It’s no surprise Diablo 3 has been the subject of debate and myriad flame wars across the internet. So few franchises have existed as long as Diablo has, and it’s only natural Blizzard’s teeming fanbase had high expectations of the successor to two of the most popular action-RPGs of all time.
The amount of bickering was unfathomable. Many players had their doubts, while others defended their favorite developer with hyped-up PR claims yet to be proven. And when the day of reckoning came, the forums were alight again, as server issues made final judgment impossible for both camps.
Now that the dust has settled and players (including myself) have gotten to tear through a large portion of the game, two conclusions become immediately apparent.
- Diablo 3 is a very good game.
- Diablo 3 could have been a much better game.
At almost every turn, perfection is visible, but out of reach. And while certain decisions are understandable (though still regrettable), others remain inscrutably idiotic.
The good side of Sanctuary
I’ll begin first by praising Diablo 3’s revised skill system. While I originally had my doubts about how unleveled, slot-based abilities would play out, the net result is that using them is fun. From an early level, your character has access to abilities that are visually, aurally, and spatially interesting. Sure, I would have preferred the option to unlock certain runes at certain levels (instead of a linear progression), but waiting for a particular ability isn’t much different than waiting to spend skill points till level 30 in Diablo 2.
The game’s poorly explained Elective Mode was, unfortunately, necessary for my enjoyment. Without it, character builds were reduced to a Panera-style “pick 6” menu. Yet with the click of a mouse (followed by millions of other, more interesting clicks), I was free to experiment. My Demon Hunter, Bayonetta, could now be a traps-only specialists or even a melee sword-and-shield fighter encased in a whirlwind of knives. Excellent.
Also enjoyable were the game’s environments, which offered a nice mix between claustrophobic and agoraphobic. Almost every stage was dark, forcing players to plunge into potential peril at every juncture. The sounds and music paid nostalgic tribute to both Diablo and Diablo 2, giving longtime players a lot of pleasant cues. The death throes of a Fallen, the drop of a rare ring, and the haunting melody of Old Tristram were among the sounds that sealed the deal. Diablo 3 took advantage of my surround sound beautifully, allowing me to snipe distant monsters without being able to see them.
Finally, many streamlined game elements made the entire experience easier. A shared Stash and shared craftsmen (excluding Hardcore mode) made item transfer quick and painless. New options to hide or display attack damage, loot drops, and other information allowed me to put only the data I needed on-screen at any time. And the de-itemization of Town Portal and Identify spells freed up inventory by removing what were previously two annoying necessities.
Putting players in purgatory
Of course, there were many changes made that weren’t so obviously beneficial. The first among them was the nearly universal removal of all player interaction. Sure, players could still join co-op games, but with severe limitations that are several steps back from Diablo 2 (and, in some cases, the original Diablo).
- Lobbies are limited to four players, instead of eight
- Lobbies cannot be named, hampering game creators and joiners
- Players may only trade a tiny number of items at a time
- Trading between players is pointless due to the auction house
- Any player can skip dialog/cut scenes without a vote
- There is no longer in-world PvP, or any PvP for that matter
Are these world-ending complaints? By no means. Yet many of these omissions have killed the spirit of what the Diablo 2 community was. In D2, it was common for players to make games like “Free items for Paladins” or “Let’s kill Big D!!!” or “Looking for FCR rings” or “Quebec players chat.” Playing the game online forced you to meet strangers and, in many cases, get to know them better. That’s basically gone now.
Also gone is the sense of challenge from Diablo and Diablo 2 (though each in their own way). I don’t mean to brag or anything, but as I approach the end of Nightmare mode I find it odd that I have yet to die a single time, ever. Enemies have very few hitpoints compared to my damage per second, and attacks are so greatly telegraphed (at some points even marking the ground for upcoming strikes) that getting hit by the most devastating blows basically requires falling asleep at the keyboard.
Have I seen other players die? Sure, countless times. But it was always due to some needless bravado or a poor decision to fight from a compromised position. I’m not even sure there’s a death penalty, unlike previous games where you were respawned unequipped and helpless. But I wouldn’t know because I felled very rare mob, sub boss, and act boss without any difficulty, only coming close to death once or twice.
Will the game get harder in Hell and Inferno? Undoubtedly. But Blizzard’s failure to murder my digital avatar over the course of dozens of hours is a great disappointment, especially considering I usually had no idea what enemies or scenarios I would face. I had originally planned to play Diablo 3 as Hardcore-only, but so far it appears there isn’t a goddamn difference! Of course, I understand difficulty is subjective, but when I can take down the final boss without using a single potion or healing skill, it’s a tad disappointing.
Fallen far from grace
On top of my minor gripes, Diablo 3 reeks of dumbing down in so many ways, it’s saddening. Yes, some changes (as mentioned before) were well intended and well executed, but many omissions and “improvements” have prevented Diablo 3 from having the decade-enduring appeal of its predecessors.
Hit the hardest in the transition from Diablo 2 are the game’s items. You see, in Diablo 2, every item had certain attributes. Really damaging two-handed weapons had insane stat requirements. Spears and polearms were slow, but had huge reach. Javelins and axes traded point-blank efficiency for ranged attacks. Hammers did extra damage to undead foes, and wands improved casters’ abilities. In essence, every weapon had huge pros and cons.
In Diablo 3, all weapons have the same range: either point blank, or infinite. Their attack speed and damage might differ a little, but an overwhelming DPS stat does its best to hide that information from you. Every weapon has 100% accuracy, and there are no requirements other than level and class. Essentially, there is no difference between a dagger that does 50 DPS and an axe that does 50 DPS.
Unique items, which have been renamed Legendary items, are now just as bland. In the original Diablo, unique armor and weapons looked different and offered astonishing trade-offs like powerful buffs at the cost of zero resistances. In Diablo 2, uniques ditched the negative modifiers in favor of truly unique bonuses. The Kuko bow fired free, explosive arrows. The famous Stone of Jordan ring granted enhanced skill levels. And Magefist gloves boosted mana regen while improving Fire Skill damage for any class. You could build an entire character around using them!
Magefist gauntlets are back in Diablo 3, and they are uninspired crap. They now give the same kind of Intelligence boost available on all armor. There are no unique attributes that inspire character builds or careful calculation. The second you get gloves with a better Intelligence or IAS bonus, you’ll ditch your Magefists. Across the board, the same is true of all of Diablo 3’s “Legendary” items. They’re boring stat machines that won’t change how you use your character or what he/she is capable of. In most cases, they’re actually worse than the items you’re already wearing.
The game’s mood also took a few inexcusable blows, thanks to terrible writing, uninspired character design, and terrible, terrible writing. I can’t underscore just how poorly Diablo 3 is plotted, with cookie cutter villains cracking the kind of one-lines you used to hear on Power Rangers in the ’90s.* With heroes that spout out meaningless insults at hell-worms they’ve slain. With supporting characters whose lines make me want to punch my headphones into pieces. With plot points that couldn’t be more foreshadowed unless the characters just flat-out held the script up to the screen. Don’t get me wrong – Diablo and Diablo 2 weren’t masterpieces, which is probably why Blizzard retconned their entire plots to create this iteration’s core conflict.
As previously stated, I’m not a big fan of the character classes. For instance, the Demon Hunter is fun to play, but she’s essentially Bayonetta (including the accent, the high heels, and the insults). Her outfit is a sad amalgam of “post-Warcraft Blizzard fashion” that includes low-poly boots and huge shoulder guards. And her entire concept makes no sense – how can she be considered a demon hunter when every character in the game spends their waking hours hunting demons?
Finally, the game’s online-only architecture is a clear loss for the consumer. Whether you experienced connection issues or not, the fact of the matter is that millions of players who paid $60 did not receive the product/service they paid for on time. If movie-goers were told at showtime that the film would be delayed for maintenance for three hours, they’d probably be furious, and justifiably so. Setting aside time to enjoy media is a big commitment to many players with busy schedules. It’s ironic that Diablo 3 says it needs a constant internet connection, yet apparently that requirement is infrequently met on the server side.
Additionally, Blizzard’s decision to excise the offline single player from Diablo 3 means gamers with spotty internet connections (including military personnel overseas, residents of remote areas, and constant commuters) have no way to reliably enjoy this adventure. There are no mods, no LAN play, and no way to play lag-free in any circumstances. While Blizzard claims these changes are to stifle piracy and hacking, I’m more likely to believe they were intended to boost sales on the Real Money Auction House.
A great action game, a middling Diablo game
Blizzard aimed to make Diablo 3 an accessible action game. In that, they succeeded. Diablo 3 has all the addictive hack-and-slash fun of its predecessors, plus an improved combat system.
What it doesn’t have, however, is soul. The community that existed in Diablo 2, love it or hate it, simply won’t exist in Diablo 3. The game doesn’t lend itself well to customization. Blizzard has argued this would be handled by items, but the items in D3 are actually less interesting than the ones in the rest of the franchise. The story has the emotional depth of a WB teen drama, with cringe-inducing reveals and laughable, terrible dialog.
Up until at least halfway through the game (that being after the entire Normal campaign), there is no difficulty or sense of danger. Enemies are straightforward and weak, having little effect against auction house-geared heroes. And the fabled Inferno mode Blizzard claimed would take “months to beat”? Some guy in the Netherlands soloed it less than a week after launch.
Will you enjoy Diablo 3? Probably, I know I have. But five years from now, I won’t be playing Diablo 3 the way I grinded through Lord of Destruction ad nauseum. I won’t be searching for build-inspiring uniques or high runes. I won’t be feeling the adrenaline rush of a hostile player coming into my hardcore adventure. And I sure as hell won’t be turning up the dialog volume. Ever.
* The evil witch in Act 1 actually has the same stupid hairdo as Rita Repulsa for fuck’s sake.