When Diablo opened its gates of Hell for the third time, the fastest-selling PC game ever spewed out. But now, nearly a year and a half later, an even more terrifying portal has opened – the console markets. Can Diablo III save itself, or will it now be condemned to purgatory?
A year and a half is a long time. Back then, in fact, BeefJack dealt in numbers – and we gave some pretty high ones to Diablo III. The insanely anticipated PC version scored a mighty 88% by us, managing to live up to the hype. Now, if you can, cast your mind back even further, to when the first Diablo was released. It was 1996. A time even before the first iPod, and when there was no such thing as “Miley Cyrus”.
The Diablo franchise has had the personal computer in its blood for a staggering 17 years, so no matter how obvious a console version would inevitably become, the transition would never be simple – both from a technical standpoint, and with its infidelity to the huge, keyboard-centric fanbase.
Indeed, from the moment you first pick up the controller, you’ll notice it looks very different, but – and I hardly dare say it – slightly better. The new interface has been completely rebuilt for consoles and everything appears far less cluttered, making navigating the menus a breeze with the pad. Controlling the game is as simple as moving around with the thumbsticks, and assigning spells to every other button.
Also available from the get-go is an offline, single-player mode that will have the new fans praising the Lord, but may leave the DRM launch-crippled PC players sneering from afar. It’s the same absolute treat though, and sees you building up one of five selectable character classes (Barbarian, Witchdoctor, Monk, Demon Hunter and Wizard) to near God-like abilities by smashing your way through dungeons, forests, castle battlements, deserts and of course the obligatory snow level.
The devil’s in the details
The game itself is awash with every fantasy cliché imaginable, but it seems humorous and self-aware enough this time around that it shouldn’t bother you too much. The real draw however, is the seemingly endless variation – Diablo III simply will not let you get bored. To begin with however, that’s the main concern. Walking around a dungeon, spamming the only attack you’ve managed to acquire against the same old skeleton enemies. But it’s not long before your screen resembles Chinese New Year, with all manner of colourful, explosive spells flying all over the place, taking down monsters the size of houses.
Despite the – at times ludicrous – amount of things going on on screen, the framerate never stutters. Online with 3 other people there was never a hint of lag either, which is a huge relief considering the lack of dedicated servers. So the software can take it, but your eyes might start to struggle. In the mists of particularly euphoric battles it can very quickly become hard to determine who is who, or even where your character is. Still, it’s a small price to pay for being part of something that resembles a Peter Jackson film.
There’s also a hardcore mode, for those seeking the thrill of perma-death. And randomised dungeons, dynamic events, four story modes, three online modes, a brand new loot system and redesigned dynamic camera. If nothing else, console players can be certain they’re getting their money’s worth.
It’s not quite a burnished specimen of perfection however. You might, for example, find the bossfights a little underwhelming. And that lack of dedicated servers I mention earlier does bring back the constant fear of the dreaded “host migration” screen when things aren’t quite going someone’s way. The character designs too, although massively varied, do lack the depth and originality of the Vita’s almost-superb Soul Sacrifice. That’s not to say there isn’t some interesting lore on offer here, but it’s all surface.
Bringing Diablo III to the couch market meant the devil could have – quite literally – been in the detail. Thankfully, this is one crossover that’s been expertly handled. It’s a great game of course, but we knew that already. The highest praise I can afford it otherwise is that it works so well on a console you’d think using a mouse to play it was a crazy idea.
Diablo III, by Blizzard Entertainment, is available now for Xbox 360 (reviewed), PS3, PC and Mac.