Editor's note: Given its similarities to the original PC release, we decided against a formal review of the recently-released console version. Instead, here are impressions of the console game from a player that's largely new to the franchise. To read our original review of the PC release, click here.
We all have our gaming blind spots--pieces of royalty that, for whatever reason, we've never had a chance to catch up with. For me, that's been Diablo. Though I've played a tiny fraction of Diablo 2, and spent plenty of time with Diablo-inspired games like Torchlight and Borderlands, I've never personally committed myself to completing one of the most respected forefathers of the loot-gathering RPG sub-genre.
In short, that makes me exactly the type of person Blizzard hopes to catch with Diablo 3 on consoles. And to the studio's credit, it has made several revisions that feel natural enough on console to almost forget that it began its life on the PC. Almost.
Controller support is the most noteworthy addition made for the console version, as it lets you crawl through the dungeons using gamepads than some arcane PC magic. And rather than endless clicking to dispatch enemies, I found it easy to simply hold down my main attack, intermittently striking with other attacks or special abilities as necessary. This is easily the most natural part of the transition, as the controller support feels perfectly at home.
The controller auto-maps certain kinds of abilities to various buttons, though it's easy enough to turn off that feature and map skills to all of the keys manually. Personally, I've stuck with the default for most of my time so far, since the skills are well organized and don't generally overlap
Playing as a ranged class, though, the ease of use really accents that most enemies seem to have one item in their playbook: run straight towards the hero. As a result, I spend the vast majority of my time dodging back a few steps, letting loose with some spells, and then repeating the process. Maybe later areas or harder difficulties will bring new strategies, but mostly I've felt unchallenged except for when being swarmed. And in those cases, my inability to break out (since I had no skills to do so at the time) felt more unfair than challenging.
The sharp menu system also makes it easy to find, compare, and equip loot. Selling could be made a bit easier, but Blizzard has made a point of outlining the revisions to its loot system in general. The console version purportedly gives out far less "junk" loot. I can't speak to that personally as a console newbie, but I can say I've only had my pile clog up completely once or twice, and even then it was likely because I didn't take advantage of a shopkeep in my most recent visit to town. Most items I've collected have been, if not better than my current equipment, at least passable enough that the game seems to understand that I might want it.
Co-op, such an important feature that Blizzard chose to highlight it in its faux-risque TV spot, is definitely a standout. Finding and joining an online game is incredibly easy, and I found myself pairing up with a partner of roughly my level playing the same mission I was on in the campaign. It was slightly awkward trying to stick together in larger groups when some players weren't ready to move on to a boss fight, and the inability to sell items without going back to camp meant playing catch-up with players after making a trip to offload my stock.
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All that said, a few telltale signs betray that it wasn't initially built for consoles. The text is a bit small for the screen, and presumes you'll be sitting proportionally as close as PC gamers do to their monitors. It has occasionally stuttered on me during particularly packed combat sequences, too. Finally, the characters and world aren't quite as nice looking as the PC version, though that's hardly ever too noticeable outside of the character model close-up.
On the whole, though, Diablo 3 plays perfectly well on consoles, to the point that it's easy to see how Blizzard felt this was a good home for one of its biggest franchises. Between a lengthy campaign, several characters, and more content on the way, the console version makes for a perfect entry point for the uninitiated.
This review is based on retail PlayStation 3 code provided by the publisher. Diablo 3 is now available at retail on PS3 and Xbox 360. It is also available digitally on PlayStation Network for $59.99. The game is rated M.