A fun as hell ultimate edition that plays extremely well on the PS4 and offers more than just the Reaper of Souls expansion and the latest code.
Over two years since its initial release, and just five months since the Reaper of Souls expansion, Diablo III finds its way to the PS4 in a wonderfully complete and very well put together package. The Ultimate Evil Edition contains the original game, Reapers of Souls, and several additional features ranging from DualShock4 support to Apprentice Mode and more. Players who have already played Diablo III and have a character on their Xbox 360 or PS3 (but not PC) can import themselves into the Ultimate Evil Edition on PS4, although this was a feature I could not take advantage of as I was new to Diablo III. Still, it's easy to understand the appeal of being able to take your battle tested character directly over to this new release. Just a few minutes into the game, it's easy to see why Diablo III is as acclaimed as it is, blending accessibility with fun and addictive action-RPG dungeon crawling, all set against an interesting story.
The plot of Diablo III isn't too earth-shattering, but it's much more than just serviceable. The story is based on events in the town of New Tristram, from which a massive star falls from the skies into an ancient cathedral. The prophet Deckard Cain believes this to be the sign that the apocalypse is coming, and the forces of Hell are unleashed. Indeed there are lots of undead and all sorts of other beasts, ghouls, skeletons, carrions, phantoms, and so many more evil creatures awaiting you within the dungeons. One of Diablo's best features is the variety of the enemies you encounter, not to mention the sheer number of which can appear on screen at once and their different variations (i.e., a carrion that has a poison attack or fire based attack, etc). Fortunately there hundreds, if not thousands, of items and skills for players to find, purchase, or unlock as they level up, along with support for drop-in/out four player same screen, LAN, and online co-op. I suppose this is as good a time as any to mention that you do not need to be online to play the Ultimate Evil Edition on your PS4, to which I tip my hat to Blizzard in thanks for those admittedly rare times when I'm either on the road or otherwise offline but still want to play.
Repelling evil and attempting to bring justice to the forces of Diablo and his brethren is no small task, but it's one you can tackle alone or with friends, or strangers for that matter. It all begins with picking a character class to start, with options including the Demon Hunter, Barbarian, Witch Doctor, Monk, Wizard, and, new to the mix thanks to the Reaper expansion pack, is the Crusader. I was at the character selection screen for several minutes trying to decide which class to go with as nearly all of them appealed to me. I went with the Witch Doctor and have not regretted my choice. The Witch Doctor's strength is pretty low, which you can tell not only by his default appearance, but by the stats. His intelligence however is quite high, and his magic skills are awesome. The most helpful of these thus far has been the Demon Dogs; when you activate this skill, two ferocious dogs are summoned from the ground and they do a great job of helping you deal with the hordes of hell. The good doctor's blowgun has great speed and range, and like all Active Skills, you can acquire additional Runes that give you more options. For example with the blowgun, the singular, default dart can, with the unlocking of a specific Rune, can be switched for toxic darts that temporarily slow down the speed of some enemies, or you can use a separate Rune to fire three standard darts instead of one. Some Skills are less interesting and useful than others, but it was always fun to try new ones and it's evident how useful they would be in different situations. Using a skill that slows down enemies for example would be a great way to fight alongside a Crusader or Barbarian, whose brute force attacks could put a massive hurt on enemies who suddenly can't move as quickly as they would otherwise.
Skills are a huge part of the game and there are dozens of Skills for characters to unlock as they level up. I liked how Blizzard mapped the Active Skills to buttons on the controller, so even if you have say two or three of the Skills that are under the 'X button' tier, you cannot assign but one of these at a time. You might think that this would cause you to spend a lot of extra time in the Skills menu swapping things out, but in my experience it hasn't worked out that way, fortunately. Note that if you use a Skill with a cooldown timer, you cannot immediately switch that Skill out for another one, you have to wait for the cooldown timer to expire. Furthermore, you cannot changes Skills during a boss fight, which I thought was odd. But I think mapping skills in this way is a good design because if I could just randomly assign my Skills to any button, I feel like it could make a player too powerful. Anyway, in addition to these Active Skills there is a large list of Passive Skills that can be assigned, one at a time, that grant you cool bonuses like reducing the amount of Mana needed.
Skills and other goodies are unlocked as you level up, and this was something else I thought Blizzard did really well. Despite a meter in the HUD showing your progress towards the next level, getting to a new level was always a pleasant surprise and something I looked forward to more than a lot of other RPGs. In Diablo III, leveling up feels like a big deal, it feels exciting and rewarding. It's one of the many reasons that I kept playing, often hours longer than I had intended to for a particular session.
Most of my time with the Ultimate Evil Edition has been spent in single player, but it's very clear that this was intended to, or can certainly be enjoyed with, friends or others online. That's not to say the game is too hard playing single player -- not at all in fact, as within about four hours of play I moved the difficulty, which you can change at anytime by the way, from Normal to Hard and I'm about to go to Expert for the extra reward and challenge. There are literally about ten difficulty settings to keep the challenge fresh as you and your party members advance. Playing with up to four players locally in 'couch co-op' is something I look forward to doing, but so far I have just played with a second player and, as we expected, it's a ton of fun. The design and execution of the gameplay is just so fitting for quick, or very long, play sessions. Whether playing alone or locally or online, the premise of 'clearing the map' (sort of a Command & Conquer term given how the map in Diablo III is also covered in that "fog of war") had never-ending appeal, and never ending reward. Because for exploring and finding the boundaries of the dungeons, taking optional dungeons, often going an extra two and three levels deep, was not only fun as hell, but it would always pay off with some great new loot or some really cool new enemy, or even just a great monument or other eye candy. I would point out that some dungeons have similar floor designs than others, and on occasion I felt a tinge of deja vu, the designs were that close, but there is always enough variation in the other aspects of the dungeon to keep the adventure plenty fresh enough.
The more I played Diablo III the more I realized that there aren't many things I can find wrong with it. Repetition is mild concern, but I found that even when playing single player there was enough variation and pacing changes to stymie that, and it's even less of a concern when playing co-op with friends. The font used for the menus and subtitles looks strangely basic, but hell that's just a minor cosmetic thing that doesn't really matter. There is no option to stop and save your game at anytime, and when you do hit a save point, it does not mean you will start exactly at the place where the save game was created, which can be slightly jarring when you come back to play again. Oh, I didn't like how other characters, including their names and a picture of their face, and even how other Skills are potentially revealed too early. That is to say, you can look at the Skill tree and reveal what other Skills are before you have them. Note you cannot look at the Runes that go with these Skills, but still. Worst yet is how other major characters are revealed before you actually get to them in the story by looking at the Challenges, which show the faces and names of enemies yet to come which is a minor spoiler, but one I would have preferred not to have stumbled upon because I was invested enough in the story that I didn't want any early reveals.
This brief list of relatively minor gripes can be offset by a list of other positives. For example, I like that when I revisit a dungeon, for whatever reason, it's not suddenly restocked with respawns, giving the game a better sense of continuity. I love the waypoints for fast travel, and by fast I mean instant since there are no load times, which is fantastic. I appreciated the inclusion of the Apprentice Mode, which helps new/low-level players play better with high-level friends. The social features, including the mailbox system to send and receive items is fun. With Nemesis Kills, you can avenge the death of a fallen friend to earn extra goodies, although I was not able to try this feature out. Hardcore and Adventure Modes, as well as the Nephalem Rifts gives players yet more content and more reason to plunder the dungeons. In Hardcore Mode, should your character die, they're done for good; Adventure Mode allows you to travel across the entire playable map taking on whatever may come, while the Nephalem Rifts are short (about fifteen minute) diversions in which you face a random mix of enemies from different parts of the story.
Suffice it to say the amount of good things about Diablo III: Ultimate Evil Edition far outnumber and outweigh the bad. This is a superbly crafted experience that's fun with or without other players, online or off, and offers a tremendous amount of content in one succinct package.