Platforms: Xbox 360 (tested) | PS3 | PS4
Developers: Blizzard Entertainment
Publishers: Blizzard Entertainment
This isn't the first time that we've seen Diablo on consoles. The first game popped up on the original Playstation back in 1998 and delivered Blizzard's delicious dungeon crawler to a new audience, albeit with one or two little hiccups along the way. Developed in conjunction with Climax, the console version had players taking direct control of the central character, and dropping the online multiplayer in favour of couch-based co-op.
Much of the same can be said of this revival of Diablo III on home consoles. The swift accuracy of the mouse is replaced with twin-sticks now and a collection of face-buttons, and I'm not giving anything away by saying that the console version of Diablo III is a rather different beast than its PC predecessor.
Direct control makes a big difference. On PC, the mouse does everything, and does it well, allowing players to give an array of commands in a single second. Drinking a potion, powering up a buff, moving out of harm's way, and delivering an attack takes four speedy clicks: action is almost as swift as thought. But that's simply not possible on consoles. Now, for example, we have an all-new Evade mechanic. Flick the right thumbstick and your payer character will roll or dash or teleport (depending on your class) out of harm's way. It costs nothing, can be used in repetition to escape large clusters of enemies, and it's essential to your survival on any remotely challenging difficulty level. The Evade does a single point of damage too, so it can be used to trigger traps for enemies or just for a bit of wanton barrel smashing should that take your fancy.
The best bit, though? All of those DRM concerns that plagued the game's original launch are gone. Co-op is a breeze on console, and you don't have to be connected to anything other than a power source and a screen. Next-gen might be just around the corner, but we rather reckon that the Xbox 360 and PS3 will see a few local gaming nights yet to come thanks to the ease with which you can leap into a game with a friend both on and offline. There won't be enemy scaling if players are questing alongside friends of varying experience levels, but naturally if you're a low-level character and you join up with a high-level buddy, you'll be earning ridiculous amounts of XP if you manage to survive.
The loot system has been somewhat streamlined for console. You'll instantly be able to tell whether or not the things you've recently picked up are of any use to you thanks to a simple green and red arrow system, and there's a quick menu accessible via the D-pad for swift equipping of recently acquired goods. You can of course go deeper into the inventory, and everything has been tailored towards stick navigation with a range of radial menus that make pimping your character a cinch.
The auction house is out, which is a good thing, and in its place comes a loot-drop system that sees fewer common items yielded up by downed foes but a higher frequency of items dropped useful for the respective classes of the players involved. So if there are two Witch Doctors playing, the probability of useful bespoke loot for that class will be much higher. Similarly, crafting has a higher percentage chance of bestowing high-quality, targeted items upon the player.
The demo I tried out had a capped difficulty setting and the heroes were rather overpowered so we could take advantage of their full range of abilities, but it did mean that the tactical challenge was largely non-existent so it was a little difficult to get an idea of how the focus on direct action will impact the tactical elements of the game. Needless to say, you still can't fling ranged and support classes into the middle of an enemy horde and hope to come out unscathed. The auto-targeting has made for some imprecision too when it comes to ranged attacks. You can override it and manually target with the shoulder buttons, but there's understandably not the same degree of control that PC players are able to enjoy.
But overall Blizzard have done a fantastic job in making Diablo III feel like it was always made for consoles. There's an elegant ebb and flow to the action that, a refinement to the attack and evade system that feels a little more engrossing perhaps than the act of clicking away with the mouse. It's a different game in many ways, a more direct game and the easily accessible multiplayer -- that drop-in, 4-way bonanza of monster-bashing fun -- is the jewel in its crown.
Offline play, no DRM, streamlined menus and inventory systems, hotkey equipping, local multiplayer, and unlike previous console versions developed completely in-house at Blizzard... you could be forgiven for thinking that this is the version of Diablo III that Blizzard always intended to make. The bosses are bigger and badder, more akin to console peers than a PC legacy. There's a level of intuitive control and immersive streamlining (not simplifying) that makes this whole experience far smoother than that of its PC counterpart.
There's much more to see, of course. But, dare we say it, Diablo III is shaping up to be better on consoles than it ever was on PC.