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.
It is all but impossible to pick holes in Blizzard’s conversion work. We will have Digital Foundry’s technical analysis of it for you soon, but it seems to run perfectly smoothly at the game’s staple, and essential, 60 frames per second, and for such a pyrotechnic game it resolves surprisingly well on the Switch’s screen in portable mode. (It is quite battery hungry, though.) Every play option you could wish for is covered, including online multiplayer, local multiplayer between Switches or on a single machine, portable player profiles via Nintendo’s cloud save service, and a variety of control options. Then there is the fact, unique to this version of the game, that Adventure Mode doesn’t require a campaign playthrough to unlock and is available from the start.
Welcome as all these features are, they are trumped by the pleasure of having Diablo 3 – a game which can just as easily be enjoyed in a spare ten minutes as in a marathon all-nighter, which balances almost arcade combat with a pleasurable labyrinth of build optimisation – with you wherever you go. It might just make this the definitive version of a game that, after six years, needs no further introduction, but is still finding ways to get better.
The one thing about Diablo 3 that has been brilliant since the very start, though, is its suite of character classes. If you’re playing for the first time on Switch and wondering which chocolate to pick from this delectable box of demon-killers – or if you are a veteran with sky-high Paragon level who wants to pick holes in my argument – then please allow me to present you with my personally biased, rigorously unscientific, and implacably unserious ranking of Diablo 3’s classes, from worst to best.
(The truth of it? They’re all great. And unless you are aiming for very high-level group play, or a Hardcore permadeath run, it doesn’t really matter. Though the classes have individual strengths and strong characters, they are all very adaptable and have good survivability thanks to Diablo 3’s flexible builds, extensive loot customisation and supercharged mathematics.)
7. Witch Doctor
Confession: I actually really like the Witch Doctor, but it feels like something I have to confess. In the context of Diablo’s cartoonish dark fantasy it is perhaps a stretch to call this spooky shaman, with his African accent, shrunken heads and pet zombie dogs, racist – this is an entire universe of hammy caricatures, after all. But he is a little unsavoury. That’s not the only reason he’s an unfashionable choice: in the early days he was underpowered and frustratingly indirect to play, and some of that stigma still clings. But the Witch Doctor would probably want it that way. He would probably welcome being at the bottom of this list. He belches bats that are on fire and summons plagues of poisonous toads; he slows and saps and leeches and horrifies. He fights in ways that are gross, silly, counterintuitive and wrong. He is, in the best possible way, repulsive. Secretly I think he’s more interesting than at least the next two classes in this list. But don’t tell anyone.
Call me a heretic, but I find Diablo 3 at its least appealing when it’s trying to be Diablo 2, the moody stalwart of Gothic fantasy-horror, rather than the weirder, more flamboyant and less self-serious game it is at heart. Until recently the Barbarian was the only holdover class from the previous game, and you can tell: though this beefy brawler is supremely well realised and satisfying to play, her rush-and-slam concept just isn’t pushed as far out there as the others, and the class could almost – almost – appear in any other RPG. Since Reaper of Souls, she has lived in the long shadow of the extraordinary Crusader, too. Nonetheless, if you really want to feel every blow connect, and if you like your monster-slaying orgy to have a deliberate, percussive rhythm and an old-school rip-roaring flavour, you could do a lot worse.
Added in a mini-expansion just last year, the Necromancer also returns from Diablo 2 and was perhaps that game’s signature class. He has been immensely popular in Diablo 3 as well, partly because he’s a pointed throwback to the earlier game’s darker tone but also because he was outrageously overpowered at launch. He’s one of the more challenging and rewarding classes to play, thanks to the fine control you are given over his many necrotic summons; if you want to take a more cerebral approach to Diablo 3’s chaotic battlefield then this is the class to pick. It’s a busy, brainy way to play, and Corpse Explosion is one of the cleverest skills in the game – but for all the death metal pomp, I find the Necromancer on the dry side. He’s just a bit of a buzzkill.
4. Demon Hunter
Shake, rattle and roll! The Demon Hunter is one of Diablo 3’s most original creations, taking the hunter/ranger archetype as a starting point for a kind of acrobatic, eldritch bombardier. Want to summon inky ravens, fire homing rockets from your twin crossbows, lay traps, build turrets and then cartwheel, cackling, to the other side of the screen? Then this is the lady for you. The Demon Hunter’s lines are dour stuff about vengeance, delivered in a dry monotone, but in action she lives on a knife-edge between tricksy positioning and heavy ordnance. You can get your fingers in a twist just placing her to be effective, but when you do and let rip with the machine gun of Rapid Fire, it’s worth it. The Demon Hunter was my first love in Diablo 3, and she’ll always be close to my heart. But then I played the Wizard.
The thinking person’s melee fighter. Similar to its (similarly excellent) incarnation in World of Warcraft, the Monk can play a support role in a group – he’s an effective healer – or run around karate-chopping monsters in the face. Movement and positioning are central to Diablo 3’s combat, and what the Monk specialises in is combining the two at once in skills like Seven-Sided Strike, which teleports you around the battlefield, one punch at a time. Playing the Monk, it’s often possible to get so far ahead of yourself you don’t know where you are; you also get to drop giant, spectral bells on demons’ heads, which seems like a righteous thing to do. I love the Monk’s mongrel blend of Rasputin and Bruce Lee, of Slavic mysticism and B-movie kung fu. So few other fantasy games would spin off in directions like that.
The Crusader, a heavily armoured holy warrior introduced in Reaper of Souls, isn’t just a paladin – he’s the paladin. All Diablo 3’s classes have terrific momentum but this is the one that really feels like an unstoppable force – when mowing down monsters atop a magic warhorse that leaves a trail of fire behind it, naturally, but also in his blend of crunchy physicality with crackling holy power. Blizzard calls it a medium-range melee class, which is true but a rather prosaic way of expressing what it has achieved with the Crusader; he isn’t a close-range fighter with a few weak ranged abilities thrown in, he is a warrior whose melee strikes project outward, apparently through the sheer force of his righteous wrath, as he calls down skills like Smite and Fist of the Heavens. The most impactful class in Diablo 3, and that is really saying something.
Nobody calls their spellcaster class ‘wizard’. It’s always something more evocative, like ‘mage’ or ‘sorcerer’ or ‘warlock’; something less likely to conjure visions of a whiskery old man in a pointed hat and a smock with moons on it. Wizard seems a bit on-the-nose. And the concept for the class is pretty straightforward, too: fire, ice and arcane spells, wands and crystal balls. But what the Wizard encapsulates, in a single class, Diablo 3’s reckless excess, its constant, heedless hunger for more, more, more. This Wizard is a young punk, fresh out of wizard school, who smugly chirps “I am so good, I astound myself” as she scorches the battlefield with laser beams and meteors and bends time and space around her. She is not challenging or nuanced. She is a firework, a sensory overdose, a peacocking loose cannon that doesn’t know the meaning of too much. And that’s Diablo 3.