When it comes to Diablo, one should expect a sense of finality when an upgraded version features the word "Ultimate". After all, where do you go after defeating The Devil? Developer Blizzard's answer--in the Reaper of Souls expansion--was a villain that was the closest thing to Death. Unless the studio can come up with an expansion to vanquish a tax collector, it's safe to say that Diablo III: Ultimate Evil Edition is as final as it gets. Thanks to two years worth of PC version fixes, wise console-friendly UI adjustments, and a number of exclusive social features, this also happens to be the definitive version of Diablo III.
Diablo III's bleakness is so comprehensive, one can't help but admire Blizzard's dedication. If you're not engaging in conversation with downtrodden and pessimistic townsfolk, you're fending off a seemingly limitless stream of demons. It feels all the more poignant when you walk on floors fully covered in corpses in Reaper of Souls. Given that the apocalyptic tone and art direction is so pervasive and focused, it's remarkable that the darkness doesn't feel overbearing or monotonous.
The feeling of item ownership in Diablo III is an awfully fickle one, much thanks to the game's swift pacing. When new loot appears so often and in such great numbers, your ensemble of optimized gear can completely change over the course of 30 minutes of adventuring. Yet Blizzard has ensured there's no waste: outdated items can be salvaged by the blacksmith or sold to the merchant in order to play for the blacksmith's training. Memorable items can be stored and you can endear yourself to friends by mailing them useful gear. For Blizzard, giving items a life beyond the battle itself is an art form.
Mailing gear is just one of a suite of exclusive social features for this edition, and I have no reservations in proclaiming that Diablo III: Ultimate Evil Edition is a candidate for the most accessible multiplayer game of 2014. Cooperative sessions allow low-level players to join experienced friends and reap the benefits of fast level progression and early access to better items. If you don't mind playing the story out of sequence, co-op let's you play later chapters based on the host's progress, and let's you continue your solo progress from that point without even needing to play through the middle acts. It's an uncommon practice that would normally cheapen the experience, but this method of fast-tracking makes it easier for newcomers to appreciate the series' appeal. Diablo III is immensely replayable, with some credit due to the post-campaign Adventure Mode and the staggering selection of 10 difficulty levels. The risk factors in these difficulties are superbly balanced; Normal is the path of least resistance, while each subsequent level above offers enticing and fitting rewards of experience and gold.
Diablo III: Ultimate Evil Edition is a reminder that you can never underestimate the effectiveness of a killstreak counter. While the PC version did provide a final death count after you pulled off consecutive kills in a short span of time, this update offers a rush akin to the hot-dog-eating contest at Coney Island. After 10 kills, a pop-up keeps a running count until the streak expires, and the more demons you kill, the greater your experience multiplier. When there are enough monsters to push you to 50, 75, or even 100 kills, you and your friends will transform from heroic explorers into bloodthirsty murderers. Diablo is many things to many players, and if you've come to the series because it gives you a rush similar to that of the Gauntlet franchise, Ultimate Evil Edition is bound to quench that thirst.
The killstreaks are part of a larger scheme of improvements meant to enhance momentum. Between the steady stream of demons and treasure goblins that lure you into unexplored areas, the building blocks of momentum have long since been laid down in the PC version. With the d-pad, you can now sort through new loot without having to open the menus, making it easier to drop gear more suited for your friends. For those sharing the screen on a single couch, loot has been earmarked for specific players and classes, creating one less reason to go into your menus. Beyond the killstreak onuses, there are other temporary atrribute improvements that result from destroying objects or killing specific enemies. Ultimate Evil Edition's message to you is, "Keep killing, you can color in the map and sort through your loot later." And it helps that there aren't any loading times during individual quests, and there is nary a frame rate issue, even when the screen is packed with scarabs, ghosts, and demons. Not even dropping from the heavens and killing 25 beasts simultaneously with a holy hammer slam will reveal any performance issues.
Diablo III: Ultimate Evil Edition is a reminder that you can never underestimate the effectiveness of a killstreak counter.
When you do take the time to color in a map, it never feels like a waste of time, even if you're not the obsessive compulsive type. More areas means more monsters, and more monsters means more loot. This is the basis for the top-down view of the standard action role-playing game; how Diablo III stands out is in its pacing and how it manages to stave off boredom. Maps are labyrinthine but are never yawn-inducingly large. You never stay in one experience level for long and the rewards for leveling up are worthwhile and practical enough that you become that much more motivated to reach the next level.
Beyond the menacing hooded reapers and new quest content that can stretch into dozens of hours, one of the key draws of Reaper of Souls is the blessed crusader class. Conveniently accessible at the start of Diablo III, this holy warrior is perhaps the most well-rounded class, and as such, is a user-friendly choice for newcomers. The crusader's abilities in melee and ranged attacks, along with the support of high defense, underscore the challenges and tradeoffs of the other classes. The demon hunter, for example, is proficient at ranged attacks and is a superb contributor to any party, yet this class proves difficult to use during a solo playthrough.
Diablo 3: Ultimate Evil Edition feels like the happy conclusion of a two-year public beta, with the initial purchasers on PC bearing much of the grief with the auction house and the slow pace to reach level 60. Those who have held off up to this point will benefit the most, while those who got a head start on the PlayStation 3 or Xbox 360 versions will be able to transfer their saves to their new gen console of choice. It's just a shame that some newcomers won't appreciate what the early adopters went through to make the fantastic game it is today.