Review: Diablo III (PS3)

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Title: Diablo III
Format: Blu-ray Disc / PlayStation Network Download (8.6 GB)
Release Date: September 3, 2013
Publisher: Blizzard Entertainment
Developer: Blizzard Entertainment
Original MSRP: $59.99
ESRB Rating: M
Diablo III is also available on Xbox 360, and PC.
The PlayStation 3 Disc version was used for this review.

We haven’t had it in a while. Not like this, and most certainly, not on a console. Oh sure, we’ve had a few entries that served as a filler, but the experience always fell short of greatness. So the expectations for Diablo III (on a console) were heightened by years filled with a vast emptiness of comparable experiences. They were also filled with concerns. It was a PC port after all.

In all honesty, I was never truly concerned. I had read a lot of articles from folks who were worried about the port, and how this type of gameplay would transfer over to consoles. It was upon reading some of these premature complaints that I came to the realization of two things. One, that some video game writers don’t always know their history… or two, I’m getting old. I didn’t think that it had been so long since I drew my bow and arrow alongside three other friends (offline and online) with the PlayStation 2 game, Champions of Norrath (and its sequel). But apparently, it had been long enough that some writers forgot that a multiplayer Dungeon Crawling game had existed on a console, and had done so with grandeur and finesse. As a matter of fact, when friends spoke of their concerns for Diablo III on PlayStation 3, I simply stated “if they make it play like Champions, we’ll be in great shape”.

Despite the possible hate that I might get for the following statement, I don’t like playing dungeon-romp games with a mouse and keyboard. I have often felt that the in-game camera was against me, and I almost always played a range-type character, so when I’d click on an enemy within a mass of chaos, I’d often accidentally click on terrain instead, thus moving my character towards the madness, instead of letting loose an arrow or spell. This happened even during my playthrough of Torchlight and Diablo III on my PC. On the flipside of this, my experience as a ranger with Champions of Norrath had me pointing my joystick in the relative direction of the enemy and pressing down on the button, thus locking my character in place and launching a volley of arrows towards the enemy (they would almost always hit). Yeah one might consider the aiming assistance a little “cheaty” but pointing a mouse at an enemy and clicking isn’t exactly expert marksmanship either.

So, despite “other” concerns/questions I had for Diablo’s migration to console, I was pretty confidence that Diablo III would play well on a console (Torchlight on Xbox 360 was another testament of someone doing it right). My questions regarding the port revolved around many other things that I will touch upon in this review: elements that were crucial to the overall experience of what I deem the ultimate co-op experience that you can have with a group of friends.

Diablo III offers players the choice of five Classes to play (each a unique experience). The Barbarian allows for brute strength and close-up engagement. The Demon Hunter (my initial character) is your range attacker. The Wizard unleashes an arsenal of spells, from fireballs, to snake-like electrical tendrils that spread out across the battlefield. The Monk is another melee fighter, but with a focus on martial arts attacks (kicks and punches). Finally, the Witch Doctor combines range and magic with a blow gun weapon and pet-supported magic.

Classes

My playthrough for this review was primarily accomplished with the Demon Hunter, but halfway through the review process, I started an online game that required me to start a new character (otherwise I’d be too overpowered for my companions). I decided to try a Monk. Thus, as of this writing, I have experienced Diablo III with two different Classes. I’m pleased to say that the experience was different enough to warrant another playthrough with yet another Class in the future. As a matter of fact, the Monk Class in Diablo III was one of the first non-range Classes I’ve played in a game like this, and it was extremely enjoyable.

Gameplay
In order to describe Diablo III’s gameplay, it helps for me to explain why I love this genre so much. Games of this type have been called “Dungeon Crawlers.” At least that’s the name that the genre has adopted over the years, despite it sharing elements in common with other game types. They aren’t RPGs, and they aren’t action adventure games. They hold a place of their own. And you can always recognize them by their birds-eye-view vantage point and the legion of seemingly-unlimited enemies that will surround players.

Despite Diablo III not sharing the RPG category with games like Skyrim, there are still more than enough role-playing elements within the game, that one would be absolutely forgiven for calling it an RPG. In fact, it’s this similarity that generates my absolute love for the genre. That is, with the exception of the original Torchlight, that Dungeon Crawlers are most commonly a multiplayer experience. And since (with the exception of MMORs) role-playing games are usually a single-player experience, Dungeon Crawlers offer the character-leveling depth of a serious RPG like Skyrim, while allowing you to embark on the adventure with three other friends.

And in the case of Diablo III, you will visit various lands and explore vast landscapes. I say “explore” because, while this is a linear story, you are encouraged to explore your surroundings, take on side quests and visit random caves and cellars scattered across the environment But let’s be clear, exploring is not really why fans of this genre embark on these journeys. It’s not to save the kingdom. It’s not to rid the world of an ancient enemy (although that happens in large numbers), and it most certainly isn’t for fame and glory… They do it for the loot.

Your main purpose in Diablo III is to find the best and rarest loot. Monsters drop loot. The stronger the monster, the better the chance to attain some rare drops. Diablo III categorizes its drops in four very convenient colors. White is crap, blue (or purple, I couldn’t tell) is semi-decent loot with some added attributes (small dexterity and strength boosts), yellow is pretty damn good (with enhanced attributes), and orange is the ultimate find (with a large number of strong attributes added to the already high item value).

You will always know which monsters are capable of dropping these rare treasures, as their name will also be colored. A yellow-named monster might present a bit more of a challenge than a blue and white, for example. At times, a monster might drop an unidentified item, and pressing square will reveal its true attributes. But throughout your adventure, you will collect swords, bows, armor, wands, staffs, crossbows, blowguns, daggers, knuckles… need I go on?

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Diablo III does something else right, and anyone who has played a Dungeon Crawler will see the value in this. If you’ve ever been to a kid’s piñata party, you will understand what transpires when a Boss is killed in Diablo III (or any similar game). The Boss explodes into a mess of loot that litters the floor. The players rush to the area that was once populated by your enemy and begin tapping on the “pick-up” button (probably with more intensity than while fighting the Boss). While some players generously offer their friends the items that would better serve them (ie. Give the wizard the wand), some players pretty much take the “finders keepers” approach.

Diablo III fixed that (online at least). Players will see an “instance” of loot on the ground, so everyone will get their own version of the loot. Again, offline co-op will still have you charging for the treasure. But at least in that scenario, you can threaten your buddy to hand over that ultra-rare sword by punching him in real life.

Because the PC version of Diablo III had your character saved to a server, I wondered about how that would play out on the PlayStation 3. This was also one of a few questions that I mentioned earlier, in regards to the port. Diablo III does allow you to play a combination of online and offline. Thus, your friend can be sitting next to you on the couch playing online with two other friends sitting at their own individual homes or together in another location. Your local friend can sign into his or her account on the PlayStation Network and while other people online will see a second version of your profile on their end (sindred and sindred 1 in my case), everything that the other player does will be saved into their profile. Which brings me to the other question I had before playing.

Can I easily move my character from one PlayStation 3 to another? It was a reasonable question, since Champions of Norrath allowed you to move your character via PlayStation 2 Memory Card. So if you wanted to take your online character to a friend’s house and continue the same adventure locally over pizza, you could. The answer is yes (but carefully). You can use a USB Thumb Drive to copy the save over from the PS3’s Save Data menu, and then paste it to a friend’s console. The VERY IMPORTANT thing to note is that you need to create a profile on your friend’s console (even if you don’t intend to sign into PSN). If you copy your save to your buddy’s main profile, it will overwrite their character.

I really love what Blizzard did here, however. Other games are very strict with their save copy system. I understand that it prevents cheating, but if Diablo III implemented the 24 hour wait between copying saves, it would have ruined the experience of leveling a character at a friend’s house and later taking that same character home and continuing online.

So, Diablo III passed the test on all accounts, and then some. For instance, I didn’t know that you could store super rare items in a chest and log in with another character and access those items, or that money was shared across all your characters. I played the PC game quite a bit, but only with one character, so I never noticed this. You can also map any active ability to any button, which comes in useful when you can’t decide between two primary attacks, and simply want to have them both accessible at the same time. Simply put, Blizzard nailed it with the port in terms of convenience and ease of use. They didn’t add annoying restrictions that weren’t needed, and as a result, they made a very fun experience, both in gameplay as well as the co-op component.

Then there’s the actual gameplay. You will never know this was ported from a PC. The controls are done so well, that you would swear this was developed from the ground up on a console. Those familiar with God of War will immediately appreciate the added use of the right joystick for dodge (not available on the PC when I played). Button mashing is an understatement with Diablo III, but that’s okay, because you can use almost every button on the Dualshock as a unique attack, so it never really gets old.

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Visuals
Diablo III is pretty. It’s not as pretty as the PC version, but I’m not judging it based on that. It’s a good-looking game, and it handles the workload well, especially in some of the more frantic battles. Another thing that makes it pleasing to look at is the varying environments. Diablo III starts in a dismal forest and takes you to vast desert lands, complete with ornate palaces and sandy ruins. Later you will visit jungles with amazing vistas from high natural bridges.

Combat also should be mentioned in this section, as having four players on the screen (each unleashing his or her own special attacks) creates an explosion of lights and flare and every once in a while, a powerful spell will send the enemies sprawling into the sky (as in the +Z plane) and they will come towards you. It reminded me of the old Altered Beast Mode 7 effect.

I do have to mention that physical attacks in Diablo III are a bit of a sleight of hand trick. On Champions of Norrath, if my character wielded two swords, the attacks would literally have the swords whirling through the air, connecting with the enemy and sending blood splatter everywhere; while equipping a dagger would do the same, but with a slightly different animation to compensate for the smaller size. A bow would launch arrows at the enemy and a staff would have you spinning with two-handed attacks. Diablo III doesn’t really represent the weapon you are using in that way.

One might say that the game is like Gauntlet, in that the weapons you pick up are represented on your character, but when you swing them, what causes the damage isn’t the actual weapon connecting with the enemy, rather the “energy stemming from it”. This will not diminish the fun-factor in any way, but it certainly made me less excited about picking up a new blade, because I knew that it wouldn’t be visually represented in its attack.

Audio
A full cast compliments Diablo III’s narrative, and while most will dismiss anything to do with the story in order to focus on the loot and action, the cast does a great job of moving things forward and giving the genocide you commit a purpose. There are even some slightly emotional moments that would simply not have had the same effect if not for the audible performance.

The music is subdued, taking a back seat to the sound of chaos and death, but that’s not to say that it doesn’t have its place. You won’t be humming the combat music the next day at work, but since it serves as a compliment to the ambiance, you would certainly miss it if it wasn’t there. Other effects really enhance the combat. A great example of this is my Demon Hunter’s arrow volley attack. Basically, my crossbow releases an ultra-fast volley of arrows, akin to an automatic rifle. The accompanying sound of bowstring repeatedly releasing is a satisfying sound that brought about quite a few favorable reactions from friends new to the game.

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Online/Multiplayer
I’ve mentioned some of the online elements in the gameplay because I felt that they affected how you might play this game (since a huge focus in Diablo III is playing with your friends). What I will say here is that with a few exceptions of being unable to connect with some players, the game never dropped me, and the few times that another player would log off, I was simply migrated to another game. I never lost anything.

The few times that I had problems connecting were probably due to the robust online setting options in the game. I can choose public, friends only, invite only or offline. Thus if I try to join game with a friend that has invite only, I will probably receive the error. I wish the game explained the reason why you were unable to connect. “Error” is too vague, and it would have been nice to know “Your friend is set to invite only”. It would have saved some time in the few instances when this became a problem. Otherwise Diablo III was a smooth an experience as you could get with an online game on a console. The ability to combine online and offline is a huge deal. It seems like a no-brainer, but a lot of games do not allow this (and I’m not talking games that require split-screen either).

One last feature to the multiplayer element is what I’m calling the “dragging factor”. I love it. Pay attention future Dungeon Crawler developers, this is how you do it. So, you’re playing offline, and one of your friends is slowing you down. Let’s say he’s checking a text message instead of helping you with a hoard of enemies. In other similar titles, the other players would be unable to move past the edge of the screen unless that dormant player moved. In Diablo III, you can drag that player around with you. This worked great when I had to take a bathroom break or restock the Cheetos bowl. For Blizzard to recognize this, when the game was online only on PC, is a great testament to them. They thought of everything.

Admittedly, the one thing that the old Champions of Norrath did better was the shopping experience in the game. My fiancée loves to shop in Diablo III. She likes to inspect every single item, and then after she is done, she likes to pause the game and “check out” her character. Diablo III offline allows for only one shop screen at the same time, so when four players are playing offline, the visit to the towns can be a pretty lengthy experience. Champions of Norrath split the shop screen into two, so two players could tackle the shop at one time. After looking at how much information the Diablo III inventory screen provided, I could somewhat understand why this was not implemented. Anyone playing on a screen smaller that 40 inches would simply not be able to read the text. No harm done.

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Conclusion
I’ve saved the world so many times, that I can’t even begin to count how many. But most of the time, I end up doing it alone. Oh sure, there are perks to defeating the wicked wizard and claiming all the glory for yourself. But the journey tends to be more memorable with companions.

Diablo III makes the journey a painless endeavor, and one that considers every possible combination of player configurations. It compensates for less players by toning down the difficulty, while increasing the challenge when your buddies jump in. It changes up the environment to keep things from growing stale and even when you’re visiting the same locals for a second or third playthrough, the difference in the character classes vary enough to make it an almost-new experience. If you’re still on the fence about this game with concerns regarding its port from the PC game, rest assured, Blizzard did well. They did very well.

Score:
9.5

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  • Keith Dunn

    I’m glad that you liked it so much!

    • Rey Barrera

      The game could have been amazing, but if they had limited some of the multiplayer aspects in their design I would have docked it for that. As such, they did everything right!

  • Acid_13urn

    I was thinking of doing a Hardcore attempt for extra life if you want to join in Rey

  • http://www.youtube.com/user/Stoffinator2008?gl=CA&hl=en Stoffinator

    I’m really enjoying it myself so far. Up to about level 23.