If there’s anything scarier than demons, I don’t want to know about it. Seriously, don’t tell me. They’re like the ultimate supernatural boogie-man. Remember when Denzel Washington fought that one that kept body-snatching all over the place? Or the little girl who could spin her head around and throw up on the ceiling? Yeah, demons definitely belong in Monster Month, so Diablo III belongs in Monster Month.
Of course, demons aren’t the only things you’ll dismember, eviscerate, disintegrate, disembowel, poison and poke with a stick with poop on the end of it. Diablo III lets you kill witches and ghosts, cultists and ghouls, skeletons and very angry goat people (though there is no cow level). It’s like a Halloween rogues gallery. You’ll have to investigate haunted cathedrals and desert tombs full of serpentine assassins. You will defend the parapets from screaming demonic hordes. You’ll breach the borders of Heaven and Hell to fight the ultimate bad-ass demon himself in a cage match to the death.
And if you’re like me, you’ll do it with someone you love.
The main reason I was not the least bit interested in the computer version of Diablo III is that I almost never play video games if I’m not playing them with my wife. I haven’t even looked twice at GTA5, because I can’t co-op it with my wife (and even if I could, she is not likely to help me bang a hooker, steal a car, and sell cocaine from an ice-cream truck). But playing Diablo III with my wife on the Xbox 360 is going to be taking up an absolutely absurd amount of my time, because we can settle in and kill an hour shooting flaming bolts and electric jolts at all manner of nefarious beastie in the bowels of an underground torture complex. It’s smooth and fast-paced and as tough as we decide we want it to be, and some of the best cooperative gaming I’ve ever enjoyed.
One of the greatest strengths of the top-angle gaming camera is the ability to have two people on the screen at the same time, and not have to cut the TV in half so that it feels like you’re looking at the world through a set of venetian blinds. Of course, when you do have your own section of the screen, you’re a lot less likely to be running into a wall because you thought you were the other player, but that doesn’t happen enough to be much more than occasionally comedic. It does mean I have the whole screen, and so does she, and we’re mostly free to go kill stuff wherever it might pop up.
I say ‘mostly free’ because that strength that makes it awesome to play these games also means you both kind of have to stick together. In fact, when you’re sharing the screen with another person and try to run the other way, Diablo III will teleport you back to the other person. If that other person is currently trapped in a psychic prison and standing in a pit of acid, you are going to make some cursing sounds. In my case, those sounds are actual profanity, but you might not use that kind of language in your house. When I have a demon throw stone walls around me while he drops flaming balls of cranky on top of my head, though, I can assure you that I most definitely use that kind of language in my house.
I love the kind of games where I have to tax my imagination and tactical thinking to come up with just the right combination of abilities and sudden strikes to defeat a superior foe. I love to have the time to think through the best strategy to get through dangerous territory and snatch victory from an opponent dead-set on my utter annihilation. And for the record, Diablo III has none of that. At all. You’ll run around and kill stuff as fast as you can. Dumb people might not be able to equip the best magical footwear, but that’s not as important as your ability to jump out of the way when a hairy-assed demon throws a piano at you. This is twich gaming, high-action and reflexes with a healthy dose of creepy music and tens of thousands of things to blast into pieces.
You will totally be blasting things to pieces, by the way. I’m not just talking about when my witch doctor throws a jar full of enormous spiders at a ghoulish psychopath and they pull off his arms and legs. You’ll also blast every jar of cremated ashes, every basket full of severed heads, every barrel of lamp oil and every church pew (that last one wasn’t a joke. I have destroyed hundreds of church pews. But they were all bad). Because not only do you get experience bonuses for destroying lots of things at the same time, but you never know when you’ll blast a hole in an empty sarcophagus and find a legendary pair of pants, or some other neat piece of equipment.
The gear system in Diablo III is exceptionally robust. Not only can you put gems into sockets in the helmets, weapons and capes you find, but now you can take your unwanted magical goods to the blacksmith and have them broken down into magical elements, which he will then use to create custom-designed gear just for you. Not happy with your current automatic crossbow? Make another one! Think you can get better boots? Go for it! And as you gain levels and become ever more dangerous to the enemies of humanity, righteousness and tasteful color palettes, you will be able to train the blacksmith to make you even better stuff. I’m currently trying to get a high enough level wizard to get the blacksmith to make me a set of archon armor. I don’t know what that is, but it sounds bad-ass, and I’m hoping I can dye it black with deep red highlights so that I look stylish and deadly. Everyone who has demons gnawing on their eyebrows wants to look good in black.
Even better, the gear you get will look different depending on who wears it. Put the stinky green pants on the demon hunter, and she will look like a seductress in impractical heels. Put the same pants on the barbarian, and they will barely cover his massive groin. Throw them on the witch doctor and you’ll get an African kilt. They will still do the same thing – namely, provide so many bonuses that you put up with the fact that your character farts like a skunk every two minutes – but they look different on each of the five different heroes.
Speaking of heroes, which I just was, every one of them is different and fun as hell to play. The monk and barbarian are close-in troops, but they have very different abilities and prefer very different weapons. The witch doctor can summon ghostly hands from the ground and shoot poison darts from a blowgun, while the demon hunter relies on bows and one-handed crossbows to fire faster than a helicopter-mounted mini gun. My personal favorite is the wizard, whose abilities are so diverse and amusing that I can come up with dozens of different combinations of killing blows, as long as I don’t mind doing it from a distance. And combining the characters provides even more cool ways to play – my wife’s demon hunter will throw caltrops to slow the attackers so that my summoned hydra can blast the attacking bile demons from behind. The various characters all play very differently, and finding the most effective and entertaining ways to do insane amounts of violence is just one more reason Diablo III is more fun with a friend.
So I am loving Diablo III. We have finished it once and we’re about halfway through our second run. But I sure do have some complaints. For starters, the guy who voices Old Man Cain has the worst old-man voice ever. He is all wavery and pretend old, but he sounds like a 24-year-old voice actor on hiatus from community theater. The dialog tends to be overwrought and pretentious, full of fake English accents and dire predictions of the apocalypse (predictions which are, in all fairness, actually pretty accurate). With the exception of the roguish scoundrel, a guy who will follow you around and hit on all the barmaids, most of the conversations sound like they were written by a guy who has been reading D&D licensed novels since the 1980s.
And the story flat-out pisses me off. I hate when video games force me into a course of action which I, person sitting in my recliner and holding the controller, know will only end in tears. Holy Wow, that guy betrayed us! Who saw that coming?! Oh, yeah, me. So why I did run off to the Caverns of Painful Urination to secure the Crystal Ashes of the Mad Prophet and bring them back to that crazy asshole? Because if I don’t, I can’t unlock the next level. It feels contrived, and while Diablo III is not a game about making choices and living with them, I still wouldn’t mind a little more plausibility when it comes to the actions of my supposedly brilliant demon-killer.
I also have to do a little whining about the equipment. Diablo II had suits of matching stuff. You could find Bat Flapper Shoulder Pads, Bat Flapper Crown, and Bat Flapper Cape, and the more matching pieces you had, the better bonus they provided. Plus if you were wearing all the same stuff, you looked totally bad-ass (except for the suits where you looked a little like a cross-dressing street clown, but I never collected those). Diablo III just doesn’t have that at all. In fact, some of the item names seem to be invented as a joke. My wife just recently found boots to replace her Luminous Kicks, which sound an awful lot like high-top sneakers with LEDs in them, but were actually very nice shoes.
These few complaints are not enough to get me to stop, though. Hell, I mean to finish the game at least three more times. I want to find the Gibbering Gemstone and unlock the path to Whimsyshire. I want to discover the highest level gemstone I can get Covetous Shen to craft for me. I want to unlock all the runes for all the powers until I’m dropping entire city blocks onto my enemies from orbit. This game is damned fun, and with a difficulty level I can reset on the fly and some wildly entertaining cooperative gameplay, I’ll be playing Diablo III for a good long time.