First Impressions of Diablo III

I am sure most people that reads my blog have heard about Diablo III, a game from the company Blizzard. It is one of the crown jewels of the game company, aside from World of Warcraft and Starcraft. For the last ten years everyone who remembers Diablo II has been excited about the sequel. For years we were tantalized with screen shots and promises of the game to be released.

I cannot think of the number of times over the last five years of hearing “authenticated” rumors of the game’s release, with always the motto “It will be released when it is ready, and not a day before.” Year after year the game did not come out.  Often long lapses of silence from Blizzard causes people to think it was never going to be released.

Well the game is on the verge of finally coming out.  This weekend (April 20, 2012) anyone could log into their servers and download the game (it is over 4 gigabytes in size).  Playing proved a bit more difficult with the servers constantly going down, but it was a test for this sort of thing.  The true release date is May 15th of this year, so they have some bit of work ahead of them before release.

The game has a number of new character classes to play. The rich abilities and smooth programming is obvious the moment you start playing the game. Everything seems to work, except in a few rare instances of lag (which is more of the Beta thing, I believe). Each character can be played as either a man or a woman, different than the original game when if you wanted to play a sorcerer, for example,  you had to be a woman. Each model seems high detailed, but oddly all of them seem to have advanced palsy: they twitch, squirm, and teeter almost drunkenly when standing still — this is not good animation, sorry. If you let them stand long enough, they do have some unique expressions or animations which is very pleasing.

I think there is a number of cool aspects to the game,  but I am really not impressed with my two day sojourn of the beta testing for a number of reasons.  I had so much hope this game was going to be a continuation of the fantastic gaming of Diablo II, but with better graphics and more of everything.

Aside from the lack of server capacity, which is to be expected from a monumental release of a game like this — hundreds of thousands if not millions of players logging in on untried servers, I do not fault the designers or Blizzard for this. The Beta is exactly provided to test such things.

What I do have a problem with is the two fold contention of the company changing some basic game tenants of Diablo III and also having this attitude of “We know how to play the game, so we’ll make all decisions for you while playing”.

First the major changes in the game. First and foremost, it is a Software as a Service model. That means although you buy the software you never really own it. That to play the game, you must log onto their servers. They control every aspect of the game, from its content to the characters you will spend months playing. It is more of an MMO than it is a single player game, like it or not. Worse, there will be no player made mods for it — they control the servers and thus control the content. What made Diablo II so great was that over the years countless modifications to the game allowed for repeated play. That will no longer be possible. If the server is down, you cannot play the game.

Graphics are of course much better now than from 2000 with extreme resolutions and millions of colors, but to be honest the camera is so far removed no details can be seen when you add new equipment. There is a zoom mode when you go into equipment/inventory but it is not playable at this setting (I wish it was!).

Character generation although fluid and individual skills are impressive, they leave no room for tinkering. Fans of the new game will say, certainly you can select different skills and augment them with runes, but the days of having builds and skill points are gone. When two 30th level wizards meet, they are essentially the same! They have the same abilities and the same capacity of doing things. This mentality of “We know what is better, so we will decide how the character develops” seems thick throughout my weekend play.

Some classes seem outrageously over powered, such as the wizard. During my play I could constantly fire a spell never having to wait more than a second for my mana. However, other classes seemed borked right out of the gate. My barbarian and monk were constantly crying for their version of stamina to do any sort of special attack — this was so obvious in the first couple of hours I wondered how the designers would have not seen this?

Gone are the days of finding some treasure and having to wait until you discover its use or use a scroll on it to determine what it is. For some unknown reason, the designers thought this was not fun?!? All items are automatically known when they drop. Worse is that each player sees different treasure — No more scrambling for treasure, but also no more having to talk to anyone about a trade (you can buy and sell things on the auction which is so unbelievably sterile it is sickening). The designers have removed any reason to communicate with someone else in the game.

although you do eventually get a teleport capability, it is again at the hands of the designers and not under the control of the players. “Let us play, because we know when and where you can use it best.” This kind of surely, I am better than thou attitude pervades every aspect of the game.

It is suppose to be a multi-player game, but for some reason they have removed any reason why you would speak with another player? I was in multiple open games and no one ever said anything. Even when I talked, I was met with silence.

Blizzard went to great lengths to force players into the way they think you ought to play the games, yet allowed characters to be called all sorts of foolish and trite names. I would have thought that if the consistency of the world was to be maintained, which seems forefront in the minds of the designers, that a random or restricted name list would have been screwed on tight!

What astounds me about the game more than anything else is how easy they have made it. Aside from never having to fear death — and literally I played every class to 6th level I never died once. Did everyone here me? I never died — on most characters I never even feared death! Secondly, they hold you hand in every quest to the point of …”Hey I have played this game for 10 years, so let me lead you around by the nose” mentality. Everything is mapped out for you — you never guess where anything is at or where next to proceed. There is no room for exploration because they tell you everything that is going on!

This game should have been released five years ago, albeit with lesser graphics but there is nothing here I see that says “This is the reason we waited 10 years to put this out?!” I am still holding out hope for some serious play balancing, making the game harder, and options that allow for player interaction in the next couple of months.