Hell Freezes Over
Blizzard, kings of the online PC game, make a long-awaited return to consoles with this PS3 and Xbox 360 version of last year's action-RPG smash. Although the first Diablo and StarCraft were ported to PlayStation and N64 respectively by other studios, this is the first console game Blizzard has made in-house since The Lost Vikings 2 for SNES in 1997. What's taken so long?
Well, Blizzard has always said that it would make a console version of one of its games when they were convinced the game would fit - and that Diablo was the most likely to work. They were dead right. If anything, this frenetic, loot-grabbing monster mash is even better on consoles than the PC and Mac original.
Diablo is the original action-RPG, a furiously fast-paced species of real-time role-playing game where you view the action from above. Powerful heroes, huge numbers of enemies, randomised dungeons and lots and lots and lots of loot are the order of the day.
It Just Clicks...
On PC, you would move your hero and direct his or her attacks with clicks of the mouse. Although the top-down view remains the same, controls on console are quite different. You move your hero with the left stick and use up to six combat skills with the face buttons, right trigger and right bumpers. Using an attack roots your hero to the spot, and you then tilt the left stick around to select your target. Blizzard has also added a new move - a rolling evade on the right stick, which lets you dodge attacks or just change position quickly in the middle of a fight.
This isn't the most precise control scheme, and it certainly shouldn't be confused with action games like God of War, which focus on combos and timing. But it works brilliantly at bringing Diablo's particular style of combat across, which is all about using your skills tactically to deal with the vast scrums of enemies that come your way. If anything, it feels more direct and intuitive than playing the game on PC.
And those skills and heroes are just brilliant. The five customisable heroes are among the most entertainingly overpowered character classes you'll ever play. The Barbarian is a monstrously powerful melee fighter; the Monk is a mystical martial artist who moves faster than the eye can see; the Demon Hunter is an occult ranger who sets traps and dual-wields crossbows; the Wizard is a one-woman lightshow with devastating magical attacks and illusions; and the Witch Doctor is a creepy pet class who can summon and command zombie dogs and spiders, among other things.
As you level up, you unlock not just new skills, but new runes to apply to those skills which soup them up and change their effects. Rather than following skill trees you can swap these around at any time, experimenting, tailoring your character to suit your mood and your equipment. It's not traditional role-playing, but it's brilliant fun tinkering around until you've found a combat style you really like.
Get Your Loot On
One change from previous Diablo games is that the skills are probably more exciting than the loot - although loot has been tweaked in this console version to be better quality and more suited for your class, because the PC game's controversial auction house has been removed. It's for the best. It's still satisfying to equip and craft new stuff that helps you keep pace with the ever-escalating challenge from the monsters, and if you feel you've outpaced them or fallen behind, you can change the difficulty at any time.
Beat the game once on Normal, which is quite easy, and you unlock the brilliant Nightmare mode. There are two further modes beyond Nightmare, as well as a level cap to hit and an endgame involving special bosses and a separate levelling system. There's also an amazingly tense Hardcore mode where you just try to survive as long as you can without dying, because every death permanently wipes that character.
Even better than all this, the entire game is designed around co-op for up to four players, which you can do on one console, via System Link or online, with a bewildering range of options for customising your experience. Couch co-op is the major addition over the PC version (as well as an offline mode) and it's brilliant - arguably it's how Diablo was always meant to be played.
There's so much to do, and so many ways to do it, that you could be playing this game for hundreds of hours. The only issue with that is it means playing the campaign many times over, and while this horror-fantasy romp is a good, cheesy laugh, you might find yourself getting a little bored of the storyline on your third run through, despite the randomised layouts.
Nevertheless, Diablo 3 on console is a visceral and satisfying action RPG in a lavish package that's amazingly complete and customisable. If you have a co-op partner, it's an essential purchase, and for everyone else, it's highly recommended.
- Superb, intense action role-playing, with an excellent new control scheme on consoles
- One of the best couch co-op games you can buy, with every option you can think of
- Brilliant character classes with spectacular skills, all freely customisable
- Loot is better than the PC game, but still not as exciting as it might be
- Cheesy story that's fun at first, but wears out its welcome on multiple playthroughs
- Randomisation is a bit too gentle to really keep things fresh