With a full 1080p full HD resolution now in place for Diablo 3 on both PS4 and Xbox One, the time has come to investigate each in their fully updated states. After all, we've seen performance drops on Microsoft's platform since its bump from 900p to 1080p, but does Sony's hardware suffer similar issues at the same stress points? And from a visual perspective, does Blizzard keep all the bells and whistles of a maxed-out PC playthrough for each?
Arriving just a few days ahead of the European launch, both platforms are prepped for a day one patch to resolve separate issues. On the PS4 side (and to a lesser extent Xbox One), a bug that once caused frame-rate dips to animation and effects rendering is now entirely fixed (as of patch C.184.108.40.206396, seen on its splash screen). The net result? We no longer see drops to the low 40fps range on PS4, and instead, we're thrilled to see a perfect 60fps during all our test sections.
And as ever, Sony's platform runs at the full 1920x1080 native frame-buffer, backed up by what appears to be post-process anti-aliasing focused on high contrast edges. Only in specific scenes, such as the sandy Caldeum Bazaar hub area, do we see any stair-stepping; in this case across dangling palm tree leaves or stacks of wheat grain in the corners. But for dungeon-crawling in the main, the murk and grime of each new area avoids these strong, alias-inducing contrasts.
With no rift in texture asset quality, shadow rendering, effects-work or its lighting model, it's clear Blizzard has no mandate to push either console out of the parity deadlock. Rather, it appears to be a point of continued attention, with the Xbox One receiving a 1080p resolution bump to bring it neck-and neck with PS4 in the image quality stakes. Outside of randomised item placements across each stage, these two games are now practically identical.
There are oddities here and there though. We spot spider-webs in the Skeleton King's crypts that seem dialled down in sharpness on Xbox One - but curiously, fineries elsewhere are unaffected. The PS4 also adds a blue tone around the Highlands area, making it stand at odds when placed side-by-side with PC and Xbox One. In other words, comparing the two editions of Diablo 3 typically highlights elements that are randomised by the engine, rather than significant per-platform advantages.
Compared to PC on its highest settings, the fully patched PS4 and Xbox One games run with a no-compromise approach. We get the high quality, smoothed dynamic shadows under each character here - with no pixellation seen on the lower settings. The core texture-work around the Highlands is beautifully preserved too, and explosive spell effects during cut-scenes show little change to alpha buffer resolution. It's all intact.
Given parity is essentially achieved everywhere else, has the touted Xbox One's resolution boost changed anything in performance testing? With both running at a full 1080p, we see a clear margin when running the New Tristram Gates, during the Skeleton King boss fight, and during packed skirmishes on the South Highlands plains. It reaches as low as 52fps on Xbox One, whereas with the rendering glitch now fully attended to on PS4, Sony's hardware never drops a frame in these areas.
It isn't quite a faultless display from the PS4 version, but close; in our full playthrough, the auto-save causes the odd a hiccup, as does occasionally streaming in new segments of a just-loaded area. However this stands at odds with the prolonged stretches of 50-60fps play possible on Xbox One. Given no issues were recorded during our earlier, pre-patch 900p tests, it's logical to assume this is a GPU-side strain, perhaps where alpha transparency effects are pushing Microsoft's console to these lurches.
But is this performance a deal-breaker for Xbox One? Given how infrequently we bumped into the issue, even during frenzied sand dune battles with two allied AI players in tow, the issue is surprisingly rare. Most drops tend to be imperceptible, and in the end, we resorted to scanning hours of footage to track most shifts downwards from the 60fps mark. A screen filled with effects-spewing creatures isn't necessarily the ticket to a frame-rate drop - even at its extremes the Xbox One holds up well save for a few choice moments.
Diablo 3 - the Digital Foundry verdict
This is a bold release that matches the PC version point-for-point on a technical level. The only major shift in design comes by way of the altered field-of-view, to better suit the console's local co-op, which by comparison only slightly restricts the solo console player's periphery. Otherwise it's the full package in terms of Diablo 3's graphical elements, with neither console missing out on any facet.
In terms of frame-rate metrics, the Xbox One does show flickers of strain in meeting its recent 1080p upgrade - something never elicited by the PS4, which holds at 60fps in likewise tests. These drops, as infrequent as they are, make it harder to call the Xbox One release a purely locked 60fps experience in pragmatic terms, but it's clearly a solid performer. So much so, that it begs the question: could the PS4 release have been pushed any harder to take advantage of its own GPU headroom?
Going by the PC-side menus, there aren't any higher graphical presets to reach for on console, making the latest console editions very straightforward renditions of the maxed-out experience - Blizzard reached for the top-level Diablo 3 experience and essentially achieved it on both consoles. With time, we hope the innate strengths of each platform are given much more room to stretch but as far as Diablo 3's latest showing is concerned, everyone's a winner.