Console-based action RPG fans are generally an underserved bunch, so when Diablo III was announced for the PlayStation and Xbox consoles, those of us with an unquenchable thirst for loot were certainly excited.
But then Blizzard had to go and announce that in addition to the PS3 and 360 versions, the game would eventually make its way to the next generation on PS4 and Xbox One. Then began the waiting game, in which I would have had plenty of time to pick up the PS3 version of the game to whet my appetite. But no, it’s shiny or nothing.
My patience was eventually rewarded by the next-gen version leveling up into the Ultimate Evil Edition complete with new characters to play as and the Reaper of Souls expansion pack. Half an hour in with the new Crusader character and I knew that the long wait was absolutely worth it.
But what if you’ve never played a Diablo game before? Fear not, this is a perfect example of a game easing you gently into a genre. This isn’t a turned-based RPG; most attacks are dealt instantly at the press of a button. An addition to the console version of the game is a neat dodge roll assigned to the right analogue stick. I don’t know how PC gamers coped without this to be honest.
Initially, you only have one attack unlocked, but in a matter of minutes you’ll have a new button to play with. As you level up, the face buttons and two shoulder buttons unlock, with you able to assign any attack/spell that you have unlocked through natural progression. In the skills screen you can even see what level you need to reach before unlocking an ability. Each skill can also have a secondary rune equipped to add extra damage/elements/defensive buffs. The pacing of the unlocks is spot-on and never feels overwhelming.
Finding loot (weapons, armours and items) is a huge draw for Diablo and this is the best I’ve seen a game handle it. New gear is found in chests, dropped by enemies and given as rewards for quests. The equip menu lets you equip pieces from head to toe and before long you’ll be picking up items with extra properties that add to your strength, provide health top ups per kill, extra experience and many other factors that will spoil you for choice. I spent so long tinkering with my loadout that the equip menus kept screen-burning into my older HD TV. But that’s not to say it’s a chore spending so much time changing your equipment, as you can really see the differences once you get in a fight. Unwanted items can be marked as ‘junk’ and then salvaged for parts at the village hubs, which you can teleport back to at any point with a portal taking you back to the very spot you left the quest at. The game is packed with simple functions like that to make life that little easier and you’ll bloody love it.
Playing through the campaign isn’t going to rock your world in terms of plot as it’s super light on originality – evil demons want to take over the world and the heavens, you have an issue with this. Admittedly, there are some stunning CG cutscenes.
Graphically, the in-game visuals were never going to benefit much from a next-gen upgrade, but the backgrounds are beautifully drawn and character models and the user interface are super smooth. The writing could have done with being a bit bigger though. There’s not a sign of frame-rate slowdown anywhere which is impressive considering the huge swarms of enemies during multiplayer sessions. It’s the gameplay that keeps you coming back day after day though.
The combat sees you regularly taking on large mobs of enemies of your usual fantasy setting fare. We’re talking imps, goatmen, skeletons, wraiths, gorgons, giant lizards, spiders and many more. While they may lack originality, the number of enemy types is large enough to keep the action feeling fresh over the multiple environments. There are frequently encounters with miniboss enemies that have a yellow glow indicating that it might take a while to whittle that health bar down.
Thankfully, combat has a fantastic flow to it, which was a genuine surprise given the genre. Skyrim could really do with taking a lesson from Blizzard here. Depending on what moves you equip, you could have a collection of instant attacks that fill a meter for specials that generally do more damage. There are also plenty of moves that recharge over time. Between the lot though, you can ensure that you’re able to stay on the offensive constantly.
For playable characters, there’s the usual mix of barbarians and wizards to choose from, but I’d advise checking out the Crusader first who plays something of a tank role, but is equally at home with close quarters combat, or with ranged moves like hammer flinging or a spectacular bouncing shield throw that Captain America would be proud of. If you don’t want to be bashing button so much, maybe try out the Demon Hunter with dual crossbows and a wider range of spells, as most of their moves involve holding buttons rather than bashing them.
Diablo III is fun on your own, but it becomes downright unstoppable when played with friends. Up to four players can get involved locally or online, but I’d take local play over online if you have the chance. It’s much easier to communicate strategies over tougher sections and it’s a great game to chew the fat over too. Be warned though, locally you can only alter your loadouts and skills one at a time, so patience may be required, or a magazine.
Playing locally, allows friends to sign into their own PSN profile and even earn their own Trophies and tick off campaign missions next time they play solo. Better yet, the addition of Apprentice Mode means that if there’s a level gap between you and your friend, the lowest one will have their stats bumped up over the session to ensure they can still deal out decent damage and take a beating too. This also means that if you’re starting a second character and your friend is say level 67, you’ll find yourself levelling up every few minutes. Hmm, delicious, speedy XP farming. Don’t worry about arguing over loot either as the game automatically assigns random loot for specific players, so one player can pick up an entire pile of loot after a boss and it will be divided fairly. As you can tell, Blizzard is nailing this one.
Another neat touch is the ability to change the difficulty at any point via the pause screen. The higher you go for, the more XP you’ll get, so it makes sense to try and test your mettle once you’ve earned some decent armour and weapons. You’ll have to reach a certain level for the vicious Torment difficulties, but you’ll have a blast on the way and there’s no pressure to bother with them if you want to enjoy the game without too much of a challenge.
As far as End Game content goes, the level cap has increased to 70, which is where XP now converts to points to spend in the newly-unlocked Paragon menu where you can assign points to specific areas like strength, recharge times, fury metres and so on. Some of the rewards appear to be incredibly minimal (0.5% per point spent?), but you’ll find something that works for you. What is cool though, any Paragon points one character unlocks can also be used by a new character, giving them a boost from the off. These points aren’t shared; both characters can spend the same points. Diablo III really wants you to keep playing.
Adventure mode unlocks after the campaign complete with missions to kill bounties at stages dotted throughout the campaign’s map. Complete enough of these and you can enter Nephalem Rifts, random mish-mashes of level layouts and enemies, culminating in tough boss brawls for some ridiculously huge amounts of XP and loot. We’re talking millions of XP per Rift here.
From here on in, it’s all about the joy of the grind for better loot and creating new items with the extensive options provided by trading in Blood Shards for random weapons, enchanting items for new abilities or adding gems for additional stat boosts. The depth is simply staggering. And then you’ll do it all over again with new characters.
Diablo III: Ultimate Evil edition has been well worth the wait on the new-gen machines and is an essential purchase for those yet to take the plunge into the hottest action RPG in years. The new content and strong incentives to encourage multiplayer skirmishes make the game open to genre veterans and newbs alike. With a deep end game, never-ending loot and multiple characters to level up, this will be the last action RPG you need for years.
- Loot! Glorious loot!
- Fantastic multiplayer
- Combat constantly evolves
- Encourages multiple playthroughs
- Text is a bit small
- Boss fights are a little simple
- Story is generic even for the genre
- “Since when is it 2:30am?”