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Hands on with Diablo III: It's perfect for consoles

Diablo III is perfect for consoles
Diablo III launched on console yesterday, and I was lucky enough to be invited down to London by Blizzard Europe to attend an opening shindig for the game's new home. And as part of heading down there, we all got to have a very thorough play-test of the PS3 version of Diablo III. It wasn't the first time I'd had a go, as I had fifteen minutes of the console version, again on PS3 at Gamescom in Germany, so I had an idea of what to expect, but fifteen minutes isn't enough time to really form a firm opinion on a game. I left last night's event with a t-shirt and a copy of Diablo III in my hand, went home and put it straight in the PS3.

This should be praise enough, that after an evening of playing a game I wasn't hugely enamored with on the PC, I rushed home to play it even more on the PS3. But there's something about DIII on the console that just works.


Graphics and Gameplay

First up, the graphics look great. Even on what is now a very dated console, the graphics are fluid and smooth, and look sharp, without some of the stuttering and similar issues that PC users may be familiar with. The game has been excellently translated to console, and has some clever manual adjustment to make it work with even the most retro of televisions. I'm rocking a Bang and Olufsen 26" CRT from back in 2004, and the game looks as good on it as it did on the fancy widescreens Monday night. There's not even any letterboxing to contend with, so I can comfortably see it from my sofa without having to invest in binoculars.

Gameplay itself is really fun, while I am a casual DIII player at best, the simple nature of the base mechanics translates extremely well to a controller, indeed it feels far better and more intuitive, in my opinion, than it ever did on the PC. All the clicking to move is replaced, of course, by a thumb-stick, and the abilities, on a PS3 controller at least, are distributed among the picture buttons and the shoulder buttons. The other thumb-stick is used for rolling, which also serves to smash barrels and the like. Great for ranged classes. It just seems, to me at least, that this is a far superior version of DIII to the PC one. Somehow the PC one was less dynamic, and the game seems far more suited to relaxed sofa-play than it is to PC. Difficulty setting can be altered on the fly, so if it's too easy or too hard for you, you can fix that. And, of course, it can be played completely offline.

The menus for skills, inventory and the like are somewhat harder to figure out for yourself, but it's far from the end of the world. They were always going to be easier to handle on a PC with a mouse, but the devs have done a fantastic job of porting the structure over to console in a usable way. The shoulder buttons navigate through tabs, while items in the inventory are sorted according to slot. Slots are accessed with a wheel menu from the movement thumb-stick, and it's all pretty straightforward from there. While a gamer who doesn't read the control manual (i.e. all of us) may struggle a bit at first, it's not long before it's second nature.

It's worth noting that battle.net does not work with the console, so you won't be able to grab your amazing Witch Doctor and go pwn some spiders. Nor will your progress translate back to the PC version.


Multiplayer Marvel

Multiplayer is where the console version really shines, though, in my opinion. Network play is possible, not cross-platform, but my multiplayer experiences have all been local multiplayer off the same console, and man it's fun. The way it's set up is intuitive and works just how you'd expect it to, with highlights and the like for different characters, a very simple and intuitive item equipping system allowing you to use the D-Pad's vertical controls to scroll through your drops and assess their usefulness. The only niggle, really, is that when things are announced, it is sometimes unclear just who's getting a warning or a pat on the back.

But things largely affect your entire party. Health globes are shared, drops can be dropped and picked up by anyone, targeting is clearly indicated so you can yell at the guy who's pulling all the mobs. Playing four hours of DIII with some friends in the bar in London was the most fun I've had on a console in years. On medium mode at least, it's just mindless enough for you to mess around and be social, and to be new players without having any real difficulty. If you want more of a challenge, there is the option to ramp up the difficulty. Mob health and add numbers will increase as you add more people to your party, so the challenge scales nicely, and it felt like the difficulty level was on the easy side of right for people who had played DIII before.

The only notable thing is that characters leveled on a friend's machine would currently need to be taken on a thumb drive or via a cloud to your own, even if you are signed in to Xbox Live or Sony's Playstation Network. Region override is available, allowing you to play with friends all over the world, and you can also choose to be matchmade with groups speaking the same language or the same region, if you see fit. Brawling is also in the game, as are most other elements you would expect, but there is no real money auction house. In fact, there is no auction house at all, so you can vendor and salvage your items to your heart's content.

Overall, I love it. Diablo on the PC didn't really hold my interest a great deal, so all the above should be taken from the perspective of a casual. I enjoyed it well enough, but haven't revisited it for some time, but the console version has me excited about the game again. Suffice it to say, that if the Reaper of Souls expansion is offered on both PC and console, I will buy the console version. Praise indeed!

Filed under: Diablo 3

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