When you reach a certain age, you realize just how much of your life you’ve spent wasting time. Time that you’ll never get back, and time that could have been used productively, time in which you could have been learning something, creating something to admire, building something to care about, or just plain loving someone. There’s a big wide world out there, full of possibilities and ways to spend time before you die. Then there’s Diablo III.
The game offers precisely the experience that fans who love the series come to it for, and this latest release, the Ultimate Evil Edition, which includes the base game and the Reaper of Souls expansion, has all the features one expects. The mouse-based controls have been expertly adapted to a controller, online multiplayer includes all the desired functions, and the ability to play co-operatively on the same screen will entice a specific audience. The gameplay itself represents the peak of the isometric “Dungeon Crawl” genre, with an amazing variety of settings, masses of loot to collect and trade for, and smart RPG elements seamlessly crafted into the adventuring.
But while other games and genres have matured and advanced artistically—sometimes in gameplay, sometimes in narrative, and sometimes both—to provide much deeper experiences, Diablo III is a game that sticks very closely to the original game of nearly 20 years ago. That it begins so closely to the cathedral that was the setting of Diablo feels less like an Easter egg for fans than it does an acknowledgment of how little has changed. The graphics, while stylish and technically impressive, have little new to show (even in the final act set in Heaven, the kind of unusual setting that could have offered something really imaginative to explore), and though the combat and abilities have more features than before, there’s little to distinguish this from other games of the genre. Worse, some features and customization appear to have been stripped down, possibly as a concession to the console platforms the game was destined to reach.
Diablo III’s narrative and lore disappoints. The opportunity to tell a really epic story is lost quickly in a mess of fantasy tropes, flimsy characterization, and puerile nonsense, some of which is even mocked openly, a la Magicka. There’s little in the way of motivation for any of the characters, with the flimsiest of excuses driving the plot from act to act. At best, it’s weightless, and at worst, it’s completely, hilariously ridiculous. Further, the game’s transition from the original Diablo III conclusion at the end of Act IV to the new add-on happens instantly and without warning, which fails to contextualize the next chapter and piles on the confusion.
If one is really so inclined to play the game, this Ultimate Evil Edition isn’t even the best version to take on. Despite the smart design decisions made porting the typically PC-based game to consoles, the interface makes it more complicated than necessary to find numbers and statistics, digging through menus that lack the finesse of the original PC version, and Adventure mode remains locked until the campaign is complete, a frustrating decision considering how many may have already completed the now two-year-old game on original release. The singular advantage of local co-op on the one screen falls to various minor technical issues including a framerate that frequently stumbles. (Patches are promised, but patches are always promised.) And so Diablo III remains what it always was: competent but unexciting, and destined to be forgotten.
Diablo III: Reaper of Souls Ultimate Edition is now available from Blizzard Entertainment for the PS4, PS3, Xbox 360, and Xbox One.