Twelve months on from my highly enthusiastic review of PS3 Diablo III, I find myself about to re-use all the words I used last year in what will be a strangely similar review of this year's version.
For current generation console users, Diablo III: Reaper of Souls - Ultimate Evil Edition (forthwith called D3 to avoid repeatedly typing one of the longest game names in recent history) is all-new. For those still gaming on prior generation systems, the first and most salient question you probably have about D3 revolves around the relative merits of buying it if you already have the original.
Assuming you had fun playing D3 last year, I'd say moving over to Reaper of Souls is definitely worth it. On the face of it, being able to move your saves from the first game to this one, one new act, a new Crusader character, and Nephalem Rifts and Adventure Mode mightn't sound like much, but it actually is – and I'll explain why presently.
This new edition of D3 basically stands on the shoulders of its predecessor. Much of it looks familiar, but the game feels tighter, flows more smoothly, and facilitates progress beautifully. I've been playing the PC version a fair bit recently, and while I do love the game, its control system is annoyingly clicky. No matter what you have to do, there's always a finger-numbingly large amount of clicks involved.
I said it last year, and I'll say it again. With a joypad, D3 is in its element. And sure, if you really do believe that clickymouseclicky is a more pleasant control option, then more power to you. For me, running around with a joystick, and pushing buttons to fight through the endlessly rampaging hordes D3 throws at you is a joy. It makes D3 feel like the arcade game it truly is – and this year it's even more of an arcade game than before.
Earlier, I said that I think D3 is worth buying, even if you have last year's game. A large amount of that has to do with the Adventure Mode, which opens up once you've completed the Campaign. It basically drops you into a fully open map whose locations feature simple objective-oriented missions (Kill X, Shoot Y Creatures, Find Z etc) that you can take on at your leisure. There are 25 missions per new Adventure Mode map, and completing them all earns some significant rewards.
What's particularly appealing is that because Adventure Mode features a single difficulty level that scales to match your character, you can throw a brand new level one character into this mode, rather than having to run through the Campaign again. Of course, you can still do that if you wish, but I found Adventure Mode is a really entertaining and surprisingly quick way to level up – mostly because of the higher rate of critters thrown at you.
Nephalem Rifts are an even more focused version of Adventure Mode. These can only be opened using Rift Keystones that are found in Adventure Mode, and provide a completely random one-shot dungeon adventure. Layout, tiles and monsters are all random, but what you can expect is – give or take, depending on your luck – a nice pile of loot.
Of course, there's also the Campaign Mode. Streamlined, and dropping gobbets more loot than it did the first time around, Campaign Mode is a really entertaining, old-school, dungeon-crawling blast-fest. Hacking, slashing and casting through heaven, hell and everything in-between is joyously bloody, but I must say that the slaughter is best appreciated with other players. I called last year's game perhaps the best couch co-op game of the generation, and during the last 12 months, nothing has come close to knocking it off its pedestal.
D3 is great because its gameplay is cleverly engineered to create many classic video gaming moments between friends. Whether you're massacring a super-zerg of monsters, trying to fend off a horde of huge creatures, or outmaneuvering a boss, D3 doesn't fail to get everyone involved actively engaged, either shouting instructions or just yelling. This game is impossible to play in silence. Even in one-player mode I found myself yelling and swearing at the TV at certain moments. It just has to be done.
Oh, a quick mention of the Crusader class. I generally don't like melee characters that much, but I found this one fun to play. Quite maneuverable, and packing a satisfying arsenal of spells, the Crusader gives the player a lot of options, and in the hands of the skilled can help keep a group out of trouble. Not quite sure if it's the out-and-out strongest of the classes, but it's certainly one of the more versatile.
Specifically addressing the PS4 version, I must say I'm really impressed. D3 looks like the PC version running on a decent-spec system, but feels richer in color and texture. Perhaps it's because it's running on a TV, but D3 looks gorgeous on a big screen. Its backgrounds are beautifully rendered, and provide a stark contrast to the fireworks display dished up by the heroes. Sound is similarly spot-on, and the whole D3 experience feels rock solid. It's a high octane game filled with spectacular pyrotechnics, but maintains a feeling of fluidity the whole time – even during full-on multiplayer madness.
In many respects, D3 is unabashedly old-school, yet is imbued with enough modern niceties and oomph to compete with any contemporary game. Even though much of it feels straight out of the 90's, it's still thoroughly riveting. Whatever class you pick, and wherever you go, you'll have an endless parade of stuff to kill, and a variety of entertaining options to help you do the deed, whether you're casting crazy Witch Doctor swarms, or smashing through things with a barbarian's heavy arsenal.
So there we have it. Diablo III is a highly sophisticated, beautifully designed arcade RPG whose action is visceral, intense, and exciting. It’s deep, it gives you an absolute ton of things to do, it packs some really enjoyable challenges, and its co-op mode is up there as one of the best of this generation. If that sounds like your cup of tea, grab yourself a big mug and get pouring.
I used the above paragraph to finish my review of last year's game, and since it's absolutely true of this year's version, I'm using it again.
Playing Diablo III: Ultimate Evil Edition on the PlayStation 4 has been a nice opportunity for me to go back to the beginning of Diablo III and get a good feel for what's really changed since launch. The answer is almost everything. Putting aside the inevitable difference between the console and PC version (which do exist), it feels like a totally different game.
Structurally, of course, it's much the same. A meteor lands near Tristram, setting in motion an adventure that takes a handful of adventurers to the gates of heaven and hell. The story is split into four relatively lengthy acts—five including the expansion of Reaper of Souls—that range from the fields of Tristram, to a desert, and off to a raging Lords of the Rings-like battlefield. Initially, you are all but naked, which makes for a strange sight as you run into town for the first time to find a handful of invading zombies (doubly strange if you're with a friend). But that changes soon enough.
In the years since Diablo III's release, Blizzard has completely rebalanced the loot, making it more plentiful, easier to sort through, and above all, more useful. They've also exponentially improved the quality of the loot drops. From pretty much the first act onward, I was getting yellow (rare) armor and weapons, with the odd legendary piece of loot mixed in for good measure. By the end of the second act, I had better loot than I did in my original run through the launch version.
I'm tempted to say that it's a bit much, since the quality of the loot makes the actual story almost trivial. Normal is so easy, for instance, that I was killing bosses in a handful of hits while barely incurring any damage myself (I was a monk). On the other hand, things balance out a bit once the difficult is cranked up; and with the quality of the endgame loot being a major of concern with the vanilla version, it's not really a bad thing to see Blizzard cut loose a bit.
The loot changes are all part of Blizzard's "Loot 2.0" system include in the Reaper of Souls expansion, which is accessible to console owners for the first time via Ultimate Evil Edition (those who purchased the initial PS3 release will unfortunately have to double dip as the expansion pack is not being released separately.) I'm on record as being a big fan of the expansion's high-quality fifth act that pits the heroes against the angel of death Malthael, as well as the excellent Adventure Mode, which dramatically improves Diablo III's replayability with its random quests. As I said in my review, Reaper of Souls is the game that Diablo III should have been in the first place.
In releasing Ultimate Evil Edition, Blizzard has seen fit to make a number of welcome tweaks to the interface, dramatically streamlining the loot allocation for console owners. Green arrows and red arrows are useful shorthand for understanding whether or not a particular piece of loot is useful or not (though more advanced users will still want to examine the stats for themselves), and the game's logic does a good job of automatically parceling weapons and armor to the right classes. As expected, it also runs at 1080p and 60 FPS, and though no one would ever accuse Diablo III of being a graphical powerhouse, it nevertheless looks very nice on next-generation consoles.
For those PC owners who are curious as to whether they should pick up another copy of the game, I would say that the biggest advantage the console port has is couch co-op. The console version really goes out of its way to make it as easy as possible to play with friends, including allow local players to team up with friends online. When it comes out, I fully intend to play with my friends who live in Washington D.C., giving me a full four-player party for the very first time. In the meantime, I've had running through Ultimate Evil Edition with my partner at home.
All told, Diablo III continues to be very strong on console. Paying another $60 for Ultimate Evil Edition will likely be a little hard for early adopters to swallow, but it's tough to forgo Reaper of Souls, which really is an essential addition to Diablo III. Curious newcomers are of course strongly encourage to pick up a copy. After all the arguments and controversy that surrounded the original release, Diablo III has truly come into its own on both console and PC. Enjoy it.
The Nitty Gritty
- Visuals: The rich, beautifully rendered backdrops pack some amazing detail that's easy to overlook.
- Sound: Terrific ambient effects, and a soundtrack that works surprisingly well to dial up and down the tension.
- Interface: Very well thought out. Despite having complex menus, D3 makes everything you need to do easy.
- Lasting appeal: The campaign mode is fairly straightforward, and can be finished fairly quickly, but the Adventure Mode and Nephalem Fields offer huge replay value.
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