My first hour with the Xbox 360 version of Diablo III makes me deeply concerned. We are three players - a barbarian, a wizard and a demon hunter - and so far, every single piece of loot dropped has been usable for all of us. The wizard is running around with a great two-handed axes on his back. Has Blizzard really dumbed down the game's core systems this much so as to get the game working on console? Where is the class-specific loot? Where are the stats on my items?
Fortunately, as it turns out, I'm just suffering from a case of bad memory. The loot you get at the start of the game is all generic crap that couldn't care less if your primary stats are Strength or Dexterity. But soon enough, the defeated foes start dropping equipment that is clearly only suitable for one of us, and the experience is again undiluted Diablo III.
It's been more than a year since Diablo III was released on PC and Mac, and the pressure on servers at launch was so massive that it was a challenge to even log on. This isn't the case on console, where you can comfortably ignore everything about the online requirements and just start playing. Aside from that single (yet significant) difference, this is basically the same game which was released back then, just on a new platform .
Of course there are differences, and they are mostly all related to the controls and interface, but otherwise there are no major changes. A fallen star has again crashed into the cathedral where the first Diablo was set, the remaining Lords of Evil are once again trying to conquer both heaven, hell and everything in between, the undead are once again walking around New Tristram, there are talks of a black soul stone again, and so forth.
But this is not to belittle Blizzard's work on porting the game to consoles, as they have clearly given the process a lot of thought. The entire user interface for dealing with equipment and inventory has been redone from scratch. Instead of just having one large inventory divided into a grid, you instead sort through your stuff by picking an equipment category (boots, shoulders, pants, main hand, off-hand, and so on) and then looking through all the equipment you're carrying of that type.
Detailed stats and the abilities of the individual items aren't immediately shown (you can pull them up with the X button), instead you get a short graphic summary. Red or green arrows show whether a given piece of gear is better or worse than what you're already wearing, across the categories of damage, protection and health. It provides a quick and easy overview, and if the item is a piece of crap, only carried to be sold at the first opportunity, you can mark it as "junk" . And when you meet a seller of any kind, you can unload your junk heap on him with a single button press. Aaaaaaah!
The same small icons are displayed in a corner of the screen every time you pick up loot, and using the D-pad you can even equip it or drop it on the ground again, without going to the inventory screen. So in the situation where you pick up a piece of loot showing nothing but green arrows, you can equip that upgrade in a heartbeat.
The controls have not suffered in the jump from mouse + keyboard to the controller. Your chosen skills are activated with the ABXY buttons, the right trigger and the right bumper, while you move your character with the left stick. The right stick can be used for a dodge move, which is new, but not a big change - you run as fast as you dodge, so it's mostly there for cosmetic reasons.
The new control scheme works perfectly. The game highlights the enemy you're aiming at with a red silhouette, and adds a small arrow over your target's head in multiplayer, corresponding to your player colour. The more direct controls are actually better than the PC version's in some ways, so we're sorta hoping they'll add the controller option to the PC game.
Supposedly the loot system has been changed for the console version, giving you more and better equipment along the way, in order to compensate for the fact that there is no auction house for trading with other players. I haven't sat down with spreadsheets and done calculations, but my gut feeling tells me that the amount of usable loot you get in the game fits nicely .
Perhaps the most important addition in the console version of Diablo III is that you can play up to four players on the same screen. Of course you can also go online, or even connect two Xboxes together on a local network and play like that. But having a buddy on the sofa is perhaps the best way to play the game, though I should warn you: don't start playing couch co-op until all of you have a decent grasp of the interface, inventory, and what stats are important to your respective classes.
Only one player can access the inventory screen at a time, and with two or more players who aren't Diablo veterans yet, there will be waiting. A lot of waiting. Especially when you get into situations like "that axe you just picked up, can I see that? It might be an upgrade", and you then have to go through the process of finding it in one player's inventory, dropping it on the ground, picking it up, finding it in the other player's inventory and then compare stats with what they're already wearing.
If you've played Diablo III with friends online, you are undoubtedly familiar with just standing around and waiting while your buddy rummages through their backpack. But there, you can at least pass the time by cleaning up your own inventory or check your skills and so on. But when playing on the same screen, only one player can do it at a time. In short, this downtime will suck all the pace out of the game if you don't know exactly what to look for.
If, however, you have that sorted, Diablo III on console is a thoroughly enjoyable experience. The graphics do not live up to the PC version (which is surprising, considering how simple they really are), but otherwise this is an excellent conversion that easily and elegantly dodges some of its big brother's problems (the much-critised auction is gone, as mentioned earlier) and even has a few new tricks in the form of more direct controls and couch co-op. If you haven't already played it on PC, you should definitely give Diablo III a look on console.