Diablo III is basically Gauntlet on steroids and with better menus, which both helps and hurts its newest iteration on the Switch. The much-anticipated Switch port, which will be released November 2, teases at being the go-to couch multiplayer game Diablo III was always meant to be, and in some cases, succeeds at it. Yet where its Switch iteration shines, unfortunately, is its single-player.
This piece first appeared 10/29/18. We’ve bumped it today for the game’s release.
What makes the gothic dungeon-crawler an exquisite multiplayer game is how interestingly its character classes’ skill systems can interlock with each other. A crusader provokes all the turgid Grotesque monsters to stand together. A barbarian beats their bodies until they explode and pour out worms. A necromancer takes the remnants of their corpses and explodes them, killing the worms. Everyone high-fives (and hopefully washes their hands). What I wanted from Diablo III on the Switch was an easy-to-pick-up casual multiplayer experience that, if I wanted to, let me dig into the game’s complex, multifaceted skill systems alongside my friends. What I got was a satisfying single-player portable Diablo III experience that doubled as a gratifying casual multiplayer game. Sadly, it doesn’t quite live up to the multiplayer Diablo III experience I’ve been craving for six years in part because, like its PlayStation 4 iteration, it doesn’t handle its multiplayer menus well.
On Diablo III’s launch, my college buddy’s apartment was a tangle of computer charger cords. To play together, our party of four sat on separate couches and chairs in a living room, each one contributing to an increasingly choked wi-fi. Of course, it was an exquisite dungeon-crawler, rich with possibilities for interesting character builds, which we’d all excitedly fine-tune in menus on our private screens. But Diablo III was a sub-optimal local multiplayer experience, despite how enthusiastic we’d all been about engineering our adventuring party in the days prior. The ideal thing, of course, would have been for Diablo III to follow in the stead of other couch co-op games and let us play on one damn screen with four damn controllers.
When the game released on the PlayStation 4 in 2013, it offered real local multiplayer. Thank god. Everyone on one screen, fighting the same cluster of undead. There was just one big issue. Diablo III’s character-building element (its greatest asset) was totally suffocated by the fact that everyone has to share the same screen when they’re fiddling with their character—and that screen is entirely dominated by their menu. I don’t have a lot of fun watching my couchmate decide between the Inundating Leather Gloves of the Bear or the Gathering Leather Gloves. I just don’t. And it feels bad to subject them to my debate over whether to put Punish or Slash in my Primary slot.
Six years after Diablo III’s initial PC and macOS release, the sinister dungeon-crawler will land on one of the best consoles for multiplayer ever designed. Except for a couple of weird quirks, it does all the Switch things you might expect very well, like allow for casual couch co-op using two Joy-Cons. Yet Diablo III’s reliance on menus ultimately makes it a little awkward to play on the Switch.
Whoever was assigned to design this menu-obsessed game to be played with the Switch’s Joy-Cons really made a great effort. Diablo III works with a single Joy-Con and that’s exciting. Mapping six skill slots, a healing potion, two menus and whatever else onto a Joy-Con is a huge challenge and there is no world in which it would feel seamless on such an itty-bitty controller. The port’s attempt is good, although it took a long time for me to figure out how to access the game menu (push in the control stick + the minus symbol). It also took a long time to figure out how to equip an item (push in on the control stick + Y button).
Playing in docked mode with two Joy-Cons is super fun once you figure out the scheme. The game’s just not a great candidate for the Switch’s propped-up portable mode, since there’s so much text to read.
A wacky thing: Every character can dodge roll in Diablo III’s Switch port using motion controls. The player just has to twirl around a Joy-Con. It is very, very silly that there is a motion control element of Diablo III, perhaps one of the most self-serious games ever. I found myself doing it a lot for the lols. There are a few other nods toward Nintendo: Some crossovers between Nintendo’s Zelda franchise and Diablo III, including a Cucco pet, a Triforce portrait, Majora’s Mask-ish wings and a Ganondorf transmog.
Regrettably, the Switch’s Diablo III port has the same menu issue as its PlayStation 4 port. I hate sharing a menu with whomever else I’m playing with, especially since it takes up the whole screen. If you play a lot of Diablo III, you know that whether or not you want to replay the game is basically contingent on whether you enjoy coming up with fun builds and stacking skills on top of each other. It’s similarly reliant on picking up items and equipping them strategically based on their stats. That means a lot of text-reading and thinking and rejiggering that’s only fun for me when I’m doing it. Please liberate me from my teammates’ min-maxing, Blizzard. (Players can fast-equip items in the Switch port.)
For players who are more interested in a casual Gauntlet-like home arcade experience, the Switch’s multiplayer is great. It’s really easy to pick up and, for the most part, you’ll have no trouble clubbing skeletons and running around mouldy cathedrals together, so long as you’re not trying to be ambitious with your builds or armor.
What surprised me about Diablo III’s Switch port is how much I loved playing it in handheld mode on the train. A mobile version of Diablo III would be an incredible morning commute time-killer, but it would be pretty tough to play on a small smartphone screen. In the Switch’s portable mode, it hits that perfect balance between satisfyingly repetitive gameplay and strategy that absorbs me while I’m getting from point A to point B. The text is readable; the graphics look great; it’s got a take-it-or-leave-it plot; and it’s of course playable in offline mode (although you won’t be able to access Seasons or other online content). It’s also got a really intuitive control scheme, and the framerate feels smooth.
On a larger screen, Diablo III on the Switch doesn’t get anywhere near the graphical detail of its PC or PS4 iterations. It does run at 60 fps. You can’t see every grain of a Wretched Mother’s vomit. Just most of them.
If you skipped Diablo III on the PlayStation 4 but crave that couch co-op experience, the game’s Switch iteration is a great way to go—if you enjoy helping min-max your couchmate’s character, too.