Hell has finally arrived on consoles. It's taken Blizzard a wee while longer to perfect their console version of Diablo III but has it been worth the wait?
Diablo III arrived on the PC and Mac way back in May of 2012 with a few server-related teething issues that put a bit of a sour taste in many the mouths of many of the fans of the series. The troubles stemmed from the game's need to be connected to the internet at all times. What will probably irk PC and Mac players even more is that the console versions don't require to be connected to the internet.
Blizzard has completely re-worked the way Diablo III plays so that console gamers can get the same depth with a controller as PC gamers get using the mouse and keyboard. This means that anyone who is jumping ship from the PC version may feel a little bit unsure of themselves at first.
A lot of time has been spent on the console interface and it is pleasantly surprising just how easy it is to get to grips with. Gone are almost all of the MMO-style point-and-click trappings of inventory and character menus to be replaced by a series of radial menus which make navigating them infinitely more fun than trying to guide an unwieldy cursor around with the analog sticks. It's elegant and simple and just the way things should be on console.
The gameplay itself is just as elegant. Players can map their favourite powers and skills to the face buttons with ease. Each button represents a different skill set so it's much easier to keep the button mappings straight in your head. This means combat, while maybe lacking the one-handed play potential of the PC version it still feels ridiculously simple and intuitive, as any Diablo game should.
Combat is simple with each character class featuring some kind of additional power bar (Mana, Hatred, Discipline, Fury and so on) that fuels their special abilities preventing them from over-using their more powerful abilities and prompting a little more though to gameplay than simply bashing the buttons in the thick of the melee.
This can get pretty frantic especially in the tougher dungeons and boss battles when you have one eye on the enemy, one on your health bar and another on the power bar to make sure you can land a power attack at the right time. While it may seem frantic there's a pretty awesome sense of achievement when you dispatch a large group of enemies or a boss which is the only other pay-off you want from Diablo III other than a mountain of loot.
Console gamers also get the added bonus of being able to make use of the right analog stick to dodge in any direction. This may conflict with some skills available to a couple of the character classes but it adds another useful and non-draining option when in a tight spot.
Diablo III includes all of the classes open to the PC gamers – Barbarian, Demon Hunter, Witch Doctor, Wizard and Monk. Parties can be formed of up to four players either locally or online of any mix of the five classes as players strike out to save the world of Sanctuary from the attentions of the demon lords Belial and Azmodan.
As additional help players can hire one of three AI followers, Kormac the Templar, Lyndon the Scoundrel or Eirena the Enchantress. As a nifty little bonus they all gain experience even if they're not being used so they can instantly be of use whenever you need them.
Multiplayer can be between two and four players in any mix of online and local player. It's drop-in, drop-out as well and the game automatically adjusts the difficult level as players come and go so that it is neither too easy or too hard at any given time.
This is quite possibly the best way to experience Diablo III. While it's entertaining enough hammering through the campaign on your own with occasional assistance from one of the followers but jumping in with up to three friends to take on one of Diablo III's randomly generated dungeons is easily some of the best fun you'll have with a controller in your hands.
Certain types of games have always had trouble making the jump from PC to console and Diablo III despite its heavy reliance on action gameplay could have easily been botched beyond all recognition. Thankfully Blizzard has carefully re-crafted their genre-defining dungeon crawler into one of the most entertaining co-op multiplayer experiences around on this generation of consoles.
Diablo III is available on Xbox 360 and PS3 now as well as PC and Mac.