Diablo 3 has come a long way since its launch in 2012. It's skipped from PC to consoles to next-generation consoles, shedding its universally despised Auction House feature and gaining new expansions, new modes, new hero classes and, crucially, new monsters to kill and new loot to scoop up and hoard away. Six years on, can yet another release on the Nintendo Switch - the Diablo 3: Eternal Collection - tempt players to pay for the same game a third or even fourth time? Well, it's Diablo 3, and all the ultra-satisfying demon-smashing and loot-hoovering that entails, available online or offline on your commute, so - yeah, almost definitely.
We had an early chance to play the Gamescom build of the game today; the same slice of the game will be available to the public on the show floor later this week. This build throws you into Adventure mode, first introduced with the Reaper of Souls expansion. (Both Reaper of Souls and the Rise of the Necromancer expansions are included on the cartridge for the Switch release; for more details, check out our report from last week>.) The 15-minute timed demo, played on a handheld console, allowed us to choose a formidably-equipped level 70 character from any of the seven available classes and sent us out into the Greater Rift in a team of three other players for a round of focused co-operative multiplayer. There was also the option to play the same section, docked, in single-player - which we did with both a Pro Controller and a single Joy-Con. A few minor bugs aside (it's still a fairly early build) what we played was an impressively polished port for nine months of active development. According to one of the developers present, Blizzard "had the game running within the first two. It was actually very quick to get it stood up and going. We collaborated with Iron Galaxy... most of the time has been spent tuning, making sure the buttons are feeling right and abilities are hitting the right spots." (Iron Galaxy is the port specialist studio responsible for Skyrim on Switch, among many others.)
Co-op is still a beautiful mess of spells and effects and colourful explosions. Diablo 3 has always been a very visually busy game - especially when four players are mashing cooldowns and destroying objects side-by-side - but the smaller screen doesn't make things any harder to follow than they were before. In fact, everything here feels incredibly familiar and as someone who played Diablo 3 mostly on PS4, I was able to pick things up on handheld with no trouble at all. Blizzard has previously confirmed that it plays at a resolution of 960p in docked mode and 720p while handheld, but today during the demo the developer mentioned that to keep the gameplay moving at a 'target' 60fps all round and so that "the hardware is supporting what the game is trying to do," there has been a slight reduction in some cosmetic features like bloom and particle effects. The developers assured players in our roundtable demo that the difference is minimal: "A few super big particle effects, but all of the core assets are still there, it's just about how much bloom and those types of things that got scaled a little bit."
The difference is admittedly very faint, and honestly, the draw of having Diablo 3 to play on a long-haul flight, a school bus or in a doctor's waiting room will be more than enough of to compensate for most players. To help ease that transition, Blizzard has also made little shortcuts available for seasoned players unwilling to make another trek through the game's overwrought story campaign. You no longer need to have completed the campaign to unlock Adventure Mode right off the bat, for example. That said, there will be no cross-platform save transfers, so whomever of your friends ends up buying the Switch version first will no doubt end up leashing their mates forward at one point or another.
It's always strange jumping into someone else's build, and the demo doesn't allow to you tinker with abilities, load-outs or any of the other nitty-gritty micro-management features that make Diablo 3 so deliciously moreish, but the core experience is exactly the way you'd want it for handheld play. The only concern is that it doesn't feel all that comfortable to play on a single Joy-Con - potentially an issue if players are hoping to play on the same console at the same time. It's responsive and serviceable, but the lack of a second thumbstick in particular doesn't really feel like the optimal or most comfortable way of doing things - and that's from someone with tiny hands. You do still have all of the same actions available to you, Blizzard emphasised, they've just been optimised for the platform and this configuration specifically. "Adapting to using the single Joy-Con was an iteration on the buttons, but they're still all there," a developer confirmed.
One thing that wasn't quite clear from the details released last week was what players would actually need the Nintendo Switch Online paid subscription service for. I had the opportunity to ask senior producer Pete Stilwell about it. "The only thing you need an NSO for is the actual multiplayer aspect of the game - getting in there with other people. So stuff like Seasons, Leaderboards, Challenge Rifts, sending mail, cloud saves, anything you want to do beside that matchmaking experience, you don't need an NSO." Good news.
The hands-on we had was brief and fairly restricted, but it was still enough to remind us exactly why we poured hours into previous iterations of Diablo 3 in the first place. This version plays exactly how you'd expect from a collaboration between Blizzard and Iron Galaxy - solid and dependable. And really, the core Diablo 3 experience has always felt like a perfect fit for Switch - it's a game you can pick up and play solo for 10 minutes or with a bunch of friends for three hours and come away feeling perfectly satisfied in either scenario.