Catching up: Neverwinter, WoW Raiding, Diablo

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“I got eaten by a gelatinous cube!!!” she said, “This is the best day of my life!”

I feel late to the party so going to link to a few other people’s experiences with the Neverwinter open beta. I haven’t really seen any bad reviews, it’s a solid game and if you like that sort of thing, it’s F2P so you can go try it. For me I get strong vibes of a mixture of Diablo and standard hotbar MMO play, and it mostly works. Also my character has a really cool devil tail that waves around.

  • Dusty Monk – “… when you first log on, you’ll be presented with a Home Page of the various kinds of content available and how to get to them.   And for most of that content, a robust LFG queuing tool is available, and works really well.  So whether for skirmishes, dungeons, or PvP matches, you can queue up, and typically within less than 20 minutes or so, be whisked away to the instance of your choice.”
  • Tipa at West Karana – “I play the game, I like the game, but I don’t know why. Game just _confuses_ me.”
  • The Jester, a blogger at wizards.com (blogging for a pen and paper audience) – “The static world reflects a style of MMO design on the way out. It’s very much a third-generation MMO despite every MMO in the last three or four years trying to become an early fourth-generation MMO. There’s not a whole lot of innovation. Excluding the Foundry, it’s an unremarkable game I would have not looked twice at had it not been using the D&D licence (and even then, only because it’s free). There’s also only enough official content for a single playthrough.”

Like many of the other bloggers I follow, I’m finding a lot more fun in the game than I had expected. It is, as The Jester says, a very static world design but I don’t entirely agree with him about the third-generation MMO. Cryptic have been looking at more recent developments in other games, so Neverwinter features companion NPCs and crafting based on facebook style games/ SWTOR, LFG queues for all the group content in the game, a web interface where you can check your crafting/ auctions/ etc., and a more active combat style than typical MMOs. I find the dodging works better here than in GW2, for example. The game does default to mouse look, and binds your two main attacks to the mouse buttons for that classic Diablo feel. This didn’t annoy me as much as I was expecting although it feels awkward when you want to drop out of mouse look mode so that  you can click on some other part of your screen. All in all, it feels like a modern take on an oldschool genre, which is pretty appropriate for a game based on Dungeons and Dragons.

And Arb and I do get a kick from the oldschool D&D references that are studded through the game, especially when we remember the monsters showing up in tabletop games that we ran as teenagers.  The gelatinous cube shown above was an old GMing favourite, as were the illusory walls that have featured in other dungeons in the game. Fortunately this particular cube was not immune to cold and lightning damage, given that my wizard has a lot of ice spells. And that shows up one of the downsides of Neverwinter – it’s not actually as tactically interesting as a D&D game probably should be. Monsters are supposed to have strengths and vulnerabilities, but that doesn’t really work with this type of MMO where players don’t want to be told “You should really bring someone with fire spells if you are going to fight gelatinous cubes.”

It’s a dilemma. In any case, we’re having fun with the game at the moment. I don’t know if it really has long lasting stickability but Cryptic have played to their strengths by including The Foundry for player generated scenarios and that is something I am curious to try out.

Raiding in the Throne of Thunder

Kadomi has written a much more colourful description of our raiding progress over at her blog (I love being in a guild with other bloggers, I can just link to what they wrote and say “just read this.”)

Short form: We got council down last week in normal mode for the first time. So we’re making slow but steady progress through the raid. I have had more fun raiding in MoP than in any aspect of WoW since Wrath, although the encounters are sometimes overtuned in normal, they’re pretty well designed. I don’t know what other people consider good encounter design but for me, I don’t mind a complex boss fight that takes us a long time to learn as long as we can feel we are learning on every pull.

Encounters like Elegon and Council have been incredibly rewarding fights for our guild to master, I think. So I don’t much care that we’re not on heroic modes, the raids we are doing are at a really good difficulty for us I think. But I’m pretty tolerant of slow progression if the company is good and fun is being had.

At the same time, LFR being available helps a lot with keeping the general good mood in a casual raid guild. I think back to Burning Crusade and just how darned important it felt to be in progression raids because it was the only way you could be in with a shot at the gear you’d need to be included in the next progression raid. Now you can keep up reasonably well with gear levels by running LFR and collecting rep gear so it’s not the end of the world if you miss a week or two. Plus if we don’t have enough people on a raid night, we can take a guild group to LFR and still have the opportunity to hang out together.

As anyone who has been reading gaming news recently will know, WoW posted a drop in accounts over the last quarter. This can’t be surprising given general trends in the genre and doesn’t really reflect on MoP – anyone who quit because there were too many dailies probably wasn’t going to be in it for the long run anyway.

Diablo III

Since the new patch, I have been tentatively trying out my old Barbarian in Inferno level and … this is probably not surprising but now that several nerfs have been applied to the mobs and buffs to the characters, I am quite enjoying it. The original difficulty just wasn’t fun for me, this is.

I have enjoyed all the Diablo-esque games that I have played recently, Torchlight 2 is a lot of fun also, but Diablo 3 does have some very moreish design factors to it. I love silly things like the increasingly outlandish types of arms and armour you pick up (what is a Schynbald? Heck if I know!), which brings me back to original Dungeons and Dragons with it’s lovingly illustrated pages of exotic polearms.

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The great Diablo 3 economy meltdown

Funnily enough, I’d been getting back into Diablo 3 recently so I was aware of the new patch that hit this week. One of the new features was that Blizzard raised the limit for maximum gold sold on the auction house from 1m to 10m gold.

And then … some players discovered a buffer overflow due to these changes that led to some easily replicated gold dupe mechanics. Very soon after this, some accounts amassed ridiculously huge amounts of gold, even by D3 standards. Blizzard disabled the US AH last night and deployed a hotfix earlier today.

But they’re reluctant to roll back the servers. Presumably lots of players returned to try out the new patch and Blizzard are aware of the effect of taking away any cool RNG drops that they picked up while playing on player morale. Instead they’re trying to identify offending accounts and doing selective bans.

It’s probably too late though, once that amount of gold flooded into the AH economy, legitimate players started selling drops/ gems for hugely inflated prices so the money has been distributed.

Here’s the lowdown from reddit, and the Blizzard official response.

It’s at times like these that it pays to be on EU servers that update after the US ones, our patch had the hotfix included.

[Diablo 3, GW2] Does Diablo 3 need an endgame?

Bashiok (one of the Blizzard community managers) has been quoted a lot this week for his comments on Diablo 3:

We recognize that the item hunt is just not enough for a long-term sustainable end-game. There are still tons of people playing every day and week, and playing a lot, but eventually they’re going to run out of stuff to do (if they haven’t already). Killing enemies and finding items is a lot of fun, and we think we have a lot of the systems surrounding that right, or at least on the right path with a few corrections and tweaks. <…> There needs to be something else that keeps people engaged, and we know it’s not there right now.

That’s a lot of endgame talk about what is basically a single player game with co op functionality.

I think this is a great quote because it goes a long way to explaining what devs think of as ‘end game’: gameplay/ content that keeps players engaged. Possibly indefinitely. To everyone else, endgame is “what you do in the game after you have finished the game” which is a bizarre statement if you take it as read. Logically, after you have finished a game you put it away and play something else. It’s certainly how I play the majority of single player games, not to mention other media like books and films. Except for the games where you keep coming back.

There are a few main reasons people will keep coming back to a much loved game:

  • There’s some randomisation involved so the game never really ends or is never the same twice. Especially if there is a rising difficulty curve associated with the randomisation so the game stays challenging. (eg. roguelikes, puzzle games like tetris).
  • Moreish gameplay. Could involve PvP.
  • Extra ‘stretch’ goals or achievements. Final Fantasy always excelled at offering ultra hard extra bosses that were clearly only for people who wanted to spend much longer with their game than was needed just to finish it. Some of these might be long term goals which would need weeks or months to complete.
  • Lots to explore. Try a new spec or play style. New Game Plus can fit this mould, where you get new stuff to do if you replay the game after finishing it once or twice.
  • Your friends are playing it. Come back for the social aspect.
  • New content. Maybe a new patch just dropped or a mod maker released a really cool new mod for a game.
  • Sandbox game. (Not sure how well this really applies to single player games but there are some open world games where you had a pretty free rein of what to do after finishing the main storyline.)

It’s funny to think that before subscription MMOs and  F2P, there was never any great cash motivation for single player games to  be endlessly replayable. Square Enix didn’t get extra money because Final Fantasy had secret uber bosses in it to encourage you to keep playing; at least, it’s unlikely that this was a major purchase factor for players. Rogue and its ilk are free, there’s no incentive for the game to be endless other than it happened to be designed that way. If a game turns out to be evergreen then it will last longer in retail (the long tail), and there are probably loads of opportunities for creators to make more money by ‘exploiting the brand’. Arcade games obviously make more money the more people come back to them also. But it was always one indication of a good game. That people would keep playing, and playing, and playing.

Some of the old classic endgame design won’t fly in today’s world. Secret uber bosses won’t be secret for very long in the internet age, and no matter how complex it is to find them, you can assume someone will do it and publicise it widely.

Diablo and endgame

The endgame in Diablo 2 involved playing the game through again on harder modes, trying different specs or classes, and gathering loot. There was also the possibility for PvP, and Blizzard organised levelling ladders  on the battle.net servers for players who enjoyed doing competitive speed runs. Unfortunately, with Diablo 3, they’ve made some of that endgame redundant. There’s no need to play through the game with a different spec when you can switch spec on the fly. There’s little motivation to gather specific gear sets when you can almost certainly buy better stuff from the auction house than anything that will drop for you.

Instead, there is an end game around farming and selling drops on the item house.

I don’t personally feel slighted that I played through Diablo 3 a few times and then decided I’d had enough. I never did get to Inferno level and I’m cool with that, I think I got as much fun out of the game as I wanted. I’m sure lots of other players are equally placid about Diablo 3. It was good enough, there was enough fun. The story (for all its flaws) was told engagingly and there were enough pieces of story detail that you could discover a few new things on each subsequent play through. The achievements were nicely thought out on the whole. I could imagine playing it through again in a few months time, just for fun.

But clearly, many players wanted an endless endgame, and Blizzard wanted to design a game that had one. Preferably without the hassle of having to actually add extra content. I say this because they could totally add extra secret bosses, secret levels, secret events, secret companions, secret crafting recipes and so on; they wouldn’t stay secret for long but it would get people back into the game to see the new stuff.

But what would a long term sustainable end game look like for Diablo 3? There is the upcoming possibility of PvP for people who like that. It would be gear dependent so frequent trips the auction house would likely be necessary if you want to be competitive. Other than that, how could Blizzard ever expect players to play through the same content indefinitely? They’ve already included variable difficulties with better drops at higher difficulty ratings. They have deliberately limited the randomness in D3 because of the increased story emphasis so it will never be one of those randomly generated dungeon endgames.

That leaves extra incentives for groups of friends to play together regularly, tying it in with other popular games (ie. WoW), or running some of those ladder type events. Diablo gameplay just isn’t deep enough on its own to keep people coming back.

MMO Endgames

We are in a new era of MMO endgames too at the moment. Subscription games have always encouraged devs to find ways to keep people playing the same game. They have encouraged inventiveness around what gives games longlastability.

OK, I kid.

But you’d have thought competition between sub games would have encouraged this type of experimentation. Instead what has mostly happened is that devs are more interested in the churn – in finding new players and getting them to stay for a couple of months – than in what gets players to stay for a year rather than 6 months. F2P games take this a step further in that devs are now looking for the ‘whales’ who view the normal way to play games as being to spend loads of money in cash shops when they are having fun. Some of those people will be long term players. I imagine the hope is that if a game can attract enough whales, spending loads of money in cash shops will seem more normalised of an activity for the playerbase.

Players also get frustrated more quickly. Long term goals in a game is one of the factors that makes players stay for longer, but also one of the things that makes impatient players say immediately “That’s too hard, I can never do that, why is it in the game?” One example of this is the Legacy purchases in SWTOR. It costs 5 million credits to buy an auction house terminal for your characters’ ships. To me that says a month or two of trading/ dailies. As you can imagine, the bboard has plenty of complaints that it is too much, it’s impossible, it’s unfair, etc. A long(ish) term goal based on gathering in game gold is the opposite of unfair actually, since it’s the one thing everyone can do.

The only types of long term goal players seem to accept passively in themeparks are ones that is explicitly based on subscription length, or collecting stuff. For example, EVE training schedules that take months (I know, not a themepark but this type of mechanism could be in one), rewards in CoH based on subscription length, WoW Firelands rewards based on how many dailies have been completed. Pet, mount, and gear collecting is another type of longterm goal which has been popular with players.Other feasible and challenging longer term goals often get dismissed as ‘unfair’ or inaccessible by the player base.

And with that, lets’ talk about raids. Raiding has been a core piece of MMO endgame for many years now, since EQ. The raiding ‘lifestyle’ includes membership of a raid guild, some commitment to regular multiplayer  raids, and a set of raid content of increasing difficulty that is projected to need many weeks of raiding to complete. Players have been increasingly dissatisfied with the raid endgame. It requires too great a commitment, guilds act as gatekeepers for content, raids are inaccessible to people who can’t meet a guild’s raiding schedule and so on. Random raid finders or dynamic events (as per Rift) have been one answer to this, making raids far more accessible to players than they were back in the day.

But the main thing about raids is that they did offer longterm progression goals to players. Not to mention a social network. That was one of the reasons they so successfully defined endgame for a generation of MMO players. So if raids are becoming more accessible, more immediate, or less appealing, what is going to replace them? Will it have longevity?

I have already seen people wondering what sort of an endgame GW2 will have. There aren’t any PvE raids. There is extensive open world PvP. There are lots of dynamic events. There may not be strong incentives to be part of a guild. Will that be enough to keep players engaged for months or years? And does it matter?

The next WoW expansion is also branching out with endgame, including speed runs for 5 man instances (challenge modes), a farmville knockoff, pet collecting/ battles, scenarios (smaller instances which won’t need tanks or healers) as well as the usual raids. Will these new mechanics keep people playing for longer without needing a constant feed of new content? I remain to be convinced about the challenge modes, I’m not sure how exciting it really is to be constantly doing speed runs of the same content. But maybe some players will love it. At least enough to try one once a day with their guild.

Towards a fluffier endgame?

One of the posters on mmorpg.com argues that fluff rewards are better in endgame than constant gear progression. (You can tell this is written by someone who likes PvP and hates raiding.) ‘Fluff’ is usually defined as something that doesn’t affect progression or stats. It’s fun or pretty, and that is its only purpose. In game festivals or special events are pretty much the epitome of fluff – they’re temporary, fun (we hope) and offer good fluff rewards. Players like them and a player who has drifted might easily be tempted back into a MMO to check out the event.

Mini-games can be part of a fluff endgame, they’re just extra things for players to spend time doing in the game. This is clearly the road WoW is wandering along, adding more single player/ small group compatible content, which means that MoP is going to have a wider variety of endgame content than Cataclysm did. LOTRO has always excelled at adding fluff, from supporting RP, to musical instruments in the game, monster play, chicken play, and skirmishes (probably the inspiration for WoW scenarios). Space missions in SWTOR are an example of a really well executed minigame, if you like that sort of thing. Bioware could do with adding more; games to play in cantinas would be a good start for example.

Player housing can be part of a fluff endgame.

Collecting pets, mounts, pretty things can be part of a fluff endgame.

But will that be enough to replace a progression based endgame?

Bits and pieces; and thoughts from 3 years ago about the future of MMOs

Happy Sunday (and Happy Jubilee if you are the queen – seems a bit harsh of people to make two octo/nonogenarians stand around for hours on a cold and windy river, but what do I know?) This isn’t really a links post so much as a quick news roundup, some whining about Diablo, and a moment of insight where I realise that some of the stuff I used to post was pretty smart.

New games to get excited about, current games to get excited about

CD Projekt, best known for their work on The Witcher CRPGs, have announced that their next game will feature a Cyberpunk setting. In fact, it’s THE Cyberpunk setting for RPG players because they’ll be using the setting from R S Talsorian’s Cyberpunk RPG. So all you glitterboys, slicers, and fixers get your netrunning shoes on. I guess you’ll just have to take my word for it that this is super-exciting for any fans of the genre, and Cyberpunk should be a great match for the dark noirish stories that CD Projekt have shown they enjoy tackling in previous outings. It’d be nice if they would also let us play female characters this time around, but let’s not run before we can walk.

Rift announced its first expansion: Storm Legion. It will feature tons of new stuff including huge new continent, 10 more levels, new souls, a woman on the front of their expansion website who isn’t wearing much — yup, it’s all there. New expansions are generally a good sign for MMOs and the Rift devs have been earning their reputation for ploughing plenty of new content into the game all year, so things are looking good for Rifties. They do have a free trial up to level 20 if you want to try the game out.

An excellent new Humble Indie Bundle has gone on sale, featuring Amnesia: the Dark Descent, Psychonauts, LIMBO, and Superbrothers: Swords and Sworcery , with Bastion thrown in as a bonus if you pay more than the current average (standing at $7.84 at the moment). It’s a feature of the indie bundles that you decide what you want to pay so if you’re feeling cheap, you could get the four main games for almost no money at all. They are all indie games that have garnered good reviews, especially Psychonauts if you are a fan of platform/adventure games.

In their ongoing crusade to make the always-online experience of Diablo 3 best in breed, Blizzard have now introduced autojoining the General Chat Channel when you log in. This has not been met with universal acclaim. While I find it annoyingly spammy and prone to gold seller chat, occasionally General Chat surprises you. I’ve sometimes heard people offer to help anyone out with hard bosses, which either is quite decent of them or else is a new cunning way to steal accounts – you pay your money and take your choice.

Personally my barbarian has reached an impasse with Izual in Hell Mode. Getting him down would require a serious amount of kiting given my current DPS and … I just don’t enjoy kiting on a melee class that much. So I shall be tooling around on alts instead, no point playing past the point of unfun. One thing Blizzard did get right though is the secret level (don’t click this link unless you want spoilers), which requires a special blacksmithing recipe and ingredients, all of which are rare drops in specific locations and may be farmed. Farming for this stuff with Arb has actually been pretty fun, for Diablo variants of fun. This is exactly what I was talking about when I was wondering why Blizzard hadn’t developed the farming side of the game.

So how DID soloing affect MMOs?

Milady reflects about MMOs evolving into an ‘always alone together’ singleplayer theme park  type of experience, and is nostalgic for a time when singleplayer and multiplayer experiences seemed to sit more comfortably side by side in MMOs. She wonders where players who enjoyed the multiplayer side of things will go if new MMOs tilt so far towards soloers.

The problem is that, although I can think as alone-together MMOs as a valid choice, especially for that demographic that can’t participate in the social part of them, there is no such choice when all are designed this way.

This reminded me of some thoughts I posted a few years ago about what might happen to MMOs if the proportion of soloers continued to increase. It was contentious at the time and attracted more comments than anything I’d ever written. Now I look back and – it seems prescient.

What happens if MMOs develop along lines such that most people are soloing most of the time? There’s no downtime built in where you might have to talk to people you didn’t know? There may not be enough of the more hardcore to form all the guilds those people might want to join? The people who would have been running those guilds are all going casual/ solo/ in small groups of RL friends instead?

Would a game like that really have much of a community at all? Is there any support network left for anyone at all?

[Diablo 3] In which I avoid all difficulty and reach max level

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This is a barbarian warrior with her natural weaponry, a massive 2 handed flaming axe.  (If you are already bored of the D3 posts fear not, this is likely to be the last for awhile.)

What I love about this screenshot is that even after being zoomed in a few times, you can see the attention to detail in the graphics. Her fingers even close around the axe haft as if she’s taking the weight and stands ready to swing it at something (probably a demon), and when you think how small the character models are in D3, that is a lot of attention to detail. It’s also far better graphically than WoW, where I’m sure my warrior’s skeletal fingers did not always close around the weapon she was wielding.

So – level 60

I’m currently on Act 3 of Hell and my barbarian reached level 60 recently. The way difficulty works in D3 is that your character has two main attributes: damage and survivability. Your goal is to have enough survivability to stand toe to toe with monsters long enough to either kill them or land a few hits and then run off again. So I found I tended to swing between high survivability builds and high damage ones, depending on what type of gear I had available and whether I’d just switched up an Act. In a new Act (or difficulty) typically you have to raise your survivability as a priority before you can start focussing on bringing the damage up to match, otherwise you just die all the time. This is also a bit dull because chipping away at mobs slowly is not as exciting as big numbers and fast kills.

High enough damage will pretty much negate any combination of elite mob suffixes by the simple mechanic of CLICKCLICKDEAD.  Even those charming molten/vortex/firechains combos.

Hence my current 2 hander. Level 60- weapons with high damage are EXPENSIVE, going way beyond any interest I have in farming cash. Blue weapons, and particularly 2 handers, are far more affordable. With this setup I am barging my way nicely through Act 3 of Hell level and suspect I’ll be fine through Act 4 as well. The weapon made a big difference as I was getting bored of poking mobs politely with the equivalent of a knitting needle, at least they die fast now. I may not bother with Inferno.

The end game, such as it is, involves farming for gear or for gold to spend on gear in the auction house. If this is not of great interest to you, then really you might as well roll some alts, focus on achievements, or play with friends. (Or play something else.). There’s no special point having great gear unless you want to a) finish Inferno mode and/or b) farm more gear. I imagine the RMAH will see lots of use from people who do want to buy stacks of millions of gold so that they can buy high end weapons off the gold AH (expect galloping inflation at the top end once that comes online) but I’m honestly not sure I see the point. It’s not going to unlock new and brilliant gameplay or content. Meanwhile my blue 960dps 2 hander is perfectly good for Hell Level – better than good really – and cost me about 25k.

The other mechanic that helps you farm gear at level 60 is a buff called nephalem valour which only level 60 characters get. You get a stack of NV every time you kill a pack of elite mobs, it can stack up to 5 times, lasts 30 mins, and increases the chance that mobs will drop magic items. What was far more surprising to me is that NV doesn’t drop off when you die. I feel this goes against the whole ethos of roguelikes, but what do I know?

Ways in which I personally have made the game easier for myself so far:

  • Using the auction house
  • Grinding a couple of levels in a lower Act when I was having difficulty with one Act.
  • Hopping into a public group to get my kill of Belial in Hell mode. The group was actually really friendly, everyone was helping and ressing each other, and everyone  thanked the group afterwards. But if I hadn’t gotten frustrated after wiping to Belial ONCE in solo mode, I might not have done it. I do not think this is a testament to my patience.
  • Changing my abilities in combat. I didn’t realise you could do this until I tried it. Apparently you can change your gear in combat too (ie. haul on some +magic find gear just before a boss is about to die.)
  • Changing the batteries on my mouse when it started to get sluggish.

The auction house is the greatest of all these difficulty changers, because of the effect higher dps and resilience has on the gameplay. The AH also makes it easier to try out offbeat builds – I had one going for a while where I took abilities that increased the chance of mobs dropping health globes and wore a lot of gear which gave extra health on using health globes. It actually worked quite well.

It’s hard for me to gauge the longevity of the game. It is fun. It is fun when playing with friends or random groups. It does not require much thought. So even if you don’t have the stomach for farming Inferno Level (which I don’t) it may continue to be a cheerful device for chatting to friends over a few dead demons.

Farmville

The big issue with ‘endgame’ for D3 is that endgame for D2 was, frankly, tedious as all hell. It involved endless boss runs for loot. And they’ve sort of copied it but not exactly and with an auction house tacked on. The auction house effectively means that farming areas you are able to easily farm for magic items will never feel worthwhile (unless you are able to farm Act 3/4 Inferno). This was clearly not the intent, and players were probably intended to farm the areas they could manage until they got the occasional lucky gear up that would eventually let them progress. So I assume there are small chances of higher end loot dropping an Act before you’d actually need it.

But who is going to farm an area endlessly waiting for lucky drops if they can cash in and just buy something better instead? Someone with more willpower than me, for sure.

Instead, people will farm for gold, which is a lot easier and less random. But because it’s less random, it lacks the spikes of excitement that good loot drops provide. I think Blizzard could at least have tried to innovate an interesting item farming model. Let players unlock different areas in which to farm different items. Let them have more crafting drops to transmute existing items or rearrange their stats. Let them learn by trial and error which areas or mobs in the world are more likely to drop which types of items.

What patches will come?

Blizzard have a dev blog post up discussing Diablo 3. Interesting snippets are that 54% of hardcore players picked a female character (they don’t say what percentage of those are female demon hunters), and they’ve listed the most common runes used by level 60 characters, which include some head scratchers but what do I know?

They discuss their criteria for making tweaks and changes, including some of the nerfs that already came down the line.

Regarding the changes to Lingering Fog, Boon of Protection, and Force Armor: we determined these skills were simply more powerful than they should be, and we felt their impact on class balance and how each class was perceived warranted hotfixes as soon as we were able. However, we don’t want you to be worried that a hotfix nerf is lurking around the corner every day. If a skill is strong, but isn’t really breaking the game, we want you to have your fun. Part of the enjoyment of Diablo is finding those super-strong builds, and we want players to be excited to use something they discovered that feels overpowered

There is also some discussion around the difficulty of Inferno level and whether Legendary items are good enough or not. Of interest to anyone considering levelling up their blacksmith is also:

we’re looking to adjust the Blacksmith costs for training (gold and pages) and crafting from levels 1-59, and reduce the cost of combining gems so that it only requires two gems instead of three (up to Flawless Square). Both of these changes are scheduled for patch 1.0.3.

I think the main issue with Inferno (not having run it myself) is that the difficulty is similar to the difficulty in other tiers when you’re a bit undergeared. I remember thinking I was dying too quickly in Nightmare mode too until I hied me to the auction house. Just it’s much harder to overgear it at level 60. So really the problem with Inferno is not that it’s radically harder compared to the rest of the game, it’s that the difficulty is posed in exactly the same way as the rest of the game when endgame players might have preferred a more skill based challenge.

Farming Locations

A few thoughts on where is easy to farm for cash/items/xp in the game.

The Frugal Gamer has some ideas for places to farm in Act I.

In Act 2, I farmed xp in the Black Soulstone quest (lots of pacey dungeons).

In Act 3, I like the Rakkis Crossing area just before Siegebreaker (Siegebreaker Quest) as you get Tyrael along with you.

Finally some words from our sponsor

I have far too much fun reading the companion chat, even if it’s not especially stunning in itself.

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[Links] Day of Reckoning for 38 Studios, soloing in MMOs, Diablo 3, Sony won the console wars?

Scott Jennings writes eloquently about the week when 40% of the SWTOR team was laid off, and 38 Studios (makers of Kingdoms of Amalur, and with an MMO in the works) imploded very publically.

I think the direction that our industry is going – the incredible amount of money wasted by EA on what was essentially a roll of the dice that came up 2 and 3, and the even more incredible display of massive hubris and utter incompetence on the part of Schilling and his management team, is killing the very concept of massively multiplayer gaming.

Everything I have read about 38 Studios going tits up makes me think that the management were a bucket of tits. (Yes that is the technical term.) Implausible business plan, lack of auditing on cashflow, taking on way more staff than they needed or could support, dicking around with staff. Unsubject writes in more detail on the financials. The only surprising thing to me is that so many MMO bloggers have sympathy for them – MMOs get cancelled in pre-production all the time, we should be used to it by now. I don’t care if it was run by a rich sportsman with a dream or a lameass banker, they screwed up.

Or in the words of Kevin Dent at  Kotaku:

I have a theory that Harvard Business School basically set this entire thing up so as to demonstrate how many ways someone can screw up running a business. If this is the case, heartfelt congrats to the Crimson Halls, you owned it.

I literally could not invent more ways to screw up than Curt Schilling has with 38.

I can’t entirely agree with Scott about the effect on MMOs though, because big budget AAA MMOs were already pretty much on the outs. You can tell this because Michael Pachter recently said so, and he only ever makes predictions after the event.

One of the interesting things about this story though is that both Bioware Austin and 38 Studios put out pretty decent games that got some critical acclaim. Neither Amalur nor SWTOR are bad games, and both were reasonably successful in the market. Just their funding model needed more than ‘reasonably successful’ – in 38 Studio’s case it is because their management can’t handle simple maths and in Bioware’s case it’s because for some reason EA felt that ploughing unfeasibly massive amounts into the game was going to pay off. (Nice bonus for players I guess, because it does feel lush.)

SWTOR will be profitable, incidentally.  It will just take a few months longer than EA predictions and that’s why it is being seen as a failure. Whereas in fact it sold more boxes more quickly than any other western MMO in the market and has fairly decent retention figures for an MMO, even allowing for number massaging. In any case, they’ve just announced that patch 1.3 (which will include a random dungeon finder) is going onto the test server imminently and that they have plans to consolidate servers into super-servers, which are both needed updates.

Shintar shares some hopes and fears that she has for the new patch.

Anyhow, it’s sad for the staff, obviously. But we’re in a recession and MMOs are risky business at the best of times, and these things happen (especially when your management are a bucket of tits, which isn’t really the case for Bioware). Hopefully they’ll find something else swiftly. I’ll miss Stephen Reid/Rockjaw, he was a great CSM.

Soloing in MMOs

Keen also found time to muse this week about why people solo in MMOs (remember in my last incredibly wise words of wisdom to new bloggers I noted that soloing vs grouping was one of THOSE topics?), claiming that MMOs aren’t single player games. So why do devs want to try to mimic single player gameplay?

I am referring to the open and deliberate act of making a very core part of a MMO into a single-player experience as if the players were offline.

Bernardparsnip at Diminishing Returns reflects on players who might want some of the advantages of mas…sive games without the disadvantages.

I recognize that there is a demographic of players that want the benefits of an MMO – a persistent world, frequent content updates, a player-driven economy, opportunities for PvP and cooperative play, without the disadvantages inherent with playing with others.

Azuriel takes a different tack and wonders whether MMOs really do suck as single player games.

…in a very real sense I consider the average MMORPG these days as a much better single-player game than the average RPG.

My view is that we’re seeing traditional boundaries between single player and multiplayer games come crashing down around us, and players may not yet be sure exactly what they do want. This sense of wanting all the benefits of massive multiplayer games (like a vibrant player based economy and instant groups whenever you want them) without the negatives (like having to actually talk to anyone or rely on other players in any way) is very strong in the current crop of games.

I think Journey laid this out most neatly with having other players viewed as friendly but nameless entities, and Dee wonders if maybe the public quests in GW2 will have the same effect. But it won’t ever be the same as the sort of communities that more forced socialising will bring together, we could end up with people playing side by side but always on their own.

Ultimately I’d like to see more gating in future games, allowing players to build up communities of interest in games of their choice. What if I want to play EVE but without having to play with the more sexist, racist, homophobic players who seem to populate it (going by forum posts at least)? This is going to become more and more of an issue for anyone running online games in future, I suspect, as players lose their tolerance for playing with random dickweeds. (This will come to be seen as one of the negatives of MMOs that people would like to avoid.)

Zubon has a really smart post about how different games attract a different type of player and suggests people flock to games which seem to be populated with players like themselves.

But there is a flaw in his argument, which is how exactly are you going to find this out? If I search round EVE blogs and forums, I’ll find a lot of very aggressive posturing and the aforementioned sexist, racist, etc. language. But I do happen to know people who play EVE who aren’t like that, so it isn’t universal.

Similarly, WoW is so large that it probably contains communities of just about every MMO player type under the sun if you can find them. So characterising it as the McDonalds of MMOs isn’t quite true in terms of the playerbase. It’s more of a mosaic than a least common denominator known for poor but consistent quality.

While LOTRO is justly known for its attention to the setting, I’d also say it was a haven for more mature gamers and for RPers. But that was before it went F2P and it may have changed since then. So how would a new player know?

So while I think Zubon makes a good argument, it just places more emphasis on how /the community/ constructs explanations of what type of player different games attract and then communicates it. And bloggers bear a lot of the responsibility for this. When I write that my guild in SWTOR are laid back, friendly, casual players and raiders, people will assume this is normal for the game. It probably is! But you’re just getting one player’s view.

Redbeard tackles a similar topic from the point of view of new players in WoW at the moment.

If Blizz is serious about bringing in and keeping new blood, then they have to address the social issues in WoW.  This isn’t Pollyanna country, and it ain’t EVE, either.  People like to be welcomed and respected and tolerated.  If they feel the environment is toxic, they’ll move on.  You can’t expect a new player to blindly stumble through all of the social pitfalls and land in a good guild without guidance, and likewise you can’t expect someone to blithely ignore all of the social issues that some players bring to WoW.

Diablo 3

Clearly we haven’t had enough posting about D3 yet. I’m still having fun with the game but slowing down now that I’m in Hell level on my barbarian. I don’t know that I can honestly see this as an evergreen game I’d be playing months from now (especially if Torchlight 2 and GW2 and updates to SWTOR are coming out). The Auction House is definitely impacting on the game’s lifespan in my view, and they haven’t launched the real money AH yet.

Hugh at the MMO Melting Pot (who you should follow for excellent daily aggregations of MMO blogging) collects some more views on the auction house.

The Ancient Gaming Noob has played both Diablo 3 and the Torchlight 2 beta and gives a thorough comparison between what he has seen of the games.

Milady explains why she thinks Diablo 3 is a wellmade mistake.

They had many years to consider how to best mine money from their users, and Diablo III in its entirety is what they came up with. From Blizzard’s perspective, the gear barrier is there so you are forced to buy to continue; the barrier to grouping in Inferno is built so you cannot be too effective at higher levels, and are forced to grind on your own and buy loot; the enforced multiplayer exists solely to apply peer-pressure to your gearing up, so you need to resort to the AH to play with them.

Rohan argues that Elective Mode in D3 is a mistake.

Green Armadillo lists a lot of things that D3 is not and wonders if Blizzard were right to keep the name.

And Gevlon explains why he thinks D3 just doesn’t work as a competitive game.

Straw Fellow defends Blizzard’s decision to require D3 players to be always online.

Microsoft and the Console Wars

Microsoft may face a ban on imports of the XBox 360 into the US and Germany because of patent infringement. I assume they’ll settle with Motorola out of court, but it would be an amusing way to lose the console wars.

It would be nice to think that the patent rats nest might get sorted out sometime soon, but since there is no real sign of that happening, better hope your favourite manufacturer knows how to play the game.

And finally …

Berath ponders why there are so few gaming blogs focussed on shooters, given how many people play them.

Xintia explains why Bioware are great at telling stories but bad at designing games.

And Melmoth waxes lyrical about the general chat channel in TERA.

What was fascinating about the channel was that it had become a microcosm of the blogosphere: nearly every general topic that I’ve seen repeatedly touched upon over the past five or so years of blogging was mentioned in this one place, all in the fast forward nature of a back-and-forth conversation between people whose attention was invariably elsewhere. I quickly found myself privately playing Cassandra to any topic raised, knowing full well the future of each discussion, where the disagreements would come from, and the conclusions which would be drawn.

[Diablo 3] Things that should not happen in single player games

d3imperious

YOU SHALL NOT PASS – until the weekly maintenance is over

#1 Weekly Maintenance

You can get around this by creating a character on one of the other sets of servers (ie. EU, US, whichever the other region is) since they have different maintenance windows. But dammit, you shouldn’t have to.

Blizzard could have avoided so many of these issues by having a solo offline version and just making it clear that playing offline meant no access to AH, chat with friends, random groups, and even special online events or ladders if they want to go that way. Just make it impossible to use the offline characters in online or group play to avoid the cheating and a lot of people would have been much happier.

I also think they could have been more explicit (maybe a handout in the box) in explaining exactly what the online side meant in terms of access and gameplay.

#2 Being hacked

So reports are increasing about people having been hacked, and some of those reports imply authenticators were in place. It’s probably best to avoid random groups until this has been sorted out.

I can buy that hackers will be out in force any time a MMO/expansion/online game is released, but this is not something you would ever expect to see in a single player game.

What would D3 have been like if Bioware had written it?

  1. One of your companions would have betrayed you, probably the healer.
  2. You would have turned out to be the last of the Horadrim, or Diablo. Probably both.
  3. Your character would have been able to sleep with Tyrael. Or Adria. Probably both.
  4. Ranged classes would have been hugely overpowered. (Wait, maybe they already are…)
  5. At the end of the game, you’d have either to destroy Diablo, control him or make everyone a demon-human hybrid. Either way, you die and all magic in Sanctuary is gone forever. (Anon.) [G]Kill, [B]Banish, or [R]Bond With? (azaael)
  6. When Deckard Cain begins one of his stories you can use the dialogue wheel to choose whether to listen or tell him to shut up. Doing so earns you Heaven/Hell points. (bernardparsnip)
  7. It would have given you a character visual customizer! I’d have taken this. On the flipside, after Blizzard put the votes in for what color the stock female Demon Hunter should have, the fanbase splits over ‘Red’ or ‘Blonde.’ Wars are almost started. (azaael)
  8. Even MORE cutscenes! (azaael)
  9. 6th Character, the Shapeshifter Druid! Available for 12.99 on the first day. (azaael)
  10. Feel free to suggest more …

[Diablo 3] Some links: Barbarian builds, comedy, metacritic scores, Torchlight 2 beta

D3barrel

I forgot to mention yesterday how fun it is to destroy the scenery, not to mention the various barrels, in D3. I’ve seen regular barrels, water barrels and torture barrels – not quite sure what the latter ones are.

Anyhow, since loads of people are playing Diablo 3 at the moment I thought I’d share some links today.

Barbarian Builds

My build changes regularly, like every time I want to try out a new rune or decide to respec for more mobility or more survival or more fury or more heals on crits – you get the picture. There is an interesting interplay between gear and spec that I hadn’t previously picked up on, in that you do need a certain amount of survivability in the higher difficulty levels but you have some choice as to how you want to acquire it. So a highly defensive gearset might support more offensive skills. Or something like that, certainly as you gear up through a level there seems to be more scope to experiment with less defensive builds.

Anyhow, here are a couple of builds that other people are using in Hell/ Inferno level.

Dean’s Hell level barbarian guide

Writhan’s barbarian guide to Inferno level

Sooru discusses his build and play style in Act I of Inferno mode with a barbarian.

Players in general are being quite proactive about posting builds up on the official forums and I’m sure the same is happening on D3 fansites as well.

Comedy Plot Roundup

I found this in the official forums, there are plot spoilers but he’s not that far from the actual plot.

Asmodan: “Puny human! I am the evil master strategist and I show it by frontal assault with no vanguard and a demon in the larder. Fear my cunningivity!”
Player: “Now you’re making !@#$ up. Time to take the fight to you, if only to shut you up. Nothing personal, really. Besides, I can see the family resemblance to Belial.”
Asmodan: “Are you mocking me? ARE YOU MOCKING ME?! I tankrushed hundreds of noobs in C&C, I’ll have you know!”
Player: “Actually, that explains quite a lot. Up for a game of Stratego?”
Asmodan: “RAWR!”
Player. “I’ll say.”

Metacritic and the Problem of Crowdsourced Reviews

I’m all for freedom of expression, but when the haters rush the review sites it’s hard to get a meaningful review from crowdsourced sites like Amazon or Metacritic. Or in other words, yes I get that you hate the DRM but apart from that what is the game like?

Gamepolitics.com reports on the deluge of embittered critics on Metacritic. For sure it’s annoying when you can’t play a game you paid for, but some people like reviews to also consider the gameplay rather than representing a spike of frustration.

So at least pro (or even non pro) game reviewers still have something to offer, even if people hate their opinions too. Metacritic in particular is so vulnerable to this type of hate-bombing that it is losing any value it ever had as a review aggregator and instead is more of a – I don’t know – opinion survey? For a very specific set of opinions.

Patrick Garratt at VG247 wonders about Metacritic’s relevance. He also highlights Blizzard’s refusal to allow pre-release review copies which means that any reviews you read must have been compiled after release and explains why that could be a good trend.

I am quite curious to see what the more authoritative pro reviewers make of D3, and hopefully we’ll see more of this in the upcoming week. I enjoy it very much as a game (which is my personal bottom line), but it also has major failings that leave questions in my mind.

Torchlight 2 Beta

Runic rather smartly held a weekend beta for Torchlight 2 last weekend, with no NDA, so first impressions are scattered around the internet. My personal feel is that I plan to play it, but it will be really hard for me to go back to a talent tree based system after D3. I also love storytellling, even if it’s really cheesy, which is another point in favour of D3 for me.

(I know, my tastes in games are not cool Winking smile )

Pete at Dragonchaser is more of a fan of talent trees and feels differently. Even reading this I die a bit inside when he gets excited about spending 5  points per level on stats – I always hated that aspect of RPGs.

Arb waxes lyrical about her ferret, and that’s not a euphemism.

Here’s some discussion about the T2 beta from rpg.net

[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.

[Diablo 3] Blizzard, like Atlas, try to carry the weight of the world on their servers

You have to feel for the masses of single player gamers who loaded up their shiny new copy of Diablo 3 to be met with lag, server errors, and various bugs. And this is what passes for a HALF-DECENT MMO launch.

d3install

All you need to know about this game is that it will tug mercilessly on the heartstrings of anyone who lost their heart to Diablo 2.  All the gang are back: Deckard Cain, Tyriel, a blacksmith with an annoying accent, the Skeleton King, the Butcher, and a few new additions who you’ll probably wish would shut up so that you can get on with the serious business of exploding monsters in all directions.

Sadly, it doesn’t need innovative design or gameplay to make me happy when playing a Diablo-like game and they don’t really get more Diablo-like than this, so Blizzard hit the nail on the head with that side of things. Even down to the point of Act 1 taking place in grim gothic torture chambers and Act 2 in the desert. But if you like this sort of thing, it’s good clean explody fun and before you know it, several hours have passed and you find yourself pondering which weapon combination to try next or how that new rune will work out in play, where is the next waypoint and oh please will someone shut that companion up!

It’s uncanny really, I was just getting really wound up by the templar’s gormtastic moralising and cheesy combat comments (eg. “Evil has been REBUKED!”) and thinking, “You know, what my barbarian really needs is a sleazy thief sidekick who’ll spend the whole time trying to hit on me and any female associates “ and sure enough, Blizzard obliged. OK, that wasn’t quite what I was thinking, but the scoundrel is working much better for me as a companion than the templar who was a) annoying and b) NEVER HEALED. Or if he did I didn’t notice. Admittedly the scoundrel is Captain Obvious and says things like “that looks like a hard monster!” and “Yay loot!” (paraphrased, but he does talk about loot a lot.) It’s like adventuring with a sleazy version of Hawley.

It’s a slick game, I’ve been playing a Barbarian and have abilities that let me leap into a group of mobs, swing my axes around like a cuisinart and have things go flying in all directions. Simple pleasures. It’s like a fury warrior amped up to 11 and I’m not surprised that the guy who did the superfast run through normal mode picked a Barbarian. The multiplayer game is slick too, but we haven’t tried that yet since beta due to waiting on everyone’s copy arriving.

Arb expresses how sad of a panda she is that hers hadn’t arrived yesterday in her new blog that everyone should follow (it arrived in today’s post so hoping for a happy panda post tomorrow).

There have, as mentioned above, been a fair number of server issues. I think Blizzard seems to be getting onto these quickly but they did have a stress test, they did know how many pre-orders were out there, they should have really been prepared for this. Main issues I’ve faced have been “being put on US servers automatically and only realising after my first character killed the skeleton king”, “new character on EU servers didn’t get any achievements at all”,  bit of minor lag, difficulty connecting during peak hours local. A lot of these seem better now – my partner got put on the EU servers when he installed his copy last night, when I tried the game today I was earning achievements again, the gold auction house has been turned back on etc.

Note on selecting servers: It’s Options –> Account –> Servers

So if it is bugging you, have some tea and settle in, it’ll be sorted swiftly. Clearly this doesn’t take away from the idea that you should be able to play a game you have bought, especially if you intended to play it as single player. And if those servers are offline for maintenance, then just forget it.

Tobold notes that decent items for levelling are cheap on the auction house. I think he’s right and this will continue – if you don’t want best in slot but something nicer than your drops, it’ll be cheap to buy it in the gold AH. Ignore any advice not to sell magic items to vendors, it’s entirely possible they’ll give you a better price than either a) the cost of the disenchanted materials or b) than you’d get on the auction house.

diablofight

(Yeah, my Barbarian is in that screenshot somewhere.)

Blizzard have pushed forwards the storytelling aspect somewhat, experimenting in particular with giving you voiced versions of stories via journal extracts and conversation snippets with NPCs. This I think works very well if you can get past the accent issue, I enjoyed picking up bits of journal and following up on companion/ NPC conversations. I also really like getting the stories and setting in a piecewise way. The story itself is not going to win any prizes for originality or .. err.. anything else but it does the job. It’s DIABLOISH dammit. I quite like the snippets of game background and setting, however annoying the templar is as a companion (there is an unwritten rule in RPGs that templars are always annoying btw, this is also true in MMOs and applies to players in templar related guilds as well as NPCs), the templar order itself is quite intriguing.

Sadly, having gotten used to Bioware companions I keep expecting mine to be able to sell my trash loot and have involved romances. Not that I’d want to romance any of them, there are mobs to smash!

As you progress in the game the difficulty does ramp up, and the random encounters and bosses in particular can become quite interesting. Wasdstomp has some comments on one of the Act 1 bosses where I also had to pause, respec, have a look around the environment, and then go in and whip its arse. Never let it be said there’s no reward for thinking about an encounter, just a bit.

Pop Tips for the Butcher: There are two healing wells and they respawn during the fight. The fiery areas will start to glow before they actually get set on fire. And I respecced for good single target damage. 

The music is also excellent and does a grand job of setting the mood.

And lets finish on some Diablo words of wisdom:

diabdea