It’s now been more than 18 months since the long-awaited, much-delayed PC launch of Diablo 3, the third instalment in Blizzard’s seminal dungeon-crawling series. Those of us “casual” gamers who forgo the superior PC for these primitive console thingies have been waiting for what seems like three times that for the game to finally make it to our preferred platforms – but now it’s finally here, was it worth the wait?
I should point out right away that, to all intents and purposes, this is the same game as the PC version. The story is the same, the world is the same, the core mechanic is the same – the main alterations are to be found, quite expectedly, in the UI and the control scheme. What was not broken has been left untouched and, rather impressively, Blizzard have transferred over every patch and update that the PC community has enjoyed, too.
At its very heart, Diablo 3 is an incredibly simple game, and so it’s no surprise that it ports to home consoles so smoothly and so comfortably. It’s loud and bright and fast and brutal, and no amount of PC posturing will change it into a considered strategy title – it is what it is and, by God, it knows what it is. This is a game about loot, about feeding that unexplainable urge to hoover up scattered gold pieces and trinkets to improve yourself enough that the next rampaging horde of enemies scatters more gold pieces and trinkets as you split them all open from crotch to gizzard. That it feeds this desire while narrying and forsoothing around within its knowingly hammy story simply gives it all context and makes it all the more fun.
So, what do we need to divulge about said story? Actually, very little. Even in terms of high fantasy, Diablo 3′s narrative takes few risks, offers few twists and manages to be precisely angled to bounce the action from inception to conclusion without ever becoming boring.
It begins with a fallen star smashing through the cathedral in Tristram (the legendarily troubled village that has seen more death and destruction than Midsomer during its tenure as the lynchpin location for the Diablo series). The protagonist arrives to investigate, and finds series stalwart Deckard Cain on his last legs. Along with Cain, his niece Leah, the ever-dependable Archangel Tyrael and a handful of other allies, you’re then thrust into a desperate race to prevent the resurrection of the Demon Diablo, Lord of Terror.
Diablo 3′s main quest will see you catapulted back and forth across the land of Sanctuary, with exposition divulged by way of NPC interaction, cinematic artwork and stunning CGI cut-scenes. The world of Diablo is vast, so much so that the entire trilogy to date has left a great many mentioned locations shrouded in mystery. While lore entries are added to your journal with every new enemy encountered, lengthy expository codex entries are replaced by short memoires read out like audio logs. It saves you a lot of looting time, if nothing else.
The character roster is a robust mix of melee specialists and magic users. Never afraid since Diablo 1 to think outside the box when it comes to classes, Blizzard have again presented us with an eclectic and unpredictable bunch. The Barbarian and Monk are your melee classes, the former exhibiting the same powerhouse characteristics you’ll remember from Diablo 2, and the latter specialising in lightning fast jab/kick combos. The Demon Hunter is designed to be played at range, laying traps like Diablo 2′s Assassin and rocking dual-wielded crossbows. Replacing the last instalment’s element-based Sorceress is the Wizard, whose frail form hides a devastating destructive power, and finishing off the line up is the intoxicating Witch Doctor, a slow-burn killer specialising in DoT (Damage over Time) skills.
Character progression is intriguing. While skills and hot-key slots unlock at predetermined moments, seemingly restricting the wonderful build freedom of Diablo 2, customisable salvation comes in the form of Skill Runes, modifiers that can completely alter the effects of a given ability. They can be swapped out as often as you like with no penalty, so while you will be locked into a class and gender, you can still experiment with the finer points of a given build.
The biggest change reflects the biggest obstacle when porting any hardcore PC game to consoles: the UI. Blizzard have circumvented potential issues by making X, A, Y, B R1 and RB (and the corresponding buttons on PS3) mappable, allowing you to ready six skills at once. Drop a skill out of A and that becomes the default attack with your equipped weapon. Upon collecting a new piece of wearable loot, you can switch into it with the press of a button without even going into your inventory, and the D-Pad becomes a handy quick-key for Town Portals and controlling the mini-map.
It’s all made even more accessible to pad users by the new inventory. Presented as a wheel around the central character portrait, it’s a cinch to select individual armour and weapon slots with the left stick. A tap of X reveals a handy side-by-side comparison so you know exactly which piece of gear is the best option – and you’ll need it, as Diablo 3 hurls loot at you at a rate of knots. In fact, it can be taxing to keep with the influx of gear.
It’s a shame that so much of it is cosmetic. It’s not that the loot in Diablo 3 is non-essential, it’s that there’s so much of it you’ll often find yourself torn between tiny boosts to different stats and will end up settling for the best looking. There are Rare, Legendary and set items to tip the balance, but a great deal of what drops is little more than vendor trash by the time you’re pushing Level 25.
Tweaks to combat include the new evasive roll: push the right stick in any direction and your character will leap out of harm’s way. This is useful for the melee classes, and essential for the ranged characters who need to distance themselves from the enemy to maintain maximum efficiency. It’s especially handy when you’re travelling with an AI companion (recruitable from various locations), and you want them taking the brunt of the enemy assault while you zip around the battlefield hurling death.
A fairly exhaustive run on Normal-Medium difficulty will see you to around Level 28, give or take. If you want to reach the cap of 60 you’ll have to be prepared to run Diablo 3 until around two thirds of the way through the third play, in Hell Mode. Each of the four modes, Normal, Nightmare, Hell, and Inferno offer greater challenges and rewards, and each has a total of five difficulty levels. Hitting 60 will open up the Paragon system, containing a further 40 levels, meaning that Diablo 3 is a game designed for multiple plays. Randomly generated dungeons, loot and bosses ensure that you’re never quite sure what’s coming up, and it will take a long time to get bored in Sanctuary.
If the kill-loot-level-repeat system does get stale, you can always dive in with four other players, either online or via the magic of the sofa. While the former is indeed fun, it’s nothing compared to teaming up with a friend or three beside you and going ape. The camera works perfectly, allowing you to each focus on your individual character at all times, even when you’re a screen apart. As a slice of multiplayer fun, Diablo 3 is close to dungeon crawling perfection – in fact, at times, it genuinely feels like the pinnacle of the genre’s evolution.
Visually, this version is obviously inferior to the PC original, and yet Diablo 3′s method of painting detailed, dark backgrounds and then assaulting them with vivid colour and deliberate dazzle is hard to fault. The character models are well-drawn, and the level of detail on the player characters is great; each one is brimming with personality and minute idiosyncrasies that make them stand out. As with Diablo 2, the audio is impeccable, combining the grunts, growls and full-gutted howls of the Hellspawn with stirring orchestral background music and the familiar cacophony of magic and steel.
VERDICT: Given that Blizzard have put their best efforts into making this the most complete edition of Diablo 3 so far, it’s no surprise that this version is superior in many ways to the PC release. Visuals aside, the removal of the controversial Auction House and always-online requirement allied with the new UI, improved inventory and the combat roll make this the definitive version of one of the greatest dungeon crawlers of the decade.
As addictive and accessible as ever, Diablo 3 on consoles is a fit more comfortable than anyone predicted, and proves that Blizzard not only listen to their fans, but are willing to walk the extra mile even for a port. Especially in this day and age, that’s an impressive ethic.
SUPERB. This is the mark of greatness, only awarded to games that engage us from start to finish. Titles that score 9/10 will have very few problems or negative issues, and will deliver high quality and value for money across all aspects of their design.