With our grumbling hats on we’ll note that progression through the classes is rather linear, and that you won’t find the flexibility of, say, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim or Kingdoms of Amalur: The Reckoning here – at least not for a while. But what impresses is how well each class works within the game, each providing some new twist to the fighting, and each slightly altering the way the game’s cycle of addiction works. With some classes it’s really all about the weapon upgrades, with new attacks almost secondary, while with others, particularly the Witch Doctor, the real draw lies in levelling up and unlocking the next bit of dark sorcery you can unleash on your foes.
True, the combat is very simple. Left-clicking on a monster will hit them with your current primary attack or power, while right-clicking will unleash a more powerful but time-locked secondary attack. On top of this, there are four hotkey capabilities that give you more offensive, defensive or healing options. But in a way this simplicity works in the game’s favour. We’re not sure that you actually play Diablo III consciously like you might less action-oriented RPGs. Instead, time seems to dissolve in a flurry of clicks, punctuated only by the odd moment swapping weapons and armour for new discoveries, or travelling back to the nearest town to sell unwanted gear and buy or craft new kit.
Somehow, this doesn’t matter. There’s something about the speed of play, the frequency of combat and the generous quantities of cartoon blood-and-gore that just works. It might be brainless and repetitive, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t fun.
It’s the attention to detail that really impresses: the way you can compare one magic sword of wounding to another at a glance, or the way even seemingly useless items can be broken down and used by local craftsmen to build new ones. Sensibly-placed waypoints keep aimless wandering and back-tracking to a minimum, and no task proves irksome or boring.
Diablo III also has more engaging non-player characters than its predecessors, and even makes the most of its AI-controlled allies, now called followers. You can have one at a time, and each has his or her own distinct personality and a limited selection of repartee with which to engage you as you quest. Each can also be levelled up and equipped with basic arms and armour as you go, and you’ll find that they make the action not just less challenging, but also a little less lonesome.
Play together, slay together
Diablo III works at a relentless pace, not wanting you to stop killing and collecting for more than a minute, and there’s no question that – while playing it is a mindless and repetitive experience – it’s one of the most compulsive and entertaining mindless and repetitive experiences you can have. It’s also a game that works beautifully in co-op multiplayer. Each player gets their own share of loot, and the simplicity of the gameplay means that everyone is concentrating on moving forwards and bashing everything that moves, with a little room to buff or heal their comrades.
It’s a great game played solo or with strangers – and Blizzard has made it incredibly easy to join a pick-up game, with your level and your progress through the campaign the only limiting factors. However, it’s even better when played with friends, and it’s this that will encourage you to keep coming back long-term, trying our new heroes (using the ten slots available) or giving old ones another chance to shine. It’s also here that Diablo’s traditional insistence on randomly-generated dungeons makes most sense.