It’s been a while since my last post. What have I been doing for these past few days? Playing Diablo III, mostly. I’ve given the game its good share of hours, leveling three different characters (playing co-op with another mate, solo, and in a 4 man group). The furthest I’ve got is the first Act in Inferno difficulty, with a barbarian (the one I’m playing cooperatively, with a wizard). While I thought of reviewing the game in the first few days, I thought it would be better to squeeze it a bit and see what came out before I wrote anything. So, what do I think of Diablo III after ~100 hours of gameplay?
First of all, it’s not a great game, but it’s not bad either. From every perspective I could look at it, it’s an average ARPG where everything is pretty much streamlined. Many Diablo fans will probably feel uncomfortable with some of the changes when it comes to character leveling; attribute points are autospent when your character levels up, so a barbarian will always get +3 to Strength, +1 to Dexterity, +1 to Intelligence and +2 to Vitality, for example. Skills and their runes (that modify the skill itself) are unlocked as you level up, and a maximum of 6 active skills and 3 passives are available to your character (once all the “slots” are unlocked by level 30). I, for one, am not against this leveling system. Yes, it’s “dumber”, but it wasn’t really that clever ever. Also, one could compare how Diablo 2 changed the paradigm from the original too, where characters had only one “skill”, and the rest were spells learnt through books (your skills were random drops!) that worked for every class as long as they met the intelligence requirements.
Also, being allowed to have a maximum number of skills slotted does make for very different builds. Blizzard promised that every build would be feasible, and to some extent this is true. Dying once in my journey through Normal and Nightmare difficulty modes, and a couple of times in the end of the Act 3 in Hell, I agree that any combination is feasible, but mostly because the game is insultingly easy until the last acts in Hell difficulty. If you are like me and feel the urge of cleaning every single square inch of a dungeon before proceeding to the next area, that might mean around 40 hours. 40 hours where dying seems very improbable, to the point that you’ll rarely even use a potion until the latest stages.
And then, suddenly, you reach Inferno difficulty, and the game kicks you in the nuts. You jump from the “so easy that you can play with any combination of skills, no matter how ridiculous” plane to land on “if you are a barbarian you can only play with 1 hand weapons and shield, and you better check the Auction House for a couple of million pieces of gold in new gear”. It’s insane. And don’t get me wrong, I like it hard. Hell, I’ve probably spent more time playing Iter Vehemens Ad Necem than the three Diablo games altogether. The problem isn’t how “difficult” it is. The problem is that mechanics suddenly change. My life-leeching barbarian gets nerfed without any kind of warning anywhere. Suddenly, I’m only leeching a 20% of what I should. Why? It makes no sense, when other mechanics don’t change, and an armor that gives a life regeneration effect of 300 hitpoints per second doesn’t magically change to 60 hitpoints per second. That would be stupid, wouldn’t it?
Half of the runes, if not all of them save a few become useless by this point, and for me, what I would call “fun”. If I can’t play a dual weapon life leeching barbarian, I’d rather play another game where I can. If to be able to play this character I have to farm for hours to purchase Act 4 gear from the Auction House I couldn’t get otherwise, the game quickly stops appealing to me. Because even if I’d do that, the build I’d like to play would still be pretty much unfeasible, and kiting elite monsters would still be a must. And kitting with a melee class, or being forced to use two specific 120 second cooldown abilities to kill these horrible elite groups is something that I find boring to say the least.
Now, Blizzard has stated that there are, in fact, some imbalances when it comes to Inferno difficulty that will be addressed some day. The problem for me is that once you reach this Inferno difficulty, the rest of the game becomes equally “unfun”, as it can’t be, by any means, qualified as a “challenge”. And in the end, everyone converges into Inferno. It’s the “end game” of Diablo 3. And it’s broken.
I don’t really care much for the rest of the complaints about the game. The story is made of stupid, and once more, following the steps of Blizzard’s latest blockbusters, the player is but an spectator, and the plot revolves around the uninteresting characters of Leah, Adria and Tyrael. I don’t know of anyone who played Diablo for its story, but I’d rather get the barely interfering one from the previous games, that one that forces me to bear with the stupidity during large portions of the game, as many times some specific followers are required for certain sections of the game. And then there’s the ending. Cheesy, incoherent and unnecessary. Spoiler alert! Tyrael, who had become a mortal, decides to go back to Heaven as an angel of Wisdom. Why? For no reason, really. He surely wasn’t particularly wise during the game, and even after his speech at the end of the game, he just seems like a moron unilaterally taking a decision that just breaks the character even further. I couldn’t but think of all those who used Tyrael as a nickname these past years (as there were MANY, you probably know some). Congratulations, your nickname now references stupidity turned into CGI.
The whole plot was brought from a premise that really felt lame. I won’t go into details, but all the concept of “soul tagging” and “the Prime Evil” is low, even for an ARPG where you can pretty much use the most peregrine pretext. In any case, as I said, I don’t really mind the storyline. I just wished they wouldn’t remind me of it every two quests.
Many have complained about the looks of the game. I think the graphics are actually quite good, and some of the details are really rich. Now, I can’t deny that, for me, it has really lost the “grim” theme the previous games had. Something closer to the Path of Exile approach would have fit better for a game in the Diablo series, I guess, but obviously the style Blizzard has taken has its advantages, at least when it comes to creating new content. Yet, the procedural map generation has suffered a lot. While the more dungeon-ish areas get to be somewhat different each time, exteriors barely change at all. Sometimes there’s a house, sometimes there isn’t. Sometimes there is a cave, sometimes there isn’t. I guess Diablo 2 was actually the same, but it hid it better, probably because most of the maps in Diablo III aren’t really that big.
Overall, I can’t really say that Diablo III is a bad game. Don’t get me wrong, I do think it has many flaws, some that will be fixed, and some that can’t. As a successor of Diablo 2, I think it goes a couple of steps backwards in the series, bringing a release that 10 years ago would have been praised by everyone into the average. But, at the same time, hitting monsters with my barbarian felt very rewarding as I leveled up. The combat mechanics felt good to me, somehow, as lacking as they may actually be. I’m sure Blizzard will end up bringing some order to Inferno, probably nerfing the elite packs and buffing some skills that are simply useless. Eventually, that is. The problem is, until then, I really don’t feel like playing. So, what kind of grade could I give to a game like this? Well, it did hook me for a hundred of hours, didn’t it? A solid 5 out of 10, willing to give it a 6.5 out of 10 once the most anti-fun parts of the game get actually made interesting.