The Console Version Of Diablo III Could Very Well Be The Best One

There are two reasons the console port of Diablo III, announced by Blizzard last month and shown off at PAX East this weekend, could be the definitive version of the game.

The first reason is obvious: you can play offline. You don't have to worry about server errors or Time Warner Cable while playing this incarnation of Blizzard's action-RPG.

Reason #2 is harder to understand without getting your hands on the PlayStation 3 version of the third Diablo, but it becomes obvious almost as soon as you do: Diablo III feels much, much better on a controller than it does on a mouse and keyboard.

Put the pitchforks down, folks. I was sceptical too. I spent many, many hours in the demon-infested hells of Diablo II, and for a while, I figured a console version would never work. When I think Diablo, I think "click, click, click."

But after just a few minutes with Diablo III on PS3 — which trades the clicking for nudging, jiggling, and mashing — I almost wish this series had been built for controllers all along.

I know. Blasphemy. Really, though, it feels like a different game: I hopped on a demo at PAX East this morning, loaded up a Demon Hunter, and wandered through one of the dungeons, flinging arrows and firing energy bolts as I danced my way around a mob of enemies. And it felt good. Surprisingly good.

To play this version, you move around with the left joystick while using the coloured buttons to attack monsters and interact with the world. On the PS3 controller, you can assign attacks to R1 and all four of the coloured buttons. You use L1 (and, I believe, L2) for potions. There's also a new evade command: you can use the right joystick to roll around and dodge enemy attacks.

The takeaway here is that you can move and attack simultaneously, instead of hammering your left mouse button to do just about everything. For a ranged attacker like the Demon Hunter, this is near-revolutionary. It feels graceful. Natural. More like you're inhabiting your character and less like you're guiding them from above.

Worth noting: this is the first Blizzard-developed console game in 20 years. You might remember console ports of the first StarCraft and Diablo — for Nintendo 64 and PlayStation 1, respectively — but those were built by external companies. This one is all in house.

Likely you have questions. I did too. So after playing the Diablo III demo this morning, I headed to a back room to chat with Joshua Mosqueira and Matthew Berger, both designers on the DIII port.

My first question: is this the best version of the game?

"They're both our kids," Mosqueira said. "The thing to keep in mind is that they're different."

How diplomatic. Ever the good parents, Mosqueira and his team don't want to admit that one of their games is more successful than the other, but I suspect they have private conversations about how much better it feels to play something like Diablo III on a PlayStation controller.

I asked Berger and Mosqueira about a number of other subjects, from next-gen consoles to server issues. Let's go through them.

What's new? Other than the obvious — the whole "new console" thing — Blizzard says they've overhauled the boss battles, making them feel more like the sprawling fights you'd see in an action-RPG on your Xbox or PlayStation.

"We know that there's a huge tradition of boss battles on console games," said Berger. "We're going through bosses and updating visuals, cinematics. Also, the pacing."

The item system has also been revamped, and you can now see whether an item will boost your stats even before you pick it up. Your inventory, character, and quests pages are now all tabs of one menu screen, accessible via the select button on the PS3 version. And you equip items through a radial menu rather than a ragdoll screen.

"We don't want to simplify the game," Mosqueira said. "We just want to streamline the experience."

So just how much is new? Says Berger: "If you played it on PC, you should expect it to feel familiar, but you should also expect to be surprised." Okay!

Fans have already shown some anger at this port — one message board user theorized that the PC version of Diablo III was actually a "beta" for this one. I asked the designers if that was true. Their answer: no.

This version of Diablo III won't connect to Battle.net, so don't expect any sort of cross-play between your PS3 and PC. Instead, you'll use the PlayStation Network infrastructure to play online. You can also play co-op with four people in your living room. No split screen, though — "The last thing we want to do is make your nice big TV into four smaller TVs," says Berger.

Interestingly, when you're playing co-op, the looting system will go old-school. While in Diablo III on PC every player sees their own items and doesn't have to worry about anyone else ganking them, on consoles, while playing co-op, you'll all swim in the same treasure pool.

"Loot drops a bit more, but everybody gets to share it," said Berger. "So if he picks up your bow, you can just punch him. We let the players police themselves."

No real word on PlayStation 4 just yet. Blizzard's designers wouldn't talk next-gen consoles — the PR representative sitting in on our interview shut down any and all PS4-related questions — but they did seem excited about putting Diablo on Sony's next console.

Are there really people who still haven't played Diablo III? Last we heard, Blizzard said they sold 12 million copies of the controversial game. So I was skeptical: just how many PS3 owners who might be interested in Diablo III haven't already played it on PC?

"Just judging by the number of people coming by our booth," Mosqueira said, "at least 50% of the people haven't played Diablo III."

They're not worried about Error 37 this time around. "Our plan is to be 100% ready," said Berger.

No news on expansion packs, or how they'd work on consoles. "Right now we're focusing on getting the core game out," Mosqueira said. "We still need to figure out exactly how we'll handle DLC and that kind of stuff."

Blizzard is known for their frequent patches and content updates, which might seem like a difficult thing to pull off on consoles, but Mosqueira said they've had extensive conversations with Sony about the importance of flexible patching in a game like Diablo III, and that Sony is on board.

What took so friggin' long? It seems like Blizzard has been talking about bringing Diablo to consoles for quite a few years now, but according to Mosqueira, development didn't really kick into gear until last year, after Diablo III shipped on PC. So what were they doing until then?

"What took the longest is finding the team," Mosqueira said. "We have a stringent process, an interview gauntlet that can take up to six months. The core of the console team were all hired specifically 'cause of their console backgrounds."

When's it coming out? "Soon-ish," Mosqueira said.

"When it's ready," added Berger. "On Blizzard time, because it's a Blizzard game, and we're treating it like any other game."

Any other consoles? Blizzard's designers were coy about this one.

"Step one is making it awesome for PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4," said Mosqueira. "We don't have any other announcements at this moment, aside from 'stay tuned.'"

So if Diablo III really can be played offline... The PC version of Diablo III was online-only. The console version of Diablo III has an offline mode. So I asked the designers: now that fans can look at the PS3 and see that yes, Diablo III can be an offline game, will we ever see an offline mode added to the PC version of the game?

"It's one of those difficult decisions we had to make," said Mosqueira. "Right now there's no plans. Some of the reasoning behind it is, the PC and console ecosystems are very different."

Blizzard and Sony both did some research and found that many PS3s are never connected to the Internet, he said. "So we figured the best way to offer that Diablo experience was to let players play offline."


Comments

    Articles not quite correct: Warcraft 2: the dark saga for ps1 and saturn came out in 1997. Makes it 16 not 20 years. From what I can find it looks like it was Blizzard who did it too not someone else? Please correct me if Im wrong.

      Don't forget that Starcraft: Ghost was also being developed by Blizz for consoles, although it never made it out to the public.

    I think these new controls might be pretty decent for some classes, but how do you aim an AoE spell accurately? The dodge being on the right stick is a bit of a surprise to me, I thought right stick would be aiming and dodge would be a button press.

    I don't think I've been more disappointed in a title in recent times. No offline mode - spending more time playing the AH than the game, absolutely no randomness to map generation (seriously they tried to say it was random...) and what seems to be clear design concessions made so console development was easier.

    It plays better with a controller because it was designed to from the get-go.

    It's amazing how all of a sudden the game supports offline play.

      I don't get what you mean by 'all of a sudden.' Diablo wasn't a case of 'it's totally online only because of the intensive coding' aka Sim City.

      It was intentionally online only because they wanted to do the Real Money Auction House, and if you were able to play offline, then people'd dupe items. Just look at what happened with Diablo 2.

        Aww it's cute that you believe that instead of realising that it was meant for DRM and DRM alone.

    A mate gave me his login after he'd finished and I played it through with barbarian. I'm really glad I didn't have to pay to play this one.

    It was a good experience but kinda like eating a whole block of chocolate in one sitting. You feel brain damaged afterwards and have gained nothing positive from the experience.

    And always online is really, really awful.

    "Best version of Diablo III" is like "Most pleasurably kick to the balls"

    Blizzard, you just sealed your nail in coffin for all my trust in your product. Thanks for fucking up your loyal 10+ years fanbase.

    Diablo plays like any other twin stick shooter (Dead nation, lara croft GOL), so no surprise to me

    We all wondered why there were only 4 skills available when Diablo 2 gave you 12 at your fingertips/mousewheel.
    Now it's all so clear.

      Yea its very disheartening :(

    I was playing Diablo III the other day and thinking to myself it would be a lot better if I could plug the controller in and play it like Record of Lodoss War. There's something about the disconnect between player and character in the Diablo games that throws me off.

    It could be better by doing one thing, removing the DRM and having it play offline.

    Diablo 3 was my first Diablo and I have to say to me it always felt like it would be better suited to a controller. Moving the character with a thumbstick instead of having to click everywhere seems like a no brainer to me. I'm actually surprised it wasn't always a console series.

      Well Diablo 1 WAS on the PSX. Dunno why they didn't worry about D2 though.

    Ironically this could make the game much better for australian players because this will eliminate all forms of lag enduced mishchief the game was so notious for. I did also find the game mroe enjoyabel to play without AH so to me it makes alot more sense.

    You were sceptical? Pretty sure anyone who played D3 (myself included) and didn't let their support for Blizz cloud their judgement (I've loved the company since WC1) came to the conclusion this was built for consoles from launch week. As much as I was open minded about the design choices regarding skills, runes and whatnot, which to some degree I kind of understood, I would never say the choices did not "dumb down" the game as much as I hate that phrase. With the PS3 announcement, everything just came together so fast, it wasn't even funny. A pity really.

    Last edited 26/03/13 1:31 am

    Ill be grabbing this when it's second hand and below $20, i have given my money to blizzard once, i will not give it to them again.

    I'm glad it's coming to console, let others who have not played it before enjoy it and create an even bigger fan base for blizzard. I have this on pc also and never thought it was as bad as what everyone made it out to be, sounds to me pc gamers are hurt but if you don't like the game don't play it, time to all stop whining and go play that new Zealand diablo 2 knock off.......I forget what it's called

    And yes online only does suck

    Diablo3 was online only. Arguably D3 failed in its opening (and perhaps following weeks)
    SIm City was online only. Arguably Sim City failed in its opening (and perhaps following weeks)
    Starting to see a pattern here. Online only is bad...

    I always preferred Diablo on PSX to the PC original, so I'm not surprised that the D3 console port is pretty good. Direct control feels good in this kind of action-oriented gameplay.

      Yea there was nothing like waiting 5minutes for the game to save/load or load a new map. I loved how it nearly used your entire memory card for a single save.

    How do you go about aiming spells?
    On PC my main 2 characters are wizard and witch doctor, both of which need to aim at spaces before enemies get there.

      I would imagine you just select the ability and then use the right stick to place the marker. I had a similar setup when I was playing World of Warcraft with a 360 controller. It's a little slower and not as precise but it works out fine.

    There are still a lot of negative connotations attached to the game; even if the game is better now (highly unlikely but I can't speak from first hand experience), a lot of players have gone through many bad experiences - be it login issues, latency problems, unfairness of level design, bosses and the auction houses. All this negativity is probably what will stop wanting old players to return and play the console version, just too many bad memories. But as for new players, if they haven't hopped on the train of all the bad reputation that this game has attracted, they probably could enjoy the game the way we PC players wished we could've.

    For the people complaining about D3 on the PC, have any of you played it recently, its a completely different game since launch

    The question is... local co-op? Because I could actually sort of see myself doing that maybe.

    inb4 kill the unbeliever

    “We don’t want to simplify the game,” The game was simplified to begin with so there was no need to simplify it further.

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