Diablo III

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Blizzard Entertainment has made every current-generation console gamer’s dream come true with the port of the recently released Diablo III. For anyone not familiar with the Diablo franchise it’s a highly successful action role-playing game series both published and developed by Blizzard Entertainment.

To actually understand just how “highly successful” the franchise has been, consider these facts: the original release of Diablo is rated GameSpot’s top PC game. The first two titles have garnered “Game Of The Year” awards and the average metascore across the range of games is 90%. Diablo II holds the Guinness World Record in 2000 for being the fastest selling computer game ever sold at the time, while Diablo III holds the records for being the most pre-ordered PC game on and the fastest selling PC game to date.

Given these accolades, it was always going to be a smart financial move to port Diablo III to console. Some of the challenges for many PC to console ports is often how to downgrade the resource requirements to better suit a console and how to get the keyboard-and-mouse-centric control system to translate to a controller-friendly platform.

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Thankfully, Diablo III’s control system is designed to suit a controller and the game plays smoothly and painlessly with no frustrating button clicking combinations required to achieve the same effect as on the PC. In fact, in Diablo III’s case, the port from PC to console has had more of an upgrade effect on the game than just simply bringing it to the console audience in a watered-down state. The most important advantage of the Xbox version is the removal of any online-only requirements and the guarantee that your hardware will support and play the game, just as the developers intended, from day one. The character management emphasis from the PC is still there but the pace of the game seems faster, more full of action and less full of admin, than with its PC predecessor.

Many know by now that I have a simple recipe for an enjoyable action RPG game on console, but for the benefit of those newcomers I shall recount the recipe. The basic ingredients are co-op (preferably with local or split-screen support), more character options than player slots (to encourage replay), and unique character class abilities (to ensure unique and meaningful roles within a party). Mix these ingredients together and allow to cook slowly under a long and careful development process interspersed with thorough playtesting and when the time is just right, you’ll be indulging in the ultimate action RPG feast.

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Past experience shows that Diablo III certainly has its work cut out for it on the Xbox 360, the platform already has a slew of action RPG titles available. I am always on the lookout for something as delicious as the perfect feast I described above, and sadly the bulk of the action RPGs available for delivery are more like cold mini pizza than a scrumptious full course meal. Of course there is always going to be the rare exception, but the bulk of the titles available are cheap knockoffs that fail to bring a pure co-op experience. Most often the playable characters are just the same classes in different skins and it leaves a co-op party feeling more like a colourful group of one-size-fits-all production line adventurers. Diablo III is an action RPG that takes an earnest stab at being a serious, mature and calculated RPG and boasts aperitifs, hors d’oeuvres, the main course, chocolate ice cream pudding and digestifs. Despite having a few minor niggles, it is turning out to be the undisputed action RPG signature dish of the Xbox platform.

One of the primary attractions in the Diablo series has always been the great variety in magical items and loot to be discovered, traded, or bought, and a good portion of your time can be easily lost inside the character management menu’s as you painstakingly determine which items to keep, which to junk, and which to trade.

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One could be forgiven for thinking that the original control interface of Diablo III appears to have been designed specifically for a console controller. The transition between mouse and keyboard to controller is seamless with all interactions feeling intuitive. The left stick is used for movement, with the right half of the controls reserved for abilities and attacks in a sensible layout. Each button is reserved for a specific type of action and as players progress they will unlock new abilities that can be mapped to those buttons. Despite the wide range of abilities and powers, the controls never feel unwieldy or complicated – in short, the controller in your hand fits like a glove onto Diablo III’s interface.

The storyline in Diablo III is as basic as many action RPG’s, but it stays true to classic RPG adventure types and where it lacks in substance it makes up for in action. Character classes also differ in their functions and choosing your starting character is an intentional and careful decision with each class having the invariable loot advantage and disadvantage.

Diablo III is an exceptional singleplayer action RPG but it is undeniably most enjoyed when played with friends. Supporting up to four players online or locally (or a combination of both, including system link) gives gamers the widest range of options to ensure your buddies are never far away and your party is, well, always a party. The local co-op functions a bit differently to online, mostly because of the limited screen real estate available to cater for four characters on screen at once but the experience is never worse because of it and Blizzard has factored in this possibility and provided a very neat alternative.

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The on-screen display allocates each player a corner of the main game screen with their character’s vital information: available attacks, current experience points, power and health meters are all easily visible at a glance. The inevitable loot mongering and comparisons usually requires players to jump into the character management interface and keep the other party members twiddling their thumbsticks while they wait their turn to manipulate their inventory. Although still available in local co-op and the most useful method for managing your resources and skills, it is not the only option. Blizzard has very thoughtfully allowed the management of recent items and skills acquired via the D-Pad while in the main game. This enables players to do their own inventory management without interrupting others from their monster management, and all of this is achieved in a non-intrusive and subtle interface in each player’s corner of the screen.

A nice feature for pseudo drop-in, drop-out co-op is the ability for other characters to be left to follow the movement of the party. XP and gold is shared equally between party members, which for some is a great way to encourage co-operative play by removing the urgency to be the first one into combat or the first to grab the gold, but for others they may feel it levels the playing field too much for the lazy stragglers. XP progression is not linear, however, as certain items will boost individual XP accumulation which keeps the progress in the game at least a little random and competitive, if that’s the way you prefer to play.

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Unfortunately, all that glitters is not always gold, and despite Diablo III shining like a bright star amongst the other available action RPGs, it still has a few blemishes that detract from its absolute brilliance. Perhaps the most annoying aspect of the game is the universal functionality of the A button. Although universal functionality is a fantastic and ultra convenient invention in solo mode, it is rendered a frustration in multiplayer. The A button is used for basic attacks but also for interacting with everything else in the environment, including NPC’s, structures, and dialogues. The problem comes in when someone singlehandedly defeats a boss monster, rendering a shower of glorious loot, and in the mayhem someone else scoops up all the rewards because they’re busy punching a nearby goblin. Or in a more appropriate example, when someone is listening to a dialogue from a main NPC and someone else is at the same moment trying to open a door, the door opening action could instead skip the dialogue leaving everyone pondering what the NPC was talking about.

The tightness of the game restricts how far apart the local co-op players can venture but this also encourages more co-operative gameplay and prevents players from wandering too far away from the party. The disadvantage of this is that in tight combat it can be hard to tell who’s who and more than once we found ourselves following someone else’s character in the middle of a battle. The on-screen bedlam is a welcome feature of the Diablo franchise but the inability to carefully distinguish your character from the rest sometimes reduces combat into a button mashing exercise rather than a carefully orchestrated symphony of violence.

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Notwithstanding these minor frustration, Diablo III on Xbox 360 is an otherwise totally refined game and there were no signs of any software issues relating to bugs or incomplete code. The game ran smoothly from start to finish, boasting remarkable graphics and an engrossing adventure which is never hamstrung by any graphical glitches or system crashes. All the basic ingredients which make for the perfect action RPG, in my mind at least, are in Diablo III. The port from PC to console almost seems to have been an improvement on the original. The emphasis is squarely on enjoying the fast-paced action of the game with very little interruption from getting through the quests and finding more minions to massacre. In almost every way, this is the most enjoyable, exhilarating co-op action RPG to hit Xbox in a long time and I would highly recommend it. The enjoyment value of a couch co-op session is unmatched in most action RPG’s and the added replay value makes Diablo III for Xbox 360 a worthy purchase.

The Good: Practically everything! Couch co-op; unique character classes; intuitive control system; graphics and general code is impeccable; totally stable and never noticed a slowdown even in the most intense combat situations.

The Bad: Frustrating universal A button can cause players to loot or skip dialogues at the worst times.

Diablo III was reviewed on the Xbox 360