Once upon a time there was a company called Blizzard. Everyone liked Blizzard because they released awesome, original and vastly entertaining console games. The company made its name with classics like The Lost Vikings and Rock ‘n’ Roll Racing on the Super Nintendo. I played them for ages. Then, when the Super Nintendo reached its natural end of life, Blizzard abandoned consoles and went to the PC. The Playstation kicked in nearly two decades of consoles without Blizzard.
That was 1997. Now its 2013 and they’ve retuned to the console market with Diablo III and it’s a case of welcome back as the game is a masterwork. I’ve currently got Alesha the Demon Hunter to level 10 and I’ve played a mixture of solo and group online play and the game is an exercise of zero barriers and delivers a feeling of continual awesome-ness, levelling, loot gathering and monster slaying.
The console version excludes stuff that is in the PC version, but it’s stuff I’m not going to miss. I don’t need a Battle.net account. No loss. Neither do I need to be online, albeit that’s not much of an issue. No real-money auction house to be hassled with and instead we get better and more personally tweaked loot drops. I prefer that to essentially spending my gaming time ‘shopping’ for stuff. I detest shopping in real life why would I want to do it in my gaming time? This is simplicity that’s a good thing.
I can see why a lot of people don’t like Diablo III as I suspect the character builds have been simplified. As a man who doesn’t like to get drawn too deeply into the character building game Diablo III seems to have made a very wise design choice. If I have it right they have removed the choice of what upgrades to invest in and instead purely made the choice one of which upgrade to apply? This is fantastic. I have no problem with trying out different skills from a menu and seeing which combinations work for how I want to play, but I hate it when I face levelling choices that decide what items on the menu are available to me. Brilliant. I can level away, accumulate skills never worrying about making a wrong choice, just whether I can combine them better. I particularly like how runes give you option to have your active and passive skills work different. I can also see how your choices would influence how you’d play. Very clever.
It makes the choices around the character build…fun.
This wise decision around the character build game also manifests in the control scheme. I really like it. I never seem to have problems hitting what I want to hit. The miss rate is negligible in the scheme of things. I love the ability to directionally dodge using the right stick, albeit this may be more pertinent to the Demon Hunter than melee based classes (we shall see). The control scheme combines with the character building because you can only have so many powers available on your controller at one time. This further defines how you want to play by which active skills you make available for use. Simple. Not too many choices. No great list of interface buttons. No idea how the PC does it but I like how the console does it.
Playing online has been an exercise in gratuitous simplicity and great reward. You choose how granular you want the matching to be (the same act or the same quest), what type of game you’re looking for (essentially PvE of PvP) and you press match. Each time a game has been quickly found with people within a couple of levels of me. Join. Teleport to your group mates. Kill monsters and complete quests. Playing the game multiplayer is definitely more fun. There are more monsters, all of which are more powerful. Powers go off in all direction and you can get a lot out of combos. As an example, the Witch Doctor seems to freeze enemies, which is great for my Demon Hunter. Online is easy to pop in and out off. I’ve had no aggressive players or idiots so far. The only problem with it is the narrative suffers as your group members may slam through the dialogue, etc, meaning you miss it. As a result, I’m finding on the first play through you’re best not out levelling the quest too much and still playing it solo to get the story (or with Friends who also want the story).
The other interesting wrinkle in online play is how loot works. At first I was concerned I was hovering up all the money and items, though I was also confused no one else was. As I played I noticed other characters did zoom off to odd locations as if picking stuff up. I started to wonder if I only saw my own drops? A quick check seems to suggest this is true. That is pure genius. You can hack and slash and hoover up all drops you can see because everyone else is getting their own personal allocation. Very clever. Removes all conflict. Period. It also allows items more related to your class to drop!
So far, the only negative that haunts the play experience is that there isn’t a group of three friends sitting down to play through the game as a group in a regular slot as that would be awesome.