Whether it’s co-operative PvE play typical of MMOs, team-based competitive PvP, multiplayer FFA mayhem or simply two people facing off, there’s nothing quite like gaming with fellow humans. Most games these days feature some kind of connected multiplayer mode that brings together players from all over the globe. But while I do love online gaming, there’s nothing quite like having players sitting next to one another in the same room to really dial up the spirit of competition – or enhance the feeling of working together.
So when I walked into Blizzard’s section of Sony’s booth at E3, I was delighted to see a whole bunch of big comfy couches placed in front of a series of fat-ass TV screens. I didn’t know it beforehand, but Blizzard has decided to make its console conversion of Diablo III a couch co-op game (as well as multiplayer online if you want). And that makes me very happy indeed. Actually, ecstatic is more like it.
Here’s why. My girlfriend and I play a lot of games together, but while competitive gaming is fun, over the years we’ve learned that she’ll inevitably win at games that are strategic and/or involve learning patterns, whereas I will almost always prevail at games that are tactical and/or require improvisation. Because of that, we now exclusively play co-op games. Our favorite format for this kind of play is action-RPGs, but it’s a category that has had few winners over the last decade or so. But it looks like Diablo III will make up for that, and then some.
I didn’t play the PC version anywhere near as much as I thought I was going to. Not because I didn’t like it – indeed, I played and thoroughly enjoyed Beta, and fully intended to put some serious time into the release version. It’s just that when Diablo III was finally launched, I had way too many other part-time-job games to deal with, so never got properly started. But as it turns out, I’m really glad that I didn’t, because it means I can play the console version of the game pretty much as a new experience.
And it certainly felt shiny and new when I played the two-up E3 demo. Playing on a giant TV screen, Diablo III looks fantastic – and really lets you appreciate all the insane crap that’s going on. To put no finer point on it, this is one seriously over-the-top, volume-up-to-11, all-caps-in-bold, action-RPG. Hordes of monsters attack you from all sides, constantly. Characters dish out endless amounts of punishment, usually in a series of brightly colored explosions and effects. There’s stuff to pick up, stuff to blow up, and stuff to figure out, and it all comes at you like lead from an MG 42. It makes every action-RPG before it seem like wheezing, pedestrian fodder for mead-drinkers to play between renaissance fairs.
Because of this, co-op mode is hugely fun. Sometimes you need to work together on things, and sometimes you need to split your fire. Sometimes one player can tank monsters while the other mows them down from a distance; other times kiting is needed to buy time to destroy the enemy. It’s intense, and works absolutely brilliantly on a shared screen. I can understand concerns from those who favor their own independent screen, but rest assured it works. Sure, sometimes if you’re not thinking, you can get cornered and need to do a bit of maneuvering to get out of your predicament, but to me that’s part of the claustrophobic dungeon experience, and working around those issues is what co-op is all about.
But the thing that really struck me is that Diablo III feels like it was made for console. The one thing I didn’t particularly like about the PC game was its control scheme. It was always a bit of a hairy shirt; I eventually got used to it, but it just didn't ever feel comfortable. On PlayStation 3, the joypad elevates the game, feeling completely natural, and delivering far more finesse and maneuverability than mouse and clicks. It enabled me to slip into the action easily, and I barely had to think about what buttons I needed to use to blast the seven shades of crap out of everything. Your mileage might vary, of course, but to me, this game feels like it’s come home.
Judging by the E3 demo, the console version content seems to be pretty much the Diablo III I played on PC, but tighter. This isn’t just due to the much more responsive and immediate arcade-style controls better suiting the arcade-style action, but the enemies also seem to be a little more focused in their attacks. During PC combat, you often run into situations where additional monsters keep wandering into the fray, extending combat and creating a broad spread of targets. In this console version, denizens all rush in together. This is a smart design decision that delivers more running and gunning around zergs of monsters, instead of PC-style picking and clicking scattered targets. The end result is a more arcade-like experience that feels perfect for console gameplay.
Graphically, the PS3 version holds its own vs what I experienced on a mid-powered PC. In the midst of fighting a full-on zerg of monsters, with AOE-effects going off like the fourth of July, I saw no slowdown at all. Not sure how that might stack up when there are four players on the screen, so the jury’s still out on that. But certainly for two players, it seems rock solid. The atmospheric and explosive audio seems no different to the PC version. And even if it is, it sounds great.
Diablo III's transition from PC to consoles is really impressive. I’d always assumed that I was going to like it, but I had no idea just how much I was going to like it. While there were plenty of great games on display at E3, this is one of the few that I walked away from feeling adrenaline pumping through my veins – and dying to play again. Even a few weeks after E3, I keep thinking about it. It made a huge impression on me, and is definitely up there as one of the games of the show. And when it's released later on this year, I will definitely be playing it on day one. This time around, it doesn’t matter what other games I might be playing. They’re all getting sidelined for this. It really is that good.