It's Like Crack...

    Diablo III

Recently I purchased the XBox expanded edition of Diablo III (all of you out there that will yell "But PC is better!" will be resoundingly ignored). I had the original version (well, still have, since I never sell anything in my collection), and I loved that enough so that, when the expansion was announced, I knew I was so there.

And there's a lot to like about the new version of the game, although the bits that are exclusive to the expansions are largely less impressive than the patched content all Diablo owners received.

Taking a step back, for anyone that hasn't played a Diablo game before, the series consists of dungeon crawl adventures with and emphasis on killing shit and finding loot. Think of it like Gauntlet with lots of treasure and you on the right track -- if that sounds interesting, then Diablo is probably for you.

That said, a lot of fans of the series weren't so keen on Diablo III. The gripes I heard were that "it plays a lot like Diablo II, and it's not really an improvement (except for the graphics)." That may be true, and it may be fair, but as someone that games almost exclusively on consoles, I missed most of the Diablo releases (and I don't know that it's worth going back and finding a PSX version of Diablo II, certainly not when III is right there, waiting for me).

Is Diablo III a good game on its own merits? I certainly think so. It's my go to game when I have an hour or so to kill and just want to randomly charge around, killing demons. It hits that same "kill shit, loot shit" sense in my soul that Borderlands (and Phantasy Star Online before it) hit, and it has replaced Borderlands as the game I tend to play whenever I want that fix. It's just a lot of fun, with vastly more depth to its magic and action system than I think Borderlands (or Phantasy Star, for that matter) have.

But, the expansion isn't as big a thrill for me as the main game. We'll get to the features of it in a second, but let's discuss the recent history of the game and the patch that came out. The big change from the patch was a change to the Paragon system. Paragon was added into the PC game from a previous patch (although us console users always had it), and basically it allowed you to "over-level" your characters past their basic experience pool. Up to level 60, your characters would get stronger and unlock more weapons and skills they could use -- pretty standard RPG fare. With Paragon, each over-level would added additional buffs to your stats (your primary attack stat, magic item find, gold find, etc.), making your character more powerful.

There were some other additions with Paragon 1.0, like Nephalem Valor, but it's all a bunch of stuff that was more or less removed for Paragon 2.0 (and unless you really ant to know what changed in detail, it's better to just breeze on past).

With Paragon 2.0, the over-levels are still there, but now you can gain more of them (800, up from 100), and each over-level gives you a point you can spend on specific stats (if you've played Borderlands 2, it's a lot like Badass points, but slightly different). WHat's nice is that each character gets their own pool of points based on your OVERALL Paragon level, so you can start a new level 1 character and have a bunch of Paragon points already unlocked to give the character an edge.

That's nice, and fun, but it was part of the patch that came out, so tht doesn't change the question of whether the expansion itself is worth it or not. Based on the new Act added to the game (Act V where you fight the Angel of Death), no... but Adventure mode mostly makes up for that.

See, Act V is long, and kinda boring, and really just frustrating. I'm pretty adept at Diablo III this point -- I've played through it over and over with multiple characters -- so I know how to handle myself in the game (and I can keep up with the sometimes slow pace without getting bored). Act V though is just cruel. I died so often (death in normal mode isn't permanent), and it seemed like the deaths were just because the game designers wanted to spite me. "Let's throw and obnoxious amount of enemies and elite enemies at players and buff them up so they're much harder to kill. That sounds like fun."

I regularly play the game single-player, but I have played through act five with a full complement of players (the max of four), and I died just as often in both versions. The Act is just mean with its difficulty, even if you kill it down to make it, supposedly, easier.

The worst offender of this, certainly, is the end boss, Malthael the Angel of Death. He has any number of instant-kill attacks (well, at least against my wizard and my demon hunter), and the amount of carnage wrought on screen makes it near-impossible to avoid damage. I foudn the first four Acts of the game to be fun, and Diablo wasn't so hard once I figured him out, but Mathael is just a terror. I hate, hate, hate fighting him.

This might have been alleviated some if the story was more interesting, but it's not. If you swap in "evil angel" for "evil demon", the story is basic Diablo all over again: evil being comes to Santuary (the Earth) to enslave and/or kill all of humanity, thus winning the war between good and evil. Whatever their motivation, it's the same story I played before. Sure, the surroundings look somewhat different, but the act's story (and more of the exploration) is just "same shit, different location."

So no, if what you want is a new story mode to play through, the expansion is not for you. But, I can hear you ask, "what about the new character class, the Crusader." Well, they're fine enough. Although different enough from the other close-quarter classes (Monk and Barbarian), they still don't feel drastically changed in play-style from those other classes. You still get up close, press your basic attack until you build up power, and use some basic spells from there, all while trying to absorb as much of the damage as you can. If you like the Monk or the Barbarian and want something slightly different to play (but have no interest in the Witch Doctor, Wizard, or Demon Hunter), then, sure, the Crusader is a good choice. Otherwise, again, not so much.

But, there is one bright point in the expansion that makes it worth picking up: Adventure mode. Once you finish Act V, adventure mode unlocks (for all your characters), and you can just blow off the story mode from that point forward. Taking the same map as the main game, you now just random quests to complete for experience -- go to this location, kill these guys; go to that location, run this event. it's light and fun and, if you're like me and have played the game over and over again, its the perfect quick fix without all the "I have to run through ALL OF THIS just to get to the one area I want to play" that happens during a crawl through the main game.

They've added additional stuff to Adventure Mode as well. There are Nephalem Rifts you can unlock, which let you explore remixed versions of dungeons and fight new versions of bosses (all for better loot). There's a new saleslady who offers the chance to buy random legendary items (the upper-most tier of loot). There's more elites scattered around the countryside for you to just find and kill (for much more loot). And, of course, there's a ton more loot added to the game, all to keep you playing longer.

Couple that with a bump to the level cap, upping you to level 70 from level 60, with new skills and abilities to go with, and the expansion starts to seem like a better deal.

For those of us on consoles, it sucks a bit because we basically had to rebuy the whole game. It's hard to justify a $40 package for basically a bit more content (over the main game) -- it would have been nice to have this as a downloadable expansion that we could have spent $15 or $20 instead. If you already own Diablo III on a console, you really have to decide if what's good about the expansion justifies the price of admission.

But! If you don't own it and were starting to think "maybe I should give this whole Diablo III thing a chance, then this is the perfect time to get in. The main game is fun, Adventure mode is a great "second quest" of a sort, and there's so much to do in the game. At $40 for the whole game, all at once, it's quite the deal.

Just, don't blame me if you buy it, start playing, and then suddenly realize you've been at it or a week, non-stop, without coming up for air.