It has been almost 20 years since the Lord Diablo first set his gaze onto gamers everywhere, haunting our dreams and providing us with one hell of a fight. Since its original release for the PC and PlayStation, the series has abandoned home consoles for a strictly PC approach. With the release of Diablo III, the series has come back to home consoles, releasing on the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and PlayStation 4 in the future. With a tried and true formula for making outstanding action-RPGs—does the team at Blizzard Entertainment deliver a demon-stomping experience on the PS3 or is this a series better left to the PC crowd?
Diablo III sets gamers up 20 years after the events of Diablo II, in the dark world of Sanctuary. After a mysterious star falls from the sky and levels the Tristram Cathedral, your selected character arrives in New Tristram to investigate the cause of the falling star and the sudden rise of undead around the world. With the help of Deckard Cain and his niece Leah, you are now tasked with solving all the wrongs that just keep popping up.
Before the whole story actually gets off and running, players must select one of five distinctive classes: Barbarian, Demon Hunter, Monk, Witch Doctor, and Wizard. The Barbarian and Monk are up-close mashers, with an emphasis on power attacks. The Demon Hunter is a girl with a killer bow; Witch Doctor is a crazy shaman with his own horde of undead minions; and the Wizard has every spell you could think of to hurt your opponent. Each class has a primary attribute, such as the Demon Hunter having dexterity, and the Barbarian, strength.
Apart from the primary attribute, each character has nine skill slots to customize as you level up, with six of those slots being active and three being passive. As you progress through the game and gain levels, you will begin to unlock new skills to assign to these slots. Your six active skills are assigned to different buttons on the DualShock 3, making things easily accessible during combat and really providing a lot of depth to the control scheme. As you continue to level up, you can also unlock secondary attributes for each skill. For instance as the Witch Doctor, you have a skill that can raise two dogs to fight with you. You can upgrade this skill to add venom to the dogs attack or increase the number from two to three. Each of the six skill slots has four different skills that you can learn throughout the game and assign to them, giving you plenty of options for a customized combat experience.
The control scheme that has been provided for console gamers really takes the series in a different direction. Gone is pointing and clicking on where you want to go, replaced now with God of War-type action, using the right thumb stick to dash around the battlefield. Being able to go in and lay a trap as the Demon Hunter or turn an enemy into an ally with the Witch Hunter, then backflip out of danger brings out a new element to the Diablo series. It is extremely assuring as a fan of the series to see how great the combat has transitioned from home PCs to consoles, and done so in serious style. Not everything in the combat is top notch, however, as I noticed frequent lag during my trek through Sanctuary. The odd thing is, this mostly happened with one or two enemies on screen and not ten or more as one might expect.
The world of Sanctuary is rather large, with plenty of areas to check for that last bit of loot and more than enough enemies to swing your weapon at. The four main areas of the game that you will visit are unique in their setting and enemies you face. The dungeons inside each area however, are often time carbon copies of each other, with maybe a turn or two difference to be found and maybe a different mini boss to fight. It’s nothing that annoying but it would have been nice to see a bit more variety in the dungeons.
Outside of combat, you will have plenty of stuff on your plate to take care of. There is a blacksmith in town to sell, repair, and salvage your armor and weapons. Salvaging your equipment can gain you valuable materials which can then be used to have the smith make you new weapons and armor. Make sure you train him whenever you can so he can use learn new equipment to make. As with previous Diablo games, item names are colored by how rare they are to obtain. Gray is your run-of-the-mill item, while Orange is extremely hard to find. There is also a place to take jewels you find in your journey and have them placed into weapons and armor that have an available socket.
One of the biggest issues I found with the game and items was the inventory system, which uses a radial menu for sifting through your inventory and equipping various weapons and armor. The system doesn’t really fail in its function, but I did find myself often times frustrated with how long it took to sort through my loot or compare items. It was nice to see the Tetris-style inventory system for the PC scrapped for a system where each item takes up a single inventory slot and the new inventory fits well into the console world—but it would have been nice to see a bit more ease in use.
Another change in the move from PC to console is in the exclusion of the auction house, which on PC, allowed players to put their loot up for auction to the highest bidder. As someone who never really uses a feature like auctioning, I was not bothered by this change. In fact, I like the fact that all of my apparel was either found, created, or purchased by me. Although I have received a weapon or two from a friend while questing (but keep that between us). Loot drops are more relevant to the character class you have selected, so you will get find mostly gear that pertains to you. Meaning, you won’t find that much you can’t use, but you will also spend more time figuring out what’s better for your character.
With any game of this type, it is always best played with friends and thankfully Diablo III gives you all sorts of options to bring them along for the fun. The game’s story can be played with local friends, online ones, or a combination of the two. The addition of four-player local coop is a nice one, however, things are often times up against you, as loot drops are shared between all four players and of course bringing up the inventory screen pauses the game for all four. The game does employ a quick equip option to try and save face with your friends over, but this option fails to display magical attributes, so you are left to go into the inventory screen anyway. Online play runs extremely smooth though, with players able to go wherever they please and drops not being shared between players and drops being different per each player.
One of the issues I did find with the local coop happened when my wife decided to join the fun. Now, she herself was not the issue, but the fact that I was level 22 when she joined in left us in a sticky situation. See, there is no easy way for her to join up and be the same level as me, so we were left to replay earlier missions to gain her level. While this might be okay for those who don’t mind grinding, this is an absolute pain when your wife, kid, or friend wants to join in on your current quest. It’s in no way a show stopper or a reason not to play, but it is definitely a snag in the coop experience.
Visually, the game looks stellar on the PlayStation 3, with enemies and effects all popping extremely brightly. Yes, it doesn’t look quite as crisp as the PC version (no console games truly can match a powerful enough PC), but the differences in production values are not that far apart. The worlds are full of color, the equipment looks solid as it changes the appearance of your character on screen. On the audio front, things are what you would expect from a Diablo game. The sound of a sword swooshing through the air or a reanimated corpse rising from the ground are top notch. Voice work for the characters is good though not overly exhilarating.
Diablo III for home consoles has everything diehard fans have come to expect of the series, with a few very well-placed changes. The subtraction of the battle.net account and inclusion of couch coop add an easier online experience with fewer hurdles. A pacier combat system does wonder for the game’s transition to home consoles, as does the fluid control scheme and great depth to be found. With four acts and four difficulty settings, Diablo III is a game that will easily take up hours upon hours of your time without you even realizing it.