The Xbox One’s November launch looms near, but the Xbox 360 continues to receive many high profile games this year. Grand Theft Auto 5 is pretty much the biggest console release of the year, but right behind it is Diablo III from Blizzard Entertainment and Activision. At long last, Xbox 360 gamers can experience the bestselling PC action-RPG on their console of choice.
Head past the break for our full review!
Enter the Sanctuary
Diablo III begins an old man named Deckard Cain warning his niece of the impending danger that threatens their realm of Sanctuary. Soon a burning object falls from the sky, destroying the building the two occupy. Cain’s niece Leah comes to the player(s) for help in searching for her now missing uncle, and so the quest begins.
Story is not the main reason people play Diablo; they come for the loot. But the narrative is actually fairly dense and interesting, told through fully voiced interactions with non-player characters. Those conversations are also fully skippable, keeping them from bogging down multiplayer games.
The game is broken up into four acts, each of which takes place in a distinct region. One act will take about six hours or so to complete. Unlike Borderlands’ more open-world structure, players don’t travel back and forth between each act’s locations. You complete all of the quests in an act, move the story forward, and proceed on to the next chapter.
That linearity doesn’t hurt the game, though. Players can jump back and forth between any acts and chapters they’ve played. Skip ahead into someone’s multiplayer game and you can always go back to knock out whatever you missed.
A 25-30 hour campaign would be sizable enough for a game, but such a length wouldn’t account for the enduring popularity that the Diablo games enjoy. Diablo III has four difficulty levels, each of which can only be accessed after playing the previous one. You’re meant to progress through the game all four times, with new equipment and challenges only becoming available on those higher difficulties.
Oh, there’s also a Hardcore mode (combinable with any difficulty) in which characters can’t respawn if killed. The threat of permadeath really adds to the tension and challenge!
Still, part of the appeal of the Diablo games is that you can relax and zone out to them, alone or with friends. That’s why Blizzard added a separate difficulty setting for enemies. Turn them down to Easy and the harder playthroughs will go down much smoother than on PC. It’s nice to have a choice!
Adapting a mouse-oriented PC game to console controls can be difficult, but Diablo III actually controls extremely well on the 360. Here are the control basics:
- You move with the left analog stick, of course.
- Up to six skills can be mapped to the face buttons, Right Bumper, and Right Trigger – all the buttons on the right, basically.
- Left Bumper uses healing potions and Left Trigger locks onto targets.
- The right analog stick activates the new roll move, which lets you get into position for attacks or out of harm’s way in a hurry.
- The d-pad lets players quickly equip loot or warp back to town.
Each of the five character classes can unlock a total of 24 skills as they level up. By default, you can only map specific skills to specific buttons. Standard, rapid attacks would go on the A button, for instance. Players who want more control over their mix of skills can turn that restriction off in the settings menu. What’s more, you can unlock four different modifiers for all 24 skills. All that customization gives the player a lot of freedom.
As you go out into the game’s many fields and dungeons in order to slaughter hordes of monsters, many downed foes will drop equipment and gold. If you don’t want to fast-equip them via the d-pad shortcut, the Back button’s character menu allows for easy browsing of each item category (helmet, shoulders, chest, weapons, etc.).
Nobody does randomized loot better than Diablo, and the console version of Diablo III improves the drop system even further. Since this version lacks the unpopular “Real-Money” Auction House, the drop rate of Legendary (super high quality) items has dramatically increased. They don’t just drop constantly, but you’ll pick up more than one on each of your campaign playthroughs.
An accessible crafting system gives players even more control over their equipment. The Blacksmith creates weapons and armor from salvaged items. The Jeweler combines gems you find and puts them in slotted equipment. Both artisans can be trained to increase their abilities. Higher training levels require items that only drop in higher campaign playthroughs, so it will take quite a while to fully train them.
Games like Diablo III are better played with friends. Not only does this version support online multiplayer for up to four people, it also adds local multiplayer. Yes, you can buy a single copy and play it for dozens of hours with your significant other or friends, all on the same system.
Obviously the entire team must remain fairly close together when playing locally (no split-screen here), but that just encourages teamwork and everybody staying on the same page. All four players can earn Achievements as well.
The only downside to local multiplayer is that only one player can access the Character menu or merchant menus at a time, and nobody else can do anything while someone browses those menus. The d-pad equipping shortcut reduces the need for the stopping the action to check recent loot pickups, but players still need to stop and sell everything to merchants every so often. The pros of being able to play with local friends certainly outweigh the cons though.
You can’t have friends to play with all the time, hence Blizzard added NPC followers to Diablo III. You’ll recruit three companions over the course of the game: Templar, Scoundrel, and Enchantress. Only one can follow along at a time, and they don’t participate in multiplayer games. Whichever one you choose, they’re all super helpful during combat.
Followers gain levels of their own and you can equip them with loot too. They even have interesting back stories that unfold through conversations over the course of the game. And follower progress carries over between all of your playthroughs and characters, so they’ll hold their own even on the higher difficulties.
Surprisingly, Diablo III lacks character-specific Achievements. Instead, it has Achievements for all four difficulty playthroughs as well as reaching level 30 on Hardcore (permadeath) mode. I guess Blizzard wants players to fully develop a single character rather than having to switch between all of them.
Beating the game at least four times will take somewhere between 75-100 hours to accomplish. Other than that, the two most time consuming Achievements are for killing 100 treasure goblins (a fairly rare enemy) and collecting five million gold.
For fans of loot hunting and action-RPGs, Diablo III just might be the Xbox 360 game of the year. Blizzard did a great job of adapting the PC game for consoles, dropping things that didn’t work (including the always online requirement) and adding local co-op. The game runs beautifully on the 360, at a near-constant 60 FPS, and the load times are practically unnoticeable when installed to the hard drive.
The only question is whether Diablo III will come to Xbox One as well. A Playstation 4 version has been officially announced for 2014, but no word on Microsoft’s next gen console yet. The 360 version performs so well and has such an active community, I wouldn’t hold out for an upgrade that might not come. Somebody’s gotta collect that loot this year, and it might as well be you.