I’m here in Anaheim for Blizzcon 2013, and as anyone who knows me might have guessed, the first thing I did when I got here was make a beeline for the Diablo III booth to get some hands-on time with its in-development PS4 version.
Let’s get the obvious stuff out of the way first: Diablo III looks good on PS4. The demo I played didn’t stutter or hitch once — the PS4 version runs at 1080p and 60FPS or better throughout, as confirmed by Production Director John Hight when I spoke with him on the show floor. Everything looks tack-sharp, and plenty of extra bits have been added or tweaked in Diablo III’s PS4 version. Just wait ’til you see the glow of a freshly dropped health globe reflected in a pool of stagnant water.
Diablo III’s DualShock 4 controls are still being tweaked and perfected, but the touchpad implementation today was largely gesture-based, swiping left and right to switch to different inventory and skill subsections. It’s pretty hard to improve on the perfection of Diablo III’s radial menus as they are on PS3, but DualShock 4’s touchpad makes for a suitable change of pace, if only to mix things up once in a while.
DualShock 4’s light bar glows a different color for each player. Paired with existing on-screen indicators, it provides that much more instantaneous visual feedback — handy when things inevitably start getting out of control on the battlefield.
And of course, the improved ergonomics and analog sticks on PS4’s new controller will make marathon sessions significantly more comfortable.
Reaper of Souls, Blizzard’s recently announced expansion to Diablo III, will be included with the purchase of Diablo III on PS4. In it, Malthael, the former Angel of Wisdom, has become the Angel of Death, and has generally bad things in mind for humanity. Predictably, you’re not too keen on letting him have his way.
The demo I played at Blizzcon was a small section of the new act that takes place after the end of Diablo III’s main campaign. The 15-20 minute section was draped in dark, blue and gray tones and a permeating sense of dread. Appropriate, given the expansion’s premise.
Playing as the Crusader, Reaper of Souls’ new character class, I smashed and dashed through hordes of demonic baddies, utilizing a bevy of devastating new moves to mow down anything in my way. Described by the design team as a “war machine made human,” the Crusader attacks enemies up close, but has plenty of area-of-effect attacks and buffs to make him a versatile mid-range brawler as well.
A few highlights from the Crusader’s repertoire (these may change, as Reaper of Souls is still in development):
- Smash: Just about what it sounds like. This attack actually reaches a bit ahead of the Crusader, meaning you don’t need to risk completely exposing yourself to retribution from any foes who survive more than one hit.
- Consecrate: An area-of-effect buff that encompasses the majority of the screen, continually healing any fellow fighters within its reach.
- Laws of Valor: Another buff, this time an immediate boost to all allies’ dished-out damage.
- Falling Sword: An earth-shaking attack that must be used sparingly, given its moderate cooldown time. The Crusader leaps into the air, then slams back into the ground, damaging all enemies around him.
- Steed Charge: A quick way to get out of (or into) trouble quickly. The Crusader mounts a phantasmic steed, running through enemies — and leaving a trail of fire in his wake, given the right rune selection — without a second thought.
- Heavenly Strength: A passive ability that gives the Crusader the power to wield a two-handed weapon as well as a shield, allowing for truly terrifying equipment combos.
One last treat for current fans of Diablo III on PS3: you’ll be able to fully transfer your characters to the PS4 version when it comes out. Be aware, though, that this is a one-way transfer. Once your level 60 Demon Hunter is migrated to Diablo III on PS4, given the amount of gameplay elements and scenarios introduced in the next-gen version, there’s no going back! Not that you’d want to go back, after seeing it on PS4.
It’s a testament to Blizzard’s mastery of the gaming medium that I, a very busy person who has already sunk 60+ hours into this game on PS3, am shaking in anticipation to forfeit another 60 hours to it when it lands on PS4. We haven’t yet heard when Diablo III is going to make its next-gen debut, but I do know one thing: you guys aren’t going to hear from me for a while once it does.