The PC crowd might not like this, but Diablo III feels perfectly at home on console. But only in a handful of areas -- these being the social co-operative experience, ease of control and for trimming away a lot of the fat the desktop crowd has been up and down about since the game’s initial release. There’s more to it, with overhauls in the loot aspect and a higher bar as far as challenge goes, but for an identical product in terms of content and assets, Diablo III on console really takes the Diablo cake.
The team also did away with the Auction House, opting instead for the more traditional trading system of dropping loot from your Inventory so someone else can pick it up. This is probably the area of this update I feel wasn’t handled best, but I’ll expand on that a bit later, for now the positives any Diablo fan ought to be looking at as far as the console version goes is that it’s completely playable offline, it’s LAN-capable on Xbox 360 and every major feature update released on the PC since launch is applied to the foundation of this entry, with the console in mind, rather than being simply ported as required content.
For console owners who never picked up Diablo III on PC, you’re in for a treat. This is not a huge follow-on, as far as gameplay systems built from the original two games (II being the most defining), with DIII shredding its own design mantras in favour of a gaming landscape built more around streamlined customisation and player-choice. It’s part of what split this game down the middle as far as fans go, but it’s a facet I enjoyed on the PC version, and one that still feels at home here. There are no skill trees for you to lock yourself into and loot acts almost like a ghost-rolled secondary character with unique puzzle pieces only you can decide how to fit together. And the ability to spec your character (one of five) anyway you see fit (provided you’ve uncovered the goods) leaves options open for solo, specific team or recreational co-op investment. In short, Diablo III offers huge amounts of replayability beyond the driving loot force, for sheer gameplay differentiation.
Each class allows for a specific set of skills, though three are arguably the basis for core gameplay -- ranged and melee attacks, along with crowd-control options. The Barbarian and Monk, for example, are classic melee characters who you’ll build armour and weapons around for taking and dishing out large amounts of damage. The Monk, for the uninitiated, is particularly cool purely because the team based him off their favourite fighting games and characters. The Demon Hunter and Witch Doctor are both prolific at slowing enemies down with traps while the latter and the Wizard can both summon and execute powerful ranged abilities (as can the Demon Hunter, but it’s more weapons-based than magic).
As per most RPGs, you’ll run these avatars through their paces and earn XP along the way. This, of course, leads to levelling up which unlocks new abilities and Runes for said abilities. At any given time you can switch abilities and runes on-the-fly meaning you’re never really without recourse when facing a particularly tough mob or just facing down a hardened boss.
Loot, as alluded to earlier, is the backbone of the game though and without it, and expert application to your character, you’re just not going to get very far. The PC version dropped way too much useless loot -- obviously a tactic geared to bolster the real-money Auction House and promote the sale of rare items, but without that constraint here (and likely as part of a desire to clean up the mess anyway) things are far more rewarding and far less cluttered. Whites will effectively serve you only for the first two or three levels before they just become materials to break down (or be sold for gold), and you’ll start finding more rare items more often than not geared to your character. This doesn’t overtly affect the flow of the game or overpower you though, as the enemy challenge does feel tweaked and tightened in the console version making for an ever-rewarding bloodfest because you feel capable of stepping up to the challenge.
While going back to how loot was traded before DIII might have seemed like a good idea (and it is functional), I feel like there’s a missed opportunity to at least reach across to friends who you might not be playing with. Obviously an auction house wouldn’t work on console, but Vigil introduced a simple mailing system in Darksiders 2 that allowed you to basically send any loot you found off to friends on your friends list. Organising a game with someone who desperately needs an item you’ve got might be more difficult than Blizzard has accounted for, so a console-specific trading option really would have been a much-loved addition in my opinion, but alas, it’s left to dropping and hoping your buddy picks it up.
Visually the console version is obviously in lower company. It strikes me as odd that it doesn’t look as sharp as the PC version given it itself isn’t crunching machines anywhere, but it’s a noticeable difference (likely because of the capped resolution). It’ll be interesting to see how the inevitable next-gen release looks against this version (announced only for PS4 at this stage, but we reckon it’ll hit Xbox One also), and to also see whether Blizzard will follow suit with its company brother, Activision, by offering the updated game at a lower cost for anyone who bought a PS3 or Xbox 360 copy (for Call of Duty: Ghosts it’s a simple $10 investment to jump to next-gen).
The UI here remains relatively close to the PC version, which might not help console players too much, but once you delve into each layer once with the intention of changing an aspect of your gaming experience, you’ll become an old-hand at it quicksmart. Additions like a quick-glance differentiator between good and bad items is thoroughly helpful though, and being able to let the game know you’re happy to equip a found item with a few green stats over what you’re currently wearing, with the tap of a button, goes a long way on the battlefield. It just might not appeal to PC purists for its streamlined nature.
But that’s the rub here, because above all else, four players in the same room running off the same hardware is impossible to replicate in the current game on PC, and it’s here DIII on console really flexes its muscle. But not for any other reason than it just makes sense. If you ever remember being crowded around an arcade cabinet with four others grinding through Gauntlet, Diablo III is going to feel like nostalgia on steroids for you. The social co-op angle cannot go understated -- it’s why people still talk fondly of Goldeneye multiplayer bouts, only here you’re helping one another through an over-the-top dark and brooding fantasy world full of cliches, gore, humour and cheese. Honestly, how could you not want to share that with friends, on the couch, in the same room?
Diablo III adds just enough to the console experience to separate it from its older PC sibling without stripping away the core action RPG base. It’s a base that has caused a lot of controversy since release, and ironically it feels more at home here than anywhere else anyway, but it’s great to see Blizzard back behind console development. If the freshly-announced Reaper of Souls can win back some of the PC fanbase for its obvious updates based on more than a year of negative feedback (in certain areas), then we might soon see a unified experience catered for gamers of both ilk with just the right amount of common bond in between. Bring on the next-gen entries, Reaper of Souls and PvP.