Platforms: Switch (reviewed), PlayStation 4, Xbox One
I’ve played a lot of Diablo over the years. I find the deceptively simple gameplay loop of murdering hordes of demonic foes for better loot deeply appealing, so naturally I was thrilled when it was announced I’d soon be able to slay Diablo’s hordes on the go with Nintendo Switch.
And for the most part, that’s exactly what Diablo 3: Eternal Collection achieves. It’s a technically competent, mostly uncompromised Diablo 3 experience that allows me to get my fix anywhere. The lack of any meaningful new content is a bit disappointing, but the cleverly implemented multiplayer elements help to make up for that shortcoming.
The basics of demon slaying
A common criticism of ARPGs like Diablo is that they are too simplistic. It’s an understandable assumption, after all, you’re essentially just repeatedly attacking more and more powerful monsters, then collecting gold and loot so you can upgrade your armor and weapons, so you can kill more monsters. Though the combat is simpler than something with complex action mechanics like Bayonetta or even most MMOs, it’s a relentlessly engaging gameplay loop that I’ve yet to grow tired of, even after decades and hundreds of hours across different platforms.
The real challenge becomes clear when you start to understand the complexities of the different classes, and begin to see the potential of different builds. I played a Necromancer this go around, as it’s the newest of the seven, and it was a profoundly different experience that using my turret based Demon Hunter. Even within particular classes there’s almost limitless variation, as the skill trees allow for experimentation and extensive customization. The fun of Diablo 3 isn’t necessarily the combat itself, but finding the class that allows you to ruthlessly dispose of Diablo’s underlings in any way you see fit.
This port has the complete version of Diablo 3 as it is now. That means the excellent Reaper of Souls expansion, the Necromancer class, the Campaign, Adventure mode, and all the items and sweet legendary loot you can shake a skull bashing hammer at.
It’s a little disappointing that more wasn’t added however. Other than some fun Nintendo themed gear, this six year old game is starting to show its age. It’s hard to know exactly how long Diablo 3’s life cycle will be (After all, Blizzard’s World of Warcraft is still going strong fourteen years later,) but I have to believe this version is coming out toward the end of Diablo 3’s life. More substantial additional content could have gone a long way to increasing excitement and longevity.
So the underlying mechanics of the game are still solid, how does it fare on Nintendo’s portable console? For the most part, very well.
Performance in handheld mode (which is how I mostly played) was solid, with no framerate drops that I could detect, regardless of the amount of monsters on screen. Diablo 3 wasn’t the best looking game even when it first came out, so the fact performance is competent shouldn’t be surprising, but I’m glad it is.
Diablo 3 is a dark game however, and though the game adopted a more cartoony aesthetic than its predecessor to help keep things stand out, the 720p image is occasionally muddled in the darkest crevices of Sanctuary. I compared it side by side to the PS4 version and PC version, and though it is pretty clearly running at a lower resolution, it’s more than playable.
Things do get a little wonky in the menus however. Due to the limitations of screen real estate in handheld mode, it can be hard to read about your inventory or skills. I’m not sure how they could have made this better however, short of implementing some sort of zoom in feature.
Much of this port feels as though it’s as good as it could be, given the limitations of the hardware, but it’s never quite perfect. Diablo 3 works surprisingly well as a portable game, the quick bursts of action, especially in the bite size chunks of Adventure Mode lend themselves nicely to the Switch. But the game was clearly designed for a larger screen, and never feels perfectly natural. The controls work on the Switch, and the menu and interfaces all work, though it never quite feels like it was designed to be there.
Minor interface quibbles aside however, having a complete Diablo 3 experience that you can play wherever is pretty great, especially given there’s no other (official) way to do so on a portable console.
Demon hunting with friends
I always preferred Diablo as a more solitary experience, but there’s no denying that multiplayer is a huge part of the franchise’s longevity. Diablo 3: Eternal Collection has some pretty nifty tricks up its sleeve when it comes to multiplayer, and those features, alongside the obvious perk of portability, help to set this version apart from the other ports.
At any time, up to three other people can drop into your game using Joy-Cons. Obviously playing on a single Joy-Con is a less than ideal way to experience the game, but in small amounts, it’s perfectly fine. It certainly adds some engaging social elements to the game that bring to mind the LAN parties of yore, and along with the traditional online multiplayer Diablo 3 has already been using for years, there’s plenty of ways to slay demons with friends. You can even continue your progress on someone else’s Switch if you have Nintendo’s Switch Online service. Pretty nifty.
Local co-op also works nicely, even if you’re using different Switches, though getting it to work was a bit of a headache. The menus in this version of Diablo 3 are not very intuitive, so it was bit of a struggle getting this local gameplay to work. Once we figured it out though, it was stable, and a blast.
The servers are not yet populated as of writing this, so I wasn’t able to extensively test the online functionality of the game. Assuming Blizzard can avoid something like the disastrous launch of Diablo 3 on PC, it should be fine. We’ll update this review if we encounter any problems with online play after launch.
One of the more significant disappointments when it comes to this port is the fact that you have to start a new character. I understand that having cross platform character sharing is a technological and logistical nightmare, but it would have significantly increased my enjoyment if I was able to continue with characters I’ve already spent hundreds of hours developing.
Starting a new character provided a fresh experience, but for someone who has already invested a great deal of time into Diablo 3, this could be an impediment to picking up this version as well.
This port of Diablo 3 may not be perfect, but the technical performance is solid, and it’s a very complete, functional game. It’s an example of a port that someone might actually enjoy more having never another version. The gameplay, aged as it is, is a perfect fit for the Switch, and someone not spoiled by the PC version might have an easier time with the button mapping and occasionally obtuse menus, not to mention the fact that you have to start a brand new character.
The local multiplayer options are impressive, and though I’m not sure how frequently four people might play on one console, having the ability to do so is great, and ideal for groups of friends who are often out and about.
Diablo 3 is a phenomenal game, and that’s true of the Switch version as well. Having the ability to take it with you anywhere is reason enough to recommend it, and the fact it performs well on the less powerful Switch hardware only makes it more tempting to pick it up, even if you already have another version of Diablo 3.
If you have never played Diablo before, this is a fantastic time to jump in. For those who already own it on PC, this port might feel cramped, and less elegantly laid out. That being said, it’s Diablo 3 that you can play anywhere, and even an imperfect version is still going to claim many hours of my life.