The review copies are in — Diablo 3 has landed on console shores for the first, but certainly not final, time. Better still, the reception for the ex-PC exclusive has been overwhelmingly positive; the game has been hovering in the 90 percent range across the board. This is fantastic news for Blizzard as they take their tentative steps back into the console pool, and for console gamers, who now have access to the intoxicatingly hectic and loot-packed locales of Diablo 3. In addition, in the greater scheme of things, Diablo 3’s successful PS3 and Xbox 360 release is an optimistic step forward for both the console market and the games industry as a whole.
It’s neither uncommon nor new to see PC games find their way to consoles. From the expanded reach of the Elder Scrolls series and the multiplatform release of Valve’s Portal 2 and Orange Box to the innumerable horde of indie games currently spilling over into console territories, the stark line between consoles and PCs, while inarguably there, has become increasingly thinner.
"Yeah, I could get used to this whole 'console' thing."
However, Diablo 3’s impact is unique in that, at its core, the game is an unlikely fit for consoles. As a top-down-oriented, hotkey-heavy action-RPG, it doesn’t scream gamepad. Even less console-friendly is the game’s system of character skills and inventory, both of which are designed around the quickness and accuracy of a mouse/keyboard setup. In spite of this, through a remarkably seamless control scheme and UI overhaul, Blizzard has proven that even the most unlikely features and perspectives can be adapted to controllers. In fact, not only does the game play well on consoles, it builds on its PC foundations and uses the new platform to add unique content to the mix — most notably, a brilliant co-op romp — all while retaining the many updates of the PC version.
While the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 versions probably won’t be tearing any PC gamers away from the original version of the game, Diablo 3 has concreted the growing notion that PC franchises and, in many cases, PC exclusives can find success on consoles. Consequently, while the tireless (and entirely needless) hardware debate between the PC and console armadas rages on, it raises some interesting questions regarding the future of gaming. Will the arrival of next-gen consoles usher in an age of increased compatibility between PC and console development? Can it? Should it?
Of course, the underlying question here isn’t whether or not PC games will suddenly be ported to consoles left and right. That’s ridiculous, and would only be a detriment for the PC market. No, the opportunity at hand lies within the streamlined structures of the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One and the equally simplified development processes therein.
Historically, there are three divisive variables between PC and console games: distribution, networks, and hardware. (Clearly, this doesn’t cover every last nuance and distinction, but these are the more troublesome of the bunch.) With that said, it is worth noting that distribution hurdles have become less prevalent in recent years, as nearly every platform is looking to phase out retail copies in favor of digital sales as quickly as possible.
Alright, I'll give you points for creativity.
Networking and hardware incompatibilities, on the other hand, are very much alive. It’s more accurate to say that online systems like the PlayStation Network and Xbox Live are jungles of red tape compared to, say, the Steam Network, especially where in-game updates and patches — you know, crucial content patches which must go unhindered to succeed — are concerned.
Equally detrimental, and far more important than raw hardware horsepower (no, clock speeds and VRAM are not the key issue), is the befuddling architecture of consoles. The PlayStation 3’s CELL processor, for example, was a labyrinthine undertaking for developers in its early years, and has only recently shown its full potential, because developers have only just now figured out how to work with the thing.
It’s advantageous, then, that the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One — both of which are built upon an x86 architecture — have been designed to eliminate such bottlenecks. The prophetically “developer-centric” approach of next-gen consoles stands to attract studios to the next cycle of big black boxes of gaming, and for more than simple ports.
"Yep, we're gonna need another platform to hold all this."
Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn (a new MMORPG which you should totally check out) alone proves that cross-platform servers are no longer the naïve pipedream they once were, hardware bottlenecks are rapidly becoming a thing of the past, and PC titles are popping up on consoles more frequently than ever. However, while games like Diablo 3 and Elder Scrolls Online coming to next-gen consoles is undoubtedly a boon for players, the more valuable prospect is that of future developments. The Division, Ubisoft’s entry into the MMO hat, is a prime example: While originally a PS4 and Xbox One title, it has, by popular demand, been confirmed for a PC release.
This is exactly the sort of relationship next-gen gaming needs: gamers getting the games they want because multiple platforms support them. Exclusives will always have their place, but as systems become more and more similar, gaming as a whole stands to benefit from the interconnectivity.