My Take on Diablo 3: Reaper of Souls

Those who know me may remember how strongly I said that while “always online” was a Diablo 3 “feature”, I’d not buy it.

Well, I cave in and finally bought the game and its expansion, in a process that took roughly 2 days[1] due “security”.

The Good Parts

Since I’ll mirror a lot of criticism D3 pulled in the last years, I’ll start by the good points:

It’s pretty.

Screenshot002

Well, that’s it. It is on the most beautiful looking hack’n’slash games I ever played. Enemies appear to be part of the environment, while still looking like something not-environment. Hard to understand? Think this: There is one enemy that looks like a tree and, while it doesn’t move, it looks exactly like the other trees; but when it starts moving, it looks like a real enemy.

It’s gorgeous and well designed graphically. I can’t find a single problem with that.

The Bad Parts

The whole problem with D3 is everything else.

It’s a Matter of Scenary

While the game is beautiful, it severely lacks ambience. Grim Dawn (which I gave my took on it before), while looking good but not as beautiful, made me grip my mouse with so much force my thumb is still hurting. D3 music is lackluster and the sounds are not really “fuck, I’m not going there”. The whole atmosphere of D3 lacks a sense of urgency and “oh my god, the world is ending.”

Let me keep comparing D3 with Grim Dawn: In Grim Dawn, humans are in the brink of extinction, being crushed in the middle of two powerful races that see humans simply as tools. When you beat the first boss of the game, the whole village of survivors can’t believe you did
something like that — the idea of beating one of the powerful beings into submission is simply impossible and you did the impossible. In Diablo 3, killing bosses is mentioned as a matter-of-fact, like buying groceries or writing a blog post[2]. Heck, the very first fight you see one of the NPCs mention that he never saw someone fight like that. At the very beginning you are put in the shoes of the most powerful beings in the whole planet — which is exactly what Tyrael says in the end of the expansion.

Challenge Denied

The other problem with D3 is the “baby’s first hack’n’slash” mentality in skills and attributes. “Congratulations son, you got a level. Daddy will now give you a skill, ok? But daddy will give you a skill, not a skill point, ’cause you may break it.” and “Oh no son, those knobs are too hard to you, let daddy select which attributes you need next” are the most annoying facets of this mentally. While in Diablo 2 you could turn a class completely around, like a necromancer based on poison that requires a lot of strength, you absolutely can’t do anything like that in D3. Each class has a design and you can’t in any way, shape or form push them outside their design. Sure, sure, it makes easier to balance a game like this, but this causes another problem: lack of incentive to go forward.

For example, the poisonmancer (that’s how players called the necromancer-with-strength build) example above: you’re required to spent points in strength — an attribute that makes absolutely no sense for a class like the necromancer — because you’ll going melee with monsters and your poison dagger and you need the highest defensive gear possible, which can only be used if you have enough strength. So you keep that armour in your bags because it gives 100 more defence and you need only 3 more points in strength to use and you go around and around trying to kill everything just to gain XP to get those 3 damn points and… you get the picture. It’s the process of that last damn step in getting better to get even better that pushed you forward. And it usually involved in the need to push for just another level to get the 3 more points in intellect so that skill wouldn’t suck all your mana and then you get yet another piece of gear and so on…

(And I reckon this is basically the “carrot on a stick” mentality that Blizzard bought to World of Warcraft, and you can see that it works.)

Without the worry of picking skills or even designing your character the way you want, where the challenge was left? Well, Blizzard seems to have learned a thing or two with their costumers and decided that the best way of dealing with stuff is zerging: instead of going face to face against 1-6 enemies, you usually face 20 or 30 in a single combat. So… yeah, here is the thing to make you feel proud: you defeated 25 monsters without dying — in a game designed to throw 20 to 30 monsters in your face.

This problem is further shown in the start of the 5th act — part of the expansion — when you have to face single enemies at each corner: it is terribly dull and boring but hey, you were trained since the very start of the game that you’d face waves of mobs, in an almost-non-stop combat and you would think that maybe switching to single target skills would be better, but then again, you’ll just be waiting for waves of mobs soon and you never change your skills.

The zerging is also created another problem: while the skills are designed to fill small roles — single target damage, AoE damage, support, resource generation — you end up with always taking at least on one AoE to deal with those 20 to 30 monsters, one support skill for mitigating the damage from those 20 to 30 monsters, one resource generation to keep dealing with those 20 to 30 monsters and some assorted bunch of AoE when you have a lot of resources and your main AoE skill is in cooldown. This absolutely kills any chance of building anything else. Yes, build diversity would come from your decision to make a strong single-target character, or a support character, or even an AoE build, but due the design of encounters — which are also a shadow of the daddy-picks-your-skills design — you end up with very little variation of builds.

So, to sum up: You have no choice on skills or how to distribute your points, which gives you no challenge to look ahead (“get the damn 3 points in strength to use this armor”, “get enough skill points to open that mitigation skill”), so the game throws zerging to provide some challenge to you, which stifles build variation. Can you see that the whole problem with the game is the decision of hand holding design?

Anti Yamato Gun Design

There is a little anecdote about Space Battleship Yamato: If they have such powerful canons, why don’t they start firing them right out of the bat? Well, the reason is simply because they take too long to recharge and consume too much resources to fire. So starting with them out of the bat would mean that if there was a bigger challenge up ahead, they would not be ready for it.

Most games add a “yamato gun” skill: something with a long cooldown that requires a lot of resources which you’d use as a last resource because there may be something up ahead that may require more firepower.

D3 takes this completely away. The big resource, big damage skill daddy gave you earlier? Do not worry, it will get out of cooldown in less than 30 seconds and will take only 3 hits of your resource generation skill. So you never save it. With a monk, I keep using the most impressive skill (Seven Sided Strike), which does a lot of damage in a single target, just to kill annoying enemies that I could simply run to and kill with a single hit, but hey, super skill will get out of cooldown in less than 15 seconds and I just need to punch someone in the face again to gain enough resources for it, so fuck it, I’ll use it. In no moment whatsoever I had to run away from a boss to regain enough resources or wait for a cooldown.

Play Online With Yourself

Oh yeah, I’ll have to speak about the “always online” requirement. Oh yeah, I’ll repeat what everyone else said, so you’re free to skip this part of you’re already tired of this.

Still here? Good.

I can’t remember a game that plays with network as bad as D3. Even Guild Wars 2, which is a MMO, can handle lag spikes better than D3. More than once I was put there, damaging air, walking around with no mobs attacking me and then, suddenly, a huge pile of numbers flying off with random results — sometimes I killed the whole bunch of enemies, sometimes I was just dead. Even GW2 will try to figure out what’s going on for a while, using previous information, reducing the impact of the lag spike.

Not only that, but for a couple of weekends, Blizzard login servers have been been hammered by something and were really slow (this was a notice they put in the launcher). So the problem is not simply how my ISP, my modem, my wireless router and their connections work: The problem can be on Blizzard site and who the hell are you to tell them that they need to upgrade their connection?

But not to fret, I bet Mr Jay Wilson will pay from his own pocket to replace my house wiring — or even Blizzard wiring, or their ISP wiring. Actually, Jay Wilson, being such a nice guy, will replace the wiring everywhere to prove that internet problems don’t fly anymore.

Conclusion

Although I have given D3 just a single positive problem, I can’t say that the game is bad. It is not. The absolute summary of D3 is: It is pretty damn nice generic ARPG.

The problem with D3 is “what it could be”. Watching D3 in its state is like knowing this kid that can draw amazing paintings and, finding him years later, he dropped the paints and became a lawyer because his parents say so. You saw the potential years ago and now it seemed that it went all to waste.

The new ARPGs that appeared when D2 left without a successor prove that: Grim Dawn, Path of the Exile, even Torchlight proved that you can make a “smart man ARPG”. The sad fact is that Blizzard saw this ressurgence and decided to go the other way around: Instead of making you think, they took everything away and made a “ARPG for dummies”, with so much hand-holding that even their ideas of customization when down the drain.

Oh, and the fact that D3 is, today, one of the most expensive ARPGs around doesn’t help even a little bit.

[1] The whole process was convoluted as hell: First, I had to buy Diablo 3 for BRL 79.90 (there was this “amazing” promotion to buy both D3 and RoS for “only” 169.80 instead of 179.80, in which I believe was made by the guy responsible for the class balance). So first I bought D3 via “DineroMail”, a process that took 5 hours to be approved. Then, burned by the long delay, I tried to fill my Blizzard account with enough money to buy directly, thinking that since Blizzard talks directly to my card operator, I’d have to wait less. The whole process took 15 hours, then.

[2] … which brings another point: Why were the D3 designers so obsessed with Leoric? I mean, fuck it, I had to deal with him in Diablo 1, had to hear his stories — and kill him again — in Diablo 2 and now at least 50% of the first act goes around him again? I mean, seriously? I got it already that he got crazy when corrupted by Diablo, you don’t need to repeat it already for the damn third time! If I was curious on what happened to Leoric — or even who the hell was Leoric, for that matter — I could, I don’t know, search the internet, since the damn “always online” forces me to have one, right?

Blizzard plans to take over the world

(from the “it’s-funny-laugh” department)

Over the weekend, we had the announcement of “Diablo 3”, the new game from Blizzard. Blizzard is famous for its “World of Warcraft” franchise, which is about to get a new expansion, “Wrath of the Lich King” in a non-announced time. Blizzard is also working on “StarCraft 2”, so popular on Asian countries that they held competitions which could rival the Olympics.

Now… Can anyone imagine what would happen if Blizzard announced that those three releases would happen in the same day?

First of all, Asian markets would stop ’cause everybody and their mums would buy StarCraft 2 and start playing. American economy and parts of Europe would also come to halt due Wrath of the Lich King (and everybody racing to be the first reaching level 80 with their Death Knights.) The few pockets of resistance would be smashed by Diablo 3.

Governments, in desperation, would pay Blizzard to remove copies of their games from the market.