After years of residence on mouse and keyboard platforms, the Lord of Terror has made his combat-centric return to consoles, with the recent release of Diablo III for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. As a result, those who prefer to game using a set-up that combines a television with a connected system and its required controller can enlist into the battle between Good and Evil, or Heaven and Hell. It’s certainly been a long time coming, but the port-based rumours ended up being true. Now, the question on many folks’ minds is how the much-anticipated dungeon-crawler handles outside of its usual confines.
We’ll get to the answer to the above-mentioned question in due time, but first, let’s talk about the game itself.
These days, the Diablo series is very well-known and respected within the gaming community; so much so that it’s become one of the industry’s most popular franchises. However, if you’ve yet to hear about it, or happen to be a relative newcomer like I was before the days of Diablo III‘s PC beta, what you need to know is that, like its predecessors, this iteration is a Hellish, cooperative dungeon crawler that isn’t afraid to ratchet up its toughness from time to time. Foregoing a low level cap and a limited amount of difficulty levels, Blizzard’s latest behemoth offers a bevy of different degrees of challenge, as well as a mode in which players only get one digital life. If that sounds like it’s up your alley, then you’ll surely end up enjoying the twenty-odd hour game. However, don’t go in expecting something that will revolutionize the genre, or blow you away, as while what’s on offer here is of relatively high quality, it’s not the bonafide masterpiece that millions were hoping for.
As before, players are given the opportunity to pick and name their character, choosing its gender and class from several different archetypes, some of which will be familiar to role-playing fanatics. There’s the standard, hulking barbarian class, with its strong muscles and close-combat basis, and then there are more creative efforts, including the speedy monk, nature-wielding witch doctor, ranged demon hunter and expected wizard. Being someone who prefers getting up close and personal before smashing a razor-edged sword into a foe’s cranium, I picked the basic barbarian and used his heavy-hitting skills from the start of the game until its completion. That one play through earned me enough experience to get to level 31, which allowed for a great deal of ability trying.
The best thing about Diablo III is that it’s action-packed. There are very few instances where enemies are not in close proximity to your solo character, or four-player party. In a game like this, that’s to be expected, but this particular one ups the ante more than most, if not all of its peers. Monstrosities of the demonic, mutated and downright hideous varieties pour out of their hiding spots without reservation, usually attacking in groups, and are more than willing to swarm for the kill. That means that lots of evasion rolls — handled with ease by the controller’s right joystick — and health potions will be in order. You’ll probably die quite a bit, especially near the beginning, and there are inexplicable (difficulty) peaks and valleys throughout the game. In fact, during the early portion of the quest, I was continually swarmed by hordes of foes who killed me with relative ease; however, during the middle of the adventure, I was killing even more challenging baddies without issue. Things got a bit more difficult later on, then reverted back to the easier scenario.
Expectedly, it’s almost all about the gameplay here. There’s a decent and somewhat interesting storyline that longtime fans will get the most out of, but it’s not the best or most unique thing ever written. It tells the tale of an old man and his niece, and their discovery of texts that speak about an upcoming demonic invasion. Of course, just as the two learn of what’s going to happen, all Hell literally breaks loose and what they’ve spent years trying to prevent ends up occurring. Essentially speaking, the demons have broken through, and have discarded a truce, choosing to invade the land of Sanctuary and take it for their own. Not just your everyday, run of the mill denizens of Hell, either; some of the torture-filled region’s heaviest hitters have come to play, including the Lord of Terror himself.
Everything you’ll really need to know is told through great-looking cinematics and limited dialogue bubbles, though those who wish to dig deeper can do so by finding diaries throughout the game. They’re rather plentiful, and aren’t too difficult to find, though extra exploration will be required to locate them all. That goes without saying, though.
All in all, Diablo III is a well above-average game. It’s mechanically sound, with hectic, challenging and fulfilling gameplay, and includes enough unique class types and randomized dungeons to warrant second, third and fourth play throughs if one so wishes. There’s something missing, though, and the only term that comes to mind is the ever important wow factor that all masterpieces possess. This is a good, tried and true dungeon-crawling experience, yes, but it’s not revolutionary or extraordinary. It does what it needs to well, and is a definite loot lover’s dream, but it doesn’t exemplify a lot of outward thinking. Sometimes that’s alright, though.
Now, on to the game’s (auction house free) console ports, of which we were provided the Xbox 360 version.
Honestly, if I hadn’t heard of Diablo III before, I could’ve been led to believe that it was designed with consoles in mind from the get-go. The port is simply that good. Even though Blizzard hasn’t released anything for us controller-focused gamers in quite a long while, there’s no rust to be found here. Everything was well thought out, from the way that each ability would map to the face and shoulder buttons of the controller, to the ease at which one would be allowed to roll away from battle whenever things got tough. If you prefer joysticks and buttons over clicking a mouse and tapping keys, then you’ll feel right at home here, and won’t have any issues adjusting to what is a thoroughly impressive and fully acceptable input system.
Although it’s obvious that a PC or Mac running the game on its highest settings will provide the best-looking Diablo III experience, the Xbox 360 version is far from a slouch when it comes to visuals. It looks quite good, and doesn’t suffer from any notable or marring issues. You’ll encounter some minor screen tearing, and a tiny bit of slowdown here and there, but they’re more hiccups than problems. In fact, the frame rate remained essentially perfect during combat, even when there were tons and tons of hideous monstrosities on the screen. I did, however, notice a bit of lag during online multiplayer, but that could’ve been a connection issue that I can’t verify. Even then, it didn’t mar the experience. Granted, some may choose not to even bother with the connection-based multiplayer option if they prefer to go it alone, or have friends who love to get together for couch co-op. That’s one of the biggest, and most appreciated selling points here.
As a whole, the audio is solid, but not exemplary. On-screen action is blown through one’s speakers with boisterous effect, but some of the dialogue tends to come out a bit muffled, to the point where it can be difficult to understand. This issue popped up a bit during random conversations between my hero and his non-playable Templar ally, but it was most evident when some of the audio diaries were playing.
Those who’ve been twiddling their thumbs in anticipation of Diablo III on consoles ever since it was first announced for PC and Mac shouldn’t hesitate on this port. It’s fantastic, and is, in fact, nearly perfect. Good job, Blizzard.
This review is based on the Xbox 360 version of the game, which we were provided with.