Release Date: May 15, 2012
Publisher: Blizzard Entertainment
ESRB Rating: Mature

Diablo III, by Blizzard Entertainment, is the latest release in a series that many consider the definitive franchise of the action-RPG genre. For over a decade now, people have been referring to other hack and slash, dungeon crawling games as Diablo-clones. Even games that are considered successful in their own rights, such as the Baldur’s Gate, Dungeon Siege, and Champions of Norrath franchises are not immune to the label. Really though, the moniker should be taken as a compliment. Both Diablo and Diablo II have very high aggregate ratings according to Metacritic, at 94 and 89 respectively. With such lofty franchise success, a decade to develop the third iteration, and the fiercely loyal fan base that mega-studio Blizzard has acquired over the years, it’s a bit of an understatement to say Diablo III‘s release has been highly anticipated.

So far its release has been highly successful as well. In its first day available D3 sold 3.5 million copies, and would end up at about 6.3 million copies shipped in its first week. Any way you slice it, that’s a whole heck of a lot of demon slaying, and a huge testament to the built in player base Blizzard commands. Let’s face it though, those people were going to buy the game anyway. The real question is, are those 6.3 million people possibly wrong? After my time with the game, I can pare down the answer to that query with a simple, “No.”

Despite their overwhelming success in the MMO space with World of Warcraft, Blizzard proves here that they are still capable of creating well crafted experiences with the single player in mind. Any concerns about this game being “World of Diablo-craft” can be laid to rest as everything in the game can be done solo, and done in style. The story is suitably epic considering the Heaven vs. Hell setting. The above average musical score sets just the right atmosphere without being repetitive. The graphics look sharp, despite their limits to what you can do with the pseudo-isometric overhead view the genre usually employs. Still, barrels and undead alike explode with equal splendor, and some of the spell effects are quite nice. The cinematics between acts are also definitely worth a watch or three.

It is 2012, though. No matter how impressive a single player game is, some sort of online mode is almost obligatory in this day and age. Especially for a title like D3 that has an “always on” DRM system that requires you to be connected to the internet in order to play anyway. To this end, Blizzard went with a drop-in/drop-out style co-op system, where you can join another player, or have them join you, increasing the number of enemies and amount of loot as you war your way through Sanctuary, the pits of Hell and beyond. If co-op isn’t your thing, there have been talks of a competitive PvP mode in a future patch. If you prefer to play solo, you don’t have to be a total hermit either. There are a full set of social tools available that even accommodate cross game chat if you can’t pull your buddies out of Azeroth, or if you hang out with a bunch of Starcraft II addicts. You don’t have friends you say? That’s okay, team up for a co-op session with any random player, and have no fear they’ll run off with your legendary loot. Each player only sees their own goodies, so you don’t have to worry about jerks and griefers snagging items that were meant for you.

If you take your time and fully explore everything you can, your first play through will take 20-30 hours. While this may not sound like much compared to some of the 100+ hour RPG’s out there, keep in mind it’s expected for you to clear the game multiple times, and likely with multiple characters. There are four difficulty levels to progress through: Normal, Nightmare, Hell and Inferno. So while clearing your first stroll through the game may only take a fraction of the time it takes your average Dovahkiin to fully explore Skyrim, in that time you’ll have only scratched the surface of what Diablo III has to offer. I mean, you can’t even level your blacksmithing skills halfway to the maximum until you’ve made it to at least Nightmare difficulty. In an attempt to keep things somewhat fresh the second time through and beyond, there are a few random dungeons thrown in to ensure that not every play is identical, although the overall storyline does remain essentially static. And while it is possible to speed run each of the four acts in less than an hour a piece, it will usually take longer, adding up to a pretty large time investment to reach endgame content. A time investment that will be largely spent on missions you’ve done before, in areas you’ve cleared several times over.

Still, rehashing areas you’ve already seen likely won’t be a problem since the game is so much fun. While Diablo III doesn’t really push the envelope as far as the genre is concerned, what it does, it does right. Eventually though, most every dungeon crawler devolves into killing hordes of enemies and picking up loot, and D3 is no exception. That siren song of shinier weapons and armor right around the corner will keep you logging into the land of Sanctuary for quite a time to come, even if D3 doesn’t really redefine the genre in any way.

Except one that is. The singular new feature D3 brings to the table, could also be the real determining factor in the title’s overall longevity. That feature is the potential to make real world money for your virtual goods. Two auction houses, similar to the one found in World of Warcraft, are both available to Diablo III players. One is for people looking to spend their in-game gold, and the other is for people prepared to spend and make cash money. Well, not cash so much as deposits and withdrawals into a Battle.net account, or approved third party online wallet such as Paypal. (After Blizzard takes their modest cut, of course.) Don’t get dollar signs in your eyes just yet though. While the gold AH has been live since the game’s launch, the real money auction house has yet to be implemented, although it will go live as soon as Blizzard can guarantee server stability.

Although the idea of bringing Diablo III to consoles has, and continues to be, actively explored, there are no official announcements as of yet. Keeping Blizzard’s track record with porting their titles to consoles in mind, I wouldn’t hold your breath. Instead, I’d advise picking up the PC/Mac version at your local Slackers as soon as possible. The sixty bucks is well worth the price of admission, and who knows, once the real money auction house goes live, you may even be able to recoup your investment. Just make sure your computer meets the system requirements before buying, and don’t forget that even though it is primarily a single-player game, an internet connection is still required whenever you want to play.