UPDATE 1AM GMT 4TH NOVEMBER: Wyatt Cheng, the lead designer of Diablo Immortal, just stepped on stage at BlizzCon 2018 and issued a personal message about the brouhaha surrounding the mobile game's announcement and Diablo 4 no-show. It was he who fended off some harsh questions on stage shortly after Immortal's reveal.
Diablo 3 launches on Nintendo Switch this week, and good Lord it is a lovely thing. Blizzard's opulent action RPG has been on a long journey since a difficult launch on PC in 2012, but it has been a genuine classic since 2014's Reaper of Souls expansion blew the doors off the original game's stodgy structure and balancing and introduced the endless Adventure Mode. Some of the groundwork for Reaper of Souls was laid by an impeccable console conversion in 2013, which had a generous feature set, a crisp interface and cleverly adapted controls. This console game has gathered up all Diablo 3's expansions and content updates since as it has rolled from one console generation to the next, and arrives on Switch with one hell of an added bonus: you can now play Diablo on the train, which is one of the better inventions of my lifetime.
Blizzard says the Necromancer, which arrives as an add-on for Diablo 3 today, is one of the most-requested characters in any of its games. That's no surprise - it's an iconic player character and a fun class to play, and it was always very popular in Diablo 2. But perhaps there is something else going on behind the public demands for the Necromancer's apt resurrection, because the class is pure Diablo 2: none more Gothic, not so much dark as sepulchral, stitched together from sackcloth and bone, pentagrams and guttering candles. A dry, death-metal kind of fantasy horror.
Blizzard's latest Diablo 3 console patch 2.4 is understood to cause frame-rate issues not seen in the previous version. The update adds a range of compelling extras, like a new Greyhollow Island area, expanded zones, and a catalogue of tweaks per class and weapon. But reports on the game's official forums suggest performance has taken a serious a hit in the meantime, and controls are now laggier as a consequence - while menus suffer input delays. Also worrying are reports of more frequent in-game crashing.
With thanks to Eurogamer's Oli Welsh and his up-to-speed PS4 save, we've managed to isolate some of the challenges players are experiencing in the video below. In particular, the issue manifests as a stutter when travelling the game world, even while uncontested by enemies. And surprisingly, these frustrating hitches remain even when the game is installed to a nippy SSD, strongly suggesting it has little to do with data streaming from a PS4's stock HDD.
Though most interior areas run at a clean 60fps as expected, larger outdoor spots like Southern Highlands, or Dreadjudge Approach show frames dropping in clusters without any real provocation. Simply moving quickly - whether that's via a Barbarian's leap move, or being knocked back by an enemy - is one of the easier ways to see the stutter in action. Even simply walking across a bridge, without an enemy in sight, produces the issue, as demonstrated in our video below.
Diablo 3 makes an art of relentlessly gouging your time, but rarely your wallet. If the Auction House had persisted it would be a different story, but Blizzard's hectic smash-and-grab has maintained its flip-reversed trajectory to become one of the most lovingly-maintained games in recent memory.
Since the game's launch in 2012 a steady stream of updates have added layers of complex, compelling and mutually-amplifying processes and tools to refine and power up your character. The Paragon system alone will soak up thousands of hours of play, and the endless lottery of loot drops, the daily-style Bounties and options to burn your hard-earned materials crafting elusive, perfectly rolled gear in Kanai's Cube for all intents and purposes makes Diablo 3 a game you never need to stop playing.
So, why the latest patch? 2.4.0 feels like Blizzard showboating - a high profile demonstration of the team's creative resources, a firm handshake to the game's community and, I suspect, part of a shadowy PhD project studying behavioural psychology. It's also, if you look for it, a sign of Blizzard thinking about what comes next, about what a Diablo storyline should look like now that Adventure Mode is the new heart of the game.
I lost my first character in Diablo 3's Hardcore mode - where death is permanent - to a puddle of acid excreted by an angry tree. The character was a level 17 wizard. I just wasn't watching where I was standing. That was a back before the console version, before the Reaper of Souls expansion - when the game was less fun, less pliable, less eager to please.
We were hoping to bring you a full Face-Off for Diablo 3 on Xbox One and PlayStation 4 in time for today's launch, but the definitive word on Blizzard's latest console release will have to wait owing to game-changing day one patches deployed for both consoles.
As promised, Xbox One sees a boost to resolution from 900p to full 1080p, while updates for both systems address a bizarre dual frame-rate bug we uncovered last week that the developer has pledged to fix.
Xbox One saw this 1080p patch released yesterday, allowing us to bring you this quick update. We were initially disappointed to see that while the PS4 version was also subject to a new patch, the same dual frame-rate issue was still in effect, albeit to a lesser degree. However, upon testing, the PS4 discretely updated again to C18.104.22.168396 later that day, with the patch notes listing "improved gameplay performance throughout title" - and yes, a quick test in the problem area outside the New Tristram gates reveals the issue has been resolved. Further testing still needs to be carried out in the game's more packed areas, but so far, the PS4's render-side stuttering looks to be fully fixed.
I went to Paris last week to meddle with ultimate evil - or rather, to play Diablo 3: Ultimate Evil Edition. This is the PS4 strain of Blizzard's colourful and divisive action RPG, and it's a game that may actually earn that foolhardy "Ultimate" in its title. It has couch (and online) co-op and all the erupting fireworks you should expect if you've been playing the PS3 or 360 installments - and if you've been playing PS3 version, incidentally, you can look forward to importing your character. Beyond that, the particles seem to be scattered more lavishly, the frame-rate is consistently glorious, and I struggled to see any screen-tearing. Oh yes, and it bundles the forthcoming expansion Reaper of Souls in there too. That really is pretty Ultimate, then - for the time being, at least.
"The Auction House is a very complicated conversation..."
Diablo 3 on PS3 and PS4 is a pretty big deal for Blizzard, as it marks the first time in two decades that the wildly popular strategy and MMO developer has made a game for consoles (not counting a couple of ports made by third parties). As such, it seems to be targeting a different market: one that prefers a more action-focused, one-to-one, button-to-attack approach over the more distant experience of lording it over your avatar with a mouse.
"I'm not directly managing third-party relations," says Shuhei Yoshida, when I ask him a question that pretty much has nothing to do with the area of Sony Computer Entertainment for which he is responsible.