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Diablo 3 on Switch - better than last-gen and a brilliant conversion

Iron Galaxy has done it again.

The developer Iron Galaxy Studios is fast carving out a niche for itself as a specialist in porting modern classics to the Nintendo Switch. Last year it partnered with Bethesda on the excellent Switch version of Skyrim, and this year it has joined forces with Blizzard to bring Diablo 3 to Nintendo's hybrid system. This is the first time a Blizzard game has graced a Nintendo platform in 15 years - since the Californian studio brought its classic games Rock n' Roll Racing and Blackthorne to Game Boy Advance, and before that improbably put StarCraft on Nintendo 64 - so there's quite a lot resting on Iron Galaxy's work.

Happily, the studio had some great source material to work with. Blizzard converted Diablo 3 for PS3 and Xbox 360 in 2013, a year after it arrived on PC, and did extensive work on the balancing, controls and interface then to create a comfortable console gaming experience. A year later it carried this version over to PS4 and Xbox One. And the Switch version is based on the recent Eternal Collection edition of the game, which includes the Reaper of Souls and Rise of the Necromancer expansions and every update, so it's as content and feature-complete as it could be.

But how well has it survived the transition to Nintendo's portable console? Before launch, Blizzard said the game would run at 960p docked and a native 720p portable, while targeting the 60 frames per second that is a core part of Diablo 3 gameplay. Has it hit these targets?

The answer is, in practical terms, yes, near enough - and it has comfortably exceeded the performance of the last-gen games in doing so.

PlayStation 4
Switch (Docked)
Switch (Portable)
Xbox 360
Switch runs with a dynamic resolution. This counts in at 1600x900 at maximum while docked based on our tests, though Blizzard states that 960p is possible. It surpasses the original Xbox 360's 720p either way, but falls short of the 1080p achieved on PS4. Note that Switch uses a form of anti-aliasing to reduce stair-stepping too, with the side-effect of causing a softer image overall.
PlayStation 4
Switch (Docked)
Switch (Portable)
Xbox 360
Ambient occlusion is cut back on Switch too. PS4 adds in extra shade on the rafters of the New Tristram inn, missing on Switch and Xbox 360.
PlayStation 4
Switch (Docked)
Xbox 360
Bloom is also dialled back on Switch. Note the lantern near our barbarian has enhanced lighting, which doesn't feature on 360 - and likewise on Switch.
Switch (Docked)
Switch (Portable)
Switch docked versus portable in isolation. It's nigh-on identical between these two states, save for a lowering to a dynamic 1280x720 while portable.

The Switch version of Diablo 3 uses a dynamically scaling resolution so it can stay as close to that 60fps target as possible. In our testing, we find that in docked mode, resolution maxes out at 1600x900 and drops down to 1344x756 when under load. This compares favourably to the PS3 and 360 versions of the game, which run at 720p. In Switch's portable mode, the maximum resolution is the screen's native 1280x720, but when things got busy it bottoms out at 960x540. This sounds low, but in practice it's not bad for the size of the Switch's screen, and it tends only to happen when the game is at its most frantic and the screen is overwhelmed by effects.

In terms of effects and image quality, the Switch version is halfway house between the last and current-gen versions of the game. Shadow quality, ambient occlusion and bloom all take a hit next to PS4 and Xbox One, while the resolution visibly dulls the textures from the game's top-down, isometric-style perspective. You can think of it as a last-gen-plus version of the game, especially when taking all the extra content into consideration.

The same story carries over into performance, where the Switch acquits itself better than the older PlayStation and Xbox. During lower-level play, the game runs at an almost flawless 60 frames per second and employs v-sync for a stable image. This is a big improvement over the PS3 and 360 days, when the game dropped frames obviously even on the first walk into New Tristram and had screen tear.

The majority of the time in the game you'll get this rock solid performance, but it is possible to tank the frame-rate. To do that you'll need to push the game hard at maximum level. We borrowed Metabomb editor John Bedford's level 70 Wizard (he has a Paragon level already well into three figures) and ran Nephalem Rifts densely packed with high-level enemies until the screen was drowned in effects. This brings the frame rate as low as 40 frames per second, in both docked and portable mode. Testing the game in co-op brings similarresults - it's the swarms of enemies, rather than necessarily the player count, that make the bigger impact.

It's worth noting that online co-op with others requires a Nintendo Online subscription, but the game's many passive online functions, like leaderboards, challenge rifts and seasons, all work without a sub. There are many other ways to play together too - the game supports local co-op on a single machine, including in portable mode, or between multiple Switches via wi-fi connection. The use of controllers is flexible too - it's even possible to play on a single joy-con, while not exactly comfortable.

It all adds up to an excellent edition of a great game. Diablo 3 is a perfect fit for portable play, and Blizzard and Iron Galaxy have not skimped on the features and options while making the right technical choices to ensure a smooth, fast and highly playable experience. As a bonus, it comfortably surpasses Diablo 3 for last-gen consoles in almost every respect.

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About the Author
Thomas Morgan avatar

Thomas Morgan

Senior Staff Writer, Digital Foundry

32-bit era nostalgic and gadget enthusiast Tom has been writing for Eurogamer and Digital Foundry since 2011. His favourite games include Gitaroo Man, F-Zero GX and StarCraft 2.

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