Although it has been more than a year since Diablo 3 was released on PC and Mac, many consumers have yet to forget the pain and frustration associated with what is now looked back on as one of the most painful single-player game launches in history. In the 15 months since the less than ideal launch of the hack and slash dungeon crawler, Blizzard Entertainment has released a long series of updates and fixes that have all made their way over to the new console port of Diablo 3. For how closely the Diablo franchise is associated with PC gaming, you might be surprised just how well the port plays on consoles.
All the same strengths and weaknesses identified in our initial Diablo 3 PC review last summer still exist in the console port. It’s no doubt that the PC version had a few drawbacks and nagging issues that were frustrating to deal with after the game spent nearly 10 years in development. It was clear from the first act that the quality in storytelling and presentation during the cutscenes was on another level compared to the dialogue offered in-game. The problem was a bit distracting, but not enough to ruin the experience. Some gameplay flaws like the need to right-click unidentifiable items found in loot or run around in circles picking up scattered gold spewed by dying enemies slowed the action down too often. Aside from those small issues, it was clear that Blizzard had achieved its goal of introducing a new and refreshing level of depth to the straightforward combat system.
The most obvious, and interesting, change that the console port brings to the table is the remapping of the classic point and click keyboard and mouse combo to the Xbox 360 and PS3 controllers. As Monks, Barbarians, Witch Doctors, Wizards, and Demon Hunters level up; unlocked abilities are mapped to face buttons, triggers, and bumpers. Movement is controlled with the left analog stick and the right stick is reserved for dodging incoming attacks. This is around the point when most veteran Diablo players start to ask themselves, “So… How do I aim?”
Rather than give players the ability to use an analog stick to point to an enemy, the console version has players target enemies by facing them using the movement stick. Once a character’s movement is pointed in the direction of an enemy, the targeted villain will appear to be painted red. As you might imagine, this system definitely eliminates some of the precision that becomes crucial at higher levels.
Despite the freedom that is gained by running around with an analog stick instead of the traditional click-to-move system, hardcore players will likely find themselves frustrated during difficult boss fights. The movement and targeting system’s shortcomings are most glaring when bosses unleash hordes of additional minions that need to be wiped out and you’re stuck fumbling the analog stick to alternate between the swarm of targets. Players will also find themselves missing the precise click-to-move system when the ground is covered with an area-of-effect attack and they need to quickly and accurately reach a tiny few pixels of refuge.
The change in targeting systems is far less intrusive for melee classes who like to get right into the mix and throw roundhouse kicks, so spellcasters and Demon Hunters are likely to notice this change the most. The lack of accuracy becomes less annoying as characters become more powerful and waves of minions can be wiped out easily, but the importance of precision definitely reemerges in the end-game.
As the end-game approaches, consumers who already played the PC version will notice a significant increase in the quality and frequency of loot being found. In order to eliminate the largely controversial auction house feature (both the real money and in-game money versions), Blizzard made some tweaks to the stingy loot drop rates. The PC version has been criticized since its release for its less than generous drop rates and Blizzard has released several updates to adjust the system. Without the ability to buy items from other users, Blizzard made sure console players could handle the end-game by offering very favorable drop rates. You’ll notice by the time your fifth or sixth Legendary piece drops that it isn’t quite as special or celebration-worthy in this version.
The online play works just as seamlessly as the PC version; allowing up to four players to team-up and raid dungeons without any complicated invite systems to slow down the action. That said, one of the best additions offered by the console version is the offline co-op. Slaying bosses and splitting loot with friends is one of the most exciting parts of playing Diablo 3, so it’s no surprise that the excitement is even greater when your party members are on the same couch. There’s an extra level of fun that is added by seeing your buddy’s face when his first legendary weapon drops or when you get to yell at someone in person for standing in a glowing pool of poison and wiping your party.
The only real drawback of the offline co-op mode is the need to wait around while each player pauses and adjusts his or her inventory and skills separately. A new ‘quick equip’ feature was added to the game to give players a few details about whether or not a new piece of gear is worth equipping. The ability to throw on a new helm with the quick press of a button is definitely convenient, but unfortunately the ‘quick equip’ tool doesn’t offer any specific properties about Magic, Rare, or Legendary items. As you can imagine, that means player’s will be pausing the game to analyze the items anyway. This will slow down the pace of an offline co-op game after just about every big fight.
As a matter of fact, the entire revamped inventory system will take a bit of getting used to. The menus split inventory into a number of categories. That means that an action like equipping a new ring or weapon is buried behind one or two more button presses than PC users are used to. Despite the fact that the new radial menu gets the job done, players will still find themselves a little frustrated by the tedious series of steps that need to be performed to complete simple tasks like comparing the stats on two pieces of equipment. The system is fairly intuitive, but there’s no denying that all those extra seconds wasted in the menu will slowly take away from precious time that could be spent sending demons back to Hell.
It may be a bit slower to navigate, but Blizzard did also manage to make a few improvements to the game with the new inventory menu. The updated tool now includes a junk feature, which allows players to mark loot for mass sale or salvage. Each item also only takes up one inventory slot in the new system, which eliminates the Tetris-esque organization that is needed to manage inventory in the PC version. At the end of the day, the time wasted by the new system’s clunkiness is just about canceled out by the time saved thanks to these additions.
Although we don’t know if or when the upcoming Reaper of Souls expansion will make its way to consoles, other post launch additions to the PC version, like the post-level 60 Paragon System, have already been incorporated into the console port. If dedicated players can manage to navigate the new targeting system during those punishingly difficult end-game boss fights, then the console version should have enough content to keep them busy for a very long time.
The console release of Diablo 3 gives hack and slash fans new and old a second chance to experience a title many gamers have been anxiously awaiting for 10 years. The elimination of the need to hunt down upgrades on the auction house and the lack of a painfully frustrating launch should give players a chance to actually spend their time enjoying the loot-filled action RPG. The downgrade in controller precision and the previously existing quality gap between cutscenes and in-game storytelling hold the console version of Diablo 3 back from perfection, but players will still find themselves recruiting friends to join in and sink endless hours into the addictive hunt for loot.
Will you be doubling-dipping and picking up a second copy of Diablo 3 to check out what the console has to offer?
The console version of Diablo 3 is now available on PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. Game Rant played the PS3 version for this review. A 2014 release has been confirmed for the PS4 version.
Follow Denny on Twitter @The_DFC.