Tripping the dark demonic.
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Having put off playing Diablo III in any form until now, I came into this complete version with a profound sense of readiness. It helps that “Ultimate” is part of the title, as it pokes at me and asks, “What have you been waiting for?" Playing has been a mostly serious business, from the minutes I spent pondering my choice of class to the attention I paid to the concise and to-the-point opening cutscenes detailing the end of days. It can make for a focused, engrossing weekend, one where the window blinds don’t open until Monday morning and you realized you haven’t eaten anything healthy in days.
Playing Diablo III is a symbiotic exercise in mindreading between myself and the folks at Blizzard. In a given dungeon, I’m often using my explorer’s sixth sense to guess where the dead ends are so I might color in the maps the best I can before heading to the waypoint. On the flipside, I feel the developers are reading my mind every time I discover something pleasing about the game’s user interface, considering that this UI is adapted from what was originally a PC game. Abilities are easy to access and use, and simple symbols are easy to decipher when comparing weapons and armor. Appreciating the little things comes easy, like how the game auto-equips items in empty slots.
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Any hostile territory in Diablo III presents a gameplay loop that involves defeating all present enemies, assessing loot, and searching entire maps for treasure, even if it means destroying scores of well-sorted bookshelves stocked with ancient tomes, or desecrating one of the game’s countless tombstones. In other words, it’s like all good action role-playing games, and it's a well-paced one at that. Tight level design and tons of opportunities for experience multipliers ensure you’re not stuck at a given level for long. This is lovely because Blizzard is an expert at dangling carrots, especially when it comes to enticing you with skills and abilities--active and passive--that are only a couple of levels away. Between the meticulous treasure hunting and the map coloring, you’re looking at an obsessive-compulsive’s paradise.
The compulsions include the need to organize the vast myriad gear you come across. It is a pleasant and unusual feeling to equip weapons not out of necessity but instead out of mood and experimentation. When I switch from a one-handed mace to a mystical spear to complement a specific set of abilities, it’s never because I feel I need to, but instead because I'm struck by a childlike “What does this do?” inquisitiveness.
If you’ve played the original game on Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3, then you already know the console versions benefit from the immediacy and tactile satisfaction of traditional action game controller inputs, as opposed to the RTS-inspired mouse-clicking interface of the PC version. A keyboard can afford you all kinds of commands, but as Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn on the PlayStation 4 showed, we’re just fine using our controllers, and Diablo III’s interface is nowhere near as deep as Square Enix’s critically acclaimed reboot.
Normally, a remastered release like this brings out the boasts of your friends who were glad they waited until now to play a given game’s definitive version. This time, the joke’s on them, because Diablo III is not only the first game to support cross-generational save transfers but also cross-manufacturer transfers. Thanks to Battle.net as the intermediary, PS3 progress can be continued on the Xbox One and Xbox 360 progress to the PS4. It’s as if the PS3 and Xbox 360 adopters got an early access perk of an 11-month head start.
Where all console users start on equal footing is in Reaper of Souls' content. That includes a fresh playthrough with the crusader class, originally introduced in the expansion. For as much as Blizzard has touted the defensive prowess of this holy warrior, the crusader is impressively well-rounded, with access to giant blessed shields that can be wielded like battering rams. It was my class of choice during this initial playthrough, and my deaths have been few while my level progress has moved swiftly.
Aside from the gratifying sense of completeness of Diablo III: Ultimate Evil Edition, Blizzard is cueing up a number of console-exclusive social features that we have yet to evaluate. Mailing items to friends is good and all, but what I'm truly curious about is the nemesis system, an asynchronous player-versus-environment feature that is akin to the shark from Jaws invading your session. Once these social components are live, I'll be able to share with you a full review.