Review: Diablo III Console Edition (***)

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it?

Romans 6:1-2

Blizzard knew they screwed up. Of course, they already had a plan in motion, one that people guessed but were dismayed nonetheless when it finally came into reality: console Diablo. One part blasphemous (in more ways than one, depending on your theological understanding of Diablo’s fundamentally Manichaen universe), and one part traitorous to the PC gaming master race, Diablo III’s console release came with cries of joy and mourning. We knew they had dumbed it down when they limited our ability set, so said the PC gamers! Finally, we can actually play Diablo III, said many of the console gamers who saw the original release and either refused to buy it or abandoned the game not longer after launch. Blizzard didn’t exactly lose the PC market, but they didn’t exactly gain the console market either.

Diablo III’s first console iteration still remains quite similar to its PC counterpart. The most major change comes from the removal of the Real Money Auction House; that, in itself, screams of a massive improvement. This means no trading whatsoever, but you can still drop loot on the ground for other players to pick up. You can now actually receive Rare and Legendary items in regular quantaties, although their drop rates increase depending on your Mode more than your Difficulty. For whatever reason, both of these settings which increase the game’s overall challenge remain seperate, and I was mighty confused by this at first glance. Even so, enemies scale to your level multiplied times the difficulty multiplier, so you can pretty much gauge which level you can play. Diablo III on console forces you to start with Normal regardless, which makes the first playthrough a bit of a cakewalk.

The new controls also add a different, if not necessarily improve, spin on Diablo’s traditional mouse-clicking fury. Now you move via analog sticks, and it honestly plays as naturally as you expect. My first comparison with my own vast console experience brought Gauntlet to mind, and that’s an incredibly apt comparison for the most part. All abilities function based on the four face button and the right side triggers (for Xbox 360 or PS3, the controls work pretty much the same), while they align potions to the left button instead. Due to the nature of Diablo’s quick movement moment to moment, the console build can’t quite match that dexterity, and so Blizzard introduces a God of War-like roll. Flick the right analog stick to roll, and you might avoid some damage! From what I can tell, this move contains zero invincibility frames (far as I can tell), so there’s no real need to use it. It is fun, though, in the same way that Link’s roll in Ocarina of Time has no functional purpose either for the most part!

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Also, radial menus and lots of scrolling through stuff. More efficient with a mouse, sure, but it’s functional enough for me.

The new control scheme also means they needed to adjust the enemy group generator and the number of monsters on screen at any time. There’s quite a bit less, and I think that’s due to the lack of direct aiming. On PC, you would merely click and use your ranged ability on a distant target; here, you auto-target, and there’s no way to change it directly other than getting right up close or fussing around until you do. Thankfully, since they retuned the game (no teleporting enemies at all, from what I see after hours and hours of play), that isn’t as much of a problem as you suspect. Diablo III on console also enjoys the benefit of couch co-op, working just like Gauntlet with loot. Most of that makes up for the changes to the core game, and almost all of them bring improvements.

However, I think of the original console release as a halfway house of ideas even still. Although they fixed many problems, the console release introduces new ones into the fray. For one thing, you can’t customize the controls in any fashion. The default controls work fine, so this isn’t a huge issue, but it does limit your choices and does not reflect the easy key-binding of the PC version. Furthermore, the display of health and ability cooldowns needs some work. Honestly, I found it very hard to see when an ability will be available again, as it merely lightens the color around the time remaining rather than using something distinct in the heat of combat. At the same time, they’ve not updated the loot system at all except to drop more of it; this means you do, indeed, get lots of loot, but most of it isn’t even for your class! This turns especially egregious at the blacksmith, where precious crafting materials give your Barbarian’s two-handed sword Intelligence that he will never need. Remember, there’s no trading anymore, so it makes no sense that I would make gear without my primary statistic on it.

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This becomes additional problematic during multiplayer, where the majority of the screen space consists of seperate player life bars and resources. The first player information does not appear in the upper left hand corner either, which means you need to look around a whole lot to find out your own information. Multiplayer encounters a further hindrance through the inability to access the inventory screen except for ONE CHARACTER. You can imagine this kills the flow a bit! That’s also true of the inventory system in general, which forces you to sell (or salvage) each individual item one at a time, which quickly turns tedious on console. It now follows a set number of items rather than the traditional grid-based item system of previous Diablo games, and while this works better for console it also introduces new inefficiencies into the fast-paced Diablo feedback loop. You’ll spend a whole lot of time tinkering in menus without a lot of reward, and that’s just wrong!

Because of these factors, while the controller use infinite improves the game for console players like myself, this full-retail title still feels like a half-baked, half-developed product of a much larger change to the entire Diablo III game. Honetly, they should have just waited a little longer, but it seems sales and visibility took importance over the actual game. As such, Diablo III’s first console iteration improves the core game, but remains decidedly average in the execution of such a great idea. At best, it works wonders, but at worst it feels like they shoehorned the whole idea onto a console framework without truly adjusting to the new control scheme and screen space.  An old game in a new shell does not become better by default.

The fundamental problem of Diablo III’s Real Money Auction House disappeared, but new problems cropped up right from the beginning. So it was that Diablo continued in its “life of sin”, so to speak (with the title of the game making this ironically apt). It would take one more for them to finally fix all this junk in a way that would, in my view, turn Diablo III from “competent” to “addictive, compelling and FUN”.

About Zachery Oliver

Zachery Oliver, MTS, is the lead writer for Theology Gaming, a blog focused on the integration of games and theological issues. He can be reached at viewtifulzfo at gmail dot com or on Theology Gaming’s Facebook Page.