.
The gameplay –
that’s the “clicking on stuff until it dies, then leveling” part – is
simplistic and satisfying. Despite sporting insultingly bad dialogue and a
mediocre plot, the act of beating on bad guys with the mouse pointer and
watching them ragdoll around is the ultimate power fantasy. Playing through the
game’s four acts (while clicking on everything that moves until it stops moving)
fulfills primal urges, and taps into the same pleasure center that other
loot-fest games have in the past.
Each of the five
classes gave us different ways to click bad guys to death, allowing players to
bash in heads as the Monk, blast foes with elemental spells as the Wizard,
shake snakes at enemies as the Witch Doctor, cleave through waves with the
Barbarian, and fire barrages of arrows as the Demon Hunter. Each was well
varied, and each provided a different experience that was made even more
complex by the interesting new leveling system Blizzard has developed.
Diablo III progress in a very modern way, both by gifting all of the games’
skills to the player by level 30 (instead of throwing them at a wall of
abilities to choose from over the course of 99 levels), and by making six
skills available at a time (instead of two). Because of the ability to modify
the varied spells with unlockable Runes, the character customization is as
robust as ever, even if the level cap is at a much more attainable level 60 (as
opposed to Diablo II’s 99). Runes make a huge difference; for instance, they
can augment the Barbarian’s Bash to include a stun, reverberating knockback, or
area-of-effect damage. Every skill is improved with these runes, and it’s
possible to create imaginative and unique builds, letting the player tune every
spell to their liking.
Further adding to the customization are the loot
drops, which are arguably even more intrinsic to the genre than the RPG
elements or the combat. Randomized items tumbling from the corpses of fallen
foes help fuel the urge to continue playing, allowing players a second outlet
for which they can continuously iterate on their character’s stats, replacing
different bits of armor and weapons with slightly better ones. It’s rewarding,
but not as much as it was in the last game – in fact, loot might be one of the
game’s weakest elements, due to the inclusion of an in-game Auction House.