I’m sure I wasn’t the only one waiting with baited breath for the release of Blizzard’s action RPG behemoth Diablo 3. After all, outside of titles like The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, and Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. I had never anticipated any video game launch as much as I had this one. It would get so bad at times that the days would slow down to an unbearable crawl, my only thoughts consisting of just how much time I would be dumping into this loot grind of a title. Even my marathon sessions with Mass Effect 3′s multiplayer game felt considerably less thrilling as that May 15th date kept drawing that much closer.
But before I knew it, after far too many mental looting runs the the day finally came! I’d already previously installed the game and patiently awaited North America’s unlocking. Once 3am hit on EST, with nary a delay on my part, I rushed to log into my account and get started. Apparently, I wasn’t alone in this sentiment because tens, maybe hundreds of thousands of others did as well, and we were all greeted with what has now become the infamous:
Meaning, it took a couple of hours until most anyone could get in and begin to play.
…The single player game.
While Blizzard did end up making probably the best action RPG I have played since Champions of Norrath on the PlayStation 2, they also launched their title with both massive design oversights in some areas or flaws to its gameplay or structure as a whole. Coincidentally, (and perhaps ironically) there are seven of these flaws, blemishes or shortcomings that stood out to me in particular. While a couple of these are based off week one struggles, others are simply QA issues that are baffling to me as to how they slid through and remained intact on retail release and launch. Regardless, I’d like to share with you my findings, taking a look at the seven most visible issues with Blizzard’s latest (from my perspective) in something I’d like to call: The Seven Deadly Sins of Diablo 3.
(NOTE: Everything pertains to the first week of release. Many of these issues can be remedied over time, though some could be outstanding issues that may still pop up over time.)
Before we go any further, lets get three things straight. First, while I have a great deal of action RPG experience, I have had minimal time with Diablo 2 prior to release; mostly related to minor spurts last year and a chunk of the week before the release of Diablo 3, so I am not entirely familiar with several aspects it brought forth, difficulty being one of them. Second, while I do not completely know the franchise’s history in regards to difficulty, I do know and understand how it’s supposed to ramp up with each difficulty level. Third, as of this writing, unlike most reviews that I’ve seen, I am level 60 at the beginning of Act I on Inferno difficulty, so I have put in a significant amount of time (when I could connect that is, but I digress.)
The problem lies more in how uneven the difficulty is as a whole. Playing on Normal, I barely died at all, and when I did, I understood why. The next difficulty up (Nightmare) presented a more fair challenge throughout, with the only significant spikes of difficulty understandably coming from bosses and Elite Mobs, (those that glow blue, purple or yellow) as they have their own set of special powers. Even with a below average armor and weapon set throughout, all of Normal and most of Nightmare is not that bad.
Hell difficulty however, is where things get pretty ridiculous overall. With each difficulty level, Elite Mobs have an additional power to them. These powers range from Wall (constructing walls around the player to block them in), to Mortar (heaving large fireballs towards players), to Illusionist (creating clones for players to deal with). Stack together several of the more outlandish, and just plain cheap powers together and you have enemies that can be borderline impossible to defeat, either as a solo or four-player party. Sometimes they can be bypassed, other times they need to be completely obliterated via restarting the area from the main menu and praying you end up with one of the more limp combinations. On top of that, Act II becomes decisively more infuriating where resists suddenly play a primary role alongside health and armor. I was told Hell in Diablo 2 was in fact that – hell, but in a reasonable context. By comparison, Diablo 3‘s Hell feels more gimmicky and forced rather than streamlined appropriately. Act I in Hell wasn’t bad at all — it was a legitimate challenge throughout. After Act II though, it becomes overkill. It -might- also have to do with the fact that I am playing a Barbarian, but my class choice aside, there are many gamers who feel the overall difficulty curve is somewhat ridiculous.
There are a few annoying fads going through the world of gaming as of late, from stereoscopic 3D to adding unnecessary multiplayer or co-op aspects to every franchise when they are not needed (save Mass Effect 3). With online piracy and hacking still a tangible thing, Always Online looks to be something that could start up as the latest gaming fad. What’s the problem? Not everyone has online access, constant online access or reliable online access. But think a little deeper into this all – in order to play a single player campaign, you have to do so online through Blizzard servers. This means, if your internet goes out for some reason, you get disconnected from your ‘single-player’ game. If you didn’t pay your internet bill yet and you cannot get online until it’s settled, you cannot play Diablo 3 at all. I can understand why Blizzard did this; to ensure that their Real Money Auction House (RMAH, where players can buy gold and items with real world currency from other players, scheduled to go live on May 29th) isn’t flooded by hackers who circumvented some coding and are selling the top of the line Legendary items, but it in practice compromises more than it secures. It’s a shame that regardless of this constricting measure there’s still a bunch of Twitch TV streams with people circumventing mechanics and farming certain chest spawns, but the system and how effective it truly can be has yet to be fully tested, leading to another nagging issue that will occur every so often (quite a bit since launch and something that isn’t addressed enough)….
Yes. A single-player experience compromised by latency issues. On average, I have 250 msec without another player involved. A majority of that time is seamless, outside pausing the game and coming back immediately after. Early on, speaking for myself, I’ve been hit with some big time lag pockets that have impeded my progress more than once, making an already frustrating debacle even more so. The whole “rubber band effect” familiar to lag ridden experiences (where the player is far ahead on their screen, but is suddenly jarred backwards to where they were previously) becomes even more of a hindrance in a title like this. Network performance issues during a solo campaign is asinine, and will hopefully settle over time. Even if it does, that doesn’t mean it won’t affect players at some point in time, either from a foul up on their end or Blizzard’s.
When playing online with just one friend alongside me, we both experienced little to no lag whatsoever, even when the screen filled with enemies rushing towards us. We did have our moments where the whole “rubber band effect” was occurring, though when we did duo, it didn’t hamper our progress much. Can’t say the same for games with three or four players total, however. The screenshot above was probably the most enraging, as that battle I was going into is already rage inducing enough as it is without latency issues.
For all I know, this could be due to hundreds of thousands of players crammed into all these servers. 3.5 million copies were sold in one day, and that’s discounting the 1.2+ from the World of Worldcraft Annual Pass deal. It could stabilize over time, but these are issues that an MMORPG shouldn’t even experience during a launch.
I understand patches may come about over the course of Diablo 3‘s lifespan, but do we need that big of a time span to perform patches and maintenance? These patches do coincide with World of Warcraft‘s scheduled downtime, so at best, they may only be isolated to a once a week, several hour period of inactivity. Again, coinciding with Number 2, can’t say I’m absolutely thrilled that us Diablo 3 players have to follow within the footsteps of World of Warcraft and lock us out for scheduled periods, especially when I only want to play the SINGLE-PLAYER portion.
This one is kind of hard to fault, yet at the same time, it’s not. The main issue lies in searching for items by name, though trying to sort each search result is problematic all on its own. From what I have seen, items with the same name can have slightly altered stats. The problem with this is that players cannot perform searches on those particular items by name, and instead suffer through multiple attempts at adjusting filters to come close to the item in question, and then search what could end up being well over a dozen pages of items to perform comparisons with, just to pinpoint a reasonable price to sell it at. Star Wars: The Old Republic had a similar issue with item searches via the Galactic Trade Network, but at least the filters, while a bit obtuse overall, were less cumbersome to work with and provided desired results in an easier fashion. This is another issue that can be resolved as time passes, though it is an annoyance to try and gauge what certain items should sell for.
On the other hand, it’s just as satisfying to catch someone with an item severely under priced, due to the Auction House’s limp search system..
An action RPG is not the easiest genre to itemize really. There needs to be a careful balance struck or everything can go awry fast. Have an abundance of items too soon off of vastly inferior enemies and players will end up farming those instead, and forgoing story/level advancement. Make gearing up too difficult throughout, and you flat out discourage the player from ever venturing forward at all. Enter Diablo 3, where itemization is either completely off, or the sense of risk vs reward is not even a coherent thought in the developers heads. Lets take a brief trip through one of my battles with an Elite Mob as an example:
There is a skill on armor called “Magic Find” which increases the chances of finding rare drops more often (and a 30 minute, five stacks over buff that can be gained through defeating an Elite after level 60 is obtained), but the point is, several repeated deaths against this one enemy, 34% MF and the reward won’t even pay my repair bill. Risk vs Reward? What’s that?
True, most of the blue drops can be sold off to the vendor to increase profits, though later in the game (late Nightmare to early Hell) blue drops become less desirable upgrades, and more completely pointless blue items begin to drop, with rare drops becoming less frequent, and crafted armor being a bit too random with stats. I should not have to deal with a Socketed Ring with one socket and no stats, which sells for beans dropping off a considerably intimidating monster. There should be some point when your ratios go up where gray items just don’t drop at all and white items are scarce, with blues a bit more often, but in appropriate spurts, and rare items being slightly more coherent with the build the player is going with.
An argument can be made for the lack of powerful items dropping off of Elite mobs being due to the fact that they can then be farmed repeatedly. That’s more than valid, and I can side with this to an extent, but when it’s already a pain in the ass to just get through one Elite that will wall you in, shoot lasers and fire mortars at you, I’m going to end up restarting that part of the Act until I end up with a Reflect Damage, Nightmarish and Jailer Elite just to advance the game. Either cull the number of rare mobs in general and produce more desirable items from them, or something else needs to be adjusted on Blizzard’s side.
As I mentioned before, Diablo 3 could begin a dangerous trend for gaming, where online only could become prevalent, forcing all gamers to be online to access any part of their game, similar to what Ubisoft has attempted in the past with their fidgety DRM. Imagine for a minute if Mass Effect 3 adopted this strategy due in part to its multiplayer functionality. The only way you could ever access the core single player game would be if you were online, otherwise the player would have nothing but title screen access until they can reach the ‘net. Imagine if Capcom began to enforce an “online only” platform to monitor each possibly hacked console that is attempting to bypass lockouts for characters that are not to be touched until a specific date, where you could only fight against the CPU on their servers. There are online specific games for a reason – they were built solely as an online experience (Everquest, Team Fortress 2, Planetside.) Diablo 3 is not that type of experience at all, and while I understand that the game needs to always online for a few reasons (mostly revolving around real money being exchanged by the end of May), but it does set a dangerous tone for future games. I for one, hope and pray this is nothing more than a fading memory and not a longstanding nightmare.
Sure, with these Seven Deadly Sins of Diablo 3, it seems like I harbor more angst than pleasure for the title as a whole. That couldn’t be further than the truth. In fact, the truth is that there’s definitely a $60 value to the game. Several classes to choose from, sixty levels to obtain with skills that unlock as you go, depth in customizing each character with a certain skillset, and even a Hardcore mode more for masochists (you die once and everything is gone forever). Playing with a friend is also a thrill, especially when you’re hitting all your cylinders and working like a well oiled machine. If I could change one things about Public games however, it’s that they could benefit from the ability to pick and choose which game that player desires to enter, rather than randomly dropping them into a room with only one person, dead and AFK.
The story for the most part becomes completely forgettable after time, though there are a couple of twists here and there. As a reputable loot centric experience, players will inevitably be more engrossed with this aspect than anything else, so this isn’t too much of a complaint. But as I stated during the sins, unfortunately the itemization is definitely baffling in instances like those.
But, at the end of the day, I’ve already put down over 70 hours, and despite its sins, Diablo 3 has made a blasphemer out of me. It helps that the graphics are easy enough on the eyes (though not mind blowing as one would expect), and the audio score does keep the master volume at max at all times. If there’s anything that can bring down the dramatic scores, it’s the occasional bout of somewhat wishy-washy voice acting.
But, the question you’ve waited this long for: Is Diablo 3 worth purchasing and investing time in despite its Seven Deadly Sins? Even with other issues thrown into the mix, there is more than enough incentive to warrant a $60 purchase. Just off Normal and Nightmare difficulty alone, if you’re a fan of Action RPGs, there’s enough reason to plow through the game, especially if you are one of the loot-centric players with a bit of tolerance. Itemization might be baffling, the Auction House might be a cumbersome mess, and latency issues do exist (which some think shouldn’t be held against the game, but I beg to differ), but ultimately, Diablo 3 has this addictive charm to it, one that enables players to soldier through many of these issues and enjoy the core game, either solo or with others. The flaws are more than apparent, some of which could be fixed in time, though despite this, dungeon crawling loot mongers will find enough incentive to keep coming back for many months to come. Personally, I’m completely hooked, and I don’t think I’ll stop playing for a long time. It might be due to years of shoddy, lagging, irritating gameplay I’ve had with Everquest and games like it that has made me tolerant enough to persevere through the issues I’ve encountered here, but nevertheless, I’m addicted, and that’s a deadly sin I can admit to.
(Disclaimer: As of this date (5/25/12) PVP and the Real Money Auction House were not available to test out.)