We've spent the past few days hacking and slashing through hordes of monstrosities, hoovering up loot, dazzling fellow adventurers with grandiose spells, instilling fear into the hearts of our enemies, and preventing Hell from consuming the world. Not literally, of course – we are referring to Blizzard Entertainment's latest RPG and its first in-house console production since The Lost Vikings II on the SNES: Diablo III for the PlayStation 3.
The third entry in the beloved PC series already proved a processor intensive experience on powerful rigs when it deployed last year, so the North American developer has a lot to prove with this console iteration. Fortunately, it's made the transition fairly smoothly. The 15 month old computer release is present with all of its patches intact, minus the bothersome always-online DRM and balance breaking auction house. Replacing those unloved additions is a much less divisive drop-in/drop-out couch co-op mode, providing the blueprints for some truly joyous dungeon crawling.
To be fair, the game has suffered a bit of a downgrade in the visuals department. The crisp, complex detail of characters has been stripped back, resulting in some blurry clothing and accessory textures – but you won't notice these sacrifices once you invest in the action. Importantly, environments are still a treat to explore, with dozens of enemies filling the screen without the slightest hint of a framerate hiccup, and the lighting and particle effects remain reasonably impressive. The classic isometric perspective covers any detail drawbacks, with the aforementioned player model problems most noticeable when you're managing your loot and skills.
It's this area that's perhaps the weakest part of the otherwise excellent package, simply because it's not immediately clear how everything operates. Tabs for inventory, party, quests, and lore are easy to navigate, but radials within each option for changing equipment, skills, and modifying spells are a little unwieldy. Once you get into the swing of things, though, everything begins to make sense. Icons indicate how each new piece of equipment affects your character's stats, and as you level-up, additional skills and spells are unlocked linearly that allow you to freely switch between the options that best suit you. Runes augment your powers with additional effects, and, similarly, can be experimented with on the fly. Skill trees are sacrificed in favour of an expected emphasis on loot, allowing you to benefit from numerous properties depending on your chosen gear. The flexibility is impressive, and while it does feel like it comes at the cost of approachability at times, the system manages to make the game's five playable classes feel like several dozen.
Your choices span the Barbarian, Wizard, Monk, Demon Hunter, and Witch Doctor, with each type tuned to a different playstyle. Each class boasts a light primary and a heavy secondary attack, in addition to abilities that help to impair enemies, as well as to buff you and your allies and cause untold destruction. On the standard difficulty setting, you'll often feel overpowered – but offing dozens of creatures as they swarm around you rarely gets old. Shiny loot falls from corpses, and has been rebalanced to provide more useful items than tons of trash. Bringing your friends into the action increases the challenge appropriately, scaling the difficulty so that it always feels satisfying.
You can complete the core campaign in around eight hours, but you're unlikely to have reached the level cap during that initial pursuit. A second playthrough on a harder difficulty level will keep you hooked, with the randomly generated dungeons ensuring that each return visit to the underworld feels fresh. You'll tire of the corny narrative eventually, but fortunately, outside of the stunning pre-rendered cutscenes, the plot very much takes a back seat to the dungeon crawling.
It's worth mentioning, too, that the action maps nicely to the DualShock 3. Your attacks are applied to the face buttons, while the addition of a new dodge roll mechanic has clearly been influenced by God of War. While you'll always feel powerful on the normal difficulty, later tiers will brutally test your crowd control skills. As a consequence, the release offers a highly accessible adventure for newcomers, and an appropriately unforgiving experience for those in pursuit of something a little more hardcore.
Aside from some graphical and interface niggles, Diablo III has made the transition to the PS3 exceptionally well. The addictive loot loop remains intact here, and it's furthered by the addition of an excellent couch co-op mode. With several classes to sample and a seemingly never-ending supply of gear, this is an impressive port of an already outstanding game.