Diablo III, which first came out for consoles in September last year, was the first Blizzard game to hit TV screens since 1998. Just under a year later, the “Ultimate Evil” edition combines Diablo III with its previously PC-only expansion, Reaper of Souls, wrapped up in a controller-friendly interface for those who prefer to game in the lounge.
If you’re unfamiliar with the title, Diablo III continues the theme that was largely established by Diablo in 1996. It’s a top-down action RPG, with dynamic level layouts, character leveling, loot, and deep multiplayer connectivity.
On PC and Mac, there was originally an auction house to enable players to buy and sell items, but - due largely to outspoken critics of the functionality - it has since been removed, and does not feature on the console versions.
The interface itself remains largely the same as last year’s game, allowing players to quickly select and process or equip new drops without opening their inventory, and generally navigate in a way that works well without needing a mouse.
Actual control of your character is also the same as the console version of Diablo III, resulting in a paradigm shift for players familiar with the mouse-driven Diablo games. Here, you control your character directly, whereas in the mouse / keyboard interface, you’re clicking on things or locations and your character will interpret your intention and then respond accordingly.
There’s also the ability to dodge (an action performed with the right-hand stick), which is not available to PC and Mac players. While hardly essential, it's a good fit for the console style of play, and it's very handy when confronted with ground-based hazards or other situations you want to get out of as quickly as possible.
The controls work very well and afford players all the control they need to operate their character’s myriad abilities. Whether you prefer controller or mouse and keyboard play is up to you, but console players aren’t at any real disadvantage. This extends to the Vita during remote play, too, with one caveat; hitting the R2 “button” (an area in the top-right of the rear touch pad) is not exactly comfortable or something you’ll want to be doing often, so you can experiment with reassigning the buttons to find something that works for you.
Aside from a new Act, which continues the story from Diablo III, the most significant new feature is the addition of a new player class - the Crusader. Similar to a Paladin, the Crusader is a melee class that also has good mid-range ability, mixing up spells and physical attacks in various ways - as defined by player choices in the skill tree. Crusaders are a lot of fun to play, with that typical “Holy Warrior” narrative to keep the story ticking along.
Once Act V is completed for the first time, players unlock access to the all-new Adventure Mode, which opens up the previous game maps to a new play style. Each time a player launches Adventure Mode, all of the maps are populated with a series of “Bounty” quests which, once completed, result in the award of a bonus loot cache.
Adventure Mode can be completed somewhere in between 20 minutes and two hours or so, depending on the difficulty chosen and number of players; the variety of quests, while still within the range of “kill this many of” or “kill that boss” types you’d expect, definitely help to keep things interesting - even on your umpteenth run through. The fact that you can also level an alt in this mode, avoiding the story stuff entirely, will help lessen fatigue for those who want to build up a new class.
Another new end-game activity added by Reaper of Souls is called Nephalem Rifts. Found within the Adventure Mode section of the game, access to Rifts is granted by spending keystone fragments that are rewarded for completing bounties. The PlayStation 4 version even includes a rift based on The Last of Us, as well as an armor set inspired by Shadow of the Colossus.
Where players are incentivised to clear out Adventure Mode on an easy difficulty level - to farm fragments or other cache items - Rifts are generally tackled on the hardest level a player or group can handle, as this will increase the quality of the items that drop. As such, it’s a mode best tackled with friends, but if the PC lifecycle is reflected in the console version, it’s likely ad-hoc groups will begin to meet up regularly to tackle the harder stuff (and it can be set to very, very hard indeed). It’s too early to tell if this will actually happen, however, as the game is not currently in the hands of the public, which made multiplayer match-ups during the review period hard to come by.
Minor gameplay features have been tweaked to suit the console audience, simplifying in some cases but mainly just by making it clearer what’s going on. For example, once you’ve killed enough characters in a short amount of time to trigger the “massacre” bonus, the counter will appear on screen straight away - along with a timer that shows how long you have to kill the next monster before the bonus expires.
Additionally, the rewards for these bonuses have also been tweaked; massacres award bonus XP multipliers, while destruction - triggered by destroying scenery objects en masse - gives you a speed boost, and killing with traps increases your character’s resource gain. It’s a slight tweak, to be sure, but it feels good and gives you even more incentive to look for opportunities for bigger gains; don’t be surprised if some of these make it back to PC.
In addition to the in-game mail system, which lets you mail almost anything to your friends, there’s now a chance that a present will drop alongside a legendary. This present will have your friend’s name on it, send it to them and, when they open it, the game will “roll” a legendary item for them to use - designed, according to Blizzard, to make it simple for you to gift things to your friends, without having to know what class they’re playing or what might be useful to them. You can otherwise send almost anything you like, with all of the various “bound to account” restrictions PC gamers will be familiar with having been removed.
Linking your account to Battle.net lets you synch your characters between any console version of the game (even Xbox 360 to PlayStation 4), but PC characters are still out of bounds and there’s no cross-platform multiplayer.
Diablo III: Reaper of Souls Ultimate Evil Edition works very well on PlayStation 4. It doesn’t push the system particularly hard, but it skips along at 60fps and native 1080p without ever missing a beat - which is much appreciated after the frequent screen tearing of the original Diablo III on console.
What is disappointing, however, is the inclusion of numerous small bugs - particularly in the sound department. During testing, a random broken “popping” sound was heard frequently, impacting the enjoyment of the game and limiting both the volume and the length of play session that could be tolerated.
Still, Blizzard is amongst the best developers in the world when it comes to supporting its products and their fans for many years - Diablo II’s last patch was released nearly ten years after the game itself. It’s likely that the small sound and graphics issues that are apparent will be resolved in short order.
Diablo III: Reaper of Souls Ultimate Evil Edition is a phenomenal experience and easily the most expansive action RPG available. There’s a vast amount of content on offer, with almost everything from the PC making the jump across to console - and PlayStation 4 players even get some nifty extra things to play with, too.
If you like the genre, you’ll love this game - it’s that simple.