All new ways to love and hate Diablo III

, | Game reviews

Are you sure you’re in the right place? The Diablo III Haters Club is three web sites over and down the forum to your right. That’s the best place to talk about this console version’s occasionally disappointing graphics, the occasionally wonky controls, and the persnickety loot management. Just tack those onto the agenda right after the grousing about the always-online DRM, the usual Blizzard story, the mismanaged ingame economy, and how unfair [insert name of the hardest mode you’ve unlocked] is.

After the jump, the agenda at this meeting is different.

Here we’re already sold on the basics: the “you can have it all” skill system, the repetitive levels because who cares?, the variety among the character classes, and mostly the gloriously effective feel of all the hacking, slashing, smashing, zapping, and thumping. Can I get a “Rakanishu”? Here, our biggest problem with the Xbox 360 version of Diablo III is that we were perfectly happy playing Diablo III on the PC.

If you haven’t signed up for either club, if you want your first taste of Blizzard’s latest title in the genre they invented, there are reasons to throw in your lot with the Xbox 360 version rather than the PC version. The PC version’s auction house lets you use your ingame gold (or real world money, if you’re one of those people) to buy gear, which optionally undermines the economy, the gem system, and especially the loot chase. I try not to use the auction house myself. “Try” being the operative word. But I love that it’s not even an option on the Xbox 360. This is how Diablo III was designed to be played. Finding a useful item on the console version is a true delight. On the PC version, it just means you saved the money it would have cost to buy it.

The same-screen co-op is a great way to enjoy Diablo III with a friend or three. The limitations of being on the same screen are actually a plus for forcing players to stick together, to engage in the same fights, to set up a contained mutual support system. The Diablo series has always been great with friends. Diablo III on a console system is especially great for how close it keeps your friends. You just have to be willing to take turns poring over your loot and skill screens.

The console version is also unique for how much room it gives you to pump up the difficulty level. Whereas Diablo III on the PC took a while to present much meaningful challenge, you can invite the console version to whack you on the pate as hard and often as you want. I can breeze through the higher “monster power” levels on the PC most of the time. On the console version, a single notche up the difficulty scale can be gratifyingly punishing.

The controls don’t always adapt well to how the PC version of Diablo III plays — by singling out a target with your mouse — but they don’t compromise the fundamental experience so much as adjust it. Melee fighters aren’t as easy to play. Every class will occasionally miss important attacks because you weren’t targeting the monster you thought you were targeting. Certain character builds that work well on the PC won’t work well on a console. But Diablo III’s console control scheme isn’t like certain ill-fitting attempts to bring real time strategy games to a console system. And you get a brand new dodge option with the right stick, which will be particularly helpful when you’re running from the elites that you can’t quite target the way you want.

Is the PC version of Diablo III better? In some very important ways, yes. But as a console game, Diablo III is outstanding. There is no comparable experience on console systems. Sure, there are some perfectly good action RPGs for your console, such as the Marvel Ultimate Alliance games, Sacred 2, and Borderlands 2, all with their own foibles and unique selling points. But there is nothing with Diablo III’s breadth, accessibility, and richness. Welcome to my living room, Blizzard. It’s about time.

(Read the “Diablo III in the Living Room” game diaries starting here for more details from a Diablo veteran and a Diablo newcomer.)

  • Diablo III

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  • Xbox 360
  • Freestyle your way through a symphony of gratifying thwacks, crashes, thuds, tinkles, and dings. Experience the joy of a hammer smashing skeletons, a machinegun bow mowing down demons, a wizardard's magic beams frying whatever those things are, and a pet class shuffling along with her ridiculous and glorious entourage in tow. The crackle of flames, the swish of an axe, the twirl of a barbarian, the obligingly eager charge of a zombie dog, and the satisfied burp of a giant frog are all available now for your living room.