It's sometimes easy to forget quite how big a deal Diablo 3 is. While the Sims on PC was an astronomical success, with sales figures other games can only dream about, it doesn't actually hold the crown for the fastest selling PC game of all time. That honour instead,goes to Diablo 3 - a game that, on the surface, seems like a fairly standard hack-and-slash role player, with an added helping of oddly named status boosting weaponry (like a Sword of Wounding - as opposed to what?). With an incredible 6.3m copies sold in its first week, it's safe to say Diablo 3 has been something of a sensation on the PC - and now, the game's made its way to the PS3 and Xbox 360.
And it's easy to see why. If anything, the set up arguably works better on a console - designed to be experienced with friends, the console version lets you and up to three other players join in with the fun, in any mixture of online or same console co-op. Whether it's four friends squeezing on the same settee, or two at home playing with another two friends over the internet, it's a pretty versatile beast - and one that practically guarantees a whole lot of fun.
With our Friends of Multiplaying (+2 social skills, -2 sofa space) safely gathered around, and the Disc of Playing inserted into the Temperamental Microsoft Console of Occasional Red Lights (-1 opening disc drive), we began our journey into lands unknown in true RPG fashion - by creating our characters. Unlike on other role playing games, there isn't too much freedom when it comes to designing your character on Diablo 3. Beyond choosing a gender and a character class, there's no way to change your hair, your clothes (other than by switching armour), or even your body type. With a selection of a Barbarian, Wizard, Witch Doctor, Demon Hunter, and Monk, it's not exactly your standard selection of types either, and with each coming with their own particular fighting style, whether it be ranged or melee, it can be tricky to make a choice from the brief description you're given. After some umming and ahhing, and much back and forth, we eventually settled on our characters of choice - Bernard the Barbarian, the slightly less alliterate Sarah the Wizard (sorceress would work better), and the seemingly confused Geoff, the female Monk.
Oddly enough, Diablo 3 is one of those role playing games that doesn't actually have all that much of a story - or really that much of a role to play. While other games place a heavy focus on spinning an epic yarn, Diablo 3 instead seems to just be an excuse to bring some friends together to smash up as many enemies as possible. With a brief introduction, and a quick chat with a bloke in a pub, you're off to bash up some monsters, stuffing your pockets with as much gold and loot as you can possibly carry. And that's fine by us.
Starting off with little more than a couple of moves, your combat will initially be very much dictated by your characters class. While Bernard the Barbarian covered himself with more metal than a conspiracy theorist on a day in the park, before running head-first into the enemies and whacking everything in sight, the other players took a more strategic approach. While you can happily play on your own, Diablo is certainly a game that works best with more than one person - especially as your friends become your support. While Bernard's smashing skulls together, Sarah the Wizard stands towards the back casting an ice beam to slow the enemies down, while the eternally confused Geoff swaps between barrel rolling back and forth and trying to level everyone in sight with flailing roundhouse kicks.
But it's the ability to work as a team that's important here, as your job's made a lot easier if you have a proper plan. Diving in head first (like Bernard) will only get you so far, and keeping an eye on the health of your team mates, so you can give them a helping hand should they need one is pretty much essential. Certain equipment is more suited to some situations than others, too, with each weapon coming with its own set of strengths and weaknesses - from status boosting effects, to the time it takes you to attack with them, and even how much damage it can take before effectively wearing out, which can be an important issue should you have a particularly long trek ahead of you . While your two handed battle axe may dish out a lot of damage, if you can only hit someone with it once every 2 seconds, it may actually be less useful than having two weaker swords you can swing a lot quicker. If you're going into a boss fight, you have to make a choice - do you want to equip your Special Leather Pants of Healing, which adds a few points back onto your health every few seconds, or go for something sturdier that'll reduce the damage you take in the first place? It's a case of swings and roundabouts - and one that's not made any easier by the levelling process.
Oddly, Diablo doesn't make much of a song and dance about levelling up - which has always bothered us, because if you've finally levelled up, you kind of expect the game to make a fuss about you. You've made progress, so the game should be as chuffed as you are - showing you how much stronger you've become. But while it doesn't shout it from the rooftops, the changes made to your character every time you level up are incredibly important, as you'll be unlocking new moves, new attacks, new powers, and, perhaps even more importantly, new modifiers. While Sarah the Wizard unlock the ability to freeze enemies completely, turning them into blocks of ice for several seconds at a time, Bernard gains the brilliant ability to chuck a large spiky hook at any enemy that should choose to run away from him, before reeling them back in for more. This is something that's particularly useful for the inexplicably rich treasure goblins, which don't seem all that keen on sharing their hard earner bling with you, as they leg it at first sight.
But it's how the powers interact with each other, again, that's the beauty. With modifiers affecting your powers, turning a previously "useless" power into something much more helpful, you'll find yourself constantly switching out your powers depending on your situation or preference. Whether it's adding a knockback effect to nearby enemies, or something as simple as increasing the duration of a spell, your characters are constantly growing, evolving, and improving - and you'll want to keep levelling them to see how far they can go.
That said, while Diablo's certainly a heck of a lot of fun in multiplayer, we're not quite sure we understand why it's the fastest selling PC game of all time. Boss fights offer pretty serious difficulty spikes that can be hard to overcome, while adding another player makes the whole game a lot harder - especially if someone's joining you from level one and you're midway through your adventure. Rather than taking your new friend's level into account, it seemingly just throws even more high-level baddies at you - and your leather breeches of smiting will be taking a hide (ho ho!).
As one of the few games on the Xbox 360 or PS3 to offer four player, same console and/or online co-op, though, it'll be hard to beat Diablo for long term local multiplayer fun. With fewer and fewer games letting a group of friends, or a whole family play together on the same console, it seems odd that it's taken a PC developer to come along and show the console boys how it should be done. Same console multiplayer is a good thing - and hopefully Diablo will be a sign of things to come.
Format Reviewed: Playstation 3