Blizzard teased console gamers with the possibility of a Diablo III port for over a year before they made it official in February 2013. According to the developer, this cloak-and-dagger approach was because they weren’t sure a console version of the game could ever be up to their standards, and they didn’t want to officially announce anything until it was ready for prime time. But when Blizzard did deliver the game to the public at last year’s PAX East, it was met with rousing support from the press and players alike. Finally, In September, the console release of Diablo III gave non-PC gamers their first chance to take on the Lord of Terror since the heady days of the original PlayStation.
Was it all worth it? A veteran of the PC campaign and a Diablo newcomer find out…
Platforms: PS3 (Version Played), Xbox 360
Publisher: Blizzard Entertainment
Developer: Blizzard Entertainment
Genre: Controller-Controlled Action RPG
Release Date: September 3, 2013
ESRB Rating: Mature
John Scalzo, The Rookie: I never played Diablo III on a PC, but the idea of playing a game like this with a mouse and keyboard just seemed foreign to me. Diablo III feels like it was built with a controller in mind and it works beautifully. The controls are flawless, the button layout feels intuitive (though I would have preferred to have one of the shoulder buttons operate the Dash), and the menus are easy to navigate. Perhaps Blizzard really did spend two years perfecting the game for a console audience.
But action RPGs are a time-tested genre on consoles, and Blizzard’s constant hemming and hawing over whether or not Diablo III could even work got tiring after a while. They did a great job translating the game for PS3/Xbox 360 owners, but they didn’t reinvent the wheel. And just because they act like they did, doesn’t mean you should believe it.
Nicole Kline, The Veteran: I spent some time with Diablo III on the PC, and while my review was not glowing, my main complaints about the game revolved around the constant need to be online. With server crashes inhibiting the single-player experience, the launch of the game was painful. I wanted to spend more time in the world, do more than just beat the game once through, but my frustration outweighed those desires, and I put the game down. Shortly after, our account was banned, and even with contacting Blizzard multiple times, the issue never got truly resolved. The PC version has been collecting dust ever since.
I’ve had the complete opposite experience with the PS3 version of the game. I’ve logged countless hours in Diablo III on my console, beating it not just in Normal mode, but also in Nightmare, Hell, and Inferno modes, and I’ve even started playing a Hardcore game with Anthony Amato. I am just one Trophy away from getting the Platinum trophy – no easy feat, given what some of these Trophies entail – and it’s a rare day that goes by that I don’t play the game for at least half an hour. As John said, Blizzard didn’t invent the wheel, but the conversion of keys to buttons was mapped beautifully, not having to be online 24/7 has made single player an addictive experience, and the lack of the online auction house has made it so that we actually get a fair amount of Legendary items. Elective mode, which I thought would be more complicated with a controller, actually runs more smoothly. And couch co-op turns the game from a decent RPG to an amazing experience.
John: Yes, Diablo III works beautifully on consoles, but I was astounded by how similar the game felt to another recent action RPG: Obsidian’s Dungeon Siege III. Diablo III’s story is actually a pretty standard good versus evil yarn and if you’re genre savvy at all, you’ll guess all of the story beats before they happen. But the cinematics are still beautiful and the voice acting is well done. The plot may have been cliche, but I was hooked.
Blizzard’s game is “bigger” in every way, but the two titles recreate a lot of the same fantasy tropes and set pieces. For example, they both have a section where the player character has to defend a military camp stationed high up in a range of snowcapped mountains from an invading army. Even the combat felt familiar.
Of course, I loved Dungeon Siege III, so that good feeling quickly transferred over to Diablo III.
Nicole: That’s not all. Torchlight II, made by many of the original creators of Diablo II, was what Anthony refers to as “a better Diablo than Diablo III.” While graphically dissimilar to the Diablo series – Torchlight is well-known for its cartoony style – the game’s fluid combat system and skill trees were much more along the lines of a Diablo game than Diablo III was. As I mentioned in my PC review, some of what Diablo III did with their skills felt dumbed-down, and turning to Torchlight II gave me all the challenge I needed. Cementing in skills is part of the fiber of these games – your decisions actually matter.
Sadly, Torchlight II has the same problem Diablo III had for me, which is that, until recently, we didn’t have two computers powerful enough to play either game cooperatively. But having Diablo III on the PS3 automatically put it at the top of our list every night, because we could sit down and play it together with no complications whatsoever. The toughest question we had was, “Should we play Hardcore?”
John: Exactly. The PS3 and the Xbox 360 aren’t as powerful as your average gaming computer, but Blizzard was able to bring the sweeping locales of Diablo III to both with ease. A ridiculous number of baddies and dropped loot can fill the screen, and using the controller to seamlessly zip in and out among these threats and treasures is absolutely perfect. And it all looks gorgeous, especially the gleaming spires of Heaven and the bubbling lava of Hell.
Loot and inventory management work as well as they can on a console. Grabbing an item requires a simple button press, and players can use the analog sticks to cycle through recently acquired items. Would it be easier with a mouse? Most definitely. But does Blizzard’s radial dial setup work well enough when all I want to do is get back to smashing monsters? Absolutely.
However, Diablo III did produce a few nits that kept nagging at me throughout the game. The action buttons are a tad sensitive and you’ll often find yourself performing the same attack twice without meaning to. And for a game so obsessed with numbers, I found it strange that the amount of Resource Points you have at any one time is just a nebulous pool. Not knowing at a glance if my Monk had enough “Spirit” to perform some of his stronger attacks was frustrating.
Nicole: Yes, resource management can be strange on the console version – what you can see with the flick of a cursor gets lost with a controller. The attack sensitivity is par for the course with this game, though – and can be especially difficult if you’re playing a melee class. When you’re in the thick of things and just trying to duck out, it can be tough if you end up mashing buttons. I found the analog stick dodge to be a saving grace on the console – it got me out of more than one sticky situation.
Diablo III was a solid game on the PC, though riddled with issues, most of them stemming from the nature of the game itself. Blizzard’s decision to make players stay online 24/7 definitely did more damage than good to them, and the online auction house was nothing but a disaster. Everything about the console version is superior – in fact, the lack of lag when dozens of enemies are on the screen was a pleasant shock to me when it first happened. Sure, the computer I played it on originally wasn’t top of the line, but to see how smoothly and beautiful it ran on the PS3 blew me away. If there was any desire in your heart to play this game, do the right thing and play it on consoles – even if just for the couch co-op.
If this is your first Diablo experience, you’ll fall in love. And if you’re a seasoned veteran, you’ll be amazed at how comfortable the differences feel.
Review Disclosure: A review copy of Diablo III was provided by Blizzard Entertainment for the purposes of this review.