You might have guessed that I have been playing a bit of D3 lately. You would be right. I even went so far as to pre-order Reaper of Souls, because D3 is scratching a mindless kill-fest itch I have been having lately. Since I’ve put a good chunk of time in over the last week, I decided I might as well give a snapshot review of D3 with Loot 2.0, as a bit of a baseline for when I play the expansion.
For the record, I started playing Loot 2.0 with a 60 Barbarian with no Paragon levels, leveled a Wizard from about 20 to 31, and started a Witch Doctor up to about 10.
The biggest part of the patch/update/whatever was, by and large, a success. On non-60 characters, the drops are wonderfully improved. Items get replaced left and right. Crafting yields lots of appropriate gear. I never had the moment of thinking “I really need to check the Auction House”, which was a relief, considering that was half of every play session last time around. On my 60, drops were ok. And by I ok, I do mean a damn sight better than before. But good drops are harder to come by. I think I replaced almost everything except my weapons. There is probably some sort of RNG curve going on here. But I was also limited to Hard mode. More on that in a bit.
You can change the difficulty on the fly, instead of starting a whole new campaign. This is great, but there was one problem, which I will talk about later.
The speed with which I am gaining levels and paragon levels is, if anything, a little fast. I gained some 16 paragon levels on my Barbarian, and that is primarily solo, burning through hard mode from mid Act 1 to the beginning of Act III. For the other classes, I cannot really say much, as the Barbarian is the only character above level 31 I have at this point.
So far the new Paragon system seems interesting, although I am not a huge fan of the gating of points. You get a rotation of Core, Offense, Defense and Utility points, in that order, as you gain levels. This is rather frustrating. I would have rather seen the ability to assign freely amongst all the areas, as it seems like this just slows down tweaking to take advantage of certain builds. Nonetheless, the new system provides a welcome ability to customize the characters you build in some small way.
I can select any difficulty level in game, as long as it is easy, medium or hard. I cannot choose the higher levels without backing out and restarting from the most recent checkpoint. This is annoying because “Hard” mode isn’t hard. At all. I actually tweaked my Whirlwind Barb into a Seismic Slam build to slow down the fights and force myself to think about positioning. On my Wizard, leveling is a joke. The real limiting factor is often clumping enemies together become unleashing AOE, and then the time it takes to get to the next pack. I just fought Belial on Hard with the 60 Barbarian. I never moved once, and I think my health meter blipped off full maybe twice. I really hope the increased difficulty levels change that.
Also, aside from a semantic change in the naming of difficulty levels, I am not sure I see what the big difference is. Each character has to go through the game at least once to unlock all the
Gems are pretty boring. The stat boosts they give are very small unless they are percentage based, which does not happen very often. Any given class really only needs to use 3 of the 5 gem types: Diamonds for resist-all, red for % life, and then whatever your stat is. I hope Reaper of Souls brings in some sort of Rune system, or even the socketing system from WoW, where combinations give additional bonuses or something to make it more interesting. Hell, steal the Torchlight gems. Those were fun and had a lot of variety.
I also assume Reaper will add more tiers of gems, because gems give 30-50 stat points while items generally drop, for me, with 200-300 stat points per property. There are almost no situations where a stat is worth trading for a stat property.
The game still has lots of moments where you have to stop, wait for someone to say something, and then wait for an animation, and then wait for something else. By the time you get through to the door or get to fight the boss, that nifty buff you got melted away. While by no means crucial, it would be nice to not constantly get buffs that get eaten by plot points. Which brings up…
Replaying a turbo-tour of Acts I-II has reminded me of how silly and disjointed the plot in this game is. It really makes no sense. The reveal of Tyreal and Belial both play very poorly after the first time. I am looking forward to Act III, which is such a strong set piece, but I think Act IV is going to be a drag. Once adventure mode is live I wonder if anyone will be playing Act IV at all. Hopefully RoS divests the talky-talky and lets our blades, spells, and jars of spiders do all the exposition.
Diablo took place in an ever descending cathedral of madness. It was dark, dank, claustrophobic and oppressive. The light radius mechanic had a huge impact on this. Diablo II was a bit more open, relying on the more massive nature (literally or figuratively) of many foes to impart a sense of dread. Diablo III feels rather barren. The art is well done, but there is n o sense of lurking doom. I think a huge part of this comes from the removal of the light radius mechanic. You can always kind of see around the corner, or to the edge of the screen. In future iterations I would love to see the light radius come back, along with the oppressive black pool surrounding the character. Having to rely on the harsh lines of the minimap, or even better, your memory, made the journey feel more isolated and more likely to result in a horrible end. I recall moments of actual fear in Diablo. It would be nice to feel some of that again.
Two big issues still bug me about D3: The way skills are selected and the normal and elective settings. To keep things simple, I’ll refer you to this post regarding the skills system overall. No need to rehash that topic. The second issue is in the very gamey way you can choose active skills. By default you have six skill slots on the hotbar, and can only choose one skill from each of six categories to fill those. If you dig into the options menus you can enable “elective” mode, which lets you choose any skill in any slot. The implication seems to be that the proper way to play is with one skill from each of the six categories. You can go elsewhere and find many of the most recommended builds ignore this completely. If Diablo 3 was played with a gamepad, this system might have made sense.
But Diablo 3 is not played with a gamepad, and many skills require you to aim with your mouse. Leap, ranged spells, and things like that obviously were built for mouse and keyboard. In this context, the limited skills seem like a cop-out to make balancing the game easier as opposed to providing some deeper gameplay mechanic. The first two Diablo titles did not have this issue, nor does the Torchlight series. The grouping of the skills doesn’t always seem to make much sense. All in all it is an ugly implementation that I can’t say I like much.
The rune system is still present, although a tremendous number of runes have been changed or reworked. However, the pacing of when runes unlock leads to a lot of static builds through leveling. On the Wizard in particular it seems like Ice is the only build you can really piece together due to the massive number of skills, passive abilities and runes you unlock that improve Ice compared to Fire or Arcane builds.
I mentioned this in my previous article, but the current system implies that the systems in previous Diablo games were too complicated. The changes to talents in World of Warcraft seem to support this. If sales numbers can be used as proof people understanding the skill/talent system, I don’t think anyone was having much of problem getting the hang of either game series.
I know this is a pre-expansion release. But it really bugs me that many of the new features are present but un-selectable in the menus. It would have been nice to have the tooltip at least recognize if you preordered the expansion. There are also a fair number of Crusader items dropping, which seems like somebody copied the wrong loot algorithm and table to the server a few weeks early.
Why do the merchant’s belongings’ boxes always mess up my path in Acts I and III? Why do I always get stuck on little parts of terrain? Why can I lead to this platform, but not that one, or for that matter execute a random half leap for no apparent reason? None of these are game breaking, but they are annoying.
You may think from this article that I don’t like Diablo III. The answer is a bit complicated. I’ve been playing it a fair amount. I think the game has nice art direction, has the ability to create really fun moments once abilities start to unlock, and allow for nifty combinations of attacks and managing enemies. Loot 2.0 fixes some of the most egregious faults in the game. That point is important. I stopped playing the first time because the whole game had become a gold grind for the Auction House. Removal of the Auction House, one of the most touted features of the game, shows a huge change in direction for Blizzard, and shows that they still have some ability to push back against the avarice of the Koticks of the world, and their corporate structure.
However the core design choices with the skill and stats system and the rather odd writing outside Act III really hold the game back. This somehow becomes more apparent with the Auction House removed. The skill system, while allowing for a lot of combinations (Elective mode likely provides thousands or millions of permutations of skills, runes, and passives), still feels very empty, at least compared to previous entries and competition on the market. The writing is less memorable than anything else Blizzard has turned out. The atmosphere has none of the visceral oppression and dread from previous games.
Diablo 3 is polished. The systems that are in place (as opposed to my ideal Diablo III) are well implemented aside from the aforementioned Leaping issues. The sound and music are well done. The graphics live up to Blizzard’s fit-the-bell-curve approach to such things. If this offering was the first Diablo game, I think it would have set a nice bar. But as a sequel, I think too much of the past was cast off in the name of marketing and the false idea that the game needed to be more accessible. Perhaps unreasonable expectations prevent me from really letting the Prime Evils sink their hooks again. Diablo III, especially with Loot 2.0, is good. But I still think it could have been great.