This review was originally published September 23, 2014 on VGRevolution.com, but has since been wiped from the site’s archive. So I have decided to place it here. Enjoy. Or don’t. Just ignore it, if you must.
We stand around his body, lying on a wooden pyre above an open flame, and his niece succumbs to tears. She’s crying not because of the loss of someone close to her but because Diablo 3 is the first Blizzard game on consoles in a long, long time and it’s wonderful. Diablo 3 on consoles is attractive, it runs with little to no hitches, and everything that made the PC version good made the transition from mouse and keyboard to controller with little fuss. While what made it not so great — like error messages, contrived DRM and an auction house that seemingly defeated the purpose of the series’ loot-driven gameplay — was thankfully banished from the journey.
A year before the release of Diablo 3, much concern was already being made of Diablo 3′s always online mandate. Blizzard hadn’t accounted for how many people actually play Diablo on the train while on their way to work, for instance. Or maybe they didn’t care. But the point was that many just couldn’t accept that a single-player game would, for whatever reason, need an internet connection at all times, even when not playing with others, and at that point, PC gamers had already dealt with too much frivolous nonsense to warm to the idea, though that didn’t stop Blizzard. They pushed, and they pushed hard, assuring in a many interviews that it would be no problem. The launch itself would go off without a hitch, they said, because remember: “we know what we’re doing; this isn’t our first online game. See: World of Warcraft.”
Of course, launch came and, like many had feared, it was a disaster. Instead of playing the sequel they’d waited 12 years for, players were stuck staring at error messages, particularly the infamous error 37 (which myself and many others still chide over anytime we write about Diablo 3).
With the console version of Diablo 3, however, this isn’t a problem. Launch commenced without a hitch. There is no DRM. There is no auction house. And there are no error messages. For better or worse, it’s just Diablo: endless hours of meditatively clicking away while pretty colors dance and hypnotize on-screen.
Except you won’t be clicking so much as pushing. But while there’s no substitute for the sound and feel of clicking a mouse, especially with a game like Diablo where you’re liable to put a couple hundred thousand miles onto one in a very short time, playing Diablo on a gamepad is a surprisingly enjoyable experience, one that takes little to no effort to adjust to. The primary attack is mapped to the x button, the secondary to R2, and the rest assigned to the face buttons. Movement is relegated to the left stick and rolling (evading) is assigned to the right stick. All are responsive, and unless your like me, wringing the last vestige of life out of a faded Sixaxis with a sticky left joystick, then you will never have to question idle, delayed or absent button presses in the middle of a chaotic battle.
The battles do get properly obfuscatingly crowded too. Of the five available classes, I played as a barbarian. Frequently an army of thirty or more enemies would flood an abandoned cellar, clogging a narrow passage. I’d start hammering away at them. But as movement, color and sound attempted to outdo one another, my eyes would be drawn somewhere else onscreen — perhaps at a frightened treasure goblin who’d skittered away with intentions to conjure a portal to safety — and then when I’d looked back, I’d lost myself in the crowd. (Diablo 3 can be a tad disorientating, but in a good way.) I say this mostly to hit home the point that while all of this was happening, not once did I experience any slowdown. Even minor hiccups were few and far between, with one most likely to occur when you level up or when a coop companion is attempting to join and the game is simultaneously trying to autosave. Aside from those anomalies, the game ran seamlessly, and even loading times clocked in at about 2-5 seconds.
Which gives you piece of mind to just admire the game, and you’ll want to admire the game. Diablo 3 is a gorgeous game, even on consoles. Although there’s no denying that the game isn’t nearly as sharp and detailed as the PC version, it still looks pretty damn good and Diablo 3′s use of animation, color and effects pull the weight in remaining conspicuously attractive even in the lower resolution. Importantly, that distinction will be far more noticeable to those who’ve already played on PC. For those who haven’t, who have been in a long while unable to experience the joys of the PC, this won’t stifle their experience at all. Diablo’s overhead isometric camera angle also lends itself to covering up some of the concessions made for the transition. So if there’s any area in which console Diablo 3 doesn’t quite measure up, this is it. Though it’s still a stretch to knock the game for it.
In other respects, the console version improves in areas that, at first anyway, Blizzard seemed stubbornly unrelenting to budge on. It’s ditched any trace of obtrusive DRM and tweaked the game’s problematic loot system, deeming this new version “Loot 2.0.” To look back, the problem with the original loot system (indeed the one being used on PC at the moment) was that players were enduring hours upon hours of gameplay and not finding loot that justified that investment. Much of that stems from having an auction house where players can buy equipment, and in most cases, the only place in which to pick up said equipment. In this way, the inherit core gameplay of Diablo, to play and to collect cool loot, is undercut. With players having the option to head off to the auction house to purchase rare items outright with real money or in-game gold, it isn’t a very balanced choice; based on how the game distributed loot, going to the auction house could feel like the only option for you to obtain what you really want — and in most cases, as Blizzard’s confirmed, players have spent more time there than they did actually playing the game. Which is understandable, when one could be a level sixty on PC and still only have a character with one piece of legendary equipment, for example.
The difference between “Loot 1.0″ and “Loot 2.0″, then, is an immediately noticeable one. Surely this has something to do with the subtraction of the auction house. The loot dropped and scaling system is significantly better on consoles (because of Loot 2.0). There’s less loot, less crap, but more quality gear that’s more likely to be of use to you at your current level. In comparison with the example I gave above, my level 22 barbarian has already picked up five pieces of legendary gear. The game will start dropping these rare pieces when your character is about level 14. I suspect that by the time I’m level 25-30, I’ll have a full set — and it’ll be a reward representing a return on the time I’ve put in. By removing cheap shortcuts and bought progression, this new loot system makes for a more rewarding game. Maybe too rewarding.
While this version doesn’t require you to be always-online, its still an experience that can be shared with up to four others, online or local or both. If you want to play offline, you can do that. If you want to play online, you can do that. But it doesn’t stop there, which is why this package makes your heart flutter in response to the consideration. Diablo 3 consoles supports system link support on Xbox 360 (from what I hear; I haven’t tried it myself) and local multiplayer on a single console for up to four players, which you can mix and match with online (i.e., two people playing on one console with two others who are online).
You can choose to play a quick match, or set your game to invite only, friends only or public, which will allow players to just drop in and drop out of your game. Because on the server side online is not being handled by battle.net and is instead player hosted, you may experience some lag, largely dependent on your particular circumstances. However, a big positive, like with every other aspect of this Diablo 3, is that we’re given a lot of customization to tip things in our favor. Matchmaking comes with an abundance of settings from region and language filters, to preferences for which act or area you want to play in, to even ‘tags’ indicating your intentions during this playthrough; straight up coop monster slaying, player-vs-player, or attempting challenges, so on and so forth.
There’s no denying the value of Diablo 3, on consoles or anywhere else. What we have here is the picture perfect way to port a PC game to a console. This console Diablo 3 gives you everything that you get on PC, short of modding. It’s 15 months worth of updates pushed into one package and delivered flawlessly. Blizzard’s PC roots are clearly on display, offering players a bevy of options and customization (like the option to create custom soundtracks or making Diablo 3 profiles transferable to portable memory) the likes of which we’re just only beginning to see from developers as we enter a new console generation. Less pretty than on PC, Diablo 3 still remains beautiful and, in spite of a necessary reworked control scheme and user interface, everything feels tight and intuitive, whether you’re bashing in the skulls of demons or scrolling through menus. It also boast some seriously thought through multiplayer features, including the generous addition of offline four-player cooperative play, which should see Diablo 3 added to a now dwindling list of great dorm-room games.
Lets put it this way: Had I not known about Diablo’s past beforehand, I wouldn’t have thought twice about the game’s original origins.
P.S. Despite Blizzard’s own past stance on the auction house, of which it previously defended in saying it actually prevented hacking and unethical play, it’s suddenly come to its senses and decided to cut out the auction house altogether, for the reasons I stated above. It will act in conjunction with Diablo 3′s planned Loot 2.0 system, and also in preparation for the upcoming first expansion, Reaper of Souls, which later will “definitely” be coming to consoles.
A copy of Diablo for PS3 was provided by Blizzard for this review.