Posted on Tuesday, September 17th, 2013 at 6:00 PM by Chris Smith
I’d be the first one to admit that I’m not your typical Diablo fan. I came to the series long after it was popularised – I was playing the first Diablo while most fans were hacking and slashing their way through Lord of Destruction with their friends on Battle.net. For me, Diablo was very much a single-player experience, more about the story and the individual struggle against insurmountable odds. I played Diablo II, of course, but I found myself less enchanted by it. The story was still there, but it was clear that this was a game intended to be multiplayer. Though I enjoyed Diablo II enough to play it several times, when I learned that Blizzard intended to cater to both play styles in their long-awaited third instalment, I was extremely keen to give it a shot.
As I mentioned in my previous article on Diablo III, it wasn’t everything I was expecting. This was down to a complex mix of different factors, the biggest of which was that I wasn’t playing it in the right way. That is to say, I wasn’t playing it in the way in which I would extract most enjoyment from it. In my haste to try and capture some of the missed experience of multiplayer, I started Diablo III by playing it with a friend. It was only after becoming disenchanted with it and returning at a later date that I was able to properly appreciate it as a single-player game.
Of course, this was complicated by the somewhat controversial “always online” requirement, not to mention the ever-present Real Money Auction House (RMAH). In many ways, these features made sense… but only when observed in a vacuum. In reality, even people who are connected to the internet 24/7 don’t like being forced to log in every time they want to play, nor forced to stop if there was any interruption to the connection at any time. Similarly, the RMAH defeated the point of much of Diablo III’s gameplay: you fought monsters to obtain loot. If you could simply buy that loot – either using in-game gold or real pounds, dollars and euros – then where was the challenge?
Nevertheless, I was very interested when rumours started flying about regarding a possible console port of Diablo III. When those rumours became reality, I began to imagine how the game might change when moved to console. Closer to its release, it was confirmed that there would be no RMAH or always-online requirement to play Diablo III on consoles. Suddenly, I was excited again. It was around this time that I re-kindled my interest in the PC version by attempting to play it by myself, having forgotten a good chunk of the first chapter. Satisfied that I would be able to enjoy the game on my own, I decided that Diablo III on PS3 would be mine.
The game arrived and was duly inserted into my waiting console. My mind was already filled with Diablo, having played the PC version only a few days prior. I was ready to compare and contrast the pros and cons of each version. Unfortunately, I did nothing of the sort for a good few hours. What I DID was create a Barbarian and begin wreaking havoc throughout Sanctuary.
Once I had calmed down, I realised what I’d done. I’d popped in a game and started playing, then lost track of time. I was enjoying myself immensely – I had been saving the Barbarian class for just this occasion – and I didn’t particularly want to stop. So I didn’t. I kept playing, kept hacking and slashing my way through the endless hordes of undead, cultists and goatmen being unearthed and/or vomited at me. Eventually I had to come up for air, of course, so let’s go through a run down of my experiences with the console version as compared to the PC.
First of all, the negatives, so we can get them out of the way. The major one that causes me frustration almost every time I play is the instinct to use the right analog stick to aim my character, when it instead causes me to perform a dodge roll. Now don’t get me wrong: dodge rolls are fun, but they feel unnatural to me when bound to the right stick. It feels like this would have been better placed on a shoulder button to be used in combination with the left stick, leaving the right stick free for character rotation. Yes, the left stick can do this, but only with very fine movement, which isn’t normally achievable in the heat of combat. It wasn’t game-breaking by any measure, but I can imagine it would be more annoying had I not been playing a melee character. It’s bad enough having to hold down a button on the PC to keep my Demon Hunter still while I fill things with arrows from afar; it must be doubly frustrating to have even less control on the console version.
Next up, we have the interface. It’s clear that Blizzard have done their best here, since there’s no easy way of managing the inventory of up to four people on one screen. I’ve not had the pleasure of that particular experience myself, but I have seen videos of it happening. For the most part, they’ve tried to avoid the all-too-frequent “inventory stops” that were the staple of one of my favourite multiplayer games, Champions of Norrath. Every once in a while, my three friends and I would need to stop to organise our equipment, drop stuff we didn’t need, equip new gear, etc. To do this, we needed to effectively halt the game while we each took turns (two at a time, I’ll grant you) to get ourselves sorted.
Diablo III takes a different approach, allowing people to see (at a glance) if the equipment they just picked up is better or worse for them on the whole. Does it increase or decrease my attack, defence or health? I’ll know from the helpful icons that just popped up. But this is a stopgap; it doesn’t let me know what stats are actually on the item, or if it would be better for another member of my party. With the removal of individual loot and a return to the more anarchic “first one to grab gets dibs” system, you’re actually more likely to stop and/or argue over the loot that’s being dropped. It’s not a bad system, per se, since it’s more or less identical to that in Champions of Norrath and we managed just fine. I’m just surprised that Blizzard wasn’t able to evolve the way loot is handled for this new game, released almost a full decade later.
This leads us smoothly into the positives for the console iteration, one of which is actually the inventory itself. Despite the analog stick being slightly quirky as a means of accessing the different categories of weapons and armour, there’s no denying the refreshing simplicity of the new design. Gone are the decidedly old-fashioned “inventory squares”, where each item would take up a set space within a limited grid of available room. Now you simply have a list of items of each category and I have yet to see a warning to say my inventory is full.
Tied into this is the lack of crappy drops; no longer will your inventory be chock-full of thirty pairs of grey-quality “Ragged Pants of Disappointment”. While actual loot drops have been reduced as a result of this, the loot that does drop is normally of much higher average quality. In my time playing Diablo III on my PS3, I’ve had quite a number of rare items drop off non-boss characters. This is in addition to many quality-of-life improvements made to the whole gameplay experience. Gone is the requirement to identify loot of any type except Legendaries – you know what it is as soon as you pick it up. Likewise, the blacksmithing and jewelcrafting interfaces have been combined with their respective vendors – this makes so much sense, I’m not sure why they didn’t think to do it with the PC version in the first place.
There’s also a welcome little addition in the form of quest rewards; while these won’t always be better than your current gear, it’s still a nice touch. Just getting XP and gold as a reward for quests makes it feel like less of an accomplishment. Something physical – even if you’re just going to smelt it in five seconds’ time – makes the sense of achievement more real.
The biggest plus, however, is the control scheme itself. As I mentioned before, it was the draw of direct control over my character that really enticed me towards this console port. I remembered how awesome Champions of Norrath was and I wanted to re-live that experience through the world of Diablo. I wasn’t disappointed in the least. Despite the quibbles above regarding fine movement, there’s a much deeper sense of connection with your character. This is especially true of melee characters; wading into battle and ploughing through hordes of enemies, the controller rumbling in my hands as I unleash ability after ability – there’s no doubt in my mind that it’s a superior experience to point-and-click. You sacrifice accuracy for auto-targeting, but it’s a trade I’m happy to make. There’s a point where pixel-perfect control of my abilities becomes second to having fun while playing my character. In the heat of battle, once I stop dodge rolling everywhere by accident, there’s nothing quite like it. I’ve not felt this much fun in a hack and slash since the original Diablo.
I could go into more depth on the exact pluses and minuses between each version, but if Diablo III on the PS3 has taught me anything, it’s that minor details don’t always matter. It may not be a perfect translation from the PC, but if I’m having a blast each and every time I play – with all of the core gameplay and story preserved – then what’s the harm? It ends up being a better game all around, if only because I feel much more involved than I ever did with my PC version. I’ll still be playing Diablo III on the PC with my friend, so we can continue our misbegotten adventures, but for single-player I’ll be sticking with the PS3.
To finish, I said in my last article that you should give Diablo III a second chance if you’d not enjoyed yourself the first time around on PC. If you couldn’t bring yourself to do that, then I urge you to consider the console version instead. There’s so much to enjoy and it has the potential to be a much more engaging multiplayer experience, especially if you have friends and family who actually own PS3s (sadly, it’s 360′s everywhere where I live). It may not be the Diablo you knew, but it’s got the same excitement at its core and its gameplay has been refined to the point of almost pure enjoyment. Blizzard have learned from their mistakes with the PC version and have made the console port of Diablo III into a wonderful thing. It’s a hell of a game.