"If you enjoy hacking and slashing, buy Diablo III on your console of choice, especially if you have someone to play co-op with."
There are few games that I have played as much as I have played Diablo II. (Pokémon Red and Tetris back on my original Game Boy, maybe.) And my wife loved it too. She also spent hours soloing, and we spent quite a few more playing Diablo II together. We love co-op action RPGs. So when the PC version of Diablo III was released, I bought it happily (special edition — how could I resist that sweet USB drive?), even though there were things about it that I wasn't happy about.
OK, really, I didn't care much about the auction houses. I was only angry about the always-online requirement. My internet at home is terrible, and I can't stay online for long without suffering from Fatal Lag Syndrome. When I took my laptop away from home, I enjoyed my hours of Witch Doctoring and Demon Huntering it up, but none of that helped my wife, who would have been playing on our home computer. So she didn't get a copy, and we didn't get to play together.
But then Blizzard announced that the game would be coming to PS3. And that it wouldn't have to be online to play. And I knew that we'd be getting a second copy of Diablo III at our house after all. It was a good day.
Since this is such a well-publicized game, I imagine that most of you reading this review are already familiar with what the original version of Diablo III had to offer. For anyone who is not, I will leave a great deal of the details about it to Stephen's excellent review
of the PC version. To me, the burning question of this version is not "how is it," but "how does it compare to the original," so that's what I'll focus on.
The storyline has not changed one iota. It is still the same material we've come to expect from a Diablo game, with twists that you'll see coming from a mile away. But by the same token, the story is still not the crucial part of this experience. Had it been a memorable story, I would have been truly shocked, so please understand that I have not given the "story" category much weight in my final verdict on this game.
Likewise, as far as I can tell, the sound is identical to the PC version, although hearing it from my home theater system rather than earbuds plugged into my computer really brings new life to Diablo III's aural components. As Stephen commented in his review, this game features excellent music, voice acting, and sound effects. For example, with the Demon Hunter, I love the bolo shot as my standard attack, and it's great to hear it whipping through the air and twirling around someone before sending them and 12 of their closest friends on a one way trip to the land of exploding heads.
From there, however, we move into categories of things that had to change in order to work on a console: graphics, gameplay, and controls. Let's start with the graphics, which have changed the least. They looked great on my laptop screen, and they look amazing on my nice big TV. The only notable change is related to picking up loot. When loot drops, it appears on the ground as before, but walking near it pops up an icon of its type and its name, colored to match its magical level. Ordinary gear has a white name on the ground like it would in your inventory, so it's easy to sort out the trash before you even pick it up. After you pick something up, a quick summary pops up near your health bar showing whether equipping the new item would improve or decrease your damage, defense, and health, with one to three up or down triangles in each category to show how much. When you see one triangle, you think "I'll just hang onto it until I get back to town and then salvage it for parts," but see three triangles pointing up in a category, and you know it's probably worth opening your inventory to take a peek at the actual stats right away. These quick indicators don't paint the whole picture, but they serve to streamline the loot-choosing experience, and that's great.
Efforts were made to streamline the gameplay as well, but they serve to remove tedium rather than dumb things down. For example, I've only seen one potion type in the console version, and rather than healing a certain number of HP, it heals 60% of your health, which I love. However, cool options like Elective Mode were left intact, giving players the freedom to assign whatever skills they like to whatever buttons they like. A very few skills appear to have been tweaked, but most were left alone. (I've seen folks complaining online that the Barbarian's Sprint skill was given a cooldown, but I am not familiar enough with that class to know how big a problem it is.)
Loot has been changed to give you more cash and less junk that you don't want, but I think the pros and cons of that system pan out to be a wash. You make fewer trips back to town, but those of us who enjoy playing multiple characters also end up with less equipment that we can pass between them. In short, if you enjoyed the gameplay in the PC version, or thought you would, you'll enjoy it here. And you'll do so free of online requirements or auction houses.
That said, the critical piece to this game is its controls. It can be challenging to take a keyboard and mouse game and adapt it to a console controller, but Blizzard has absolutely succeeded. You use the left analog stick to run around, the L1 trigger for potions, and the face buttons and other triggers serve as your various attacks. New to the console versions is roll dodging, an excellent addition that is handled via the right analog stick. On PC, I frequently tried to get away from a mob only to accidentally click another enemy who was nearby, attack them instead of running, and die. I don't have that problem on PS3. The game has a good auto-targeting system, and if you want to switch who you are attacking, you can use the left analog stick to point at someone else while holding a fire button to do so. I must admit that it's not insanely precise — you won't be easily able to pick one of a mob of fifty enemies — but I have yet to be truly unhappy with it.
Surprisingly, the console version of Diablo III also features a new difficulty scheme that sits on top of the levels we're accustomed to. Now, when you pick Normal, Nightmare, Hell, or Inferno, you'll then pick Easy, Medium, Hard, or one of five "Master" difficulties. The new difficulties act like Monster Power changes did in the PC version, allowing you to ramp up the challenge if you feel like things are going too well or not well enough. I've only tried Easy through Hard, and while Easy is a boring walk in the park, Hard was hard enough to convince me not to try the Master difficulties. It was fine when I was going up against normal foes, but bring in a mob and a few elites, and it becomes die o'clock pretty quickly. You can go into the menu and change difficulty at the start of any play session, so it's easy to find the level where you are happiest.
Really, I have only three complaints about the console version of Diablo III, and two are related and slightly nitpicky. Your default attack button is X, which is right next to the analog stick, making it hard to hold down that button and have your thumb on the stick ready to dodge. Thankfully, it's easy to hit the Options menu, turn on Elective Mode, and make R2 your main attack, leaving X to be some secondary skill. But my related nitpick is that when you level up and unlock new skills, a little star appears in the skills menu on the button where that skill goes... except that it always appears on the button where the skill would go with Elective Mode turned off. So if you've made R2 your main attack instead of X, when a new skill or rune unlocks on your main attack, the "new skill" star still shows up on X.
My final complaint only affects local co-op, but local co-op is so much fun that I have to mention it. The issue is that if you're playing characters from the same PSN account, only one of them has control of the stash and merchant menus. In games with my wife, I put her as player one and just let her pick up any loot that seems interesting to either of us. Then when time permits, we take a look, and if I want to try anything out, I have her drop it. If I want to have something put in the stash for another character, I have to ask her to do it. Because we play well together and can trust each other, this works. But if you don't have that kind of relationship with your co-op partner(s), things could get ugly pretty quickly. And I can imagine that this issue would get exponentially more irritating if you played with the maximum allowable four characters at once.
Clearly, the short version of this review is as follows: if you enjoy hacking and slashing, buy Diablo III on your console of choice, especially if you have someone to play co-op with. The console version is the definitive, Director's Cut edition of this game, and if the online requirements or auction houses on the PC version held you back from buying that version or enjoying it, you can rejoice along with me that they are gone this time around.