If anybody has ever wondered just how long it takes hell to freeze over, the answer is twelve. After all, that's how many years had to pass before game developer Blizzard would release its long-awaited sequel Diablo III.
Doing well to follow and (to all intents and purposes) finish the company's 16-year old story arc, Diablo III has the player taking the role of one of five character classes (Demon Hunter, Witch Doctor, Wizard, Barbarian, or Monk) -- each with their own basic style of play. As one of such, he'll visit locations both old and new to the series in an attempt to quell the forces of hell -- this saving not only humanity, but the heavens as well. The storyline is well presented and the game's writers did well to implement familiar characters (such as Deckard Cain) as well as newer ones like Tyrael, the (former) Archangel of Justice.
Players will find that Diablo III offers a moderate amount of gameplay (15+/- hours) for those who play through once. Luckily, Diablo has never been a game that's played through only once and it's well worth playing through not only with more than once character class; but also re-starting the adventure with an already established player-character in the game's ultra-difficult Nightmare mode. For those wanting an even greater challenge, Diablo III also has a hardcore mode that plays exactly like the standard playthrough with one exception: if the player's character dies, he/she is gone for good.
Visually, Diablo III looks quite similar to its two previous editions with a angled top-down viewpoint. With a game industry that sometimes seems hell-bent on making everything into a first-person viewpoint presentation (ie: Fallout ? Fallout III or 1993's Syndicate ? 2012's Syndicate), it's great that Blizzard kept not only with what was familiar, but what was right. Even the point-and-click adventure-style gameplay that was established in the 1996 original is maintained, though slightly tweaked, in this latest Diablo title. The option for four-player co-op multiplayer is also there, as it had been in the original, though the lack of voice chat support is disappointing (it's advisable that players run Skype in the background should they want voice chat options). As for the game's audio presentation, Diablo III boasts one of the better video game soundtracks for 2012 with extremely good voice-over work to boot.
Outside of the game itself, players will find the (now infamous) Auction House. The Auction House is both good and bad. It's good in that players have an additional outlet outside of in-game merchants and artisans to sell the various items found during quests. Similarly, it's bad for a very similar reason -- players can simply buy (or bid eBay style with in-game currency) on desired items, both common and rare/legendary, and literally "pimp out" a character without the need to find and earn the items themselves. Of course, there is no requirement for players to use the Auction House; and with Diablo III having no player-v-player options, the worry of somebody buying their way to the top should never exist.
There is one aspect of Diablo III that has gotten a lot of gamers' goats: always-on digital rights management. Blizzard/Activision implemented always-on DRM (which requires the user to be connected to the internet at all time in order to play -- and visa-versa for the game's servers) as a means of security and protection against pirated software. Unfortunately, this always-on requirement breeds its own kind of mischief as server errors intermittently arise, as does occasional gameplay lag. Furthermore, PC gamers who want to kill some time playing Diablo III in a place without some kind of public internet (ie: DMV, some hotels) are out of luck and left with essentially non-functioning software. This always-on DRM might also prove to be a problem years down the road if/when Activision decides to shut down the servers on their end, thus leaving every single Diablo III owner with an essentially worthless piece of software (for the record, the original two Diablo games can still be played and do not require an internet connection for DRM purposes).
That aside, Diablo III is one of the better PC games for 2012. It brings back much of what made the original two games in the franchise successes, while innovating on some of the more subtle things in the game. Even at full price, this game is somewhat of a value due to its great replayability and overall appeal. The game isn't perfect, and its DRM can be a real pain in the you-know-what at times, but Diablo III delivers near-greatness without anybody having to take an arrow to the knee.
Final Game Guys grade: A-
(Blizzard/Activision provided a copy of this game for review.)