More than anything, Diablo 3: Eternal Collection proves just how well Blizzard’s action-RPG has aged. Six years after its original release, the dungeon crawler remains as rewarding as ever, and despite a few technical concessions, it has found yet another welcoming home on Nintendo’s portable console.
For those unfamiliar with Blizzard’s 2012 loot fest, Diablo 3 places you in the shoes of a superpowered demon-slayer in a hellish, gothic world. You explore five disparate regions from a top-down view, upgrading your character and earning new loot as you battle the lords of the underworld and their monstrous swarms.
With the Eternal Collection, Diablo 3 includes every expansion, every character, every quality-of-life improvement the RPG has ever added. One of the more notable options is the ability to play Adventure Mode right from the start, eliminating the need to slog through the slower-paced story out of necessity.
Of course, in coming to Nintendo Switch, Diablo 3 has also become a portable game. And it works. It works incredibly well.
In fact, I can think of few games better suited for a handheld port. So much of Diablo 3 plays best in short bursts, from the 10-minute chase for that next legendary item, to the satisfying flow of a challenge rift. I completed bounties on my way to work and organized my inventory on the way back. Of the 50 hours I spent with Diablo 3 on Switch, about half of them played out in handheld mode. It’s another testament to the novelty of Nintendo’s console, yes, but also the elegance of Diablo 3’s design.
Movement still feels natural on the analog sticks–whether you’re playing with the Joy-Cons or Pro controller–and custom controls make it easy to maximize your character build at any time. As was the case with Diablo 3’s previous jump to PS4 and Xbox One, the mechanical leap to Switch is painless and fluid. It’s just as easy to rely on muscle memory while you focus on the kaleidoscopic display of magic and fire. To paraphrase the designer Don Norman: good design is invisible.
When it comes to visual fidelity, Blizzard ensured that Diablo 3 on Switch runs at 60 frames across the board–aside from rare occasions when elemental effects didn’t animate, the Eternal Collection is remarkably clean. Even during high-level challenge rifts, with hundreds of demons covering the screen, the dungeon crawler maintained a smooth and steady pace. The framerate is equally stable in handheld mode, and crunching those mobs is just as satisfying as it’s ever been.
The Eternal Collection’s resolution, on the other hand, is a bit more muddled. In the Switch’s docked mode, Diablo 3 looks aggressively fine, or at least, as good as any other isometric game released in 2012. In handheld mode’s 720p resolution, however, things get cloudier. I mean that both literally and metaphorically. In Diablo 3’s darker areas–of which there are many–I have to crank my console’s brightness all the way in order to really see what is going on. Even then, there’s a slight haze over everything, making character models look more like mirages than actual figures. Handheld mode’s jagged edges and foggy panoramas aren’t massive flaws by any means, but after playing for long periods in docked mode, they tend to stand out.
What they don’t do, however, is detract from Diablo’s thrilling combat. And of course, in true series tradition, that combat is often more thrilling with a friend or two.
Few cooperative experiences compare to a Monk, Demon Hunter, Barbarian, and Wizard working in concert to whittle down mobs down little by little, one demon at a time. It’s a special thrill to see my character build factor into a larger group, and an even better one to see how that group dynamic changes how I play. I’m still mainly focused on killing every enemy possible, but I’m also thinking about tanking with my Crusader, or healing with my Monk, or littering the screen with corpses to give my Necromancer ally more ammunition.
As with previous console iterations of Diablo 3, The Eternal Collection allows for up to four players on one console at a time. Item management is less satisfying in this scenario, as you’re either quick-equipping new loot without appreciating its subtleties, or pausing the game for the entire party just so you can boost your damage by 100 points. The radial menus are also still as imprecise as ever, but I’m hard-pressed to think of a better solution without a mouse and keyboard.
I came into the Eternal Edition expecting a eulogy for one of my favorite games. Instead, I stumbled upon a celebration.
And although Diablo 3 on Switch gives you the option to use Joy-Cons as individual controllers, be warned: It’s counterintuitive and cumbersome, with poor button-mapping and an overreliance on motion controls. Blizzard did the best it could with what the Joy-Con offers, but when in doubt, stick to the Pro controller or the dual Joy-Con rig.
The Eternal Collection brings the additional ease of playing via LAN connection on each player’s respective Switch. It’s helpful to have the camera focused solely on your character, especially in Diablo 3’s more hectic moments. But I still couldn’t help preferring local co-op. There’s something novel–even nostalgic–about playing on the same screen, watching the same chaos unfold as the person next to you. Diablo 3 on Switch allows for several methods of playing with friends, and whatever your preference, the experience still holds up.
Like the best games, Diablo 3 has gotten better with time. And despite a few setbacks, the Switch is now my preferred home for the extraordinary RPG. It includes every major improvement Blizzard made to the formula, with the added handheld versatility every Switch port offers.
Diablo 3 is a game about long term goals accomplished in short, thrilling bursts. It’s rewarding and subtle. It’s flashy and boisterous. I have spent six years enjoying it, and will likely spend six years more. As far as video games go, that’s a long time–I came into the Eternal Collection expecting a eulogy for one of my favorite games. Instead, I stumbled upon a celebration.