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Diablo III

Score: 85%
ESRB: Mature
Publisher: Blizzard Entertainment
Developer: Blizzard Entertainment
Media: DVD/1
Players: 1 - 4 (Local and Online)
Genre: Action/ RPG/ Online

Graphics & Sound:

With the release of Diablo III on consoles, the question seems to be "did it work?" Blizzard Entertainment primarily develops software that is best suited for personal computers. Of course, since most of their work involves some degree of real-time strategy, this is understandable; it's difficult to make RTS work with gamepads. But as for their major non-strategy franchise, Diablo, it's easy to wonder why it only made its way to consoles in the very beginning (on the original PlayStation). Lots of clones (both good and bad) have found comfortable homes on multiple platforms. So let's cut to the chase: is Diablo III on console as good as it is on PC? Yes, it is.

Even the most modestly powered rigs were able to run Diablo III at its best settings, so it should come to nobody's surprise that it works just fine on Xbox 360. Granted, the visuals aren't quite as good as they are on my gaming laptop, but it doesn't really matter; Blizzard prides itself more on its artistic genius than its technical wizardry. This is a colorful, gory adventure with lots of awesome-looking monsters, evil-suffused environments, and incredible cutscenes. Part of Diablo III's appeal is in seeing how many bad guys you can eviscerate at a time, and the impact of each blow is never understated. Even the most basic strikes are capable of covering the ground in blood and gore, and the animation work, coupled with great ragdoll physics, make the action that much more satisfying. As you level up your characters, you learn more and more skills. Since they all look awesome, the drive to reach that next level is just as powerful as the drive to collect more and more loot.

Diablo III's corny yarn of good versus evil inevitably leads to voicework that is pure center-cut ham and Baby Swiss of the ripest kind. But it doesn't matter. Characters speak with righteous authority and generally act like sticks in the mud. However, NPCs and Followers are unique and endearing enough to lighten the mood considerably; good thing, too, because talking about the apocalypse can really wear you down. Diablo III's soundtrack always fits where your travelers go and what they do, whether you're shopping in New Tristram or slaughtering demons in the High Heavens.


Gameplay:

When a star plummets down from the heavens and crashes into the Tristram Cathedral, series mainstay Deckard Cain is abducted and spirited into the crater. As if on cue, a Nephalem (the player character, which can be one of five different classes, complete with background) arrives to investigate the phenomenon. Alas, these events are all part of a scheme to bring about the arrival of Demon Lords Belial and Azmodan. And ::gasp:: could the Lord of Terror himself be in on the plot?

While Diablo III's story is fun in a goofy kind of way, it's not that kind of role-playing game. This game is all about the pursuit of power and gear. You explore wide-open environments and winding dungeons, slaughtering legions of monsters. As you kill, you gain experience and loot. As your experience and level grows, you learn new skills. It's a vicious but addictive cycle that has been proven time and again. It's not nearly the deepest role-playing game you'll play, but for gamers, it's the ultimate comfort food.

Diablo III can be played solo or with friends. Xbox Live is the ideal forum for online play, but couch co-op is an option this time around. Playing locally is fun, but the limitations of sharing a single screen don't mix well with such an exploration-heavy game. Over Xbox Live, Diablo III spreads its demonic wings wide and takes to the stratosphere. Human intelligence trumps artificial intelligence every time, and this game is at its absolute best when played with friends.


Difficulty:

On the default setting, Diablo III doesn't really deal with challenge or difficulty. You're either at the right level for the area or you're not. You either have the right equipment and skills to take down the enemies or you don't. Those two translate roughly to "You live or you die." In and of itself, death isn't much of a punishment. You can usually spawn right back at your corpse, ready to smash your killer (whose health is not replenished when you die) to pieces. Your equipment takes a hit in durability, but it's nothing that can't be fixed by your local blacksmith.

If you're playing alone, Diablo III can be tougher than it really needs to be. The several "followers" you come into contact with over your four-act journey are no substitute for thinking human beings. It's kind of frustrating to unlock a series of healing spells for a follower only for him or her to refrain from using them.

I get the feeling most of the people who want to play Diablo III at this point are going to go for the harder difficulty settings, and man, have they got a lot to sink their teeth into. As the stakes get higher and the enemies get more vicious, the loot drops become more and more impressive. As I mentioned, the entire game is one deliciously vicious cycle.


Game Mechanics:

Can you imagine Diablo III without thousands of mouse clicks? If you can't, this console experience will be simultaneously alien and familiar. Gamepad controls work extremely well; from movement to skill mapping, it's almost as if Blizzard knew from the beginning that they would bring the game to consoles. A nifty dodge mechanic has been added; by flicking the Right Analog Stick in the direction you wish to tumble, you can evade attacks that would otherwise be impossible to avoid.

Diablo III's greatest strength is in its flexibility. You are never locked into the decisions you make in building your character. If you equip an active or passive skill only to find out that it's a poor fit for a particular situation or in a certain team, you're given free rein to go back and change it on the fly (unless it's in cooldown or being used). This highlights one of the greatest joys of cooperative play. Once you find that sweet spot -- the set of abilities and equipment that allow you to play the role you're meant to play -- your team becomes a churning machine of death and destruction.

Blizzard is known for games that feature interfaces meant for PCs. With Diablo III, they've worked around it with something that is easy to navigate regardless of what you're doing. The radial inventory is headache-free. Sifting through new gear and items to make equipment comparisons and decisions is easy. If you want to mark items as vendor trash, it's as easy as pressing a button. All told, there's no reason to expect that this game plays any worse than its PC counterpart.

The local co-op is a bit of a bust, but almost everything in the console version of Diablo III is just as good as (if not better than) it is in the PC version. It's all a matter of preference, but the argument that one version is better than the other is moot. This is the same beast.


-FenixDown, GameVortex Communications
AKA Jon Carlos

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