When assessing the ultimate value of a video game, sometimes the best indicator is how much time you initially sink into a title. When a really good game grabs you fast and eats your life for a few days, that’s usually a sign that you’ve snagged a winner.
Such is the case with “Diablo III: Ultimate Evil Edition” ($59.99; rated M), which has devoured a frankly appalling number of hours in our household over the last couple of weeks. An update to the sequel title originally released last summer, the “Ultimate Evil Edition” includes all patches and fixes, plus the expansion game “Reaper of Souls.”
The game has also been ported to the most recent generation of consoles – Xbox One and PlayStation 4. I’ve been playing on PS4, and wow, does this game look and sound terrific. With the souped-up hardware specs, Diablo finally plays as well on consoles as it does on a high-end gaming PC.
For newcomers to the franchise, “Diablo” is essentially an old-fashioned, hack-and-slash, dungeon crawl RPG, in the vein of “Dungeon Siege” or the old 1980s arcade game, “Gauntlet.” The game uses a fixed-camera isometric perspective, which gives maximum focus to the combat elements of the game. And it’s pretty much all combat.
Lots of variety
As with previous games in the series, your job is to face down the leaders of hell, including the ultimate bad guy, Diablo – Lord of Terror. You choose from six different character classes – Barbarian, Crusader, Demon Hunter, Monk, Witch Doctor or Wizard – and can switch up gender as well.
Each class has its strengths and weaknesses. For instance, Barbarians and Crusaders are good for toe-to-toe brawling, but have limited ranged attacks. Wizards and Witch Doctors can snipe from a distance, but are vulnerable to swarming enemies.
As the story progresses, your character will level up and gain access to new and improved equipment and abilities. Ultimately, you’ll have access to six active abilities and three passive boosts, which results in a very crowded control scheme. You’ll be using all the buttons on your controller, and it can get confusing trying to remember which ability is mapped to which trigger. Luckily, you’ll have plenty of chances to learn via repetition as wave after wave of monsters attacks your party.
Another perennial strength of the series is deep and varied creature design. You’ve got your zombies and demons, sure, but also inventive enemies like insect swarms or the pesky Rockworm, which tends to pop out of the ground and swallow your companions whole.
Endless play potential
Diablo 3 supports local and online multiplayer, and that’s where the real fun is. Up to four players can adventure together in cooperative mode, and there’s a whole other layer of complexity added when you create tactical teams. The game adjusts difficulty depending on how many players are active, and players can drop in or out at any time.
In fact, the game makes a lot of adjustments on the fly. Enemies, treasure and maps are randomized throughout the game, so Diablo has endless potential replay value. There’s a complex crafting system as well, allowing dedicated players to create unique weapon and armor sets.
As a franchise, “Diablo” is hack-and-slash all the way, and this isn’t the place to go for sophisticated storytelling or depth of character. The storyline, such as it is, goes in ridiculous circles as you play your way through five different acts. Dialogue is terminally goofy, and the voice acting tends toward over-the-top caricature. It actually can get distracting – one solution is to turn dialogue volume all the way down and switch on the subtitles.
“Diablo III” is rated M for gore and violence, but I think it’s OK for older kids used to this kind of dungeon-crawling cartoon mayhem. Some of the demonic imagery and themes can get pretty heavy, though, so parents with concerns in these areas might want to scout around online for more details.
For fans of the genre, “Diablo III: Ultimate Evil Edition” is one of the year’s best releases so far, and is by far the best console port in the history of the series. Set aside a weekend – and prepare to get bloody.
New this week: It’s that time of year again: “Madden NFL 15” hits shelves this week, for those misguided souls who prefer football to baseball.