[Diablo 3] The good, the bad, and the state of the game (minor spoilers)

diablologo

So, I’m coming up for air from some serious bouts of Diablo 3 this week, albeit not as serious as the guy who already soloed Diablo on Inferno mode, or the guys from Method who killed him in a 4 man group on the same setting. That does seem quite fast given how difficult Blizzard touted inferno mode as being but I am sure it will still be plenty hard for normal players, especially since they’ll have had to play the game through three times before they get to pick that setting.

Meanwhile your narrator is on Act 2 of Nightmare Mode (that’s the next one up from normal) and has been playing a bit of co-op in Normal Mode with Arb. I’ve been enjoying it; Diablo 3 is a fun game, I am a sucker for the gothic grimdark Heaven and Hell themes, and there is a lot to like about it. In fact, there are many utterly and genuinely great things you should know about D3.

The Good

* THE CLASS DESIGN AND TALENT SYSTEM. This isn’t just good, it’s amazing. No futzing around with talent trees trying to decide if you want 1% extra block here or +10 resist vs undead trees there (that kind of fiddling is purely in the gear), instead you get to pick 6 attacks which will be bound to keys 1-4 and the left/right mouse buttons. Each ability is distinctive and has immediately recognisable effects on the screen and in play, and you get to further customise the ability as you unlock runes by levelling up. Finally someone has twigged that players want their choices to matter immediately and in every fight. That is what this system accomplishes. While Blizzard start you off with a balanced power set which involves one key for defensive spells, one for your long (ie. 2 min) cooldowns, etc., you can leapfrog this and just bind whichever powers you prefer by picking the Elective Mode (Options-> Gameplay-> Interface).

I’ve never been a fan of talent trees but I adore this system. I’m also fond of being able to respec whenever you aren’t in combat. It encourages players to experiment with some of the synergies and try things out, or respec to more appropriate skills after a boss kicks your arse. And you can tell fairly swiftly if a given skill set is working out for you or not.

Each class is fun, distinctive, and has some solid signature abilities which are thematic to the class. Moving away from mana and the associated mana potions was a great move too. It all works. This is Blizzard design at its finest and deserves to be widely copied.

* COMBAT AND LOOTING. It’s fast and furious, there’s lots of clicking, it’s Diablo.  I especially enjoy the physicality of the whole thing. When characters use their movement powers (ie. charge or leap on the Barbarian) they bound around the screen scattering mobs in their wake in a way that’s both easy to follow and strangely satisfying. When mobs or chests or barrels are destroyed, they throw out a veritable fountain of loot that lands with another satisfying crash on the ground. I also like how you collect gold or health orbs just by being in the vicinity.

I think D3 must have a design goal that the player never has to wander around for more than 20s before encountering some monsters. But that suits me.

* LOYAL TO THE ROGUELIKE ROOTS. There is going to be a lot of discussion with this game about what exactly makes a Diablo game into a Diablo game. Some of this is doubtless Blizzard being lazy, there’s no special need for a Diablo game to go Tristam->Desert->Mountains or reuse plot elements and NPCs into the ground. But there are definitely gameplay features where the game remains close to its roots in a good way. The random packs of mobs with randomly assigned abilities/ suffixes means that the game on harder modes rewards cautious and defensive play above pure damage. It also means there is a heavy dose of luck in exactly how difficult any random fight will be for any class/group.

That’s very much the way you play roguelikes. Sometimes the game throws you into a situation that’s just plain unfair – deal with it, that’s how procedurally generated games work. It drives you into developing a play style and character that is able to cope with the unexpected.

* GOOD USE OF ACHIEVEMENTS. I’m not the greatest fan of achievements but they do work really well here, there’s a good set of achievement goals for everyone from the casual player who is happy rerunning normal mode over and over again to the ultra hardcore.

I think it’s a nice touch that you get to see when any of the people on your friends list get an achievement. I liked it in WoW and I like it here too.

* SLICK MULTIPLAYER. It’s a fun game on multiplayer, and very easy to drop into one of your friends’ games and then teleport to them.

d3merge

* DIVERSITY. After the general fuss over the demon hunter (I still hate the heels) I’m really happy to say that D3 actually does make some good steps with diversity. In particular, Tyrael appears as a dark skinned guy, there’s some use of older characters (such as Cain, Adria, and the male Barbarian and Monk) and younger ones (the emperor) and it isn’t always the women who betray your character/s.

I’ve also shown images of the female barbarian (NM Act2)  and wizard (Normal Act 1) above, and I think they both look great without being stripperific.

It’s open to debate as to whether any of the PCs or NPCs are or could be gay. I actually think all the main characters are written to be sexless, and the enchantress and templar are just naive.

* GOOD USE OF BOOK SNIPPETS. I enjoyed the use of lore text via snippets of books, diaries, and journals that you find around the world, which are read out to you. I like that you can keep killing stuff while you listen. The actual game journal itself could have used being better designed so that you could search it more easily afterwards. Bioware’s codexes are good examples of how this could work.

* GOOD WRITING FOR COMPANIONS/ CRAFTERS. For me the best written parts of the game were the companion storylines, which are fed to you via snippets and short conversations as you progress through the game, Bioware-style. All those companions and the two crafters had solid story arcs and I rather enjoyed them. Yes, they’re stereotypes but that’s not really an issue for this game.

There is also some fun NPC dialogue on the various villagers and associates at your camp which changes between quests as the story progresses.

I did feel very Conan when I ventured out on my Barbarian with the sleazy scoundrel companion. It could have happened in a Robert E Howard book.

* ATMOSPHERE. I think this worked best in Act 1, but there is a definite atmosphere. I felt immersed, I wanted to know what was going to happen. I don’t think this game is as effective as Diablo 2 in setting up either the mystery or the terror of these vast unknowable good/evil powers duking it out over the earth. Back then, I was genuinely scared when I first encountered Diablo himself – my partner ended up sitting next to me and using the healing potions because I was so nervous of actually fighting the dude on my own. Maybe I’m a more hardened gamer now, and used to tanking boss mobs, or maybe they just don’t set up the terror like they used to.

The Neutral

* SERVICEABLE STORYLINE. The story in D3 does the job, but it’s patchy. Act 1 is generally solid. Act 2 is all over the place but picks up after you get the dead mage guy on board (I love his voice actor), Act 3 is slow but picks up a lot towards the end and Act 4 is fast but has some good set pieces. Like TAGN I wasn’t thrilled to find myself heading out for the same desert in Act 2 that I played in Diablo 2. It’s reusing old plot elements just a little too much there.

There are plot holes, noticeable when you find yourself thinking, “Wait, that doesn’t make sense,” or “How did my character know that?” The biggest one to me is from Act 1 where someone talks about the rarity of Nephelem to Act 2 (I think) onwards where everyone starts referring to you as one. I don’t recall that particular revelation taking place. It would have been better if it’d been part of the PCs backstory, included in the initial introductory video clip.

There is also some plot driven stupidity, noticeable when you find yourself thinking, “Curse your sudden and inevitable betrayal,” or “OK, I figured out who character X was within about 2s of first meeting them, why has it taken the PC and everyone else the entire rest of the act to do so?”

* NPCs mostly exist to open doors for you. I just thought I’d note that in passing. I liked the ensemble feel of Acts 1-3, with NPCs occasionally dropping into your party for a quest or three. It did feel as though you were interacting with them.

* The Auction House really changes the difficulty of the game. If you are regularly buying appropriate yellow gear from the auction house, you will be playing this game on a vastly easier difficulty rating than if you go it single player style and only use your own drops and merchants. I think this will definitely affect how quickly people blast through it.

* You will need to play defensive in higher difficulties. Ignore the tempting 2H weapons and amazing offensive powers, if you want to survive in the harder modes, you’ll need to grab a shield and spec defensively. This means lots of vitality. So really, the game isn’t as flexible as its billed. It’s not that there is one true spec for each class, I think they have more diversity than that, but defensive trumps offensive.

The Bad

* LAG. It’s just not right to have lag in a single player game. It directly affects the play experience and it’s built in. I don’t much like the always-online requirement, but where gameplay is affected I find it unforgiveable.

* THIS IS THE NPCS STORY. Blizzard do this a lot, in SC and in WoW also, and that is focussing so much on telling the story through the NPCs that it becomes their story. You are the hired muscle. It worked for them in WC because you were actually playing the story NPCs in the scenarios. But as soon as you introduce your own character, there isn’t really much space for it in their storytelling.

The final cut scene really highlights this. There isn’t even a closing narration from your character about whatever it plans to do next.  There isn’t much closure for some of the NPCs either. I get that there’s bound to be an expansion but the ending here feels rushed, and they could have done better.

* DIFFICULTY. It is partly due to the auction house but this game falls on the easy side. Admittedly I’ve only touched on the first two difficulty levels and I can see how it will ramp up, but there’s difficulty and then there’s difficulty. I’m struggling to put this into words really, but I feel as though there’s something missing.

* RANDOM EVENTS DISAPPOINT. I loved the random events during the beta, but those ones near the beginning of Act 1 are by far the most interesting in the game. After that, it’s mostly ‘defend this objective against waves of mobs’ or ‘kill these demons which suddenly appear.’ Blizzard have the ability in D3 to slot in some far more interesting random events and we know from WoW that they have the skills to design them. They just didn’t.

* HOW MANY TIMES DO WE WANT TO REPLAY THIS? The idea of having to replay the game several times in order to set a harder difficulty was fairly core in D1 and 2, but feels very dated now. It’s like having a MMO where the maximum level is 60 but they only put in half the zones and after that you had to play them again on ‘hard mode.’

It’s not that I precisely mind replaying it, but having four difficulty levels highlights the issue.

* INCOMPLETE. This game was released without the ranked PvP or real money auction house. The latter is due to be online sometime soon (I think they said 23rd May) and I have no personal interest in PvP in Diablo but those were two sizeable factors that appealed to large sections of the community. And they aren’t there.

Sooru (you should follow his blog if you are playing D3) rounds up some more areas where he feels that game lacks polish.

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31 thoughts on “[Diablo 3] The good, the bad, and the state of the game (minor spoilers)

  1. I think the physics you mention in the combat section regarding how mobs react to your actions and how your character moves is one of the things blizzard is generally best at. I actually think this is one of the reasons WoW has been so successful. It feels nice to play.
    I can’t say I agree with your analysis regarding stacking vitality. I’m presently half way through hell difficulty on a witch doctor and I have been going for a damage build primarily stacking int. I find with a good mix of defensive and offensive abilities this works fine although it does involve a lot of kiting on harder packs.

    • This may be more of a barbarian issue because you don’t really have many ranged attacks so are a bit more vulnerable to unavoidable melee range damage,

  2. At hell/inferno game goes into “tank+whatever” mode. You technically can play, and complete acts solo, or in group without monk/barb – mostly because act bosses are often pushovers compared to elite/rare packs there – but farming equipment at 60 requires you to kill rares/elites to stack Nephalem Valor… and finding easier packs that you can solo often takes longer then buff duration, 30m. Witch doctors work as decent offtanks though.

    And lag is a killer. As demon hunter in inferno, two swings of pretty much any monster means death. The only fact making it manageable is that smoke screen makes you completely invulnerable, and specced right (using two skill slots) you can spend about 30 seconds out of initial minute completely ignoring all sources of damage (it also conveniently breaks all forms of cc) . But lag eating press of your smoke screen button? Instant death most of the time.

    Also, sometimes you get stuck in “server position correction” rubber-banding you back to one spot, over and over, until you try to move somewhere else. When that happens during elite pack, death is almost certain too.

    • This, tied into lag as Spinks mentioned, are the unforgivables. Truly and staggeringly poor design and implementation.

      I can cope with the bad (gold) AH where there are too many items to search generally for upgrades – who would have thought that 46 pages was too few?

      The lag/BNet/always online is clearly a function of the RMAH to prevent people creating fake items in a hacked client – the items are created server-side thus lag, and server load issues. This could have been simply resolved by giving the players the ability to create items that cannot be sold other than to a vendor – offline items.

  3. I have a bad to add, which for me is the worst.

    If you disconnect you’re world is immediately discarded and after logging back in you get a new, freshly populated world and start at your last save point. It wouldn’t really be that difficult to keep a world running for 60 minutes after disconnecting (or even forever, I hate the fact that you can’t play a bit, you always have to play until the next save point…).

    And depending on when and where you die, the walk back can take quite some time and that feels really dated.

  4. I’ll try to be as square as you’ve been here when I review it. Game only began working yesterday for me but I didn’t get to play it. Today I’m gonna try to plow through Act 1. I definitely appreciate your balanced review here, though. But I’m certain to disagree :) I’ll let you know!

  5. I’d never played the original Diablos and was initially interested in getting D3 since so many of my guildies were excited about it, but after all the various issues I’ve been hearing from people (in terms of story quality, no offline mode or mods, the network issues, etc) I’ve decided to wait for Torchlight 2 instead. Money is tight atm (we’d be getting 2 copies of the game for multiplayer w/the spouse) and it just sounds like T2 would be a better deal on multiple levels.

    It just sounds to me like most people just ‘like’ D3 when everyone was expecting to ‘love’ it. Regardless of whether that’s because of unrealistic hype or because the game really is ‘just ok’, it kind of dampened my interest in shelling out 120$.

  6. I am fairly certain that Diablo III’s male characters are the largest group of elderly men to protagonise a video game. The male Witch Doctor has a befuddled elderly foreign gentleman thing going on. Also, the parkinsons.

  7. Why is lag unforgivable? Blizzard were upfront about the always-on component, we all knew it before we bought the game. It’s not as if they were trying to cheat us here.

    As a recent RPS article pointed out, Blizzard have made it very clear that they are no longer interested in designing offline games. To say “it’s a single player game so there should be offline play” (which I know that you in particular are not saying here) is in my mind almost the same kind of forum-lawyering that goes on where people still quote the manual description of a WoW class when they are asking for buffs (“It says here that mages are supposed to be masters of AoE so why is flamestrike so rubbish?”).

    • Always on doesn’t have to mean lag. I don’t think Blizzard promised lag, at best they promised that we’d never notice anything negative about being online and would benefit from the connectedness. We notice. The gameplay is adversely affected. I’m not on a rant about offline play, I understand why people would feel strongly about that but my gaming PC is always online so it’s not an issue for me. And I agree that Blizzard were very clear about their design goals with the always online design for this game.

      If you don’t find lag annoying (and I include in MMOs even where you might expect it in large raid encounters with lots of players present) then you may be the only one :) But to lag in SINGLE PLAYER, that’s crazy stuff and goes very much against both expectations and previous experiences with online games. Especially if you die due to lag, lose achievements, and stuff that generally doesn’t happen in other online games.

      I wonder if Blizzard is expecting too much of the technology, they’ve always been a bit ahead of the curve with integrating online play into their games. But in any case I’m comfortable with reporting it as a major negative factor for the game.

      • I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect Blizzard to promise lag (“Buy Diablo 3! It’s like Torchlight with lag!”), but other than that I don’t take issue with what you’ve written.

        As for finding lag annoying, of course I do – it’s just I hardly notice it in the game – maybe once or twice in total so far. I therefore don’t see it as a major negative factor. A major negative factor would be unbalanced gameplay (Kingdoms of Amalur, for example), or graphical bugs that made the game unplayable (Skyrim) or the combat being dull (SW:TOR, EVE).

        I think that much of the internet coverage of this game, although not your comments which I think are pretty fair, is a vaguely hysterical fixation with this one issue. Look at the Amazon reviews, for example, or the comments on the RPS forums. Hey ho…

      • Oh, the Amazon reviews, Metacritic scores etc are getting pasted, and while people can go express their opinions wherever they want, it does mean IMO that those arenas are now pretty much useless for their stated purpose of being useful review scores.

        You see something similar with Bioware games, some of these companies just bring out the hatred in gamers, and others like Skyrim (which I never got into because I think the combat sucks) get all the love. I figure Blizzard and Bioware can probably cope, though. And hope that some people will realise that there’s some genuinely great writing and design in games like SWTOR and Diablo 3 but who knows?

    • Maybe I have just been lucky but personally I have suffered very little lag and apart from not being able to log on on release night the online nature of the game has been fairly painless for me.
      It is worth pointing out that I suspect part of the reason why the trend in games seems to be to require you to be online is because of the people who think its acceptable to avoid paying for software by downloading it from a torrent. This is why we can’t have nice things….

      • You say piracy – and I say I don’t believe it – Diablo II and 1 for that matter had stellar sales – and still sold strong up to the launch of D3 (and might still for that matter).

        While I’ll admit the random groups seemed popular – *I* never met or knew anyone that ever played D2 like that – all my friends used LAN/Private TCP/IP for grouping. I’m not sure Blizzard had the metrics in place to appreciate how the fans of the series really played the game – they only were able to measure the battlenet side of it – so it makes me feel like their view of the game is colored.

        That being said – I suspect the reason they don’t have offline single player has more to do with the RM AH than anything else – unlike WoW which chruns the cash wheel like a crazy hampster (accountants and wall street love this btw… reliable monthly income in game publishing was unheard of prior to MMO’s) Diablo is a one time shot – they want a way to monetize you going forward.

        Given the cash cow status of WoW – I actually wonder *how* much was bet on ‘online only’ and ‘RM AH’ – and just how far the experiment will go.

        Another thing in the design – if you follow Blizz’s help wanted ad’s – they are porting this to Xbox – this is why it has achievements (Xbox games are required to have them.) It also makes me believe that instead of a traditional expansion model we are going to expect to see DLC pushed out – I’m going to guess 12-18 per. If it follows other Activision titles we’ll see these released about every other month for the first year.

        All that said – love the game – hate the lag – still don’t see why I can’t play offline :)

  8. Re: Piracy

    No matter the DRM, games will always be pirated. Case in point: Diablo 3 is already cracked.

    That means that the pirated version will be lag free and will not require an online connection to play, making it the better version of the game.

    It seems to me that Blizzard is punishing the legitimate players instead. This is why DRM is retarded and why GOG has my utmost respect (all copies are DRM-free there).

      • I have absolutely no idea, nor have I tried the crack to see if it works (nor will I).

        But I think they override the Battle-net authentication and redirect you to a dummy server running on your machine. People have confirmed it is indeed working, but you get no achievements, no auction house and just the single player, which of course makes sense.

      • Not 100% sure how it’s being done – but you can get WoW emulators so I’m sure it’s not impossible.

    • My money says that crack doesn’t really exist, because you’d have to mimic the server architecture to make it work properly. Maybe someone will be arsed to do that but I think it’d take time.

      Hackers can be full of it, is all I’m saying.

      • I’d actually be incredibly surprised if it wasn’t hacked. Ubisoft tried a similar protection scheme with some of the AC games, which required various server responses to progress the game, parts of maps offloaded to server, quest code, etc etc.

        That was hacked very quickly.

        The DRM game isn’t one that anyone is ever really going to win. It may stop the most casual of copying between friends, which I must admit, was fairly rampant back in the day, but anything beyond this… Not so much.

  9. Actually I’ve had very little lag issues, even though my latency says 200-300ms which should be alot. It doesn’t feel like 300 ms at all though, and when you’re playing a monk the way I do, using blind and knockbacks to interrupt the big smash attacks that nearly one shot you, you’d notice lag. That’s apart from when it actually disconnects of course, but that’s gotten alot better last 2 days.

    Also, for defense vs offense – when I entered a4 nm/a1 hell and things started getting really rough I also went into alot of defensive abilities/runes. Now at the end of a2 hell I went back to a more balanced spec (2 active and 2 passive defensives, everything else offense) and I find that it works alot better for me. Killing quickly and doing tons of damage gets you health globes and that helps alot. YMMV of course, I play monk with a WD friend, don’t know how it plays for other classes.

    The difficulty definitely ramps up later. After some time in hell it’s actually nice to start a new character and enjoy annihilating everything in normal/early NM on a new char, at least for me.

  10. This is a well written review of the game. It points out many of the things that were done well and things that could have been done better.

    I would argue that the difficulty at earlier levels is fine. For more advanced gamers, earlier difficulties will always seem really easy.

  11. As for your character being a nephalem, you must have missed that plot point when you were heading into the Drowned Temple in Act I. Or maybe you thought the NPC was just talking about Leah, and not you. He specifically says only a nephalem can enter the temple, go and find these two objects to open the gate. When you come back, he says basically that because you were able to do that, you are a nephalem.

  12. if 2-3 things fixed diablo was top mmo for many years.1st increase max lvl to99 maybe 2nd make droprate better and legendary and epic sets better tha tear rare tear 16 3rd inferno was ultra imbalanced without gears and gears with this AH prices need over 100000 years farm. thx and sry for my bad english.

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