Perhaps I've been playing my Demon Hunter too much, but I’ll come straight out of the gate with guns blazing and make the statement that I believe this, the console version of Diablo III, is the definitive version of the game.
If that’s raised a few veins in the temples of some of you PC readers, I’m sorry about that – but hear me out. I’m not interested in numbers. Sure, the models and overall graphics of this console-ized Diablo III aren't as good as the PC version – at least they shouldn't be unless you’re playing on a really weedy system. But to that I say polygons schmolygons. If cosmetics are your only concern, then sure, the PC game wins. But to me, the most important part of a game is the experience it delivers, and that's where this version stands taller. It simply feels all the better when played sitting on a couch, in front of a big screen, with a joypad in your hands.
Because what Blizzard has done is fettled and tweaked the game almost imperceptibly to fine tune it as a console experience, and in doing so has unleashed the finest action-RPG, dungeon-crawling arcade experience of this generation.
In some respects Diablo III takes me right back to the early days of arcades. One of my all-time favorite coin-ops is Robotron 2084; a pure, no-frills shooter that gives you insane firepower… but pits you against an endless, overwhelming horde of enemies. It’s the classic one-against-many scenario, and it delivers pulse-pounding, adrenaline-pumping gameplay as you battle to best the myriad of monsters that want you well and truly dead. Diablo III takes that premise and evolves it with modern-day trappings and complexities, but without ever losing sight of what it’s really all about: visceral, up-close-and-personal action that feels like a constant fight for survival. It’s messy, it requires improvisation, and it’s utterly thrilling.
Console Diablo III's action ebbs and flows nicely, and feels a little tighter than the PC version. Everything starts out easy enough as you travel through the early quests, but once you reach the more serious dungeons, the intensity starts ratcheting up. What I noticed here is that enemies generally attack in “waves”, where you get bum-rushed by a howling mob that you have to deal with as a group. Perhaps it's me, but it feels a little more focused than the slightly more strung-out PC experience, where monsters arrive in a steadier stream. That’s not to say the console version doesn’t also have that, but the action definitely has a more arcade-like cadence, which I really like. Monsters zero in, the heat gets dialed up, and you have a frenetic pitched battle where it seems almost touch-and-go until you start to thin out the enemy horde and regain control of the situation. Mop up the last few monsters, take a breather, and then on you go, waiting for the next wave of monsters to charge in.
It’s classic arcade stuff, and it works brilliantly – especially with a joypad. I wasn’t a big fan of the PC control scheme: it works fine, but I just never quite got comfortable with it. But with a joypad, Diablo III feels natural, intuitive and… well… like it was always designed to be played this way. Navigating menus is a little clunkier, sure, but the action feels smooth and fluid.
What I did notice is that I was largely able to button-mash through the earlier dungeons. But as I began to get used to the game’s cadence and my ever-increasing arsenal of spells, my pressing became less frantic and more strategic. Almost like a fighting game, where you start out just hoping for the best, but after a while begin to perfect your timing and combos and become a really adept fighter. And as I got better, so the game similarly stepped up its level of difficulty, and became less forgiving. Of course, that's how games are supposed to work - but Diablo III does it incredibly well. Everything plays out on a difficulty curve that feels steep, but never so steep that it feels like it’s trying to stop you. It’s almost like the game is constantly encouraging you to do better. That if you just concentrate a little harder, you can get past that challenging boss, or navigate that particularly nasty corridor that’s overrun with enemies. So you do… and you do!
This level of nuance is something that only comes from endless testing and tweaking, and Diablo III feels as polished and finessed as any console game I’ve played of late. Not in terms of its production – which is superb for sure – but just in the almost imperceptible timing of the way things happen. If you’re a hardcore game design and mechanics fan, there’s a lot to appreciate in this. But if you’re not, it doesn’t matter – all it means is that the end product is solid, feels great, and is just plain fun.
And that fun amps up several magnitudes when you add additional players into the mix. While I do enjoy playing with friends online, I still love couch co-op most of all – where the physical presence of a fellow player can help precipitate truly memorable gaming moments. And Diablo III bangs them out one after the other. This is a superb co-op game, and perhaps the best of this generation. Working through its intense boss fights and spectacular set pieces is so much more enjoyable when you’re constantly coordinating moves with your partner (or partners if you have a trio of friends to play with). I’m not a gaming high-fiver at all, and neither is my girlfriend – but Diablo III elicited more than a few from us, and that’s about as good a case for co-op brilliance as I can make.
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.
The Nitty Gritty
- Visuals: Blizzard has struck the right balance between speed, detail, sheer volume of things on the screen, and aesthetics. Diablo III might not be the best looking game ever, but it still looks terrific - especially when it's in motion.
- Music: The sound effects are of particular note, and really help amplify the feeling of mayhem. The music is pleasant, but nothing to write home about.
- Interface: The work done to transition Diablo III from PC to console is generally exemplary. However, an area that does feel lacking is the menu system, which feels clunky to navigate with a controller.
- Lasting Appeal: Four acts, four difficulty settings, multiple characters and co-op mode deliver plenty of replay value.