Diablo 3 is all about the little sins. The latest in Blizzard Entertainment's genre-defining hack-and-slash offers players battlefield-wiping power, and then much like the series' titular demon, lures them to their own undoing with the temptation of playing just one difficulty level higher, going for just one better combo, and making just one more boss-run for loot. One moment you're a god, the next, having succumbed to hubris, a ghost. Likewise, the Xbox 360 and PS3 ports of the title--Blizzard's hyped return to consoles--stood to either succeed or fail based on the smallest details. Rest assured, Diablo 3 on consoles is the same experience PC fans enjoyed, tweaked just enough to make the difference between the two meaningful.
As one of five expertly defined classes, players must trek from the quaint town of New Tristram, to the desert oasis of Caldeum, to the fortress of Bastion's Keep and parts beyond, battling nigh-endless streams of undead, cultists, and demons along the way. ("The way" is littered with fetch quests. Mostly enjoyable fetch quests, but fetch quests nonetheless.)
Combat is a colorful, button-mashing spamfest with an unobtrusive auto-aim, and aside from some frame-rate hiccups in big battles, it runs smoothly and looks gorgeous. Survival is guaranteed only through the liberal application of special attacks, grouped into categories and mapped to the face buttons and triggers, making it all the easier to combo strikes and unleash key powers when they're needed. Chaining the Barbarian's aggro-pulling spear with a quick stun once the target gets into range is all the more slick and satisfying for how easy it is to pull off.
"Diablo 3 on consoles is the same experience PC fans enjoyed."
The skill and inventory interfaces have been overhauled with a radial-wheel system that makes it relatively easy to compare and equip items and skill-altering runes (five per skill, and each with wildly different effects you'll keep going back to size up). Equally intuitive are online multiplayer matching for specific quests and acts, as well as the drop-in local multiplayer, which is simultaneously the greatest addition to Diablo 3 and the least drastic one.
More provocative is the addition of a dodge, a maneuver unique to the console edition. Jamming the right thumbstick in a direction activates a nimble leap that's endlessly repeatable. While a little finicky and difficult to get used to at first, with practice the dodge quickly becomes an indispensable tool in an already impressive arsenal, and one that is difficult to believe PC players managed without. Players focused on ranged combat can more easily avoid the arcane bolts and demon bile that pose the most threat to them, while melee fighters can get in a few quick stabs on an opponent before backflipping to safety. The dodge turns Diablo 3's already kinetic combat into a near-literal ballet of acrobatic death. It provides a frenetic experience for console players, and an easier one, as well.
Similarly, it shouldn't come as a surprise that the normal difficulty campaign in Diablo 3 isn't much of a challenge, especially once players have learned how to best exploit the game's crafting systems. This is a title that's specifically designed for multiple playthroughs. Dungeon layouts change from one run to the next, and certain features, like the crafting pages spent to level up the blacksmith and jeweler characters, aren't even accessible until higher difficulties.
"Again, a welcome addition, but one that undoubtedly makes the game easier."
Those difficulties have been modified for the console release. Instead of the original scheme, Diablo 3 on consoles has both "modes" and "difficulties." Harder modes are unlocked after beating previous ones, and affect things such as the speed of enemy projectiles, the speed of foes themselves, and spawning densities. Difficulties, on the other hand, are all available from the start, ranging from easy to master-level challenges, and seem to affect the "monster power" levels that PC Diablo players are familiar with; the higher the difficulty, the tougher the mobs are overall. Both increase the Diablo 3 challenge, but in different ways, and in such a fashion that players can make it through the multiple campaign runs needed to reach max level and still have options when it comes to adjusting the endgame. Again, a welcome addition, but one that undoubtedly makes the game easier.
Then again, maybe console players do need the minions of hell to take it a little easier on them. Diablo 3 on consoles, unlike it's PC counterpart, doesn't need an online connection, which is wonderful. However, the lack of this obligatory connection means the game also has no auction house. Players looking for that one specific item to perfect their build have to rely on the semi-randomized loot crafted with the blacksmith, or the charity of pals willing to drop items in cooperative play.
So, yes, Diablo 3 wants you to suffer, but with that simplest, finest addition of local multiplayer, you won't be suffering alone. The Monk who just botched the Skeleton King run for the fourth time in a row? She's on the couch next to you. Forget the companion system, because it's real, human allies that succeed in instilling the game's borderline generic plot with actual pathos. Misery loves company, and the Diablo 3 console port is sweet, sweet misery.
The above review pertains to the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions of Diablo 3. Looking for the original PC review? Proceed to page 2!
are defined by their progenitors. Doom begat the first-person shooter, Grand
Theft Auto begat the open-world game, and Diablo begat the hack-and-slash RPG.
But unlike the others, the hack-and-slash still carries the moniker of “Diablo
clone,” even 10+ years after its creation. And for good reason – while games
like Torchlight and Titan’s Quest made slight modifications to the formula,
they’ve still treated the genre as “Diablo” instead of a standalone idea. Each
game iterated on the Diablo concept, making changes that served to supplement
the tropes instead of attempting to reinvent them. In many ways, Diablo III
approaches the genre in the same way--it’s essentially a really good Diablo
clone, but more official than those other games.
At its core,
Diablo III is a game about clicking on stuff until it dies, stealing its loot,
and leveling up. It’s been dressed up in beautiful graphics, garnished in
stellar physics, and turned into a persistent online game, but anything piled
atop is supplementary to killing, looting, and leveling. There are some large
modifications to the formula, but many of the changes from its 11-year-old
predecessor are basic quality-of-life improvements, leaving the core as classic
as can be and retaining the same addictive, repeatable, enjoyable gameplay that
had us hooked for hundreds of hours back in 2001. Though Blizzard made great
strides to assure that the mechanics fit more in line with 2012’s standards, it
did so without sacrificing Diablo’s essence.
"It’s essentially a really good Diablo clone, but more official than those other games."
The gameplay –
that’s the “clicking on stuff until it dies, then leveling” part – is
simplistic and satisfying. Despite sporting insultingly bad dialogue and a
mediocre plot, the act of beating on bad guys with the mouse pointer and
watching them ragdoll around is the ultimate power fantasy. Playing through the
game’s four acts (while clicking on everything that moves until it stops moving)
fulfills primal urges, and taps into the same pleasure center that other
loot-fest games have in the past.
Each of the five
classes gave us different ways to click bad guys to death, allowing players to
bash in heads as the Monk, blast foes with elemental spells as the Wizard,
shake snakes at enemies as the Witch Doctor, cleave through waves with the
Barbarian, and fire barrages of arrows as the Demon Hunter. Each was well
varied, and each provided a different experience that was made even more
complex by the interesting new leveling system Blizzard has developed.
Diablo III progress in a very modern way, both by gifting all of the games’
skills to the player by level 30 (instead of throwing them at a wall of
abilities to choose from over the course of 99 levels), and by making six
skills available at a time (instead of two). Because of the ability to modify
the varied spells with unlockable Runes, the character customization is as
robust as ever, even if the level cap is at a much more attainable level 60 (as
opposed to Diablo II’s 99). Runes make a huge difference; for instance, they
can augment the Barbarian’s Bash to include a stun, reverberating knockback, or
area-of-effect damage. Every skill is improved with these runes, and it’s
possible to create imaginative and unique builds, letting the player tune every
spell to their liking.
Further adding to the customization are the loot
drops, which are arguably even more intrinsic to the genre than the RPG
elements or the combat. Randomized items tumbling from the corpses of fallen
foes help fuel the urge to continue playing, allowing players a second outlet
for which they can continuously iterate on their character’s stats, replacing
different bits of armor and weapons with slightly better ones. It’s rewarding,
but not as much as it was in the last game – in fact, loot might be one of the
game’s weakest elements, due to the inclusion of an in-game Auction House.
"Classes in Diablo III progress in a very modern way."
While looting still works as it does in most
games (save for player-specific drops negating the mad rush to pick up items
before your teammates), and players can now craft their own gear (though it’s
not much different from the ability to buy unidentified items in Diablo II),
the ability to sell and buy items on a game-wide Auction House has a fairly
large impact. Within hours of the Diablo III’s launch, the AH was already full
to the brim with gear for all levels, and as time goes on, it behaves as
auction houses behave, with people racing to put up the best gear for the
And though this might sound like an incredibly
useful feature, it’s, as of review time, possibly the largest threat to Diablo
III’s long-term success. Purchasing items off the AH is quick and simple, and,
in a way, makes finding loot meaningless. Every item we picked up from enemies
we’d slain was insufficient to the one we nicked off the AH for ten minutes
worth of gold. It threatens to break the genre, and unless the economy
stabilizes completely we worry that the loot might remain somewhat unexciting. The
obvious solution is “don’t use it,” but its effects are much larger than
temptation – it creates an imbalance in the economy that we seriously worry
could cripple the game’s long life, and that’s without the inclusion of
One of the reasons the Auction House is available
is because of the game’s switch to being online-only. Online multiplayer is an
even larger component in Diablo III than it was in the others, so much that
Blizzard opted to cut out the option for a traditional offline single-player campaign
entirely. You can still play alone, but you’re forced to do so on Blizzard’s
servers, which, so far, have been incredibly unstable. Even when playing alone,
we were kicked offline on several occasions, and hit with random lag spikes
that would often result in our character standing still while enemies from all
sides beat us to death.
We’re not against the idea of mandatory server-based DRM
in all cases, but for us to agree to “always-on DRM,” we need the servers to be
“always on.” Lag hasn't been a serious issue for years, and it's distressful to
see it being such a problem with such an important game - the second that a
server issue kills off your single-player game (which should be playable
offline) is the second it's officially unacceptable, and we're still having
these issues at review time.
"You can still play alone, but you’re forced to do so on Blizzard’s servers."
But with these
caveats comes a benefit to the updated online infrastructure that makes playing
with others easier than it ever was. You’re able to search for people on the
same quest as you and join them instantaneously, which makes it a breeze to find
groups for difficult sections; even playing with friends has been streamlined
and simplified. Those who want to play alone can do so with no pressure to join
with others, but it’s just as easy to make sure you’re always running around
with two or three partymates. Since the game scales amazingly well to the
number of players in a game, it means that online multiplayer will always
provide an adequately awesome challenge for everyone involved, especially on the harder difficulties (and in the secret world of Whimsyshire).
Diablo II has
been successful for years, but that’s because players had a reason to keep
playing. Looting items and trading them with friends was fun, and charging
towards level 99 (which took hundreds of hours) created the necessary excuse to jump back in time and time again. Diablo III’s level cap can be hit in a few dozen hours, which is still
lengthy, but nowhere near long enough to give players incentive to continue
playing after completing the four difficulty modes. If loot can just be bought for a
few hours worth of gold grinding, and the level cap isn’t far away, the
romantic notion of losing months and months into Diablo is shattered.
Once you beat the last act, you’ll
progress to the next difficulty and begin hacking and slashing your way through
the game’s four acts again, and you’ll likely find it just as gleefully
habit-forming and fulfilling as we all hoped it’d be. Though it might lose the
long life that the previous Diablo had due to missteps with new features, it’s
still an extremely fun game, and a worthy successor to the Diablo throne. Just
keep the caveats in mind as you click through the hordes to scoop up those loot
The above review only pertains to the PC version of Diablo 3.