Earlier this year, at Sony’s PlayStation 4 announcement, Blizzard went up on stage and teased Diablo 3 for both PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4. This came around nine months after the PC version hit shelves.
In June, Blizzard itself took the wind out of the PlayStation’s sails (or should that be sales?) when it announced that Microsoft’s Xbox 360 would also get the game – and that both the 360 and PS3 ports of Diablo 3 would release on the 3rd of September. This way, everybody wins. Well, everybody wins if the game is actually any good. And fortunately Diablo 3 on the console is very good.
For the sake of convenience, we can skip the in-depth analysis of everything we already know about the game, as it has been around for a year on PC. There are still five character classes (witch doctor, barbarian, wizard, monk, and demon hunter). There are still four acts in the story. There are still four difficulty levels (normal, nightmare, hell, and inferno, as well as hardcore mode. There’s still the ability the play co-operatively with four friends. And the plot remains exactly the same.
Console gamers haven’t generally had the fortune of enjoying Blizzard’s best on non-PC platforms. Although the first Diablo made it onto the original PlayStation, and StarCraft was available on the Nintendo 64. This does mean that there will be gaps in the story, unless you played Diablo and Diablo 2 on PC, back in the day. Not that it matters a whole lot, because the events of Diablo 3, which take place some 20 years after the happenings in the second game, get explained well enough that the story can be followed without knowledge of the previous games.
What Diablo games are really about, though, is the action. The dungeon crawling, the levelling up, the quest for the most badass weapons you can find, and the grind through each successive difficulty.
Amazingly, the style of gameplay in Diablo 3 lends itself to being enjoyed on a console. The visuals aren’t hugely demanding, so there’s no real comparison to draw there between console and PC. But playing the game with a gamepad, versus a keyboard and mouse, is a revelation. The buttons and triggers of the Xbox controller fall easily to hand, and even PC players will find it very intuitive to use. A small change in the controls is the addition of a dodge button – the right analogue stick – that helps players evade charging enemies and projectiles. On PC there’s a greater degree of control (precise positioning of a mouse cursor) to use skills like teleportation, and it’s likely that the loss of this finer control on console meant that the addition of a dodge button meant giving players a fairer fighting chance.
The console controller has also necessitated a new interface. Where PC gamers get a powerful drag and drop menu system for arranging gear, the console version of Diablo 3 has a dumbed down interface to make he most of a big screen. It’s a little clumsy for anyone coming from a PC, but it’s as good as it’ll get for an RPG on a console. The analogue sticks control a dial that’s used to point to a gear selection, and the face buttons are used to equip or unequip an item. The user interface does take time to get used to, but after two hours of going through the menus and item screens, it becomes second nature.
But the controls, in general, keep you in the action. Somehow it feels more natural sense mashing buttons, as is wont with Diablo games, rather than clicking franticly. When you have a mob of 20 enemies bearing down on you the gamepad controls never once fall down, and that’s the most taxing Diablo test. It’s also very welcome that, unlike some other PC-to-console ports, the visuals never slow down. Everything remains perfectly smooth, and while some of the nicer touches aren’t present, it’s not as if Diablo 3 relies on high-fidelity graphics to convey a fun experience.
Where the console version pulls ahead of the PC version, though, is in its multiplayer and online component. Blizzard might have Battle.net to help its PC players find one another online, but the Xbox and PlayStation versions of Diablo 3 beat even that, offering not only their respective online player networks, but also other co-op play options. There’s a 4-player local co-op mode, where four friends can drop in and jam for a few hours, on the same console. It’s superbly implemented, and unlike other console games with split-screen play, the full-screen co-op experience in Diablo 3 just works. It’s also possible to play using system link, so if there are multiple consoles in a household each can play in the same game – all without requiring an internet connection. Blizzard’s efforts to not tie the Diablo 3 console experience to online-only play is really appreciated, and opens up the game to far more social gameplay. The game’s also been tweaked to allow players to respawn at their corpses in both single player and multiplayer modes, keeping them in the action for longer.
Blizzard has also nixed the controversial Auction House, seen in the PC version of Diablo 3. Many die-hards – and even the game’s designer – believe that the appeal in Diablo is playing through the sequential difficulty levels to get that prized piece of loot – something that becomes more precious when it’s earned the hard way. With the Auction House, anybody who had enough gold or a credit card could buy an overpowered item and be presented with no challenge in the game.
No Auction House on the console versions means that the game can be played the old fashioned way, but it’s had to be rebalanced in parts. Loot drops are more useful, and there is more gold available from chests and fallen bad guys. It’s perhaps a purer Diablo experience, though one that lacks the traditional keyboard and mouse controls that fans are used to. There’s no pleasing everybody.
Overall, Diablo 3 on the console is still Diablo. If anything, the new multiplayer options make it more fun, and the ease of dropping in – with the comfort and convenience of a console gamepad – make it far more accessible to a more casual audience. The slight tweaks to the game, to open it up to this market, benefit it, and despite the fact that it’s more than a year old it proves that regardless of looks or age, a well-designed game can be fun well past it’s sell-by date.
Diablo 3 on console. by Blizzard Entertainment
Available on Xbox 360 and PS3
The good: Tremendous replayability, very simple controls, fun co-operative play, smooth graphics
The bad: Menu system is clunky, sometimes imprecise controls