It’s no secret that Diablo III divided a community. When the highly-anticipated game launched on PC in May 2012, many gamers cried foul over its insistence on a persistent Internet connection – exacerbated on launch day by embarrassing connectivity issues – a loot system that emphasised volume over quality, and a class system that removed much of the nuance and commitment hardcore fans so enjoyed.
In time, the controversial Auction House also caused substantial issues as it became more efficient to gear-up a character by scrolling through menus than it did to go toe-to-toe with the slavering legions of Hell. Perhaps most troubling though was a diminished sense of achievement, challenge, or purpose after hitting the level cap of 60.
But the core monster-hack-‘n’-slashing gameplay was superlative. Blizzard has always excelled in selling the fantasy of player power – that with that very first click, the player feels like a badass – and Diablo III was possibly the developer’s finest work in that regard. In time, Blizzard also introduced new systems such as Monster Power and Paragon Levels, and today, Diablo III on PC is closer to the game that many had originally hoped for at launch.
It’s more than a year later, and Blizzard has brought Diablo III to consoles, and the fit is snug. On those systems, Blizzard does away with both online connectivity and the Auction House, and, in an uncommonly generous move for this era, brings back up-to four player cooperative play on a single system.
For those familiar with Diablo III, the controls are, predictably, the most significant departure from the PC version. Skills are mapped to the face buttons and the right bumper and trigger. They’re directed with a highly responsive left stick that also controls movement. The right stick, meanwhile, allows the player to perform a kind of diving roll to assist with positioning. The melee-based Monk and Barbarian classes are especially suited to controller inputs. The ease of use and visual report that comes with leaping and slamming into the minions of Hell at close range is immensely satisfying.
The Demon Hunter and Wizard are also easy to control at range. A snap-on aim assist never betrays the sense that the player has full control, and it’s intuitive and sensitive enough that a quick flick will pick out and target the caster lurking behind tougher frontline minions, for example. Only the Witch Doctor, with its focus on summoning and less on direct damage, struggles to make the transition easily.
Loot is also managed differently. Diablo III for consoles appears to assume its audience is less patient: items drop less frequently, but those that do are more appropriate for the classes in play. In the wake of any fray with rare and unique mobs or bosses, the subsequent haul of loot will almost always contain items of value. To reduce the time players spend in menus, recent items that players have picked up can be scrolled through using the d-pad, and each features green and red arrows that quickly indicate how the item compares to the one currently equipped on fundamentals such as damage, health, and armour.
More detailed data on items can be found via the overhauled character menu. Here, item slots are presented as a radial menu around the character portrait, and comparisons for important passive item modifiers, for example Arcane Power on Critical, can be drawn. The work that has gone into translating this important feature into one that is easily navigated with a controller is illustrative of the time and care Blizzard has put into this port. Yet at the same time, it undeniably pegs the game as such: items in Diablo often come with dense lists of statistics and attributes. They’re no problem to read when the player is sitting a couple of feet from a PC monitor, but from the sofa on other side of the room from a TV, it can be challenging.
Still, that sofa experience is excellent, especially when up-to three other players are in the same room. It’s an experience that’s much closer to the old-fashioned Diablo LAN than Blizzard has come in years.
Jostling, cheering, sharing, and sneering – these social elements add so much immeasurable value, and Diablo III is easily one of the best cooperative gaming experiences to come out on consoles in many years. It can also be a great way to introduce and invite friends and partners who don’t usually game into your hobby.
Chris Metzen’s schlocky but indulgent fantasy melodrama and two-dimensional characters also make it across intact, but Diablo has never cared to delve too deep into motivations. This is a game about teaming up with friends to scythe through the denizens of Hell in a quest as much for loot and power as it is about the fate of Sanctuary.
Right now, on console is the best place to do that.