July 17, 2013 at 7:08 PM ET
For its legions of fans on the PC, Blizzard's epic demon-slaying video game "Diablo 3" is practically synonymous with hours upon hours of mouse clicking. Changing that up would be like trying to turn football into a touchscreen smartphone game: it doesn't really work. So when Blizzard revealed during Sony's PlayStation 4 unveiling that it would bring its 2012 PC game to current and next-generation video game consoles, "Diablo" purists met the new with equal parts of horror and trepid excitement. The Xbox and PlayStation had both produced many impressive games of their own, no doubt. But would Diablo on a PlayStation 3 or Xbox 360 really be Diablo?
Not necessarily. Matthew Berger, a senior level designer at Blizzard who was brought into the company to assist with "Diablo 3's" transition to the console, told NBC News this week that the studio hired a whole new team alongside him to retool the game for the gamepad and joystick. "Diablo 3" on a PlayStation 3 still gives players the journey to hell they waited more than a decade to play through once again. But it's a different kind of hell than the PC game that Blizzard fans know and love.
This isn't necessarily a bad thing, mind you. But seeing a new shape and size was unsettling for a game that's long been celebrated for its rare ability to preserve a thematic and tonal consistency through three major releases, spread as they were across 16 years of a barely 30-year-old industry's history.
When I first started playing the PlayStation 3 version of "Diablo" this week at a preview event in New York, it didn't remind me of "Diablo" at all. Rather, it felt like a sleeker version of an old-school dungeon crawler like the "Gauntlet" arcade games of gaming's past. The tactical precision of the mouse and keyboard was replaced by the button-mashing chaos of the DualShock controller. Instead being able to carefully aim my magic spells and arrows, I could now roll back and forth to dodge enemy attacks.
These small adjustments will undoubtedly become divisive points of contention within the "Diablo" community. But in bringing "Diablo 3" to consoles in the first place, Blizzard is less interested in keeping placating existing fans than it is in attracting new ones.
It's not like "Gauntlet" was a bad game, after all. It's just that sitting at home on the couch playing a cartoonish hack-and-slash game like "Gauntlet Dark Legacy" was a much more casual, lower-stakes game than trying to compete (or cooperate) with fellow "Diablo" fans online through Blizzard's Battle.net servers. But even Berger seemed to accept that the console version of "Diablo" is a different beast entirely when he walked me through a small slice of the first section of the game.
"One of our mottos throughout the project was: 'One couch to rule them all,'" Berger said. It's a version of "Diablo" you'd want to play for a bit after getting home from work, or when relaxing with friends. Maybe not the same "Diablo" I fought off sleep to play more times than I'd like to admit when I was in middle- or high school, but still a version of "Diablo" nonetheless.
Then again, I only got a chance to play through about 20 minutes of the PS3 version of "Diablo." And this is a game that made headlines last year when one particularly devoted fan died after playing it for 40 hours straight. Whether on a couch or sitting at a desk with a mouse and keyboard, "Diablo 3" will no doubt continue to attract the same level of devotion from fans.
They'll be able to find out soon enough when "Diablo 3" is released for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 on Sept. 3. Blizzard announced this week that the next-generation version of the game will not be released for the PlayStation 4 until next year.
Yannick LeJacq is a contributing writer for NBC News who has also covered technology and games for Kill Screen, The Wall Street Journal and The Atlantic. You can follow him on Twitter at @YannickLeJacq and reach him by email at: Yannick.LeJacq@nbcuni.com.