First off I would like to offer an apology on behalf of Activision / Blizzard to our PC brethren that complained that Diablo 3 was designed with consoles in mind. Having played both versions I can say that is absolutely true. The “port” to consoles seems a little too perfect for it to not have been pre-meditated.
I’ll start off by addressing the primary concern I think most people had after hearing about the Diablo console edition, the controls. Now I will admit the controls are limited when compared to a PC, but hats off to Blizzard for doing a fantastic job of utilizing the controller to its full potential. The in-game controls are pretty standard and easy to get used to. They do a good job of slowly unlocking your characters skills which introduces 1 button per power giving players time to get comfortable with what each button does, and how to use it in combat. As more powers are learned and buttons unlocked you get plenty of opportunity to figure out new combos to try to find the perfect attack pattern before the next button is introduced to the mix.
Moving over to the in-game menus. This is one of the most glaringly obvious areas that Blizzard had to tweak to make it usable with a controller instead of a mouse. Instead of having a “character map” like they do on the PC you now have an equipment wheel around your character so you can easily navigate using the analog stick. By hovering over the equipment slots you can see what you currently have equipped plus see a list of your inventory that can be equipped to that slot. A simple tap of a button on a highlighted inventory item brings up its stats so you can compare it to what you have equipped making it easy to ensure you are optimally equipped to your liking. Not to say it is easy to determine what an optimal load out is, since there are limitless combinations available, but finding the gear you want is pretty intuitive and easy to do with the new menu. I will however say one of my few gripes comes in the menus. Every piece of gear you pickup has a durability meter and for the life of me I can’t figure out where to find that meter on any items in my inventory. After a long battle on the road I just seem to have a random cost from the blacksmith to repair my equipment. Or on the unfortunate occasion when I fall in battle it very clearly lets me know all my equipment took a 10% hit but I ask 10% of what??? This is by no means a game breaking exclusion, it is just a little annoying.
Since I’m on the equipment tip, lets move on to the hoarding aspect of the game. Blizzard has been doing dungeon crawling and loot hunting for a LONG time and it shows in Diablo 3. As if button mashing against endless mobs of hell spawn doesn’t sound exciting enough on its own, just add in the fact that they might drop that legendary sword that puts you over 100k Damage. Nearly every mob you face in Diablo will drop something for you to pick up, now don’t go thinking that everything you pick up will be useful because 90% of it is junk. But I can honestly say when you finally pick up a legendary item, the anticipation you feel upon inspecting the new unknown is truly rewarding, and only exacerbated when that item shows the holy trinity of triple green arrows in the quick stats bar. For a little bit of added complexity some pieces of equipment have slots that you can enhance with Gems to give the item various bonuses. If you’ve grown a personal attachment to that chest piece you may be able to extend its usefulness just a little bit longer. There is also an enchantress that can swap out properties on items in an attempt to squeeze just a little bit more juice out of what you find or craft.
Another area that Blizzard has managed to perfect over the years is the leveling system. Every character has a max level of 70, but once you reach the hallowed grounds of level 70 you unlock Paragon Leveling which keeps the XP train rolling indefinitely. The pace at which you level is about as close to perfect as I have experienced in a game. I managed to hit level 70 about 3 encounters before the final battle of the story mode, which couldn’t have been more perfectly timed. That is with minimal grinding too, I only replayed one two dungeons (more on that later). With each Paragon Level players are awarded points that they can spend how they choose enabling them to build their character to their preference. There is also the ability to reset your build at any time, so you if you would like to experiment a little bit by all means do it.
The story of Diablo 3 isn’t particularly revolutionary or engrossing but it doesn’t have to be. It was engaging enough to keep me mildly curious about what was happening in between my epic loot hunts. It’s your standard hellspawn demons fighting angels with the fate of the world in the balance and you thrust in the middle. While the story itself didn’t really stand out, the CG cutscenes between acts are some of the best CG I have ever seen. Seriously they are incredible and I would recommend watching them on the YouTube even if you don’t ever want to play this game, they will still be impressive even with the hamstrung performance on YouTube. The story of the game really only exists to keep a flow going until you reach level 70 and unlock the adventure mode, which I feel is when the game really begins. Another minor gripe I had when playing through the story was that it resets dungeons if you turn off the game and come back. It will save your character progress but you will have to re-explore the dungeon again to make sure you clear all the fog of war.
Blizzard is arguably the king of the hill when it comes to end game content, others would be wise to take notes (I’m looking at you Bungie). While I did enjoy my time with the campaign, it feels like the game truly begins after level 70 which is unheard of on consoles. After you finish the campaign you are given the choice to start the story over again with all of your levels and gear, or you can choose to play Adventure mode. In Adventure mode the entire world map is opened up (broken up by Act) and you are given various quests to complete to earn blood shards which can be spent on even more epic loot. With your character continuing to grow stronger even after hitting max level you may be asking yourself, won’t the game get ridiculously easy? Well Blizzard has you covered there too. On top of the Normal, Hard, Expert, Master levels there are 6 more difficulty levels called Torments which become punishingly difficult for those masochists out there. While I can handle myself pretty well solo, I attempted to bump it up to Torment 1 with the help of a co-op player and we got absolutely decimated. They are not kidding when they recommend plenty of epic armor and efficient character buildouts before you attempt the Torment difficulties. Fear not as the Torments aren’t just there to punish you, the rewards are greatly improved for those willing to take the beatings. The risk / reward formula is expertly balanced earning you increased experience, gold, and greater chance of loot drops if you can survive.
Time to expand on the multiplayer a bit. For starters when you are playing solo you are able to choose an NPC to help you with crowd control. But lets be honest, playing with friends is the bees knees. Not only is it fun competition to see who can build the highest kill chain, but you get the added bonuses of trying to get the highest crit damage. Also you can brag when you pick up an epic item and your pal gets to watch you identify and equip it knowing all they got was a common piece of junk. I played a good portion of the campaign in online co-op and there are plenty of occasions when the screen is busier than Shawn Kemp’s house on Father’s Day without any noticeable lag or screen stuttering. There is a maximum of 4 co-op players at a single time, and I’m hoping to hop into a 4-player game as some point, I can only imagine how chaotic that could get.
Another feature that is console exclusive for Diablo, and possibly one of the best features in gaming is the additions Nemesis mechanic. If someone on your friends list happens to get killed at any point during their game, it will create a Nemesis that will “invade” the games of people on their friends list and hunt them down. The friend who’s game is being invaded will have little warning in the form of battle drums signifying they are about to be attacked by a Nemesis. Once you hear the drums you have about a minute to find a good spot for battle and make sure it’s clear of other enemies. After that minute a portal will appear and out comes the Nemesis charging full steam ahead. The Nemesis will have the name of their victim displayed under their health bar so you will know which one of your friends to avenge. If you happen to fall to the Nemesis it will grow stronger and move on to someone else on your friends list. In theory this could create some of the most powerful monsters in the entire game. If you emerge victorious in your battle with you will be rewarded with a good loot drop as well as a legendary gift you can send to the victim.
When I picked up Diablo 3 I had a single goal in mind, get one character to level 70 and complete the story before Destiny hits shelves. While I am happy that I accomplished those goals, I am a little sad because I realized that completing the story is when the game really finds its stride. I can’t wait to get back to Tristram and work my way up those Torment ladders.
*Review based on PS4 version. Also Available on Xbox One, PS3, Xbox 360, and PC