Platform: PS4 | Xbox One (reviewed)
Developer: Blizzard Entertainment
Here we go again. I reviewed Diablo III on PC... then the last-gen console version... then the Reaper Of Souls expansion pack... and finally we come to this. The Ultimate Evil Edition. The final showdown. It's time for the last dance with the devil -- that is, unless Blizzard brings out another expansion.
To be honest, I'm still in two minds about whether Diablo III really works on consoles. Despite pretending to be a glorious last stand against the forces of hell, all it really involves is holding the A button (X on PS4) until all the enemies are dead or you've passed out from boredom. The leap from mice to controllers removed an entire dimension of precision priority targeting, so instead you'll just mash that button and then mash it a few more times to pick up all the loot in the vicinity. Then roll. Then hold down A for another five minutes.
This shouldn't be fun. It should be torture. But ultimately, somehow, Diablo III's Ultimate Evil Edition ends up being enjoyable and annoyingly addictive to the point where I'd rather be playing it than leaving my den -- let alone writing this review.
Basically, Just Add Mates.
I've already reviewed Diablo III twice before, so permit me to blast through the basics. You play as a brave hero standing against the forces of evil in a hackneyed fantasy setting, embarking on a storyline that will delight hardcore fans who still remember the 1996 original (seriously, there are some great cameos and references in here) and bore everyone else to tears. Effectively a host of rampaging demons are on the loose with deadly designs on humanity and it's up to you to annihilate them by the hundreds, then exterminate their nefarious line managers.
Years of tweaks and patches have made all of the classes feel nuanced and balanced in their respective combat roles -- including the Crusader who arrives along with the Reaper Of Souls expansion. As mentioned previously, he/she is effectively a walking tank that's effective at any range, practically impervious to injury and features some of the best voicework in the game. The male Crusader sounds exactly like Iain Glen, while the female version is actually one of the most badass female characters you'll see in a videogame. Also, they can turn themselves into an ion cannon and summon demon horses, which is worth the price of admission.
Class chosen, you'll set out onto a conveyor belt of monsters to murder and loot to equip, which then lets you fight bigger monsters and get better loot to equip. Criticising a Diablo game for being a dungeon crawling loot-grinder would be deeply unfair seeing as Diablo is The dungeon crawling loot-grinder, not to mention the fact that it's great fun. Whether playing as a melee damage dealer or ranged glass cannon (or the Crusader who rocks at both... so OP. So awesome.), attacks feel powerful and satisfying, resulting in deeply cathartic explosions of blood and debris powered by what can only be described as an enthusiastic physics engine.
Much of the game boils down to holding the A button... and the rest of it involves tapping all the other buttons to trigger other skills once their cooldowns expire, but its simplicity is a virtue. Following the 2.0 updates, Diablo III is a much faster and more intense beast thanks to the addition of powerful champion skills that grant elite monsters access to powerful AoE attacks. You'll need to stay on your toes to avoid pools of liquid fire, rotating arcane blasts, poisonous grids, rock walls and other hazards. Pump up the difficulty several notches to enjoy it fully, but once you do, the game feels more like a brilliant twinstick shooter than a humdrum grind.
Sadly even this latest edition couldn't fix the overly short fourth act, stop the story wasting the only major recurring character and deal with some of the limp bosses -- you can read more about that in our previous reviews.
Other players can leap directly into your game whether online or in local-co-op, which turns the conveyor belt into a cutting-edge version of Gauntlet. It's a chaotic, cathartic and deeply silly experience, yet balanced as enemies scale to match your numbers and everyone gets their own loot. Better yet, online friends can occasionally discover a super-powered nemesis who'll grief everyone on the list at random intervals until one player finally takes it down. Genius.
Much has been made of the Ultimate Edition's 1080p visuals, which I find very odd indeed considering that it's two years old and was never any great shakes in the graphical department. Compared to almost every other game on new-gen platforms, it's decidedly mediocre if not laughably primitive, due mainly to clunky character models and humdrum texturework. The fact that it still looks good is solely down to its moody gothic art direction and deep colour palatte. The visual 'upgrade' only serves to make the UI and text even smaller and more difficult to read.
Forget the visuals, because the Reaper Of Souls expansion puts the Ultimate into the Ultimate Edition and makes it feel like a true upgrade over the limp PS3/Xbox 360 version. This new content not only includes the best and most thrilling act in the game, packing the most effective storytelling, interesting environments and beastly bosses (and a fantastic artisan who puts an end to 'Christmas Tree Syndrome' by letting you cosmetically alter your gear), but it also unlocks the Adventure Mode. No longer do we have to grind through the same story campaign, because once the final boss falls, the entire world turns into one giant sandbox.
Every waypoint is unlocked and available directly from your map. You can go anywhere at any time, chasing randomised 'bounty' events that challenge you to fulfil a range of varied objectives. Well, killing stuff in the main. This keeps the action fresh and unpredictable, further improved by time-sensitive optional challenges and cursed chests that reward slaughter with bonus loot. When you've got a few friends in tow and pump up the difficulty, it's fantastic fun.
Each successful five bounties lets you open a Nephalem Rift: a randomly-rolled dungeon populated by enemies taken from throughout the game and ending with a major boss. At best it's a fascinating way to see how critters from different acts compliment each other, though Rifts can sometimes feel slightly overlong and can get a little repetitive depending on the foe selection. Still, it's a damn sight better than grinding away against exactly the same content over and over again. Repetitive 'runs' are a thing of the past, and good riddance too.
Don't get me wrong: Blizzard should have created an all-new IP designed specifically for consoles rather than port over the final chapter of a trilogy. It's lazy and smacks of settling for second best rather than pushing the bar. But thankfully the finished product is still an absolute blast, and somehow makes holding down a single button for hours on end feel... awesome.
- Smooth and cathartic dungeon-crawling with great co-op multiplayer
- Reaper Of Souls' Act V content makes the game feel complete...
- ... not to mention Adventure Mode and the Crusader
- Addictive and limitless loot grinding, plus some nifty new tweaks (e.g. Nemesis attacks)
- Hold A. Forever.
- Tiny eye-straining UI - why can't we scale it?
- Unsatisfying story if you haven't played the original Diablo
- Some weak early bosses and overly short fourth act (pump up the difficulty!)
The Short Version: Holding the 'A' button for hours at a time shouldn't be this much fun.