Diablo III is the third in a series of iconic PC cooperative dungeon crawler RPG’s. The franchise is well known and respected in PC gaming circles, it ranks up there with other RPG’s and dungeon crawlers like Neverwinter Nights and Baldur’s Gate. It is quite literally one of the industry’s most popular franchises, a battle between Good and Evil, Heaven and Hell, and now finally it is here on Xbox 360.
I’ve been waiting a long time for this day – the chance to finally get my Blizzard fix whilst relaxing on the sofa with the comfort of an Xbox 360 controller in my hand. When I first read those port rumours a couple of years back and even saw the Blizzard recruitment posts looking a Console Producer, it still felt too good to be true. But the much anticipated game is finally here and I am ecstatic to report that it handles superbly albeit outside of its usual confines.
Like its predecessors, this iteration is a diabolically (like what I did there?) hellish, cooperative dungeon crawler that isn’t afraid to ratchet up its toughness from time to time. Diablo III, while featured completely in 3D with a 3D environment, follows closely in Diablo II’s track by using the classic isometric view, fast gameplay, and randomized content for high replayability. Some changes have been made in order to make the game more welcoming to new players, to ramp up the difficulty more smoothly, and to create a deep and engaging combat system. The Diablo III developers took inspiration from previous games in the series, as well as World of Warcraft. This latest behemoth offers a bevy of different degrees of challenge in the form of Normal, Nightmare, Hell & Inferno difficulties.
Each difficulty level repeats the same content (with a few minor changes), while scaling up all the skills, items, monsters, experience rewards, gold drops, and everything else to maintain a challenge appropriate to the character level. The fourth difficulty level, Inferno, is a new feature in Diablo III, adding a much more challenging end game experience to the Hell difficulty that was the upper limit in Diablo II. If that sounds like it’s up your alley, then you’ll surely end up enjoying the twenty-odd hour game during your first run through, and multiple run through’s afterwards.
As with all titles similar, players are given the opportunity to pick and name their character, choose its gender and class from several different archetypes, some of which will be familiar to role-playing fanatics. First up is the typical hulking muscle ripped Barbarian, a close combat specialist. Next is the speedy monk with strong Eastern martial arts influences, then the nature-wielding, necromancy practicing and alchemy expert Witch Doctor. The final two classes are the ranged Demon Hunter who specializes in crossbows and trap laying and finally the expected Wizard, pure spell caster who focuses the arcane and elemental energies and transforms them into destructive offensive spells.
Being someone who daily wishes they had spells and magical powers at their disposal, I picked the Wizard and stuck with him from start through to completion. I’ve yet to load up the next difficulty, but don’t worry, I will. I aim to finish this game on all FOUR difficulties.
The thing about Diablo games, and especially III, is that they are action-packed right from the get go. Diablo III ups the ante on most if not all of its peers. It doesn’t matter where you happen to be standing, the likelihood is there are enemies in extremely close proximity to you and your party. Enemies are monstrous in their design and range from the grotesque to demonic, mutated and downright vile. This is a game about good trying to overcome evil and these enemies are everything you’ve had nightmares about from childhood to adult life. Because of the sheer number of them make sure you are always fully stocked on health potions. Playing Solo (offline or without a local 2nd, 3rd and 4th player) you’ll probably die quite a bit, especially near the beginning. During the early quests I was continually swarmed by hordes of foes who killed me with relative ease – the bastards!
In terms of the story line, unless you’ve played the prior two titles, it will intrigue you but won’t come across as the best or most unique script every written. For those of you familiar with Diablo lore, you’ll enjoy what is on offer as new and interesting details are revealed. The basic premise is an old man and his niece discover an ancient text, a text that speaks about an upcoming demonic invasion. As happens in all these scenarios, just as the two learn the meaning of the texts, all Hell (quite literally) breaks loose and hordes of demons break through into the realm of the living. By doing so the demons have broken a truce, choosing to invade the land of Sanctuary and take it for their own. Now demons are bad enough but someone else has come to town to play, the Lord of Terror himself, Diablo the Prime Evil. There is additional detail to the story to be found in diaries and journals scattered around the game world. These aren’t essential reading but do add further depth to those wishing to dig deeper into the story and lore.
If you hadn’t have heard about Diablo prior to this game, one of the biggest achievements for Blizzard has to be the fact that whilst playing Diablo III you’d be forgiven for thinking it had been designed for console from the outset. For a PC to console port, this is shining example of what taking extra time and care can achieve. They have haven’t released a console title since The Lost Vikings in 1997 (SNES, Saturn & PS1), yet there is no rust to be found here. Everything has been well thought out from the way abilities are mapped to controller face and shoulder buttons, and the ease at which players can escape combat through rolls. 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. I can say that after being both a dedicated PC MMO player with multiple keyboard binds and macros as well as being a console fanatic.
Graphically you have to remember that Diablo III was originally designed for PC and Mac. Therefore when run on the highest settings, the game will always look better on those platforms than a console. That said, the Xbox 360 is far from slacking in this department. The visual design is captivation and more than pleasing to the eye. You’ll understandably encounter some minor screen tearing, and a tiny bit of slowdown here and there, but they’re more hiccups than problems and don’t detract from the overall experience in the slightest. The frame rate fluctuates during big battles on screen where there were tons and tons of hideous monstrosities on the screen. There is a slight big of lag during online multiplayer and occasionally your comrades can become stuck in a building wall when they jump across the screen.
If like me you have been waiting this title ever since the announcement it was definitely going ahead for console, then don’t delay, get out there and buy it. It’s a fantastic port and is one of the finest dungeon crawlers I have played in a long, long time. It is action packed, it’s a loot lover’s dream and single player is rewarding and fun whist there is great online and/or local cooperative action. If you’ve never played a Diablo title before and are looking for something new to try with friends, then again this should most definitely be on your radar. From me to you Blizzard, job well done.