Someone had better get Azmodan a plus-size parka, because hell has officially frozen over. Not only has a Blizzard game been released on consoles—the first since the much-hated N64 port of StarCraft—it’s actually better than its PC counterpart.
That may well sound like heresy to any folks out there who’ve already made plans to be buried with their keyboard, mouse, and mint, in-box copy of Lord of Destruction, but it’s plainly hard to argue otherwise. The console versions of Diablo III feature all of the improvements patched into the PC build over the last year, and it’s notably absent of the game’s two largest lingering annoyances: the lack of offline play and the auction house. As someone who’s personally had a Hardcore character die due to an unexpected lag spike, that first change alone is worth the price of admission. Taken together, they’re a clear sign that Blizzard is willing to learn from their mistakes—even if it takes a new platform to make good on that lesson.
But the console port of Diablo III isn’t worthwhile solely because of its omissions—the things it adds are plenty enjoyable, too. The new, more direct control scheme, built around steering your character with the left stick while performing various attacks and quick actions with just about every other button on the controller, feels surprisingly natural, even if you’ve spent decades become accustomed to the traditional right-hand clickfest and left-hand keyboard claw. I personally found it much easier to build up perfect muscle memory for all of my attacks, especially when I ventured into Elective mode.
The other noteworthy addition on the controls front is a new directional dodge roll, activated by pressing the right thumbstick. It’s not the get-out-of-jail-free card that you might find in dedicated action games, but it’s still immensely useful for getting out of the fracas to recover some health or approaching ranged enemies with a melee character. I was surprised at how much this simple addition affected my own Monk playstyle in subtle but enjoyable ways.
Of course, all the gameplay refinements in the world would be for naught if Diablo III‘s historically complex UI were a nightmare to navigate with a controller, but that’s thankfully not the case—at least for the most part. A lot of thought has clearly gone into making everything easy and intuitive, with lots of tabbed and radial menus for accessing your gear, a simple way to compare items en masse and add them to a junkpile one by one if they’re not worth trying out.
The largest UI problems, without a doubt, crop up when it’s playing a passive role. Your HUD is incredibly compacted by console standards, with a lot of information squeezed into a tiny corner of the screen. Since all of your ability and potion cooldowns are still depicted the same way—as subtle overlay wipes on top of the icons—it can be difficult to see if a particular skill is ready to use at a glance if you’re not sitting right up against the TV. This can be a particularly frustrating when you try to use a potion in a clutch moment, only to realize there’s an almost-invisible sliver left in the cooldown clock.
Of course, there are other advantages to playing the game on a TV, the greatest of which is full drop-in, drop-out four-player local co-op. The game’s top-down nature lends itself readily to sharing a single screen, and it’s a wonderful change of pace to be able to sit next to your friends on the couch as you work your way through dungeons. Once you fiddle with some of the optional graphical settings—turning on enemy life bars is an absolute must—it’s surprisingly easy for everyone to keep track of the onscreen action even without a dedicated display.
To account for the new single perspective, there are some minor design changes, some of which are less successful than others. When one person enters a doorway or teleports, for instance, everyone else is dragged along instantly. While gold is evenly distributed to everyone upon pickup, loot is no longer dropped on a per-player basis, leaving you to fight over the right to pick up whatever’s on the ground. These changes open up the game to the sort of exploitative behaviors that are absent from online play, but it’s a seemingly unavoidable tradeoff. Besides, if you’re playing local co-op and your friends aren’t playing nice, you can always just hurl your controller at them.
Some people will undoubtedly be distraught at the news that Diablo III, even in this improved form,is still not Diablo II. If you’re disappointed by the overall direction Blizzard has taken the franchise, well, those big-picture changes haven’t gone anywhere, though there are a few minor steps that make for a more enjoyable overall experience. Rather than vomiting an endless supply of junk loot at you, this port skews things so most of your drops are converted to gold, and the items you do get have a better chance of being useful for your character. It’s not an absolute improvement, though. Since Diablo III‘s design overwhelmingly makes core stat bonuses the most important feature of any loot, much of what you find is still going to be useless unless it carries a boost to either Vitality or the primary stat that governs your class of choice. In the end, though, some percentage of junk is necessary to fuel the shopkeeping economy and crafting system, and what’s presented in this port is certainly a move in the right direction.
In fact, the only thing I find truly questionable about this console release of Diablo III is its timing. Anyone who desperately wanted to play the game likely plowed through the PC version months ago, and I’m not certain if the changes here are dramatic enough to draw them in for another playthrough. If, however, you skipped out on Diablo III because you were turned off by the idea of a mandatory Internet connection, if you’ve been meaning to play it but didn’t have a capable PC, or if you’re a total newcomer to the franchise looking to get onboard, this port is certainly worth your time.
Strange though it may sound, this port is the definitive version of Diablo III. By removing the auction house and adding in offline play, local co-op, and an effective console control scheme, Blizzard has allowed the underlying gameplay experience to shine through like never before.
M – Mature
|Diablo III (Console Version) is available on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. Primary version played was for PlayStation 3. Code/hardware was provided by Activision for the benefit of this coverage. EGM reviews on a scale of one to five stars.|