It’s certainly no surprise that a game called Diablo III doesn’t have a lot to do with, say, cute-and-cuddly bunnies. Rather, as its title might suggest, this M-rated RPG is all about hell-spawned monstrosities and congregations of demons. Of course, gamemakers at Blizzard Entertainment consider the video game’s record-breaking sales—a rush that started with a reported 3.5 million units sold in the first 24 hours and 6.3 million in the first week—nothing short of heavenly.
The Diablo franchise was once considered to be the definitive dungeon-trolling, battle-action series in the RPG genre. And then, like its titular demonic nemesis, it went underground, so to speak. Now the franchise has been revived after an 11-year break. And while it’s easy to see how a decade has changed the world of gaming graphics and the physics of play, there’s a lot here that will look familiar to any PC gamers who might have traversed this series’ diabolical challenges back in the day.
The Fallen and the Risen
The story picks up in the foreboding, crumbling city of Tristram, a place that saw the defeat of the infernal demon Diablo some 20 years before. But evil has a way of clawing back up from the depths, doesn’t it? In this case, a wizened old scholar named Deckard Cain has been studying ancient texts and concludes that, simply put, all hell is about to break loose once more. And so it does, in the form of rampaging demonic creatures and risen corpses besieging Tristram’s panicked populace.
Deckard himself doesn’t last long. Then it’s up to his young niece, Leah, to gather his notes and continue looking for lifesaving revelations. Amid this chaos, a fallen angel named Tyreal drops to Earth like a flaming meteor from the heavenly realms. His fallen state, however, isn’t due to rebellious choices. Rather, he’s here to defy his aloof angelic brethren and help humanity.
Tyreal takes on human flesh and joins the earthly struggle against the encroaching devilish horde, believing that mankind’s unwavering valor and bravery are the only things that can once again defeat the prime evil of Diablo … the most powerful demon in existence.
Just One More Level
After that ominous introduction, players make their way through this unfolding epic fantasy as a hero who’s part of Leah and Tyreal’s tale. You choose your character’s gender, then select one of five different classes: Witch Doctor, Barbarian, Wizard, Monk or Demon Hunter.
As those labels hint at, there’s a whole lot of bashing, slashing and magic-casting at the core of this contest. And in the beginning, that’s about all there is. Moves are simple and button punching is constant. But just about the time you start wondering if Diablo III is going to morph into a monotonous adventure, the mesmerizing science of Blizzard’s RPG formula kicks in.
On the surface, it appears that you and a small group of AI- or human-controlled compatriots are exploring a variety of locales—from besieged castle walls to rat-infested sewers to moldy manors and vermin-filled caves—in a quest to find the truth and to prepare for the inevitable day of reckoning. But what you’re actually doing is easing into Diablo III’s addictive system of challenges and gameplay. With the defeat of each wave of ever more powerful monsters, you receive upgrade points, health orbs, gold and dropped items—not to mention increasingly potent weapons and armor, of course. And those upgrades are paced perfectly. So when your barbarian, for instance, moves on from a basic cleaving move to a new leaping attack, or picks up a couple pieces of really cool armor and the ability to create an enemy-tumbling earthquake, you can’t help but want to stick with it and see what’s next. Just one more level, you might tell yourself (or your parents … or your spouse).
Another immersive aspect of this system is the opportunity—with so many mix-and-match abilities, distinct ability categories and dozens of skill-enhancing runestones—to customize a uniquely equipped character, one that’s radically different from anything anyone else has created. Finally, the game also offers the truly brave at heart a Hardcore mode that limits your character to a single death. If your digital hero or heroine falls in this mode, you can never play that avatar again.
And a Few More Kills
With all this talk of demons and magic, hacking, slashing and death, you may be wondering just how visually messy this game gets. The answer is: pretty messy.
This third-person actioner watches everything from a bird’s-eye point of view. That tones things down a notch when the weapons are flying and the body parts start falling. But the mayhem is nevertheless intense and unrelenting, even from a distance. Blades, arrows, spears, laser-like blasts and black magic attacks impale, eviscerate and dismember friends and foes alike.
Humanoid and outlandishly misshapen monster enemies often perish in a splashing shower of blood as their bodies are torn to shreds. We see a girl possessed by a devil after being sacrificed by her mother, along with other conjurations that raise dead—and deadly—creatures from the ground. It’s also worth mentioning that some of the well-muscled female characters expose quite a lot of digital skin with their skimpy outfits.
Now, with a contorted squint and turn, it’s possible to look at this game from a purely good-vs.-evil perspective. Defenders of humanity rally together throughout, for instance, displaying an unrelenting passion to stand up against evil and defeat the denizens of darkness.
Still, the game’s core spirituality isn’t biblical by any measure. No, Diablo III is a bloody campaign drenched in demon possession, witchcraft and brutal combat. Good may ultimately triumph over evil—but not before gamers are exposed to a netherworld full of that evil.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.