I’ve been playing Diablo III for about a little under a week at this stage, having sort of half-accidentally impulse bought it last Tuesday night (clicking a digital purchase button is too easy to do). It’s the first Diablo I’ve played; despite having heard hearing many words of praise over the years from friends about the wonders Diablo II brought to their childhood, I never got around to playing it (and probably won’t at this stage due to its poorly aged graphics[YEAH I SAID IT]). After watching a few Giant Bomb videos of Diablo III, in a bed ridden state of injury and boredom I authorized paypal and began the 7GB download… not quite as wonderful as my friends’ unboxings must have been back in 2000 (but whatever, I had Dungeon Keeper). I came into the game knowing full well that it was a “click fest”, and though I’d fault the game on this lacklustre combat (click on an enemy, press 1 of 4 buttons, enemy dies, repeat), there is something satisfying about it: proably due to the superb sound design, which makes every hit feel empowering. Unfortunately the great feel and look of the game feel like glazes over a hollow core (more after the jump).
The first and most prominent problem I’ve found so far is difficulty: The game insists that you breeze through the game on “Normal” setting before unlocking “Nightmare” (which you must then complete to unlock the next one etc.), and though these new settings do increase enemy HP and some behaviour patterns, there is no implementation of new mechanics or improved player skill, which means it’s the same clicking based combat but with a reliance on newer, better gear. This false sense of difficulty is weakened further by the loot drive on which the game is built. You complete a dungeon, you receive loot, you get better loot… The implied “difficulty” (enemy HP + damage) is usually negated due to the increased stats from the new loot you constantly receive and even further broken with the Auction House function, which allows you to purchase the best gear for your level so you can be ahead of the curve for a large portion of the game (until later difficulty levels). The flaws of this gear driven difficulty curve are discussed in more depth by gatheryourparty in his great video “Issues With Diablo 3: Poor Implementation Of Difficulty“. He says it better than I could, and references Dark Souls, so A++ for him. I’d also recommend his video on Itemization issues if that first video interested you.
In games like Dark Souls your cunning and strategy is tested with every boss, never stagnant and always changing. In stark contrast, Diablo’s bosses are generally glorified normal enemies which require almost no thought or strategy to defeat (click on the boss, do the same techniques you use on other enemies, do it for a bit longer). The intense satisfaction from finally defeating a boss after 10 tries in Dark Souls is non existent in Diablo, instead replaced by the faux satisfaction of receiving a new item that might be better than your current one. The main driving force behind playing Diablo is not satisfying combat or a feeling of improvement, but instead an item system I’d liken to a perennial dangling carrot. This idea of scheduled rewards is discussed by Jonathan Blow in his lecture “Video Games and the Human Condition“, in which he discusses this RPG reward driven gameplay’s entry into the casual game market (through farmville etc.) and the idea of “fun” in games. I’d recommend listening to him for a few minutes starting from this point (11:42), he’s a smart man.
The procedural feel to the combat isn’t exactly complemented by the level design, which despite being randomly generated, feels completely predictable and repetitive after any small amount of time spent in an area. The areas themselves look beautiful, ranging from lovely twilight plains to dank aqueducts, though I feel alot of the time while playing that I’m simply filling out the minimap in search for something out of the ordinary to randomly spawn, which either doesn’t happen, or does and feels like it had to happen. The draw back of randomly generated maps means that the interesting, thoughtful and quirky elements of a human designed level never really feel present. The game world feels generated rather than crafted: feeling as if your presence in the world doesn’t matter, and when you log out, it won’t, because that level will disappear forever, to be replaced by a similar one next time you play it. Obviously Diablo is designed to be replayable to the nth degree (feeding back into that loot grind), but I feel like there needs to be something more than just arranged tile sets to keep the player guessing and intrigued. This doesn’t affect the game’s atmosphere though, which can be awe-inspiring at times.
The story is almost not worth mentioning: fantasty clichés, predictable twists, and bland text-book characters which tell the story to you as if the game was an MMO. Unfortunately for me, I have found myself deeply into the idea of playing through Diablo to try unlock the hardest difficulty and seeing for myself whether I’m up for the “challenge”. I feel like I’ve invested so much time into the game at this point that I have to continue to find some vague reward (which will probably be some sweet item drop and then later I’ll get something to replace is multiplied by infinity), and speaking honestly, I love getting meaningless loot… it’s a trait which has lead to many wasted days behind MMOs in my living room… Despite all I’ve said, Diablo is thoroughly playable, well made, and very easy to get drawn into. Some of my notes for this blog post read “low mission variety. filling out the map. process driven. addiction” and that’s probably all I have to really say for now. I don’t dislike the game. I’ll play it again tonight.
PS I started this blog a year ago… should really write on it more. Also hoping to start writing about games more often because that’s all I do nowadays, unless I should start a “sitting around in my underwear” column, though that would probably just be about Diablo too.