Sunday, 24/9/2017 | 5:00 UTC+0

Diablo III is five years old and better than ever

How many of the things you bought in 2012 are still good today? How many of them do you even have anymore? In my trade as a tech reviewer, I’m used to devices that go from new to obsolete in a matter of weeks, and in gaming, the window of novelty and joy is often even briefer. So it’s nice to see a 2012 game that truly stands the test of time and even reverses the fast-aging process to actually get better with age. Yes, I’ve gone back to Tristram for a run around the Diablo III playground, and I’m loving it more than ever.

Modern adventure and role-playing games frustrate me with their overwrought storylines and hours-long tutorials. In the recently released Mass Effect: Andromeda, for example, there’s literally a “press button to look” instruction. What if I only have a brief window of time when I want to get away from the complexity of real life and simply unwind through the act of obliterating uncomplicated evil?

With Diablo III, I can start a new game and be flinging arrows at zombies in less than a minute. All the game’s narrative is optional and hilariously basic — there’s no pretense about it being anything more than a skeleton on which to hang all the glorious gameplay. And that’s truly the thing that gets me hooked on a game of Diablo like nothing else (outside of Dota, which I’m avoiding playing for the sake of my health and sanity): the gameplay.

At the heart of the Diablo games is an irresistible call to our primordial hunter-gatherer instincts. You enter dank and dangerous dungeons to hunt monsters and gather the loot that they drop. It’s Indiana Jones if Indy had an unquenchable thirst for gold coins and unique pieces of armor and equipment. I can’t adequately convey how instinctive and unintelligent this whole thing is: I just see money spilling on the floor and I have to pick it up.

As simple as the basic premise may be, there’s incredible depth to explore, too. Each character class has four unique active skills and a number of passive boosts, and finding the perfect combination between those and the varied weapon upgrades is a mini-game in its own right. In one of my early Demon Hunter games, I used frost arrows to slow my enemies, which synergized nicely with my passive damage bonus against slowed foes. The fact that there’s no hand-holding tutorial explaining all these combos and bits of jargon is a bonus in my book. Games should allow for some measure of experimentation and accidental discovery.

When it was first released, Diablo III drew a lot of ire from players not used to its demand to be connected to the internet in order to be played. It was a rough adjustment period, especially with overloaded servers incapable of handling the epic demand in the weeks following the game’s release. But now, in 2017, Blizzard’s servers are more robust than ever, Diablo plays smooth as butter, and fast internet connections are more ubiquitous and reliable. Combine that with Blizzard’s ongoing support and enhancements — highlighted by the 2014 Reaper of Souls expansion pack, seasonal contests, and the upcoming introduction of the Necromancer class — and what you have is a living and growing game that shows no signs of losing its charm or popularity. And there’s a whole multiplayer and public play aspect to it that I haven’t even explored yet.

Thinking back to 2012, there are a number of good titles from that year that are still worth playing today, such as Mark of the Ninja, Borderlands 2, and XCOM: Enemy Unknown. One common quality among them is a more stylized, less realistic look, which Diablo III shares, that makes them feel timeless. When a cartoony video game character bumps into an invisible wall somewhere, it’s far less disruptive to my suspension of disbelief than when a lovingly rendered, hyper-realistic protagonist succumbs to the same environmental limitation. Again, the simplicity of presentation in Diablo just serves to focus my attention on the intricacies of the gameplay, which at this point has been balanced to the brink of perfection.

When I play Diablo III, I get a real sense of being in control of my character’s actions and fate. On the higher difficulty settings, tailoring my inventory and abilities to each mission area becomes a requisite skill, and once in the heat of battle, I can obtain bonus experience points by stringing together extra-long kill streaks or drinking from wells of enlightenment.

It was the new Mass Effect that revived my itch for a loot-em-up game that requires hours of grinding through levels in order to perfect a handsomely dressed killing machine. But it is Diablo III, the game that’s good at being a game and not an interactive movie, that truly scratches that itch.

#gadgetbingo

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