Coming off the success of such a beloved game as Diablo II after quite a few years was a bold move by Blizzard, as any shift away from the old mechanics could easily have been taken poorly by those that played - and loved - the first two games. Of course, some people managed to find something to moan about, but admittedly a lot of that surrounded issues with Diablo III when played online. Thankfully, it’s 2018 now and most companies have got this whole internet thing down pat for the most part - but even with stable netcode, can a 5-year-old game stand up to modern scrutiny? Well, yes, but let’s pretend the answer’s not so obvious, at least for a bit.
The Diablo formula is relatively simple; you have a character who runs around from an angled top-down perspective that some may call isometric, and you command that character to do all sorts of wholesome things like raise the dead and kick a giant ethereal bell in order to murder as much nastiness as is feasible.
Unsurprisingly, this runs true in Diablo III: Eternal Collection as well, even retaining the locked camera angle to the point that it functions in the same isometric manner as previous entries. As you go about murdering you’ll earn experience that causes your character to level-up and learn new abilities to help you more efficiently - you guessed it - go about murdering.
It’s not exactly breaking new ground or trying to mix up the genre, then; this a straightforward RPG with linear level progression and simple mechanics, but a game doesn’t have to be complex to be good. There’s a plot, sure, and it’s a pretty good one at that. Don’t expect it to rock your entire worldview, but it’s well-written and most of the dialogue is decent, with only the occasional chunk of ham thrown in.
So if it’s so by the numbers, who do so many people harp on about the series? Well, it’s all about the execution, and one crucial factor we’ve not mentioned yet to give the review some pacing. The hook that ties your whole adventure together is loot. Whoa there! Hold your horses, we’re not talking about loot boxes or microtransactions or anything like that, so put down your pitchforks and flaming torches and allow us to explain.
Just like the rest of the game, all the loot is delivered old-school, by just playing the game and not opening your wallet a second time. As you scurry around the landscape you’ll find bits of armour, gold, jewels, and weapons. They’ll be in hiding in chests, falling from downed foes, and leaping out of nearby corpses if you walk too closely to them. Spooky.
You’ll not be free to use it all though, as certain weapons cannot be used by certain classes. Oh yeah, should probably talk about that, shouldn’t we? When you start the game you’ll be asked to choose one of seven classes, which determines a heck of a lot about how you’ll play the game, as well as your gender. Sadly, there’s no way to customise the physical features of any character you create, but given how far away they are from the camera 99 percent of the time, it’s a disappointment that fades rapidly.
Each class has Life, and their own flavour of what is essentially Mana to deal with. Life is your health bar, and the other meter - be it Discipline, Spirit, or just plain Mana - is drained when using special moves and recharged when using so-called standard attacks. You’ll have to balance using and recharging your particular brand of magic-type stuff when fighting nasties so you’re not caught in a sticky situation where you end up dying like a ninny.
The abilities you learn are dished out in a very linear fashion, and unless you choose ‘Elective Mode’ in the options menu, only one from each category can be assigned at any one time. They have a decent variety to them, but this variety is restricted more in some classes than others, and you’ve no way of knowing what you’ll be able to learn until you’ve started the game and actually unlocked each ability after hours of play.
So you’ve got a character, armour, weapons, and special shiny abilities, all in the name of murderousness; but how does this said murderousness gameplay feel? In a word, good. In several words, satisfying and rewarding, if slightly repetitive. You’ll be completing quests for various townsfolk, pushing the main storyline further, and stumbling into ‘Events’ that give you a quick challenge with the promise of some sort of reward, which is usually gold and loot. All of this is done by extinguishing as many bits of evil as possible as you crawl through dungeons, deserts, hellish catacombs, and other things that are generally dank and/or violent.
It’s a style of play that works, and works extremely well, but the first few hours of play can feel a little bit monotonous from time to time. The first chapter takes place in a very typical medieval-style high fantasy town with zombies and stuff like that, and as well as the repetitive gameplay loop there’s also little to change things up thematically. Occasionally you’ll come across an interesting locale, but a lot of the surface world is rather dull.
By the time you reach the second chapter and beyond, this lets up, and you’re allowed to explore a much more interesting set of landscapes and your ability arsenal has evolved to be a lot more interesting to boot, letting you mix up combat in a variety of different, if subtle, ways.
Of course, you don’t have to go on a killing holiday on your own, you can also bring along some chums for the slaughter-packed ride. This can be done online - which works brilliantly - or locally on the same console, or multiple Switch systems. Local multiplayer is a beautiful addition, and even though the limitations of having to have all four characters on one screen can be mildly irksome, it’s still excellent fun. Online is the absolute bee’s knees in contrast, allowing you to drop into any friend’s game at a moment’s notice provided they’ll allow it, and continue grabbing loot and smashing what we’ve been told is evil in the face.
The replayability of the game can’t be overstated. If you’re not sounding overwhelmed by the repetitive nature of the combat you might not be frothing at the mouth over the idea, but if it’s something you enjoy, you can play this game ad nauseam. With all the character classes, variety in abilities, and impossibly large loot pool to dive into, it’s one of those games where you can keep going as long as you’d like, with no traditional 100 percent completion goal in sight. This is only extended further with the Season system, which allows you to create a new character for said season with extra bonuses and other lovely things to do.
There's also a smattering of exclusive content for the Switch version. This includes the ability to appear as the Demon King Ganondorf from the Zelda series, as well as having a pet Cucco follow you around picking up gold for you. This is the best thing we could possibly ask for, and the subtle chicken noises that it makes as you run around together give us one more reason to get up in the morning.
Presentation-wise, aside from what we’ve already said, the game looks pretty good overall. It’s nothing extraordinary and won’t befuddle you with its beauty, but everything’s appealing, or appropriately grotesque, and clear enough so you know largely what’s going on. It also runs like a dream on Switch, with no performance dips in sight during our playthrough. In docked mode the resolution is clear, if a tiny bit blurry on the in-game models, but handheld does suffer a little bit more. By no means is it unplayable, but the smaller screen, lower resolution, and tiny characters all conspire to make it a slight strain on the eyes. Still, having Diablo III on the go is a ruddy treat regardless.
In short, Diablo III: Eternal Collection is a lovely port of a classic RPG loot-a-thon that keeps its feet firmly in the past. The execution is wonderful, but its gameplay is not something that will appeal to everyone due to the high level of repetition. Its visuals are clear and functional if not especially interesting, but performance is top notch to make up for it. If you’re looking for a loot-driven grind-a-thon with more explosions of viscera than you can comfortably discuss with your mother, this is the game for you.