Twenty years have passed since a Dark Wanderer loosed chaos upon the world, and the local businesses just haven’t managed to recover. It doesn’t help much that the woods are crammed with monsters, the nearby tourist attractions have darkly portentous names like “Cemetery of the Forsaken”, “The Fields of Misery”, and “The Halls of Agony”, and the nightlife is mostly limited to staying awake or you’ll probably die. The people hunch and weep under tattered roofs as the sleepless dead slip ragged fingers under their doors, and just when things couldn’t get any worse, a star falls from the sky and demolishes the local church. There goes the neighbourhood.
You arrive in New Tristram just in time to save the place from a mob of marauding skeletons, which turns out to be a huge mistake because now everybody expects you to go on doing stuff for them, and then spending all your hard-looted cash around town as part of some kind of urban renewal program. I mean, there’s something about a grim prophecy and the end of everything, but the real story here – the one nobody talks about – is how the Khanduras municipality duped a bunch of gullible, greedy “heroes” into fixing all their problems. It’s really clever when you think about it.
More than a year after the game dropped on PC, Diablo III has finally made it onto consoles, and without any additional prevarication, it’s arguably the better version. If you were even remotely interested in getting this for Xbox or PS3, skip the rest of this review and just go buy it already. If you weren’t… stay awhile and listen. I’m here all week, folks.
First up then, there’s the more intuitive control scheme. On PC, even something as basic as moving your character requires a carpal tunnel syndrome-inducing number of mouse clicks, with constant adjustments for minor changes in trajectory, engaging enemies, or just getting around, like, a rock. Even if you’re holding down the mouse button to move, that means pushing the mouse around in awkward stops and starts, with the occasional (but no less inevitable) over-compensation that may result in a dramatic introduction between the mouse and the floor. Using an analogue stick to move conveniently precludes any and all of this.
I know that as a left-handed gamer – who, unlike those other treacherous left-handed gamers who play right-handed, actually plays left-handed – I’m somewhat negative about playing with a mouse and keyboard setup, but honestly, the game just makes sense on a controller. Also, a new evade manoeuvre is mapped to the second analogue stick, and the new evade manoeuvre is just what every Diablo player never knew they’d always wanted.
Elective mode is still in if you want to customise the controller layout.
Obviously, the interface has been completely redesigned to accommodate controllers, most significantly replacing the standard inventory management screen with a quick-dial to sort item types. While it’s perhaps not quite so elegant as the PC version’s, it works just fine. As an added bonus, however, all items now take up just a single inventory slot, so there’s none of that fussing about with different item sizes to make everything fit.
Most importantly, though, the console versions of Diablo III feature much more flexibility in terms of online connectivity and multiplayer. You don’t even have to be hooked up to the Internet to play the game, and both local and LAN play are supported for up to four players. The local multiplayer, in particular, makes this a mandatory purchase for anybody who likes couch co-op gaming – one copy of the game, four players, this is not something you should have to think hard about.
For people who do want to play online, the latency tolerance is unexpectedly decent even at distance. During 20 hours or so of us playing with my sister in the UK (who hosted), my partner and I lagged noticeably only a few times, and only for a moment every time except once when I suspect my line was busy with something else in the background. When we previously played on PC, the lag was a much bigger problem with persistent rubber-banding and flash forwards.
With the separation from Battle.net, this version of the game doesn’t include the controversial Real Money Auction House, and consequently, the drop system is more generous and crafting costs are substantially reduced to make up for it. I dare anybody to say this is a bad thing.
From a technical perspective, the game doesn’t look quite as razzle-dazzle as it does on a high-end PC, of course, but it looks vastly prettier than it did on my PC and that’s what matters to me. I did spot some screen-tearing here and there, but the frame rate holds up even with loads of baddies and special effects on-screen simultaneously.
One word of caution, though – at the time of writing this, there is an unresolved bug that corrupts and wipes save game data. It’s difficult to know how pervasive the issue is as Google turns up only a few results (for now, anyway), but more problematically, it’s not yet determined what exactly causes it and there’s no interim solution. After an online co-op session which we all quit together, my boyfriend lost his save game but both my sister and I didn’t lose ours. This wouldn’t even be such a big deal, except it’s impossible to back up Diablo III save data on the Xbox (the only option available is to move it from one device to another) without resorting to some rather dubious methods.
While I’ve no doubt that hardline PC gamers are still going to prefer Diablo III on PC for their own reasons, the game’s transition to console is a triumph and an instant must-have for anybody who missed it the first time around.