Reviews

Diablo III Review – Couch co-op is fun again

Diablo III brings back that fun local couch co-op gameplay in a way that games haven’t done in a long time.

Alex Inigo
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After more than a decade, PC gamers all over the globe were finally able to go back to Sanctuary and save the world once again from Diablo’s evil corruption with the release of Diablo III. While there was much apprehension with many of the changes that Blizzard implemented for Diablo III, its success was proven by its staggering sales numbers and the title is still, as of this writing, the record holder for the fastest selling PC game of all time. With the release of Diablo III for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 a year later, Blizzard intends to come back to consoles in a very meaningful way. While much of the original game is left intact, the console version of Diablo III adds a few new gameplay tweaks and optimizations that might be of interest for fans of the PC original as well. That being said, Diablo III delivers its promise of meaningful couch co-op gameplay that’s truly console tailored while retaining some of the best parts of the original PC title.

Diablo III

In New Tristram, Diablo Would Be Free

The story of Diablo III begins when a mysterious falling star falls from the heavens and creates a deep chasm within the cathedral in New Tristram. In the cathedral were Deckard Cain, an old man researching an ominous prophecy that foretells the coming of a great evil, who is accompanied by his niece Leah. When the falling star crashes through the cathedral, Deckard Cain is blasted into the depths of the falling star’s destruction as his niece looks on in horror as she realizes that her uncle is taken away from her. The protagonist arrives shortly after the incident and investigates the events at the cathedral and why the dead have begun to rise again.

The protagonists can be a character based on any of the five base classes in the game: Barbarian, Demon Hunter, Monk, Witch Doctor, or Wizard. As you probably may have guessed, both the Barbarian and Monk excel at close range combat, while the Demon Hunter, Witch Doctor, and Wizard perform really well when they can keep enemies at bay. Each class is able to use skills that is powered by an auxiliary meter that either refills over time (for range combat classes) or is filled when the player defeats enemies (for close range combat classes). Players can choose their character’s gender, but other than being able to name them, that’s pretty much the extent of the game’s character customization. Players also have the option of turning on Hardcore mode, which enables permanent death. This basically means that should your character die at any point during your playthrough, that character is gone forever and cannot be revived. All your hard earned level progression and loot goes bye bye.

Once you create your protagonist, you will be asked what Mode you’d like to play Diablo III on. Modes are dependent on what your character’s level progression is, so all of it is locked during your initial playthrough. The game does allow you to select a Difficulty level that amps the challenge up for players who are familiar with how the game plays or are just looking for a much more difficult yet rewarding experience.

“It’s Like Gauntlet, But Way Deeper”

When Blizzard pitched the idea of Diablo III on console to us at E3 2013, they carefully described it as, “Gauntlet, but with a lot of depth.” I feel that this statement encapsulates the whole premise of why Blizzard decided to bring this title to consoles and, looking back at it, accurately describes how they approached bringing the game to a new audience that is, for all intents and purposes, not familiar with the game’s legacy.

Diablo III

At first, players will find themselves using the X button (or A button on Xbox 360) for their primary attack a lot, and learn fairly early on that the L1 button (or LB button on Xbox 360) is a dedicated health potion button. As characters progress, more skills unlock and new buttons are added to the mix. Progressing even further into the game will unlock runes, which can modify your skills to make them behave differently. This careful trickle of new skills and runes is what, I feel, is at the heart of Diablo III’s gameplay and is what I find addictive about my whole experience. Some people may be lured in by how many improvements they can do with their character in terms of the loot they receive, but the carrot on the stick for me are all the skills and runes your character gets to learn over time. At the end of my playthrough at level 32, I hadn’t yet unlocked all of my characters’ passive skills and there were more runes to unlock for each of the skills that were available to me. This means that Diablo III lends itself to multiple playthroughs, which has been a series staple that PC gamers have been familiar with for years now. After your initial completion of the game, you’re able to take your character to the next Mode, where you will get even rarer drops, and crafting materials not found in other Modes used to train crafting artisans in the game. These artisans, who you’ll be introduced to throughout your first playthrough, can be trained to create different kinds of weaponry, armor, and accessories that you can use or, in the gems’ case, socket into existing items to enhance their properties.

Amongst the people that you will meet are followers that can accompany you throughout your journey. These followers stay with you through subsequent playthroughs and have their own unique background and story that’s separate from the main storyline. These characters can also provide some interesting banter, especially when taking them into sections of the story prior to when you met them during your first time through. You can affect your followers’ progress by equipping them with specific skills and weapons/accessories that they can wear, improving their and, by proxy, your survivability. A follower will join your party only when you’re playing by yourself and only on your beck and call, but will leave immediately once the game detects a new player joining the game.

Diablo IIIDiablo IIIPlayers can be any combination of four players who are either local or online. Same screen co-op might sound like it might get crowded, especially with four players, but it never created an issue for me while playing the game. To compensate for this, the camera adjusts continuously to frame the action and ensures that everyone’s got something to attack and sees what’s going on. Unlike the PC version of Diablo III the console version supports LAN play, so if you happen to have another console of the same type in another room and another copy of Diablo III for that console, you can pop the game in and join whatever playthrough is happening locally. Also, Diablo III on consoles does not require you to connect to Battle.net, Blizzard’s online service, which makes this the only version of the game that can be played purely offline. In addition to these various ways to play, player characters and progression can also be copied to a USB stick and taken to a friend’s house, should they have the same version of the game as you, and you will be able play with them using your characters and gain experience and gain loot as though you were on your own console. Of course, you’ll have to copy your progress back, but this kind of portability is something we haven’t seen in console games since the Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance series, and is a welcome feature. On the PlayStation 3 version of the game, you’re able to retrieve your save game online provided that you have an active PlayStation Plus account and are able to sign onto it on your friend’s console.

At any point during your playthrough, if a friend wants to hop into your game, they can. They can even create a character without having to boot you out of the game you’re in and quickly create a character from scratch! Just as fast as anyone can drop in, they can easily drop out without interrupting your gameplay by selecting Drop Out from their menu and their character will simply cease to exist in your game. While this is happening, the difficulty of the game seamlessly adjusts based on the number of players involved. An audio and text cue indicates whether or not any adjustments to the difficulty are made.

The console version of Diablo III also features a pretty significant addition to the series: a dodge roll. Exclusive to the console version, dodge rolls allow players to use the Right Stick to quickly dodge enemy attacks towards any direction. This doesn’t particularly alter the gameplay in any meaningful way compared to the PC version, but having an option to quickly alter your character’s direction almost mimics the idea of clicking to an area relative to your character’s position on the PC, in the event that you want to avoid any incoming volleys or attacks. This dodge isn’t as overpowered as compared to, say, games like God of War where you can pretty much block everything, since much of the game is comprised of complex math in the background, but it allows for those moments where you’re about to be surrounded by foes and want a quick way to get yourself out of a bad situation.

It’s All About The Loot (For Some)

Diablo III

Console inventory management

Diablo III

PC inventory management

Each console that joins in a game has its own loot table, which means that you won’t have to compete with grabbing weapon or armor drops when playing with other people online. The Real Money Auction House that was a subject of much controversy and disdain on the PC version does not exist on the console version, and it’s because of this that the distribution of loot had to be refactored. That being said, the portability of information I mentioned earlier is something that can easily be exploited to duplicate really good pieces of loot. But seeing as how loot is confined to local consoles, these exploits never affect anyone else directly.

Another change from the PC version is the lack of the Tetris style inventory management that has been the staple of the series since its debut. Instead, players have 60 inventory slots available for both weapons and armor and an infinite amount of space for potions, gems, and crafting materials, which all goes in a bag. Also, unlike the PC version, health potions now only come in one kind and recovers a segment of your health depending on your level. New to Diablo III are health globes that randomly drop when defeating enemies. This certainly lowers the importance of health potions in the game, but the existence of health globes add an element to the gameplay that creates an additional risk/reward to a game that’s jokingly seen by series vets as all clicking and no thinking. In fact, certain rune effects are contingent upon collecting health globes. For example when you’re out of Hatred, in the case of the Demon Hunter, you can equip a rune that nets you an additional 20% Hatred whenever someone grabs a health globe. As you can imagine, this can be extremely useful during intense battles, but the risk comes with whether or not a player is near a health globe. Like the PC version, any player who picks up a health globe will heal everyone in your party.

Also new to the console version is the ability to quickly sift through any of the loot that you picked up while on the field without going into your inventory. You do this by pressing Up on your D-pad to initiate the mode and repeatedly pressing this button or Down on the D-pad (Down on the D-pad, without initiating this mode, will pull up the map instead) will allow you to go through any of the loot that you picked up, and equipping or dropping any of these can be done with the press of a button. The console version of Diablo III simplifies the depiction of how much better (or worse) an item is by displaying three different stats while you’re sifting through these items: Attack, Defense, and Vitality. A single green arrow pointing up indicates a mild improvement over your currently equipped item, while three green arrows pointing up indicate that this is a significant improvement over what you have right now. Conversely, a red arrow pointing down indicates that this item isn’t as good as the one you have for said stat, and three red arrows pointing down indicates that the item being viewed will severely decrease said stat.

Diablo III

As convenient as this feature is, it doesn’t really replace a feature that the PC version has that the console version doesn’t which, I feel, would’ve helped streamline the console experience even further: being able to see another player’s loot stats relative to your own. On the PC version of Diablo III, players can shift click on any item in their inventory and link the item’s stats in a chat window. Because this feature doesn’t exist on consoles, the only alternative is to drop any items that a player doesn’t need so that another player can pick them up and compare them with their own stats. This can be an extremely time consuming process, especially if there are four players playing, so it would’ve been nice if this process was as well thought out as the rest of the game. Bringing up Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance again, that game had a way to be able to bring up inventory screens side by side that allowed players to compare what they grabbed and can freely drop any loot that the other person might be interested in so that they can pick it up and try it out.

Many hardcore PC gamers will most likely frown at some of the changes Blizzard made to Diablo III on consoles, but there is a considerable difference with the audiences the developers are trying to serve. If anything, I think it’s commendable that Blizzard is able to optimize the same game on either platform and acknowledge each of the platforms’ strengths. That being said, the console version of Diablo III allegedly has the proposed Loot 2.0 system, which modifies how good and how often weapons or armor drop at a given time, and parts of the Paragon 2.0 system, which changes how players level past the game’s original level cap, changes as well as all the patches that the PC version had, bringing the console version up to date with its PC counterpart. Blizzard has said that they hope to support the console versions with patches that release the same time as the PC version, so console gamers can enjoy the same kinds of changes that PC gamers will be enjoying for months and, in previous Diablo games’ case, years to come. And while there have been many changes to the console version of Diablo III to optimize the experience for console gamers, I’m happy to report that the campaign itself is virtually identical to the PC version and remains completely untouched.

Diablo III

So This Is What Hell Looks (and Sounds) Like

The leap from Diablo II to Diablo III was pretty significant in that the series transitioned from a 256 color sprite based game to being rendered entirely in 3D. As mentioned in various press releases and previews leading up to the game’s original release on PC, this allowed developers to be able to create more animations that gave enemies a lot more character as well as allow them to create cutscenes using the in game assets for more dramatic flair.

I primarily play my console games from about 10 ft away and while I’m able to notice that the texture quality of Diablo III on consoles isn’t on par as say the PC version at its highest settings, I appreciate that the game’s graphics and artwork were left virtually intact. That being said, the game’s framerate can reach upwards to about 60fps and never drops below 30, even when the screen is littered with tons of effects and enemies. This is a good thing, given that Diablo III can have moments when monsters can quickly surround you, flank you, and catch you off-guard – the last thing you want is the game working against you by being unresponsive. And let me tell warn you now: the game can surround you with a seemingly endless amount of enemies.

The use of 5.1 surround sound should be commended here as it’s used in an effective fashion. Sound effects play relative to the player’s position onscreen and can be used as cues for players in the event that, for example, a stray arrow hits a breakable object that contains coins or hitting an enemy that can’t be seen off-screen. During my playthrough of the game, I did experience some mild audio issues where the dialogue would either stutter or skip, or the “Quest Completed” song would play double or triple its original volume, depending on the number of players who are actually playing. A lot of the game’s sound effects hark back to the previous games in the series, but serve as effective cues to let players know what’s currently going on. The voice acting in the game is a mixed bag and are often comprised of short dialogues between two characters, but I felt this approach matched the mood and feel that they were trying to achieve.

The music mixes a blend of the traditional acoustic guitar song that plays in Tristram with distorted sounds and a powerful orchestral soundtrack, which heightens the epic nature of the game. Let’s face it: Looking down on tiny characters fighting a wave of enemies doesn’t really seem that epic to begin with, but when you’re doing it against a singing choir, coupled with some oppressive brass and powerful compositions, it can make even the most paltry of games seem incredibly dense. What you essentially have with Diablo III’s soundtrack is a mix of grounded, ethnic, and otherworldly compositions that feel as carefully crafted as other aspects of the game.

Diablo III

An (Un)intended Reboot?

When I first saw Diablo III’s logo when they first unveiled it, I noted that the III in the logo was so subtle that the logo could easily be misread as just Diablo. In a way, I understand this now more than I ever did: Seeing the logo for Diablo III appear on my console made me feel that, while many gamers familiar with the series know that this game is part of a trilogy, console gamers are just barely being introduced to the series. Diablo III shows Blizzard’s best foot forward in developing a game that’s catered to a brand new audience and, with the company’s recent announcement of Diablo III: Reaper of Souls, I for one am hopeful and excited about the possibility of continuing my character’s adventures beyond what this version of the game has to offer. If you’re itching for a co-op experience outside of the shooter genre that’s deep, rewarding, and something that’s easy to pick up and play, Diablo III fills that role and, in my opinion, will continue to do so for a very long time.

Alex finished Diablo III in roughly 20+ hours on Normal difficulty as a Demon Hunter while playing with his roommate, Sin, playing as a Wizard, in addition to Chris (Barbarian) and Gamer Horizon friend Christian (Monk), who jumped in and out of gameplay throughout the playthrough on PlayStation 3. He was also joined by one of our readers, b3thousand, shortly after the game’s launch, in which he helped us assess the game’s online performance and feature set. Since Ari played the PC version of the game for close to 300 hours, he was brought on as a consultant, to help bring to light the differences between the PC version and the console version. Seeing that the game would be Blizzard’s first console title in a long time, in addition to a Diablo title’s first appearance on consoles since Diablo for the PlayStation, the review was approached from a stance of someone who is not wholly familiar with the game’s existing lore and gameplay from the original games on the PC. Blizzard Entertainment provided Alex a review copy of the game.

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  • http://virtualgamemuseum.webs.com/ Louis D

    I might consider getting it, maybe…

  • VeryGood

    very good review, getting this game today, will play 2 player couch co-op with my bro just like the old days (Baldur’s Gates on PS2)

  • http://www.gamerhorizon.com/ Alex Inigo

    Thanks for the complement! I absolutely loved Baldur’s Gate Dark Alliance on PS2, and I still even have the Champions of Norrath game that the same developers made after that! Such a fun set of games!