To say that last spring’s release of Diablo III went without a hitch would be an outright lie. While players and critics alike praised the game for its addicting gameplay, it did stir up a fair amount of fecal precipitation during the launch period. Most of this was due to Blizzard’s decision to design the game as a client/server application, like the traditional MMO. Many called this decision Always-On DRM. It wasn’t that; it was just a really bad design decision that I’m sure they’ve come to regret. With this console release of Diablo III, the game is not saddled with any of that extra baggage.
What Is It?
Heaven and Hell are locked in an Eternal Conflict. Evil roams the land, spreading its corruption throughout the world. A party of Heroes must rise up to face that Evil and restore balance to the beleaguered world of Sanctuary. It’s the same story as the PC version, plot holes and all. It may not be a hugely compelling narrative, but it does provide a layer of context to keep you motivated.
Diablo III is really about two very simple elements: Killing monsters and collecting ever increasingly powerful loot. This is the area that the console version differs from its older brother the most. There’s no more pointing and clicking on things. Instead you have direct control over your character’s movement and actions. Having direct control completely changes the way the game is played. You can make very subtle movements on the control stick that are just not possible on the PC. The console version also adds an Evade mechanic, which allows every character, even the lumbering Barbarian, to be far more mobile. The one drawback to this new system is that ranged characters, such as the Demon Hunter or Wizard, are now a little more difficult to play. There is an auto-targeting system in place to somewhat mitigate that, but there are times when you want to aim at a specific target in a crowd and it is very difficult to get the game to do so. It doesn’t make ranged characters unplayable by any means, but it is something that you will have to get used to.
Along with the changes to the controls comes a completely new game UI. Equipping items, skills, and outfitting your follower is very quick and easy to do with the new controller-friendly radial menu. The new UI is very functional, but it certainly isn’t very stylish. It’s a case of function over form, a trade-off I’m very willing to accept. The interface takes up the whole screen when you bring it up, which is a problem when you’re playing locally with friends. When someone is accessing their inventory or setting up their skills, none of the other players on the console can do anything aside from waiting for their buddy to be done. When you play the game online or via a system link connection, this isn’t an issue.
Why Should I Care?
All the UI and control tweaking in the world won’t help a game if it isn’t fun to play in the first place. The PC version of Diablo III has all the elements in place to make it a long-term stayer. The trouble that it runs into is the game’s Auction Houses. Finding items for your character is a huge chore. In my 450 hours of gameplay of the PC version, I have only found a handful of decent items. Legendaries in particular are so scarce as to be almost mythical. I can count on one hand the number of Legendary Items that I have found and still have a couple of fingers left over.
On the console though, I have found eight Legendary Items so far in my first playthrough of Normal difficulty. The drop rates are actually lower than they are on the PC version, but the items that drop tend to be of higher quality than the PC original. They had to make this change because the console version doesn’t carry around the PC’s biggest piece of baggage: The Auction Houses. That’s not to say that the game throws them at you willy-nilly. When you do find a Legendary, it’s almost as if the game knows what would fit your character well at the moment and drops something appropriate. B. P. Skinner would be proud.
What Makes It Worth My Time And Money?
It’s been six paragraphs, and I haven’t even touched on how the game feels. To sum it up, Diablo III on console is both thrilling and satisfying. There is a fluidity to the gameplay that goes beyond the game’s mostly steady 60 fps. There is this sense of connection with your character that is somehow missing in the PC version. When you die here, it really is because you made a mistake and misjudged the monsters you’re facing, not because you lost your mouse cursor in the clutter of battle or fell victim to a lag spike.
Each of the characters is distinct. They all start off with fairly basic abilities, but as you progress you’ll unlock new skills. You can swap skills in and out at will, which encourages you to try different combinations. There’s no skill point commitment to make, so if something doesn’t work, all you have to do is respawn, swap in another skill and try again.
You can play the game alone and have a good time. The AI follower you can recruit does a fair job of keeping up with you, and they add a bit of running commentary to the monster slaying. If you want to group up with others though, that’s when things get really interesting. Online games are easy to find and are searchable on intent. If you want a group to go question, monster farming or a bit of PvP, the game makes it easy to do. It never takes more than a few minutes to fill up a game, and once full the game performs quite well.
Blizzard could have very easily done a rushed port of the PC version and not bothered with improving the itemization. Had they done that, there really wouldn’t be any real need to buy this version. It’s the changes they’ve made, which they are looking to bring over to the PC version, that have given the game a second life. To put it another way, this is how Diablo III should have been from the beginning. It’s taken them a long time to get here, but I have a feeling that the upcoming expansion for the PC version will do for it what the console team have done for the original game.