Some games are defined by their control schemes. Diablo belongs under the control of a mouse, just as Street Fighter is at home on an arcade stick and Angry Birds is best suited to a touchscreen. When Diablo III debuted for PC and Mac last year, the Edge office was drowned in a cacophony of clicking. Click to move your chosen hero until he’s in position. Click to attack until all the demons are gone, and then click some more to pick up all the shiny loot your fallen foes have left behind. Diablo III, then, is defined by the click of a mouse; if you play it on a gamepad, is it still the same game?
Just about. In making the transition to PlayStation 3 – a PS4 version is also planned, though Blizzard’s in no mood to discuss it at present – Diablo III has gained a dodge move, which is mapped to the right stick. While this certainly lends a little grace to proceedings, when combined with the free character movement on the left stick it makes Diablo III feel less like an action-RPG and more like an action game, and one with rather basic combat at that. In fact, with its isometric camera, crumbling ramparts, and hulking demonic bestiary, Diablo III on PS3 feels more like a homage to the God Of War series than the much-requested port of a multimillion-selling PC game that it is.
A 15-minute demo isn’t the best way to experience Diablo III, admittedly. The long game lies in the gear management, in kitting out your chosen character with absurdly powerful weapons and armour in order to cut an effortless swathe through the demonic hordes and pick up even more powerful loot. What is clear from the demo is that Blizzard’s made a considerable effort to retool skill and item management for a controller and a big TV screen. The pause screen is home to radial menus for speedy selection of gear and attacks, but tweaks to the game design are focused on having players spend as little time in such menus as possible. There will be fewer but better loot drops than were found in last year’s PC version of the game, for instance. Stand over an item and you’ll be able to see immediately whether it’s worth your time, and you can either equip, collect or discard it with a quick press of a face button.
The decision to minimise time spent in menus chimes well with a game that, thanks to free left-stick movement and that right-stick dodge, feels a little pacier than the original. Yet the driving force behind it, surely, is local co-op, which is arguably the console version’s unique selling point. Housing four players on one screen equals four times the fiddling in menus, after all. It’s not local only – you can mix online and off, with two or three players on a sofa and the rest recruited over PSN – but that’s the PS3 version’s headline feature, despite the fact that it hasn’t made it into this first playable demo. Blizzard says this is because it wants the focus to fall on the work it has done on Diablo III’s controls and interface, but we suspect the framerate, seemingly capped at 30fps and tanking to half that when the screen gets busy, also played a part in ensuring this first hands-on was a solitary experience.
Local multiplayer’s not the only thing that’s conspicuous by its absence. The PC version’s controversial real-money auction house is gone for good and with it the always-online requirement. Yes, Diablo III will be playable offline.
It’s far from a complete picture, then, but it does feel like Diablo III has been cut down a little for consoles. It certainly feels more like an action game than before – a genre for which PS3 players are hardly starved. And we can only imagine that the subset of PC players who want to play a lighter, pacier version of a game they’ve already played is rather small, even if they can do it from their sofa. Perhaps the real question isn’t whether Diablo III on consoles is still the same game, but rather who it is supposed to be for.