Welcome (back?) to hell!
Diablo doesn’t just have history behind it. It has legacy. I abused my lab monitor privileges back in college, sneaking the original game on to one of the computers and slaughtering demons and undead minions when no one was asking me to fix the printer.
Diablo has always been dungeon crawling at its most basic and satisfying. Slaying monsters for loot and powers that let you kill bigger monsters for better loot and powers that let you kill even bigger monsters, and so on, forever. There’s a forgettable and overwrought story about eternal war and chosen heroes, with NPCs who are more fun to mock than anything else. You could go it alone but you can also invite your friends to team up and play alongside you. What more do you want from your bog-standard D&D campaign? Diablo was a game to play and replay, returning to it whenever the mood struck for a few hours of death and grinding.
Diablo III was intended to continue the line with upgraded graphics, new characters and features, and a new chapter of the Diablo “story.” It released in 2012 to great critical acclaim and impressive sales numbers but it hit some serious bumps. The root cause of the trouble was the “real money auction house,” designed to let players sell loot they didn’t want, with Activision/Blizzard taking a slice off the exchange. The community almost immediately saw how the game had been tuned to favor the market over the players, and a few months later Blizzard was already walking back the auction house. Players forgave Blizzard and returned to Diablo. At the same time, the game released on Playstation and XBOX, with redesigned controls and an interface tuned for the console experience. Once again, the game was a success, introducing new audiences of players to the joy of looting. When, after a time, it looked like Diablo was getting stale, Blizzard introduced Seasons: Players create characters that can only be used for a limited time, but their progress is tracked on a leaderboard, so they can show off how far they can take their adventurer in comparison to others. Adventure mode was added, so that players didn’t have to follow the same old story of demon-hunting and could jump around the maps picking off prime targets. The necromancer, a new character type was introduced. And then Rifts came along, to create special challenge levels in pocket dimensions with even bigger prizes.
So now we have a game 6 years old, constantly growing and evolving, making its way to the Nintendo Switch as Diablo III Eternal Collection.
When I first launched Diablo III I was greeted with the latest patch notes, explaining that the items available from treasure goblins had been updated, and that rifts were now streamlined. I had seen some of these notifications before, but I can only imagine the confusion of a new player who is greeted with six pages of updates, a news post about the new seasonal drops, and nary an instruction guide to be found. I tapped past those pop-ups and then saw the game kicks off with adventure mode available, making the story entirely optional, unlocking the later acts and locations almost right away.
From there it became clear that Blizzard is expecting that the majority of their audience has already played Diablo III in one of its recent incarnations, moving to the Switch from PC or another, non-portable console. There’s little in the way of tutorial in the game; it only covers the basics of the controls. There are systems and subsystems that go unexplained, many of them altered by previous updates, so that even with my experience I was surprised by changes to the merchants. Wikis and GameFAQs for Diablo III aren’t hard to find, but it seems Blizzard is now expecting new players to go online to find answers, rather than providing more guidance, and with so many patches over the years, there is a lot of outdated information out there.
There were more head-scratching decisions waiting. I arrived in town to find Myriam, the merchant from the add-on act was waiting to greet me, though the blacksmith and gem crafter were nowhere to be seen. I released those merchants over the course of the story and they took up their posts. Then, as I started Act V, Myriam disappeared. A few missions later I rescued her from a death maiden and we met for the “first time” before she returned to town and the campsite already upgraded for her.
These criticisms aside, Diablo III is still one of the most empowering games out there. Every action makes you feel like your character is a badass. Every level unlocks a new way to demolish the demonic hordes of the undead: Fireballs, ice rays, shocking fists, blessed swords, golem familiars, plagues of frogs – the list of powers goes on and magical runes can be applied to each one, adding special abilities and allowing you to customize and personalize your means of destruction. On top of that, there is the infinite supply of weapons, armor, talismans, and so on, each with dozens of possible combinations of magical boosts and extra effects. As the value of loot drops scales with the character, each new weapon becomes more enticing than the last.
Thanks to the refinements made in the earlier console releases, couch co-op is just as easy as online play, with clear icons to differentiate characters, shared gold and loot pickups, and a quick access inventory system that lets you review and equip a new piece of gear without even opening your inventory screen. The game ran smooth and steady, as you might expect from a game released in 2012 on recent hardware, but considering the screens full of monsters and magic effects and blood splatters, it’s still an impressive achievement.
It’s a great game. A game worth playing that rewards your bloody mayhem with a steady stream of loot and levels. There are hundreds of hours of content and the infinite replayability that made the series a mainstay back in the 90’s. Still, the instructional designer in me needs to deduct some from the grade, owing to the confusing decisions to treat the player as a veteran of Diablo from the launch screen. I rate Diablo III a B. It currently sits at 87 on Metacritic
Game software was purchased by the reviewer. Art assets are from the Diablo III presskits.