Occasionally, facts hurt. A bit. Here’s one that makes me a little bit sad: the console version of Diablo 3 is quite a bit better than the PC version. It’s not quite the same game: in adapting their action-RPG for the PC, Blizzard have added, tweaked, improved upon, and, in-some places, cut features. The changes they’ve made are fascinating and, I think, portable.
I want to clearly explain the changes, but also make a plea. There’s no reason why many of the changes made to the console version can’t be ported up to the PC version. In many cases, I think they should be.
Most importantly, the changes Blizzard have made are additive. Diablo 3 on console has nearly everything the PC version has. It’s based on the 1.0.7 patch, so that includes the game’s awkward Brawling mode, Monster Power and Paragon Levels. The work Blizzard have put in over the past year to make Diablo 3 a better game is included as a default.
But there’s more. So here’s what’s changed, and how that affects the feel of Diablo 3.
The control system Blizzard have crafted for Diablo 3 on consoles is joyous. It also gives the game a very different feel. There’s no click to move - instead, you have direct control over your player character - he/she moves where you push the left-stick.
There’s also a template for how abilities are mapped to the controller that matches how Diablo 3’s skill system was implemented. In Diablo 3, skills are grouped into ability slots. Those ability slots are now attached to specific face and trigger buttons.
On the Barbarian I was playing, Primary abilities were mapped to the A button, secondary on the right trigger. Defensive abilities were mapped to B while the Might abilities were on X. Tactics were on the Y button, while rage abilities were mapped to the right bumper.
There are two interesting effects of this. For one, it has a very different feel. Playing the Barbarian on console felt more like an action brawler than an RPG - I was hammering A to bash enemies, then pulling the trigger to whirlwind through groups. Deploying X, Y and B became tactical choices depending on the situation and cooldown. In large packs, I’d throw a hammer to slow down enemies, before leaping in to bash and whirlwind.
It felt amazing. Brutal, fast and fun. Very different to Diablo 3, but equally worthy.
But the joypad is not quite as precise
The only downside of the joypad that I could find is a slight imprecision to how attacks are directed. I had a tinker with the Wizard, and quickly discovered a slight problem - when you’re playing on the PC, you tend to automatically lead mobs with your delayed attacks. If you cast a Blizzard or Meteor, you’ll aim for where monsters will be, rather than where they are now. That’s because the attacks hit where your mouse cursor is placed.
On the console, there’s no cursor, so the game applies a little bit of AI to try and figure out what you’re aiming at. That’s fine if you’re firing magic missiles or bolts of energy from your hands. But it’s very different if you’re trying to aim a Blizzard or Meteor. Now it’s by no means disastrous. The majority of my Blizzards and Meteors did hit. But they didn’t all hit, and occasionally I felt a little shortchanged by the miss.
The dodge mechanic
There is a slight wrinkle to the new controls. There’s also a quick dodge/dash ability that’s been added to the console version. It’s on the right stick - your character will leap or slide a few metres in the direction that you push it. It’s a little bit like a toned down version of the Demon Hunter’s Vault skill, but available to every build and every class. Having that ability changed the way I played the game: when facing ranged enemies I’d dodge their missiles before leaping in to attack. It made me feel more daring - I was more willing to leap into packs if I knew that I could dodge any big hits.
Adding the dodge ability changes the tone of Diablo 3 considerably, but I think for the better. I wouldn’t expect it to be added on PC immediately. But I do think that it’s the perfect candidate for an additional feature in an expansion.
There’s another new mechanic in the console version: Nephalim Glory. Think of it is as an extra risk and reward. As you play, you’ll see gold blobs fall from enemies - like you see the red health pickups. Picking up the Nephalim Glory globes increases your damage output, with gold lightning and thunder appearing around your attacks. It’s a stacking buff: getting stronger for every pick up you collect. But it’s also a timed bonus - so if you want to maintain your buff you have to press on and kill more enemies.
It’s a subtle, but fun piece of sofa/couch psychology. When you’re playing in a team, it creates banter, as you urge each-other to press on to maintain and improve your Nephalim Glory.
It’s got an offline mode, and no auction house
The console version is a little bit more user-friendly than the PC version. For a start, it can be played without an internet connection, in single and multiplayer, if you have a friend on the same screen. It’s not connected to Battle.net, so there’s no real-money auction house.
This has two effects. The first is that it’s a little bit more casual. When playing multiplayer on the same console, players can level characters as a team - if you’re bored of playing your Barbarian, you can easily swap to level a Wizard while your friend takes on the Barbarian. If you want to take your character to a friends house to play, you can save it to a USB stick.
The second: it’s entirely self contained. Your game and economy is unlikely to be tainted by players rocking items bought from the auction house. Everything you see in-game has either been found by killing monsters, or traded outside the game. This is as traditional an aRPG as you can play.
There’s less loot, but more gold
What’s noticeable almost immediately is how little crap drops from the game as you play. Many of the items that would drop and be vendored back at town simply don’t appear. Instead, the game increases the amount of gold that drops around you. If junk items do drop, there’s an option in the inventory to mark them as junk, and the next time you’re in town, they’ll be sold to the vendor. How the game handles loot is also a little odd. Players that play on the same console will share a loot pool: and the arguments about who deserves what items. Players who play online on XBL or PSN get their own loot pool. But what’s handy is that you can mix and match how people join the game: with many from one console meeting individuals on their own machine.
So, yeah. It’s Diablo 3, but somehow a little bit different. On balance, the console version feels more fun to play than the PC version. So I’d love to see some of these changes, particularly the joypad support, morphed into Diablo 3’s PC home eventually.