I went out last night to try to get another Inferno Act I run going in hardcore. I play a barbarian with ~500 resist, and I know that’s a bit low for inferno, but I’ve been farming Act III hell for so long that literally the only way I could die would be to either fall asleep (which actually did happen to my buddy when he was playing the other day) or if the servers go. I have nearly 5 days played on this character.
A little while into the run I come upon a cave, and inside there’s a champion pack with Nightmarish/Waller/Jailer/Desecrator. I get feared into a corner and walled there. When it happens I’m thinking to myself “these walls need to come down or I’m going to die here eventually” – revenge, overpower (with the life gain rune), and a potion can only keep me up so long under several stacks of desecrator. Instead, I died, and lost all my gear and experience. My new highest level character in hardcore is level 8.
It would be understandable if I were upset. I lost a character I played for 120 hours. It would be understandable if I were irate at the game for dying in such a stupid manner (the “and now you stand there until you die pack”). It would, in fact, be understandable if I ragequit Diablo III, told myself Diablo was “just a stupid game anyway”, and went and played another game.
That isn’t what I did, though. Instead, I sat there for a moment, staring at the screen, surprised that after all that I actually died. But then, I felt good about it. Not because I felt it was a good way to die, or any of that, but because losing the only character I had in the endgame gave me a reason not to play anymore. I was happy, because I didn’t feel like I owed it another shot – and I didn’t really have any friends who still played to goad me into it.
Instead, I laddered in SC2. And y’know what – it was fun, and I never once felt like what I was doing was tedious. I honestly can say I feel like life is just more rewarding without Diablo in it, and I’m surprised because I didn’t really realize until I lost my reason to play that I wasn’t really having fun anymore. I thought I was – and there were moments (like buying an upgrade) that were fun. But overall, most of my time spent in Sanctuary felt tedious.
But why? Diablo 2 was so straightforward – how did we get here? What went wrong? And now we get to the bulk of the blog.
Items are a driving factor in a lot of Action RPGs. Diablo II was one of the best (in my humble opinion) at creating itemization you wanted and having it drop reasonably often enough that you’d want to keep what you found, while not inundating you with unique items all over the place. Diablo III, by comparison, seems to have trouble in this regard.
The Auction House
I have more thoughts on the AH, but this article sums it up so nicely that I need to link it first: http://www.teamliquid.net/forum/viewmessage.php?topic_id=354374
Beyond that, I should note a few other things.
John Locke philosophy on ownership is something I feel applies a lot to what gives us connection to things in video games, characters, items and other aspects of the game. This philosophy is based on accumulation of property in the state of nature and therefore that man only comes to own things when his labor is mingled with the property he wishes to own. When I create a unique spec for my character or when Diablo drops an amazing unique – that’s something I made, something I am bonded with. It’s my own, and therefore I want to have experiences with it. When it’s on sale at a store and I just have to save up money and go buy it – sure, that doesn’t make it less good as an item. But I’m less likely to feel like it’s “mine” and more likely to feel like it’s just something I’m using.
Think of it like cooking – have you ever made a recipe that is your very own? Chances are there is food that is better, and chances are you are even capable of making food that’s better (sometimes that only means buying a box of rice-a-roni, but still). But when you want to make an impression on someone with the food you make, you don’t buy a box of easy mac – you make your recipe. Not because it’s amazing, but because it’s yours, and that makes it special. So it is with your diablo characters. When I lost my barbarian, sure – I could see ways of playing, gearing or speccing differently, but they all felt packaged. I didn’t feel like I had “my” thing – because “my” most efficient choices would be every barb’s most efficient choices – look at the barb thread and you’ll see what I mean. Your choices in stats you want to find on gear are very limited. I don’t imagine this changes much for other classes.
Diminishing Returns Curve
Previously, I made a blog post about this at: http://www.teamliquid.net/blogs/viewblog.php?id=349053.
The basic thing I’m going for here, though, is that damage reduction is too necessary, and when you have a ton of it – it makes the game too easy, while having not enough makes it not just hard - but impossible.
In Diablo II, you get your stats from a variety of sources: dropped gear, gambled gear, runewords, gems, jewels, charms, and customized stat allocation at level increases. In diablo 3, you buy it from the AH. Sure, technically no one’s forcing you to buy off the AH, but let’s face it – things like legendaries and well-statted rares drop too seldomly for the AH not to be integral in a less-than-rage-inducingly-boring game of farming nightmare for items with high enough vitality to survive in hell. Try rolling a character without the AH sometime. It takes far more patience to get into Inferno on even footing than I think most gamers are likely to possess. There are a lot of things you can work on in gaming and still keep the fun – learning to have a lot of patience with drop rates really isn’t one of them. In Diablo II, by contrast, using a combination of MF gear and inherently higher drop rates, you can get a decent number of legendary items while leveling up.
And where are some of the more creative mods we saw in D2? What about bows that fire exploding arrows? Or runewords that come with auras attached? Or items with life/power leech (this exists, but only for a couple rare slots in limited quantities)? What about items with procs or items with charges?
Reliance on Damage Reduction
(Note: I understand Softcore DPS characters can just kill things fast and that’s all they really need to do, I’m primarily talking to barbs/HC characters with whom I have at least something in common).
See all the fun stuff I outlined above? If you need to have all your pieces kitted out with +Primary Stat, +Vitality, and +Resist all – then you don’t really have the ability to go after these stats. You only have the illusion of being able to do something more fun (like going after damage upgrades, or getting some of the above “fun” mods). Currently, the fact that damage reduction is in the game and is as powerful in reducing difficulty as it is leads to this outcome: you gear the way you need to in order to survive – you get a ton of health, a ton of all resist, and by the time you have the gear to live you don’t have any room to pick up “fun” mods or damage-dealing mods other than your primary stat – because finding gear with primary stat/vit/AR/fun stat is just a bit too specific to actually be the type of thing a person can find.
Didn’t they say the reason they took out the ability to assign attribute points at level was because there was really only one way to do it with very little wiggle room?
II. Character Design
Character design is a vital part of the action RPG experience. If I don’t like or don’t care about my character, even good design can be obfuscated because what I’m doing in the game just isn’t all that fun.
I’ve been against the removal of customization of characters from the beginning, but it is noteworthy that this feeling hasn’t gotten better as my play with Diablo 3 went on. Don’t get me wrong, there is an allure to knowing that my Tank Barb had access to the same abilities that any Throwing Barb or Whirlwind Barb has. The problem is, as above, that while it makes for less sensitive choices (due to fewer consequences, you can just use whatever ability you want without having to worry about it), it also removes ownership from the player over the character. If you’ve skipped some of the above, I’ll reiterate this point – that we only really feel ownership over something (and in some philosophies, we only ‘deserve’ ownership over something) once we have mingled our efforts with it. The problem is that you walk away from a D3 experience without the feeling like you’ve “built” a character. Sure, you’re using the character a certain way that others probably wouldn’t – but that’s less like “building” and more like “using”.
Think of it this way. When you need a hammer, but don’t have one, you could use the blunt end of a screwdriver to do the hammering poorly. If it goes well, do you feel a deeper connection with the screwdriver? No. You feel like “hey, that was pretty good ingenuity on my part”, but since the object you used remains unchanged, you don’t feel like you invested anything in it. On the other hand, let’s say that instead you fasten three beer cans to the end of an old shoe and use that as a hammer. Ok, so that’s the worst hammer ever, right? But now that you’ve made it out of what would be trash, are you more likely to use it? Hell yes you are! Are you kidding? You’re going to be intentionally not buying a hammer now so you can use your jerry-rigged piece of garbage for all your hammering needs. You changed what it is and what it can do in a way that can only be undone with more work (where work is thought of as the loss of time or expenditure of other resource).
These characters are nice and all, but they’re all screwdrivers. We can use them however we like with really no penalty, but also with no investment – and therefore, no attachment. A witch doctor may have an easier design to work with than my necro in D2, but I have nowhere near the connection to the WD – because I have invested essentially nothing in his design that cannot be undone without any work at all.
Ranged characters shoot things. Melee characters melee things. That’s the gist of all of the abilities. Barbarians, sick of meleeing? Wanna try something new? How about… well, weapon throw? Maybe hitting things in the face with a different buff would feel different eh?
Let’s compare to Diablo 2 again. Sure, barbarians have a wealth of melee options, but they’re options which feel incredibly distinct. This one has a million % runspeed (frenzy). This one has 0 armor at all times but hits like a truck (berserk). This one is almost impossible to hit (concentrate). In D3, all your abilities feel like a combination of damage and fury gain/cost – with the only notable thing being whether you hit multiple enemies or not (which D2 also had in WW, btw). In D2, you also had the singers, the throwing barbs, you could make a barb who used a bow as it’s primary damaging aspect.
And it isn’t just the barbarian. Pretty much every class in diablo 2 has melee builds and ranged builds, and every tree is built to feel very different. In Diablo 3, there are really no trees, and the only class which can really have success at ranged AND in melee is the barbarian (not in the same build, mind you).
Also, I’d like to know why 6 abilities chosen is better than skill trees. The reason I heard from during the beta was that most people sunk all of their points into a few abilities and used those – so why not just pick those few abilities instead? My summon necro uses Dim Vision/Amplify Damage/Skeleton/Skeletal Mage/Revive/Golem/Corpse Explosion and probably a few more that I forgot to mention. Notice that’s more skills than is available in Diablo 3, and none of them are those BS “buff that makes you not die in inferno” types of selections (looking at you War Shout, Monk Mantras, Wizard Armors, and many, many others).
“Dynamic Challenge” is a good way of describing what I was looking for in D3 that I didn’t find. Don’t get me wrong, D3 is hard to get through – but the reason it’s hard right now for me isn’t that I have trouble engaging properly, getting away or using my abilities in a pinch. I just don’t have the gear to survive in many places without never touching things like plague or molten (that, especially when they’re on fast enemies, aren’t things melee types can avoid). The reason I died eventually was that I didn’t have leap to get out of walls and ended up under a big pile of desecrator. It wasn’t even like I could fight back if I wanted to. I could hit the enemies on the other side of the wall, but once I got feared, I stopped being able to determine my role in this battle. This is a bit like the problems with FF/Fungal in SC2. There’s nothing wrong with them inherently (except that it’s a bit of a skill tax, ain’t it?), but things like Waller, Jailer and Nightmarish (I won’t include frozen because you can actually dodge) don’t create interaction. You get hit by them and you either have the response that lets you play again or you don’t. If you do (again, it’s a skill tax) they’re ignorable (unless your skill is on CD). If you don’t, you lose your ability to act. There’s nothing dynamic here.
There’s the same thing wrong with the “spiky” nature of the damage dealt by enemies. If enemies 1-shot you, that doesn’t create interaction. It either means you need to be able to dodge all attacks consistently (whicih, if you can do it, is also a problem), or it means you spend a lot of time dead. Sure, that makes a game hard, but it doesn’t make it hard in a good and interesting way.
Take Diablo 2 again. Sure, enemies in Diablo 2 hit hard. But they also let you get away with kiting a lot of the time (not kiting everything, mind you, but kiting hard-hitting enemy types). This creates interaction. You have to actively work to avoid damage, and generally you can’t avoid it all. There’s a style of cautious play which is really, really risky. That’s what makes it fun. It’s active, it’s risky – it makes you feel like you could die, but your play is saving you. And in Diablo 2, that starts in Act 1 Normal (without twinking) and runs the life of the game.
Effects on the Learning Process
Where/what am I supposed to learn in Diablo 3? The perfect stutter step? A primer on not standing in fire? Over the years, my gameplay in Diablo 2 evolved from “I run in and tackle all groups of enemies I can find” to “I pull the fewest mobs possible, kite away to pull them apart, always have a TP up somewhere I can run to, have a strategy so I don’t get surrounded/trapped, have skills which deal multiple type of elemental damage or a way around immunities”. All of these parts of gameplay are gone – so what’s in it’s place? Am I not supposed to engage certain packs of mobs because they’ll just kill me? Is that what I learned? How is my gameplay supposed to be evolving? After 5 days of played time, it more or less hasn’t. Am I missing something or is it that once you learn what the keywords do you don’t really engage them any differently.
Drop rates are atrociously low. I booted up Diablo 2 last night, and played for an hour. Corpsefire dropped a Rixot Keen (the unique short sword). That means that in one hour of Diablo 2 I successfully saw more of the same caliber of drop that I only saw three times (most of which weren’t even selling on the AH because they were so bad) in 120 hours of played time. Mind you, I’m talking about probabilities on loot tables, so others may have seen different experiences, but I know a lot of people who play D3, and none of them have really found much legendary/set-wise in all their time playing – and like I said, most of what they did find was trash.
I leveled with four other characters with this character. I cannot tell you what any of them found from drops that was worth using. Some rares probably, maybe a couple really well-rolled items. But that’s it.
What is there to do aside from farm for these atrociously low drop rates and sell stuff on the AH (see above for why this isn’t very good either)? There really isn’t anything. Even rerolling seems like a bad idea because the classes don’t play differently enough that you feel like you’re doing something new when you go through it with a new character.
The leveling pace is over at a really awkward time, too. It doesn’t take that long to hit level cap (unlike Diablo 2), so further play is only concerned with acquisition of gear. You lose the ability to make guaranteed progress simply by killing stuff.
Originally, multiplayer content was miserable for a few reasons, but the biggest one did (to Blizzard’s credit) get removed in a rather timely fashion – the enemy damage buff. However, what I’ve found with multiplayer versus solo content is a number of issues.
Lack of followers means slower clears. I play a tank character. I don’t deal much damage. And yet, I still feel like without my friends around, my enchantress and I clear things faster than I do with my buddies (and she has better synergy with me than my DH buddy, too). What was the problem with followers tagging along in Diablo 2 that needed to be corrected in Diablo 3? Followers are good (they were good in Diablo 2 as well), but are/were they so good that they trivialized something precious about the game experience. My impression from playing Diablo 2 is no – but perhaps I’m alone in this regard. When you benefit from playing by yourself, the game is under a social pressure. A great many gamers want to have fun with their friends, and this game punishes them for it. Why?
The Hardcore Experience
I’ve seen a great many posts to the extent that people who don’t like that they lose their gear when they die in HC “aren’t hardcore enough”. Perhaps that is true of me as well. But here’s something I will say – gear, its use and its acquisition are way different in Diablo 3 in a way that makes Hardcore much less fun. In Diablo 2, gear was something you liked having, but it wasn’t fundamentally necessary in order to survive. A person (not me, but I’ve seen others with more patience than me do it) could run around with a lot of characters in D2 completely naked and not die. Try it in Diablo 3. You won’t live. If the damage increase from having 0 armor and 0 all resist doesn’t kill you – the enrage timers will. Maybe this makes it a better game to an extent – but it also means we accept that we need a certain level of gear for all content. That supposition makes hardcore… harder to justify. When you know you’re going to need to put a ton of time (and money) into getting gear for inferno every time you die there, it makes leveling hardcore characters a lot more tedious. A lot of that relates to earlier concerns which make leveling 1-60 reasonably fun, but then there’s a large gap between 60 and whatever gear is acceptable to go to inferno.
I do consider hardcore play to be a lot about patience, caution and persistence – but I don’t like how this game seems to put the lion’s share on patience – because after your first play through, there isn’t a lot to look forward to about leveling again.
IV. The End of a Franchise?
For me, it is. I’ll still probably play Diablo 2 on and off. I won’t play Diablo 3’s expansions or any subsequent releases unless I hear amazing things from friends. Mind you, this decision isn’t because of one or two factors – but rather a confluence of ways in which Blizzard has messed up a type of game they invented. It isn’t because my character died (that can easily be remedied with time – which when spent playing a game I enjoy is time well spent), it’s because I felt better off having him dead.
Blizzard seems to have lost the idea of what their players want. They seem to have forgotten (or fired the people who knew) that what is really important in a game is connection and immersion. Social connections are important when you’re playing a game. If you don’t have others to commiserate with when you die, or to show your new shiny sword – is it really that much fun to have it? Connection with characters is important in driving you forward to continue to build and evolve your character. Connection with gear is important to give you something to play for. After all the baddies are dead, the gear you can get is all that you can shoot for. If you feel like that acquisition is artificial or forced, you just realistically aren’t going to want to do it. That’s what happened here.
Regardless of your feelings on WoW and SC2, Blizzard has been taking heat for going big corporate for a while, but this is the first time they’ve so clearly messed up a product. Maybe you still enjoy it, and if so, good for you. But the people I talk to, the people I’ve played with, and I personally have no desire to play this game anymore. And it’s only a few months old. At this point in SC2’s life, I still wanted to spend all my free time laddering. I’m worried for Blizzard – this really is a huge flub, and even before they were under heavy criticism. Do they have the flexibility to adapt their image, to design games they were in the 90’s and to work more efficiently as a company (how many years did this take again?) – or will they forever be known as a company that peaked in the 90s-00s, and continue on an M Night Shamylanian nose dive into an abyss of “Last Airbender”-caliber video game garbage.
That may be a bit of an extreme conclusion – but it’s the one I’m wondering, so I’ll put it out there.
V. And then there’s this…
The Diablo III team has made an epic, entertaining, and beautiful gaming experience. That being said, we know that it isn't perfect.
The Diablo III team has made an epic, entertaining, and beautiful gaming experience. That being said, we know that it isn't perfect.
Please feel free to skip this rant, but this is an aggravating thing to read. I held off on criticisms like these because Diablo has never been a game about story and beauty – it’s been a game about hack and slash, fun abilities, compelling itemization and challenging enemies. I played Diablo II for more than 10 years and for the life of me I can’t name any of the NPCs in kurast except Meshif.
There is nothing beautiful about this game, nothing epic about this game – and even entertaining can be debated.
You seem to think that by creating characters which repeatedly say throughout the entire game “oh, look at me, I’m so great” that we will actually agree with them. Psychology doesn’t work like that. Put a person in front of me who’s constantly gloating, and I’m going to hate him – and you don’t want me hating my character or the villains. You want me identifying with my character (a good way to do this, btw, is to make him silent, or let me choose what he says so I don’t have to listen to my character yelling “How tastes your fear?” every 7 seconds to an empty room), and you want me fearing the villains (which again, can also be done by making them silent). Instead, everyone in the game seems to be some combination of stoic, narcissistic, and constantly want to be talking.
You killed Deckard Cain, one of the only characters present in every Diablo game, in hopes that it would get us attached to Leah – which failed, because you already told people paying attention that Diablo was Leah’s father. You made Tyrael into some random guy, who is apparently the true protagonist of the story, because he’s the one rewarded in the ending.
You took Azmodan who you claimed was a “great general” and had him do nothing but taunt us childishly and repeatedly claim that we’d “never be able to” accomplish our objectives, and then immediately claim afterwards that our objectives “accomplish nothing”. You made him a joke of a politician, claimed he was a military mastermind while not really showing us anything more interesting than standard run-of-the-mill engagements, and irritated us the entire way through Act III. But that wasn’t even Act III’s only problem, because after that a long run of Azmodan being annoying, you decided to take succubi and give them a bad name. They weren’t dark, intriguing or seductive to anyone – they were just annoying. Even the lines she had during the fight were just horrid. “I eat you now”? Really Blizzard? You paid someone for the line “I eat you now”?
Then you put Diablo, a villain most of us are still afraid of from Diablo II, inside of Leah (in a move that was supposed to be dark, but wasn’t, because no one actually cared about Leah) and all but made him dance around with breasts yelling “Nah nah nah nah boo boo, you can’t reach me!” all throughout act IV.
And then somewhere within the plot, humans were really nephalem, which are angel-demon babies with superpowers because that makes sense.
The plot didn’t hinder my enjoyment of the game much, because let’s face it, we don’t play action RPGs for the plot. But don’t you come out and call this game “beautiful” and “epic” when, as the story of a movie, it would be comically bad.