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Deja Review: Diablo 3 (Xbox 360, PS3)

Xav de Matos, @Xav

This is a Deja Review: A quick, unscored look at the new features and relative agelessness of a remade, revived or re-released game.

It was the middle of last year that I hugged my family and friends goodbye. With my hatred for the evils invading Sanctuary renewed by the impending release of Diablo 3, I assumed my free time would be consumed by Blizzard's latest adventure. When Diablo 3 arrived I was hooked and, initially, the hours melted into days and weeks. I played on multiple difficulties, completed epic runs with friends and then ... nothing. My desire to play the game that I expected to take over my life faded away faster than I imagined possible.

Though I enjoyed the experience, too many issues – many of which have been addressed with frequent updates – turned me off from continuing the adventure again and again. More than a year later, and much to my surprise, it's the console port that has brought me back into the world of Diablo 3. Although my first reaction to its new controller-friendly systems was, "Oh boy, this is clunky," Diablo 3 on console keeps dragging me back into its wonderful circle of Hell.

Gallery: Diablo 3 (E3 2013) | 14 Photos

What's new this time around?
Mapping the mouse and keyboard to the controller is one of the most obvious additions to Diablo 3 on console. Abilities are mapped to face buttons, triggers and bumpers – as powers are gradually unlocked through level progression – while movement is mapped to the left analog stick. Rather than aim abilities with the right stick, the second analog is used to dodge. In order to aim an attack, you must point your character's movement in the direction of an enemy. Doing this paints the "targeted" adversary in red, which you can then lock onto with a trigger.

Running toward the enemy while cajoling the stick to hit the intended baddie feels awkward, and it can be frustrating when swarmed. Boss battles tend to bring out the worst of the system, often forcing you to inch toward the boss to get them in your sights and lock on, thus ensuring you can effectively dodge their attacks and land your own blows. That's fine in theory, but when the boss brings with him or her a host of minions, you're constantly juggling the controls. After unlocking more powerful abilities, these issues diminish because your attacks are so powerful that you can gingerly toss them in the direction of lesser demons to send them back to Hell. PC and Mac players will definitely feel the compromise that was required to make the game function on console, which took me out of the experience initially. And, though I got accustomed to this compromise, I anticipate the issue will again rear its ugly head during higher difficulties, where even minor enemies are a far greater threat.

Deja Review Diablo 3
Melee-focused characters will have less of an issue with the aiming system, as getting into the middle of a swarm is the intention. Menus are also clunky, with inventory split into several categories – weapons, rings, belts, gems, etc. – nestled behind multiple button presses and featuring text that may be difficult to read depending on the television.

Diablo 3 on console features both couch co-op and online modes. Online works seamlessly, allowing drop-in and drop-out for up to four players. You can manually set the game to be "offline," not allowing any help, or you can allow friends or anyone searching for a Quick Match to jump into your quest (which increases the difficulty of the enemy). Cooperatively, Diablo 3 is still a fantastic experience. Rolling into monster-infested areas with friends by your side, launching devastating spells at your foes and watching the loot fall around you is great, and it's the reason that I keep playing Diablo 3 on console.

How's it hold up?
The console version of Diablo 3 ditches one of the PC/Mac version's most controversial features: the auction house (both the one that uses in-game gold and the one that uses real money). Rather than allow players to search for and purchase specific gear, Blizzard has tweaked how loot is doled out. While the PC/Mac game was criticized for its stingy loot drop system – something Blizzard has adjusted multiple times with updates – the console version has a much higher yield of top-tier gear. The pendulum has swung a little too far in the "favorable" direction, as my level 22 Demon Hunter currently sports five Legendary pieces of gear. In the 150 hours of Diablo 3 I played on PC, I only ever saw a single Legendary drop ... and its stats were pitiful.

Diablo 3 has a "quick equip" system on console, presenting players with a few details about the gear to offer a suggestion as to whether it's worth outfitting with a quick button press; however, the specific properties of Magic, Rare and Legendary items are not displayed. To see what special boosts come with the gear, you must pause the game, which makes the quick equip system somewhat useless. This can become an annoyance when playing the game locally with others.

Deja Review Diablo 3
Diablo 3 on console brings with it many of the additions already available on PC, such as the post-level 60 "Paragon System" – 100 additional levels that increase a character's attributes, magic and gold find stats. Meanwhile, Diablo 3's story still trips all over itself throughout the experience - like Deckard Cain's adopted niece who witnesses grand horrors, yet still believes Cain to be a cooky old man with a wild imagination.

It's the loot and the satisfying slaughter of countless waves of enemies that draws me into Diablo 3, and that feeling remains intact on console. The direct control is great and an obvious requirement for the game to function with a controller. Despite compromises that were made to cram the mouse-and-keyboard game onto a console, it's a faithful and entertaining recreation of the essence of the game. If anything, it's closer to what I had hoped for when Diablo 3 launched last year. The console version focuses on your own actions to earn rewards, rather than weaving in a complicated auction system (powered optionally by microtransactions) that dictates the flow of high-level gear. Diablo 3's new control system can be awkward, and it can be frustrating when its limitations work against you, but it doesn't break the experience.

Whenever Diablo 3 on console does annoy, at least I can substitute the inclination to bang my head on the keyboard with the less painful convenience of throwing a controller.
This review is based on a retail copy of Diablo 3, provided by Activision Blizzard. Diablo 3 launches today for Xbox 360 and PS3. A next-gen version is also in the works.

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