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Fri June 1, 2012
Diablo III: A Sequel Worth Waiting For
With the exception of a few companies, the videogame industry is currently suffering from a remarkable decline in revenue, and one reason for those lackluster sales is the plethora of sequels on the market. Each year sees a new version of an old game, and that can become both tiresome and annoying when the price for just one game is $60.
Thankfully, that's not the case with the often gruesome Diablo series from Blizzard, which recently released its third version. Blizzard, which also produces World of Warcraft, changed the essence of role playing games in 1996 with the first iteration of Diablo. The epic war between angels and demons — not exactly the Dan Brown kind — took place in Heaven, Hell and Sanctuary. Diablo, the monstrous lord, is released from the his prison deep below a cathedral, and a wonderfully dark soap opera of chaos, seen from above as you play, ensues. It's your daunting task to trap Diablo as you enter Hell, and the final confrontation, however over the top, is quite affecting.
Diablo II upped the ante with a great variety of quests, search and find missions that allow you to move forward in the game. I like the one called Khalim's Will best. It requires finding body parts, an eye, a brain and a heart, to finish. You also travel to what appear to be creepy versions of Egypt and temple-filled Mayan jungles.
It's been over a decade since fans have dug into a new Diablo, certainly long enough for even the most persnickety of nerds to avoid the lament of "Oh, no, not another Diablo sequel!" In fact, both the story and game design in Diablo III is very welcome in a fairly dry season that's included only two other important games, Max Payne 3 and Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon Future Soldier.
The mature-rated Diablo III is indeed a gamer's game. You need a fairly new computer to play, and a speedy broadband connection. You do a lot of clicking of the mouse and keyboard to move forward in this world.
I also bitched and moaned a lot when monsters and demons overwhelmed me. It's not that I wasn't warned. The edges of my screen were soaked in a blood-red haze, a sure signal of low health and looming death. It's just that I wasn't fast enough or didn't have the right weapon.
The story of Diablo III starts with a bang. Deckard Cain, aged and bearded, and Leah, his intelligent niece, are researching old tomes and awful prophecies in an ancient cathedral when a falling star hits. Cain plummets into the crater as an anguished Leah can do little but stand by. Your character arrives in town, and after in a series of complex plot points, avenges Cain's demise. After a Dante-like descent into mayhem and survival, your character becomes powerful enough to encounter that terrible jerk, Diablo.
In between the action are a fair number of generally engaging, digitally-created movie scenes shot from angles so inventive that today's top Hollywood action directors might take note and steal them. The voice acting is good, but the dialogue is spotty. When it involves Leah, it can be as moving and deep as Max Payne 3. But sometimes it reminds me of one of the first DC Comics I read as a child featuring the Spectre, dramatic, macho, god-like — and ultimately a cliché. Sample: "Silence! You will now answer for your transgressions!"
If the script has its flaws, the game design keeps you coming back to vanquish more evil. In fact, the game is so well-programmed that you'll likely meet different characters if you play the game for a second or third time. The twists and turns you take in each level will feel new as well. Some of the quests change, too, depending on the kind of class you pick when you begin the game and build your character. You can be a curse-spewing Witch Doctor, a Hulk-like Barbarian, a magic-wielding Wizard, a melee-indulging Monk or a bomb-throwing Demon Hunter.
If you're new to the role-playing genre, the game will go easy on you. If you choose to play the game's hard mode (which begins at level 10), you're in for some serious pain. Whatever way you play Diablo III, you'll be beckoned by a hellishly grim world full of vituperative monsters, one that keeps you coming back for more. You'll stop only to bathe your carpal-tunnel-ridden wrist in hot water. Just turn down that dialogue when it becomes irksome.