The Greatest Games I Have Ever Played: Diablo III

I don’t have insider information. I am not a world record holder. I have, though, played more games on more systems than almost anyone I’ve ever met. The games I write about here are The Greatest Games I Have Ever Played.

Gauntlet was a revolution in gameplay. When it hit arcades, with its four-player simultaneous action, different character classes, sprawling dungeon maps, hordes of monsters, buckets of loot, overhead perspective, and on and on, the game immediately became a quarter-devouring monster. “[Insert character class] needs food badly” became a catchphrase among gamers for years, to the point that it has a TV tropes page.

And a hilarious Penny Arcade comic

And a hilarious Penny Arcade comic

Gauntlet’s colossal success demanded a sequel, and console ports, and more sequels, and more console ports – clearly, the formula was a winner.

Luckily for the gaming public, Blizzard had a brainstorm. The developing wizards there looked at Gauntlet and thought “what if that was how role-playing games were?” Then they made it happen.

In 1996, Blizzard released Diablo for PC. It took Gauntlet’s top-down dungeon crawling, multiple classes, four-player co-op, and loot collection, and added leveling up, upgradeable equipment, a variety of magic spells, and a kick ass storyline about fighting literal demons. Diablo even kept Gauntlet’s “endless dungeon” vibe by putting the player characters in a church that had a randomly generated maze of floors descending down into Hell.

Naturally, Diablo was a massive hit. In 1998, Blizzard released a Playstation version (sadly capped at two players) and naturally the studio developed a sequel.

Diablo II, released in 2000 for the PC (and only the PC), is the first game I ever played that I could not stop playing. My brother and I referred to playing as “cracking out,” and called the game “digital crack.” It included more character classes, a whole new way to develop skills, more equipment, more monsters, more environments, and a badass expansion with a whole new chapter and even more character classes and skills.

Diablo II was a critical and commercial success, garnering universally high ratings from magazines and websites and setting an all-time record by selling a million copies in only two weeks (since surpassed by several titles). Clearly, as a company driven by profit, Blizzard had an obligation to release a sequel immediately, right?

Right?

Gamers sure thought so. Widespread clamoring for a new Diablo game continued for years, but most had given up hope of that ever happening when, in 2008, Blizzard announced they had begun work on Diablo III.

Would the wait be worth it? Spoiler alert - this series is called "The Greatest Games I've Ever Played."

Would the wait be worth it? Spoiler alert – this series is called “The Greatest Games I’ve Ever Played.”

Released in 2012 for PC, Diablo III managed to meaningfully advance the gameplay and plot in the series while still pissing off a huge number of fans. The game required users to be online to play, and in the aftermath of the highly anticipated release, Blizzard’s servers repeatedly crashed, leaving users unable to play their new game. With 3.5 million sales in the first 24 hours and 6.3 million in its first week, Blizzard had quite a backlash on their hands.

Eventually, though, they got it all figured out, and Diablo III went on to sell 12 million copies in its first year.

I, however, am not PC Master Race. While I longed to play the new Diablo hotness, I had only a netbook with limited memory to work with. I bided my time… and console versions were announced! Holy crap, yes! More Diablo for me!!!

Yes, it was everything I thought it could be.

First of all, I need to point out that playing on my Xbox360 did not require me to be online. This alone was enough of an improvement for me to be glad I wasn’t an early adopter – I will not soon forget my brother’s nerdrage over server issues with the PC version.

The game itself starts with the basic Diablo framework – choose a character class, start with crappy equipment and no abilities to speak of, go kill monsters and get better in an overhead hack-and-slash. Character creation begins by choosing one of five classes – Barbarian, Demon Hunter (think magic archer), Monk, Witch Doctor, or Wizard. All classes can choose male or female.

They're *all* all out of bubblegum.

They’re *all* all out of bubblegum.

This setup excluded some popular classes from Diablo II, but finally having new Diablo to play makes up for that.

The storyline, while interesting enough, is definitely not the draw that it once was in these games. In this iteration, the characters are travelling to New Tristram to investigate a “falling star,” and they will meet Deckard Cain, and the Skeleton King, and other characters from the original game on the way. Soon the characters leave New Tristram behind to travel through a desert city, a besieged keep in the frozen north, and “The High Heavens” in their quest to defeat Diablo (again).

While the plot isn’t all that important to having fun, and is mostly predictable the cutscenes between chapters are spectacular. I found myself watching all of them more than once.

Naturally, with my fantasy proclivities, I am drawn to the Wizard class, but my experience in other Diablo clones (particularly Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance) led me to try the Demon Hunter first. Regular blog readers might have noticed some influence from that character in my writing.

On the road to New Tristram, you are bereft of decent equipment and stuck with only one ability to start. Level ups and new equipment come fast and furious, though, and you can get some pretty awesome looks on your characters by changing equipment.

Skills are handled totally differently from previous Diablo games and Diablo clones. All characters have a pool of skill resource (e.g. the wizard’s is called arcane power), and some abilities take resource and some do not. There is no generic “attack” button. That means that you’re never reduced to your wizard or witch doctor running out of mana and trying to hit monsters with a stick – some abilities for them that don’t take any resource include magic missile and corpse spiders (you throw a clay pot full of spiders that eat the enemies) respectively.

Don’t fret, the characters that ought to have physical attacks still do. The Demon Hunter starts with one called hungering arrow, which is literally one fired arrow. Sure, it has a chance to pierce through the enemy and hit another, but it’s still a basic arrow attack.

The different characters recharge their resources differently. The Wizard and Witch Doctor both recharge over time. The Monk and the Barbarian both need to attack to charge up their skills. The Demon Hunter has two different resource pools – hatred and discipline – that both recharge over time, but at dramatically different rates. The two resources fuel different abilities, although eventually you gain the ability to use one to restore the other. I will dive more into the classes later.

As you level up, you unlock more abilities. These can be assigned to buttons at will – but only buttons that you’ve unlocked. See, the skills are divided up into categories, and the categories are ostensibly assigned to buttons. The game defaults to only being able to use a certain category on its button, but you can change that easily. When you unlock a new skill category, you can use a new button for skills. Eventually the player unlocks six skill categories, and three “passive” (always on, like a permanent stat bonus) categories.

Skills don’t keep getting better forever – the original game included a level cap of 60, and after that you get “paragon” levels that give you all kinds of cool bonuses.

The categories all have different numbers of skills that are vaguely related to each other, like laying traps or summoning things or long range magic attack. Each skill upgrades with levels up as well, granting access to a modifying rune to use with your skill. Each skill has five different runes, and they dramatically alter abilities.

The Witch Doctor, for example, can summon zombie dogs to fight with him. One upgrade makes them poisonous, another makes them fiery, and still another makes them take some damage on behalf of the character. You can use one rune on a skill at a time, so it is important to your character’s development to determine which ones fit your other skills, playing style, and equipment best.

Yes, equipment. Weapons, of course – swords, axes, maces, clubs, staffs, spears, glaives, magic wands, krises, longbows, shortbows, crossbows, morning stars – the game runs the gamut on weapons. In addition to the base damage, most of the weapons you end up equipping offer bonuses. Better chance for critical hits, cold damage, stunning enemies, extra life per hit, and more.

Even with all the detail that went into the weapons, the variations in armor are even more astounding.

Armor is divided into categories based on what part of your body it covers, so you have of course body armor (plate, chain mail, magical jerkins), helmets, greaves, gauntlets, pauldrons (shoulders), boots, leggings, bracers, and shields. Also, instead of shields, some classes have special “others.” Demon Hunters can use quivers, wizards use a magical “source” like a crystal ball or enchanted skull, and witch doctors use disgusting fetishes like shrunken heads and writhing snakes. Monks just go hard all the time, and dual-wield. Monks ain’t got time for shields.

The armor offers protection, of course, and like the weapons other magical bonuses. Perhaps more gold, or better items from monsters, or stats up, or extra experience. They can also offer bonuses more tailored to certain characters or abilities. One recurring gauntlet, for example, the magefist, gives a bonus to fire damage.

All of the weapons and armor look different, changing your character’s appearance dramatically over time.

Knowing all that, the problem is where to get the best gear. You can find it by killing monsters, opening chests, destroying barrels and other detritus. You can buy it from shopkeepers in the various towns. You can also have the blacksmith forge it for you.

The blacksmith is one of two artisans in the original version of Diablo 3. He makes weapons and armor, typically tailored bonus-wise to your character. You can unlock more weapons and armor by paying to upgrade his skills and by finding recipes for equipment while adventuring.  The blacksmith uses the broken down remnants of items you find to make new stuff, so it is important to pick up items even when you know you won’t be equipping that particular item – good old Haedrig Eamon will salvage it for you and make more stuff.

Covetous Shen, the jeweler, is the other artisan. You start finding jewels typically in chapter two. Shen turns up later in that same chapter. Some equipment has open spots to stick the gems in, and the gems give different upgrades depending on which piece of equipment it is. Rubies add attack to weapons, but add strength in armor and bonus experience in helmets. The other gems are topaz (adds intelligence in most equipment), emerald (dexterity) and amethyst (vitality). Shen’s role is to combine your gems into better versions of their type and to remove gems from an item you placed them in. Like Haedrig, you pay to upgrade Shen’s capabilities.

I mentioned I tried the Demon Hunter first – I was not disappointed. The Demon Hunter starts out relatively vulnerable compared to the other classes, but rapidly develops into a damage-dealing machine. The real turning point comes when you unlock the “rapid fire” skill, and later a rune that adds fire damage and reduces the casting cost. Paired with the aforementioned magefist gauntlet, that ability will carry the demon hunter through a lot of hairy encounters.

image from Reddit

image from Reddit

Obviously a long range character, the DH equips bows, crossbows, and hand crossbows. The hand crossbows can be dual-wielded. The other weapons are all two-handed, but a quiver may be equipped in lieu of a shield with them. In addition to rapid fire, the Demon Hunter can learn to fire arrows imbued with the various elements, to fire a multitude of arrows at once, to fire while moving (“strafe” will get you out of a ton of jams), to throw daggers, and more. All of these abilities are fueled by the hatred resource pool.

Discipline is necessary for the other side of the Demon Hunter’s character – the sneaky trapster. You can lay slowing caltrops or damaging spike traps, you can hide in the shadows, and you can vault across the battlefield. Everything in this portion of the DH’s repertoire is designed to keep the enemy at distance, so you can pummel away from the safety of bow-shot’s length.

The Demon Hunter, on balance, is probably my second favorite character in the game.

Just like an archer in Dungeons & Dragons, Dexterity is the key attribute for a DH. Pumping up a character’s prime attribute adds damage and armor to characters. The other character’s prime attributes are: Barbarian/strength, Monk/dexterity, Wizard and Witch Doctor/intelligence.

My favorite is the Wizard. From shooting lightning bolts to slowing time to summoning an elemental hydra to rapid-fire arcane bullets, the Wizard has everything I was looking for in this character class from this game. Properly equipped and skilled, the wizard plays best as a medium-to-long range character, but has the chops to stand and slug it out with most monsters. Important – blizzard is your best overall spell. After you get it, you cannot use it too often. I’m pretty confident the developers (Blizzard, duh) planned it that way.

Image from macmoodgaming.com

Image from macmoodgaming.com

Arcane power, the wizard’s resource, starts full and recharges quickly. When it runs out, your “non-resource” spells are still potent enough.

The Monk is probably my least favorite character. A hand-to-hand combatant, the Monk gets up in the enemies face and pummels them with a variety of weapon smashes, kicks, and holy spells. The monk can also have an aura that helps the whole party, and is capable of healing.

Image from salediablo3.com

Image from salediablo3.com

Initially I found the monk to be pretty fun, but the character rapidly got to be too much of a tank, and I haven’t played him much since I hit about level 40. Solid character, just a bit on the repetitive side. Every other character felt to me like they had more variety in their play styles. With the monk, I just go up to a horde of monsters and start bashing, and that’s pretty much it.

Barbarians are much more varied physical fighters. Their primary attacks, like the monk, are basic in-your-face smashes. The Barbarians have some cool moves that I enjoy, though, like leaping long distances into and out of hordes of monsters. I particularly enjoy the Barbarian’s spear, which, like Scorpion in Mortal Kombat, makes the monsters “get over here!”

My brother's shot. The axe is the Mescherschmitt's Reaver.

My brother’s shot. The axe is the Mescherschmitt’s Reaver.

On the whole, my impression is that Barbarians do damage faster than monks, but in turn take more damage. Also they are more fun, so there’s that.

Finally, the Witch Doctor.

Witch Doctors are “pet” characters – most of their fighting is done by the creatures they summon. This is good and bad. The good is that at higher levels, you have a virtual army running around, soaking up damage and dishing it out. The bad is that you have less direct control over a given fight. Some people love this type of character, some do not.

Image from tentonhammer.com

Image from tentonhammer.com

To give Blizzard credit, this is a great version of this type of character. I mentioned the corpse spiders and the zombie dogs – you can also send out exploding frogs, call up a giant humanoid zombie to follow you around, summon a short-lived horde of dagger-wielding monkey-sized demons, and on and on.

The Witch Doctor does have direct attacks at his disposal too. The poison darts you start out shooting remain effective for a long time. The fiery bats you summon do huge damage. You can also create tainted ground that damages enemies on it and causes negative status effects. The witch doctor is maybe the best take I’ve played of a pet summoner.

In addition to the player characters, there are three dedicated “follower” NPCs you find that join you in single player mode. The Templar is a close range attacker and healer, the Scoundrel is an archer and a dirty fighter, and the Enchantress is a magic missile firing wizardress.

To encourage you to try the other characters, your loot is linked to your main account, not your character. All characters share gold, and you have a magic treasure chest that everyone can access. Upgrading an artisan with one character also upgrades that artisan across your whole account. This is great for when you find a killer Witch Doctor fetish when you’re playing with your Barbarian, or find a plan for some cool equipment that only a Monk can use.

So that’s the game. Take your buddies, home or online, and go forth to slay the demons and save humanity. Choose from the above characters, find some good loot…

What’s that you say? That’s not everything?

Of course it isn’t. Blizzard publishes primarily for PC Master Race, so of course there is an expansion to Diablo III.

Reaper of Souls

That guy is Malthael, and he is not friendly

That guy is Malthael, and he is not friendly

Released in March of 2014 for Xbox as the “Ultimate Evil Edition,” the Reaper of Souls expansion changed a ton of the gameplay in Diablo.

Obvious stuff first: A fifth chapter (and thus a fifth area) were added, meaning there is a new final boss. A new character, the Crusader, was added. The level cap was raised to 70, meaning more abilities are available for every class. A fourth passive ability may be unlocked. There is another artisan – she changes the enchantments on your items, and she is expensive. These are standard stuff for an expansion to a game, but Blizzard went much further.

Image from Game Informer

Image from Game Informer

Every character’s abilities got re-worked so dramatically that I had to re-learn how to play with them. The wizard’s arcane orb spell, for example, went from being “meh” in terms of both usefulness and appearance to “WOW!” in both categories. Items now have a much greater chance of enhancing one particular skill, making item combinations (referred to as character builds) a trickier art form than previously.

Blizzard also added a whole new play mode – adventure mode. In the original version of the game, no matter how high-octane your character got, you still played story mode. Now, in RoS, you can choose to play a mode that has no story, merely missions. The missions are all set in the five areas of the game, and when you complete all the missions in a particular area you get a large bonus of experience and gold.

As you go through the missions, you also find “rift keystone fragments.” Collect enough fragments, and you can travel through a magical rift into an area that is similar to, but outside of, the normal world. Again, conquering the rifts grants you large rewards.

The new modes, the new area, the new artisan, the new items, and the change in how you select your difficulty (yup, glossing over that part) are all cool. The most important change, though, is definitely the new character class.

Crusaders are holy knights, driven to eradicate the demon scourge from the world of Sanctuary. They equip swords, hammers, spears, and flails. They have a lot of abilities that require a shield, and are the only character capable of wielding a two-handed weapon in one hand (using a passive skill).

This guy is using a two-handed trident, and apparently has laser vision. Also, now you see why most of my pictures give credit to other sources.

This guy is using a two-handed trident, and apparently has laser vision. Also, now you see why most of my pictures give credit to other sources.

Initially a close-up character, the Crusader develops into a fantastic mid-range fighter. The sweeping mystic flail attack, the thrown shield, the magic hammers that spiral outward, all are designed to damage multiple enemies from about halfway across the screen. The Crusader also has several auras that grant passive help, but can be activated for a brief boost in their helpful effects.

Even better, the Crusader can find a special flail – called the Gryfalcon’s Foot, it looks like a pair of steel griffin’s talons hanging from a chain – that eliminates the resource cost for one of his best abilities, the shield throw. When you find one of those, your Crusader is become death, destroyer of worlds.

I rate the Crusader as my second favorite character overall, behind the Wizard. He edges out the Demon Hunter with originality – I was expecting a clone of the paladin character from Diablo II and instead got something completely different.

Now that is really everything.

THE VERDICT: Diablo III was already awesome, and Reaper of Souls overhauled huge portions of the game to make it even better. Of course I miss a few of the things that were taken out, but on the whole, I’ve spent way too many hours playing this game. Come to my facebook group for video games and meet my Diablo Addicts support group, they all agree. After all the waiting and all the hype, Blizzard delivered the goods. Retro Rating: 10/10

I didn’t want to do a game this recent yet, but Diablo III is still in my rotation. I wanted to stop writing this and go play at least ten different times. When a three-year-old game still has that much pull in my gaming time, I’ve got to cover it. Like Soul Calibur, I will still be playing this one when it is part of “the good old days.” Replay Rating: 10/10

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About mickoneverything

Father of three, mad kitchen scientist and grillmaster. Loves NY sports, good fiction, terrible but entertaining fiction, freedom, personal responsibility.
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