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Once more unto hell

Many people tend to divide the world into two parts — those who have played Diablo and those who do not like videogames. Yes, developer Blizzard’s epic series not only yanked role-playing games (RPGs) from an elite territory (dominated by Dungeon and Dragon addicts) into the mainstream, but also delivered an experience unlike any that gamers had seen at that time, packing endless dungeons, waves of villains, stirring battles and amazing cinematics into an amazingly simple package.

The charm of Diablo was that you could install the game and find yourself knee deep within minutes — no extensive boring tutorials, no complicated keystrokes, just stacks of action and decisions to be made.

Diablo III comes a full dozen years after Diablo II. For gamers in India, the wait was even longer, as the game was not officially released in the country and was not available in stores. We grabbed it at an online store for Rs 3,799, after a discount of Rs 200. The game comes with support for both Windows and Mac. The installation was smooth on our 17-inch MacBook Pro (2011) and took about 40 minutes. You need to register for a Battle (.net) account to play the game and the Internet has to keep running while you play it.

The storyline is predictable — evil has risen once more, 20 years after the events of Diablo II. A strange star strikes the Cathedral in the village of Tristram (the very same village where the first Diablo game was based). All hell breaks loose, with the evil Lord of Hell, Diablo, re-emerging and threatening to wreak havoc on those who had defeated him in the past. Familiar characters from the series emerge, are threatened and you have to set things right with just right mix of weaponry and magic. You can elect to play as a Witch Doctor, Barbarian, Wizard, Monk or Demon Hunter.

You can get a Templar, Enchantress or Scoundrel as a follower in your quest to cleanse the world. Each class has its virtues and vices — some are good with weapons, others with magic, and some are plain quirky. We thought the Demon Hunter with a one-handed shortbow was pretty cool, followed by the mystical Monk.

The game is basically a slaughter-and-loot fest. The controls are as simple as ever — if you have a good mouse, you can do virtually anything without bothering too much about keystrokes. You battle hordes of enemies and bosses, break open crates and barrels, pick up magical items (which you use or sell, depending on your inclination), and of course, keep tweaking your character’s strengths as you pick up experience. Blizzard has stuck to its golden formula of randomly generated enemies and dungeons, which means that two people playing the same game will end up with markedly different experiences — one might end up battling a lot of foes in a particular area, the other might find it empty, and so on.

This game has oodles of replay value, even if you do not go the multiplayer way. You can keep coming back and follow a different strategy, and use different items even as you come across different enemies. And though some have harrumphed at the large top down view of the game, we still think it looks very good indeed, with well-detailed environments, be they dungeons or deserts.

The cinematics narrating the story are as awesome as ever, and the music is phenomenal. Diablo veterans will get goose bumps when they enter Tristram for the first time — the music playing is exactly the same that accompanied the first Diablo game, way back in 1996.

But it’s not perfect. A criticism that has always been levelled at Diablo, particularly by hardcore RPG lovers, is that it tends to “dumb down” the genre. And that applies to Diablo III as well. Players do not have to make quite as many choices, conversations are not that important (or colourful, as anyone who has played the Elder Scrolls series will tell you) and at the end of the day, this is just a good old hack-and-slash, with how you tweak your character’s skills and organise their booty being the only portions that require real thinking.

The game is largely linear and while there is a lot of territory to roam around, forget about going off at a tangent and doing a stack of side-missions — your path has been worked out and you cannot stray too far from it. I’m sure there will be those who will moan about the mainly top down view of the game and the fact that it seems to be nothing more than a constant ‘find-kill-loot-sell-buy’ orgy.

But no matter how much you criticise the game, Diablo’s inherent simplicity will keep bringing you back for more. Even when you have finished the game once, you will go back, maybe without even moving up to a new difficulty level, simply because the game rearranges itself into a new pattern every time. There is joy in simplicity. And Diablo III proves that.

Yes, it’s expensive. Yes, it requires an Internet connection to be running constantly while playing it. Yes, it is not as deep and super-intelligent as some other titles out there. But it has something that makes it rise above all those quibbles.  It is fun.

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