Diablo III in the Living Room: this isn’t the end, my friend, so limitless and free

Brandon Cackowski-Schnell and Tom Chick have been posting daily updates, which started here, on Diablo III for the Xbox 360. This is their final entry.

Brandon: Okay Tom, let’s take this thing home. It’s been a great week and I’ve learned a lot about Diablo, about you, and about how much you have a crush on Leah. Maybe Deckard can give her away at your wedding. Wait, scratch that.

Tom: Too soon. Don’t you feel like a jerk now?

Brandon: I don’t think my first week with Diablo III would have gone as smoothly or been as enjoyable had you not been there to tell me all of the things that the game didn’t feel the need to. I still think the weapon thing is silly but at the same time, seeing my wizard lady running around with an electric broadsword like she’s Barbarella is something else.

After the jump, taking this thing home indeed

Tom: Speaking of taking this thing home, my favorite thing about the living room version of Diablo III is the new way to play co-operatively. I’ve played a lot of co-op Diablo III with my nose buried in a screen, and sometimes with a friend at his own house, or even in the same house and the same room, but always with his nose buried in another screen. So it’s uniquely appealing to enjoy an action RPG as a same-screen, same-couch, shoulder-to-shoulder co-op game. Remember the Baldur’s Gate console games or Sacred 2 on the Xbox 360? No? Okay, good point. But I’m delighted with how well it works here. Whether it’s small touches like how one character will automatically follow another when his partner hits the far edge of the screen, or more significant issues like how we negotiate for the same pool of loot (“Did you just take that mask? That was a mask, there on the ground and you took it and you’re not even a witch doctor and I am and you took it!”). All this gives Diablo III co-op a new sense of immediacy. I haven’t tried it with more than two players, but I love that it’s an option. The biggest problem is that messing with your gear or skills means pausing the game for everyone while they look at your gear or skill screen. But there’s no easy way around that. Just make a house rule that you can’t try on new clothes until you get back to town.

Brandon: I wish I had been able to spend some time with the local co-op but no one wants to get up in the morning when I’m working out so that was a no-go. Plus, I have young kids so an M-rated game isn’t going to cut it.

Tom: My roommate has an eight-year-old son who watched us play a bit. I had some reservations at first, but it seems that Diablo III is mostly silly and non-scary and over the top with all the howling dopey monsters being summarily dispatched. Oddly enough, the cool thing to my roommate’s son is how we can squish those little decorative scorpions scuttling around in the desert. But, yeah, there’s a lot of blood and crazy fantasy violence, and it’s a touch more grimdarkevil than, say, Torchlight. Plus, Diablo himself has toothy mouths on his shoulders, and that would have totally freaked me out when I was eight.

Brandon: Online co-op was great though and I can totally see this being a game that can enter my co-op rotation. It certainly helps that the story is so weak it doesn’t matter where all the players are in it.

Tom: Finally you’re coming around! Maybe you’ll still feel this way once you’ve beat Diablo, the character, and realized that you’re nowhere near finishing the game!

Brandon: I know that you’re not happy with the controls and maybe if I was playing a melee character they’d bug me too. But right now I hang back, fling lightning bolts, and watch things explode. Sure, fine control would be great when dealing with priority targets but honestly, I’m just hanging on by the skin of my teeth here so the only real priority target is the one all up in my magical grill.

Tom: Where’d you get a magical grill? Is that like a buckler? Or is it more like vambraces?

Brandon: That means they’re right in front of me. I know you’re not from the streets.

Tom: Word up, my brother. And, yes, the controls are my biggest reservation. The Diablo series has always relied on mousework, and certain aspects of the game don’t translate well to the gamepad, try as Blizzard might to make it painless. I’m constantly whiffing important attacks, and melee isn’t easy to manage, and the lock-on feature doesn’t help enough for navigating tricky fights where you need to single out a specific target. This isn’t a significant problem early on at the default difficulty. But in terms of the long-term grind up the difficulty levels, in terms of pushing through inferno and nightmare and hell mode, I’m not convinced this is an effective way to play Diablo III.

Brandon: The thing about this game that gets me though, is how easy it is to lose humongous amounts of time in it. To me, that’s the hallmark of a good RPG. If I get so wrapped up in it that I forget to save, it’s a good RPG. If I start losing battles because I haven’t looked at new skills or inventory in 45 minutes, it’s a good RPG. If I think I haven’t made any progress because it feels like I’ve only played for ten minutes but I’ve actually cleared out three caves, two cellars, and a coven full of dark cultists, it’s a good RPG. All of these things have happened with Diablo III except for the part with the saving. Thanks, autosave! The game has some interface issues, namely burying what should be easily navigated menus into stacks of button presses, and it’s too stingy with the early game tips but all of this falls away when you get into a skill flinging, monster killing groove.

Tom: Also, I can’t easily read the cooldown timers on those tiny buttons. Where are my glasses? The living room is a fine place to play videogames, but it’s not a fine place to present the kinds of information you get in a PC game. But still, I’m happy to be Diablo IIIing in twice as many places in my house and I’m with you 100% that it’s a good RPG. Well, action RPG. We don’t want to confuse fans of The Witcher, Dragon Age, and World of Warcraft. But let’s get down to brass tacks. On the scale of one to five stars, how good of an action RPG is it? Check back Monday for the actual review.