Like many others, I put a lot of hours into Diablo 3 last year. Admittedly I didn’t play it to the extent that people expected, as the game wasn’t as compulsively replay-able as its forebears, but I still sunk a lot of time into its lengthy campaign.
A lot of people took against Diablo 3; it was a departure from Diablo 2 in a lot of ways and had a lot of external features that were quite troubling. The DRM ruined the game for so many, and things like the auction house severely impacted the overall product in a negative fashion. In spite of all of this though, I really liked Diablo 3. I thought it was really addictive, really well put together and just a lot of fun. The combat was responsive and involving, and the progression was limited but well paced and well designed (the skill trees were very small, but the permutations and skills themselves were well thought out, and made things very open ended).
Last weekend I got the chance to play some more Diablo 3, the big difference being I was playing on an Xbox 360. This seems like a weird fit, seeing as Diablo 3 is a game controlled primarily by the mouse on PC, and it’s easy to be instantly sceptical of this as subpar port. However, Diablo 3 on consoles works out really excellently, surprisingly so – the only caveat being that if you didn’t like the game in the first place, it still won’t be for you. On top of that, if you have already played the PC version, you won’t get much out of playing it on console as well. Though it’s fun to play through a second time, it doesn’t feel like something you have to do (and may not be something you particularly want to do). Diablo 3 gave one excellent experience, and if you have already had that on PC, you should probably leave things there.
There is some possibility though that those who took against Diablo 3 on PC will find some joy here. Those that just didn’t like the game will still not like it, but those against DRM and auction houses will be pleasantly surprised. You guessed it, they’re both gone – you can happily play Diablo 3 offline, and there is no real money auction house. The lack of the latter has had a real positive effect on the gameplay, as loot has noticeably improved. Blizzard can’t rely on players trading any more, in order to get better weapons, so loot works like it does in most games. Basically you will find consistently better gear, and plenty of really neat stuff, as your slaughter your way through the hoards of hell. The drop rates are really excellent, putting enough distance between drops to make you feel you have the best thing ever, before blowing your mind by dropping something significantly more impressive. You will now be regularly changing equipment and making tough decisions about what to use, and this makes the whole experience much more enjoyable.
The looting element is better, but the combat has taken a slight back step. Not having a mouse available has lost some of the precision, and though combat is still great, it was slightly better on PC. The game now chooses targets depending on where you are facing, and though it is not overly problematic, it’s not perfect. You won’t be able to attack with the same accuracy as on PC, but the combat still works really well. Skills are mapped to face and shoulder buttons, and separating movement from attack (rather than having both as click) avoids some of the issues that system had.
Some of the control elements are better though, for example direct control just feels nicer than mouse clicking. Mouse movement begins to feel mundane after a while, and feels like issuing orders rather than playing as your character. Having direct control puts you straight in the driver’s seat, and makes it a more compelling and more involving process. It’s a very slight change, but it’s surprisingly noticeable.
On top of this, you can now roll out the way of attacks. This works like in God of War (you flick the right stick in one of four directions), and it fits the game really well. It makes combat even more active, and allows you to evade attacks. You can also use a roll to break through destructible items in the environment, which is weirdly addictive actually. The addition of the roll adds a nice amount of mobility, and helps out with the issue of having less precision in bigger mobs of enemies. It could have been very easy to be overwhelmed, but rolling away gives you a nice way to avoid this felling, but not in any way that tones down the action.
One significant issue with the console version is the presentation. First of all the game doesn’t look good, in spite of decent art design. They have ported over a significantly inferior looking version of Diablo 3, and it doesn’t look anywhere near on par with other games on the system. On top of this there are problems with visual feedback. The HUD has been redesigned, and to a certain extent works really well (the now linear traditional life bar is easier to read than the previous orb), but it has issues.
Your skills are assigned to buttons, and each button has a little pop-up under your life bar which shows what skill is in it, and if it is usable. The problem here is that it’s very out of the way, and very small. This is a very hectic game, and it does not do a good enough job of telling you when you can use your skills. Checking your HUD requires taking your eyes off the action, and the display itself just could be a lot clearer. On top of that, with direct control it is now rather easy to lose your character in mobs, and not know what you are attacking. Luckily there is a neat feature that helps here, players can press in the right stick and emit a beam of light over their avatar.
Overall though Diablo 3 plays excellently on consoles, and doesn’t feel like a limited port at all. It feels like a great version of a great game, and something you should definitely pick up if you missed the PC version. I only managed to play through the first act, and bits of the second, so I cannot speak to whether the game holds up perfectly throughout – but if the bits I played are anything to go by, this port is pretty darn impressive.