We live in a crazy world. Blizzard, usually stalwarts of PC gaming (having not created a console game since 1998 with a port of the original Diablo - and even that was outsourced), have finally made their painfully late entrance into this generation of consoles. Certainly there will be many hardcore gamers who will look in disdain at a console port of one of the biggest series available for PC, but here’s the craziest thing: this console port may actually be better.
Perhaps much of the improvement can be put down simply to the absence of frustration involved in actually playing the game. Having learnt from the atrocious release of Diablo III for PC in September last year, Blizzard have revoked everything that made the fans scream in anger. Gone is the always online requirement, along with the baffling array of error messages. Erased is the auction house, along with its game-destroying requirement to invest if you wish to finish the game on the harder difficulty levels (although the PC version may be released from this soon). Diablo III for the console is a blissful realisation that all we ever really wanted to do is play the game.
Yet there are so many more reasons to embrace this port. First and foremost the four-player local, drop-in and drop-out cooperative action is magnificent. It feels natural to sit back on the sofa with friends or family, each grasping a controller, and together obliterate the ever encroaching hordes of evil. Sure you can still find players online, but in many ways this is the way Diablo was always meant to be played, everyone in the same room, cheering and crying together. There are limitations when playing locally of course, being artificially pulled into the same camera shot perhaps the most obvious one. However this turns out to be a surprising boon rather than an issue, restricting the combatants to one area ensures that the battles all happen in the same place and everyone is involved. It makes the action more frenetic and entertaining. It feels right.
Loot, that raison d'ętre of action RPGs, is also shared between all players, which means a return to that scramble towards rare drops, in the hope of stealing it before anyone else. It is not a huge issue, and one that seems hard to resolve on a single screen, but it can still result in fights over who gets the new shiny piece of armour that has mysteriously exploded from the belly of a squashed giant spider. Of course all items can be swapped by simply dropping them again, but this relies on the player being willing to drop them in the first place…
Once that new loot has been collected the player needs to bring up the revamped inventory system to equip it. It is functional enough, perhaps even neater than the box system of the PC version, with lists of equipment and weapons sorted into categories. Blizzard have made the wise decision to derestrict the limitations on carrying equipment (up to sixty items can now be carried at a time) and this ensures players are not constantly having to bring up and reorganise their inventories. This can be a particular issue with up to four local players as only a single player can make any modifications to equipment and skills at a time, halting the others’ gameplay.
Amazingly it never feels like the system is straining for a mouse and keyboard. Each category of armour and weapon is reached with a push of the directional stick and then there is little mess comparing dropped loot to your current setup. It is certainly not perfect, perhaps the biggest issue is the system constantly wanting to inform you of new loot even if it is completely useless, but it never feels overwhelming.
The action also feels surprisingly suited to the controller despite its clicking origins. It harks back to those classic console ARPGs such as the Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance or Champions of Norrath series that disappeared at the twilight of the previous generation (with only the mediocre examples such as Sacred 2 and Dungeon Siege III available on this gen). The game feels more relaxing while running around with the left analogue stick, dodging and diving with the right and hammering buttons to unleash skills and though it lacks some accuracy when trying to attack specific enemies, holding the more comfortable controller in the hand is certainly preferable to RSI-inducing incessant clicking. Indeed longer sessions are far more enjoyable than they ever were on the PC.
And the list of changes and improvements goes on: loot drops have been revamped to allow for the missing auction house, a quick icon based comparison of any loot that determines whether anything you collect is preferable to your current setup - both of which help cure that constant need to clear out the inventory. Then there is a secondary difficulty setting (beyond the Nightmare, Hell and Inferno modes that are unlocked upon finishing the campaign) which actually makes the game a challenge on first playthrough, as well as a host of other minor changes that perhaps only a hardened PC Diablonite will notice.
But despite all these changes and improvements, the console version of Diablo III is still Diablo III, and where the game suffered previously this game suffers still. It is still a Diablo clone with not a single bone of originality to be found. The story is still skippable generic fantasy that most adventurers will have completely forgotten immediately upon completion of, if not during, the campaign. The original five characters (there is no new actual content yet, though an expansion is in the works) are still levelled on an extremely linear scale with no skill trees to explore, and while you can experiment with the large collection of different skills, often certain builds are simply preferable to others. Obviously if the PC version of Diablo III or any other hack-and-slash ARPG in general failed to raise any enthusiasm, then its move to console will more than likely be equally lacking in entertainment.
For the other branch of players: those that enjoy the horrendously addictive gameplay element, hooking you in with its constant drip feed of loot and explosive gore, Diablo III on the console is a better experience. Perhaps it is a statement about how wrong Blizzard were with their original release, or perhaps it is an admission of fault, but as PC gamer I would happily recommend this release. Even if you already own its PC brother there is something incredibly refreshing and revitalising about playing the game offline with friends, each with a controller, together on the same screen. It feels right. It feels good. And that is how games are meant to feel.