Here I am playing pretty much the exact same game a fifth time over. I first played Diablo III when it came out for the PC. Again when the Necromancer was added. Again for the Xbox 360. Again for the Playstation 4. And now for the Switch. Nothing has changed since the last time. And of course, none of my progress has been carried over because battle.net, Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo are like divorced parents who refuse to talk to each other, much less come together to support a single game. Everyone’s gotta be his own gatekeeper these days.
So, naturally, the ennui sets in quickly and I commence the dull slog through content I’ve already seen a hundred times, right?
There’s not a lot to say about Diablo III that hasn’t already been said. Except that, hoo boy, it fits the Nintendo Switch like a glove. It runs just fine, of course. It better. It’s six years old. But consider the implications of a complete and uncompromised version of Diablo III that can follow you around wherever you go, whenever you go there? Consider the implications! I may never read another book again. Any book reading time has become a Diablo-shaped hole. Any lull in whatever series I’m binge-watching on Netflix is an opportunity to accidentally start playing Diablo III instead. How many hapless commuters will miss their stop and find themselves at the end of the line, but with several more paragon levels?
Blizzard’s seasons were already an insidious way to drag you into Diablo III again and again. By starting you at the beginning, Bedazzlering your progress with microgoals, tracking it on leaderboards, and dangling powerful treasures along the way, Diablo III sharpened its barbed hooks every few months. And now it’s doing it from the same Switch that you’ve been carrying around to play Mario Kart or whatever. Now the Diablo III seasons have burst out into the wider world. It’s like the end of Lawnmower Man when Jeff Fahey escaped out onto the internet.
By way of comparison to Diablo III on other platforms, I have made more endgame progress on the Switch than on any other platform, and quite possibly all the other platforms combined. I have gotten further into season 15 on the Nintendo Switch, earning more of the rewards and amassing more paragon levels, than in any of the preceding seasons. And this at a time when there are three superlative open-world games jockeying for my attention. Portable seasons have that much allure.
These goals and rewards, these incentives to play Diablo III instead of something else, are only as good as the thrills they fuel. It’s gratifying enough as you’re chugging along, working your way towards level 70. At this point, the trip to 70 is just busy work, but gratifying enough busy work, with plenty of lateral flexibility. Familiar and safe, unless I’m leveling up whichever hardcore character I haven’t gotten killed yet. Even then, familiar. I no longer thrill to the bright orange god-beam of a dropped legendary or the chipper ding of a dropped gem. The only potentially meaningful rewards are the green set item god-beams and that ghostly chick waiting at the end of a rift to level up my legendary gems. Everything else is just a violent morsel to get me to these moments, to tick up my paragon level yet again, to entertain me with the howling and wailing of melting, bleeding, burning, frozen, shattered, beaten monsters who are more playmates than opponents. Especially the ones who pulse blue or yellow. That’s when it’s a party. Get on over here, guys. I’ve been looking for you!
But the most thrilling moments are those insane post-70 donnybrooks, usually in some rift, when it all comes together. My perfect witch doctor build — which, to be honest, has been spoonfed to me by the season’s set rewards — meets a swarm of elites. Chittering fetishes, belches of acid spewing from a ghostly tiki mask, shattering corpse spider jars, literal waves of zombies. In all that mess, something with ten thousand hit points brays and dies, while something else with twenty thousand hitpoints steps into his place. It’s insane. It’s absolutely insane. Utter havoc. It’s what makes Diablo 3 the preeminent action RPG, even if there are newer and arguably better designs out there. I still grin, shake my head, and marvel at Blizzard’s ability to fuse charm, character, and technical prowess. They are the masters of swirling cartoonish videogame power fantasies, they belong on the Switch, and they’re here at last.