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Diablo III on consoles: hands-on Preview

Hell returns with a thumbstick

“There is no exclusivity contract with [Sony] Playstation. However, we have nothing to announce at this time,” was the answer I was given when finally presented with an opportunity to get hands-on time with Diablo III from Blizzard Entertainment at PAX East 2013. It was certainly a surprise to hear that, because without directly saying they hope to release on the next generation of consoles (Wii-U or the next Xbox perhaps), the implication was there. Strangely though, that nugget of information was dwarfed by the gameplay shown on Playstation 3. In fact, of all the titles available at PAX East this year, Diablo III might be the most surprising.

While the story, characters, and skills remain the same as the PC version, the development team at Blizzard made it a point to present a game that wasn’t simply a port. Using that word, “port,” carries negative connotations within the videogame industry. Typically it suggests that the development team simply made the game playable on another piece of hardware, which generally means gameplay issues will become apparent and overall will present a lackluster experience for players. Fans of the Diablo series won’t have to worry about that it seems, as the team has made enough gameplay changes that the title now seems more streamlined and customized for a console experience.

First, the control scheme allows you to use the left stick for movement, a drastic change from the routine click-to-move that PC players are familiar with. This creates a faster rate of movement and, arguably, gives players more agility to flee from danger or dodge attacks. In addition, the skills have been moved to the face buttons, with ‘X’ being your action button. Attacks and potions are positioned on your triggers, making the console controller a deadly weapon — and not simply by swinging it around your head, either. With the buttons mapped appropriately, it’s as if the game was originally designed with consoles in mind.

Another welcomed change is the event log, a small text-based notification system that tells you what’s happened in your particular game. When you pick up a piece of loot, whether it’s weapons, armor, or jewelry, indicator icons will appear that help you identify whether it’s better or worse than what you’re actually using. With a simple button press, the item is then equipped without having to enter the inventory screen, which has also been revamped.

In the instance that you do have to spend a bit of time looking at your inventory, gone are the days of piecing the items together in a puzzle-like game of “make room for more!” Instead, the inventory is simply broken down into X number of slots, with each item taking up an individual slot. Your character model within this screen is also different, being given a wheel-like menu for items equipped. Directly below that is your stats, which has helped make your character management far more efficient and arguably simpler than its PC counterpart.

The final changes are perhaps the most argued over in the world of PC gaming. Always-online DRM was implemented on PC to prevent piracy, meaning you must always have a connection to the internet to enjoy Diablo III. For consoles, it’s now removed; this may be due to the console manufacturers themselves having implemented anti-piracy strategies, but the move is sure to make waves among current PC players. Even better, should you decide to stay offline to play, your friends can still join you due to the 4-player co-op modes being both online and localized. The auction house, another implement that was designed to help create a flow of money for both player and developer, has been completely stripped out, meaning players will have to rely on their own gameplay to get the best equipment for their character.

Despite limited hands-on time with Diablo III at PAX East, I still left feeling confident in the changes that have been made. On PC, the game lost a bit of its intrigue with the auction house and lack of offline play. With consoles entering the fray, interest will be renewed and invigorated with a torrent of players looking to experience the game as newcomers or simply looking for a new platform to help send demons back to the hells they spawned in.

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