Rethinking Diablo’s Day 1 Purchase

[Edit: Impressions below were highly colored by my incorrect assumptions about D3’s talent system. See comments or my follow-up post for more info.]

Looking back, I am not sure exactly what I expected when it came to the Diablo 3 beta.

All I know is that this wasn’t it.

Am I blinking through tears of nostalgia, or is shit really this blurry?

Let me give a quick preface here. Over the course of this weekend, I defeated the Skeleton King (e.g. beat the beta) as a Witch Doctor, Monk, Wizard (co-op), and Barbarian; I only got the Demon Hunter to level 7 before I could not stomach it (both the class and beta) any more. I have played both the original Diablo and Diablo 2 several times, racking up probably around 300+ hours in the latter. I have played and beaten Torchlight, even though I hated its loot system with a passion. Basically, I enjoy hack-n-slash action RPGs as much as the next person.

I was completely underwhelmed by the Diablo 3 beta.

It is difficult for me to enunciate precisely why. Was I expecting too much? Do rose-colored glasses only work in one direction? Have I “grown out” of this particular sub-genre? It is tough to say. Although these specific issues did jump out at me in the ~10 hours of beta gameplay:

Issue 1: Pointless Weapons

After you hit level 2, the type of weapon you choose to equip is 100% irrelevant (with the very glaring exception of Demon Hunters). And I do not mean in a “daggers strike faster than swords but both amount to similar DPS” sort of way. I mean that in a “you will never attack with your weapon again” sort of way.

My Witch Doctor started with a dagger, got a mace, and then a bow, but my left-click was always a blow dart and my right-click an AoE snare. There is never even an option to attack with the pointy or blunt object you are going to be very visually carrying around for the next hundred hours. If the weapon has a higher DPS, you equip it, no questions asked.

You could replace your generic attack button in Diablo 2 with a spell, of course. The trivializing of weapons in Diablo 3 though, is a sign of a deeper, systemic design shift. It reduces the weapon slot to just another generic item slot – reduction to a “stat stick” – and homogenizes all weapon drops into simply “can equip” and “can’t equip” categories. Should I dual-wield or carry around a 2H sword? It is an utterly meaningless distinction in Diablo 3; if weapon speed does impact ability use in some way, perhaps making it hit faster, it does so in a completely oblique fashion.

For me, this also led to a visual dissonance that I was not quite able to shake. Seeing a Barbarian Cleave with a dagger simply looks dumb. Likewise for a monk running around with two glowing swords infused with holy power… that teleport to her back/hips each time an ability fires. And when I see a Wizard running around with a completely non-magical 2H broadsword simply because it somehow makes Magic Missile hit harder than a magic wand…

Oh. Carry on, then.

…nevermind, that looks pretty badass, actually.

Issue 2: “Talents”

I take back every nice thing I said about Diablo 3’s talent system.

In my defense, the last word I had heard was that unlocked abilities were going to go into a “pool,” from which you could select any combination to fit in your available slots. That sounded amazing, nuanced, hitting all the right customization buttons without falling into any design traps. What we got instead is the goddamn Fischer-Price of talent systems, which somehow manages to suck all the fun out of selecting abilities and laughs, laughs, at those wanting to plan ahead.

Essentially, you have six buttons: 1-4 and left/right-click. Your left-click is always going to be one of a handful of abilities. Now, there is “customization” in selecting Runes, which are like the sprinkles that go on your vanilla ice cream cone: they either straight-up buff the given ability or change its nature in subtle or overt ways. But as I was unlocking these abilities and Runes, I always stopped, switched to the new skill for a few mobs, and made a determination of which one I liked better. And then I ceased ever caring about the choice.

To be clear, I don’t like talent trees either. Maybe if I had access to more abilities and Runes the choices would feel more meaningful. Maybe if I encountered more varied enemies/encounters it would cause me to rethink my ability load-outs. But then again… this is a Diablo game. The life expectancy of any individual mob is 0.2 seconds, so in a very real way which ability you are spam-clicking is completely irrelevant.

I dunno, it simply feels weird to look at a class like the Witch Doctor and think, “I’m never going to use Corpse Spiders as my left-click ability,” and then realize six ability unlocks are totally useless for you. I am (probably) always going to pick Zombie Dogs as my Defensive Ability, which similarly collapses 15 squares on that “600+ points of customization!” matrix.

Issue 3: “Baby WoW”

As I was playing co-op with an ex-WoW friend, he uttered “baby WoW” as the description of what these sort of games made him feel like he was playing. And you know what? I’m starting to feel the same. That is kind of the whole schtick of hack-n-slash, of course, the mowing down of corridors of mobs while you mop up the loot debris field in the wake of your passing. It is also tough to criticize spam-clicking in a world of rote ability rotations and the common “strategy” you develop for the execution of the average MMO mob.

At the same time, while I was going through Diablo 3 I could not help but feel somewhat patronized. This Skinner Box lever is completely unadorned. Of course, if you prefer yours fast and loose, then get ready to go to town; I may just turn in for the night instead, if its all the same to you.

Ultimately though, I did have some level of fun with the beta. Co-op was pretty slick with there being zero interruption when people slide in and slide out. Classes like the Monk and Wizard were genuinely fun to play. While I thought the graphics were completely underwhelming (to the point of being ass-ugly) in the first zone, the actual dungeon looked remarkably better. The physics in the game were amusing enough to keep the illusion of dynamic battles for the most part.

Bust out those 3D glasses.

The answer to the $64,000 $60 question though – is Diablo 3 still a Day 1 purchase? – is a lot more fuzzy than it was before this weekend. If I did not personally know a few people who are still getting this Day 1, people I would like to play co-op with eventually, I’d be inclined to wait a few months for the first price drop. I suppose I still have three weeks or so to mull it over.

Chances are I’m going to need all three of those weeks to decide.

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Posted on April 23, 2012, in Diablo, Impressions and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 21 Comments.

  1. After reading this I am re-thinking my pre-order. Do you know if there is a way to cancel it?

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  2. What really got me were the godawful graphics. Are Diablo games just magically destined to be visually outdated on release? I never got into D2 either until the expansion was published, simply because back then, 640×480 meant “interlaced” on my screen (IIRC), and you don’t want to look at interlaced, ever.

    But there is one thing that D2 did masterfully: Light and Darkness. It added a lot of charm to the game. With D3, I tried to fiddle with the visual sliders, but all I could get was “minimal contrast in light” and “minimal contrast in dark grayish”. There is literally no contrast in the graphics, everything is lit like a studio came in to shoot a movie. Add to that the the graphics look like WC3…

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  3. Blizzard games won’t be on Steam sale one month after release. If you’re going to buy it at all, why shouldn’t you buy it on day one?

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    • Newegg.com was offering Diablo 3 for $10 off about four days ago.

      It’s true that Blizzard isn’t likely to discount the price anytime soon, but that won’t stop Newegg or Amazon or someone else from having another sale. Then again, if I wait too long, the value of any of the RMAH purchases will likely decrease. Hmm…

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  4. Speaking about patronizing, remember zombies at the very start of the game, before gates?

    I went there with lvl1 character (doing revive every class achievement).

    Once you hit 60% hp, they STOP ATTACKING. It really feels like they are just dancing around and make mocking gestures… :)

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  5. I feel kind of the same way as the OP. However, I understand this is just the beta. I’m seriously hoping that the full game will have higher resolution graphic files so the game will look better. As I completely understand and agree with the OP on respect to the talents / graphics.

    To me, it felt way too similar to the Torchlight series. As that was a fun game for a few weeks until you got all the best loot and mastered all of the characters. Then it just get’s old very quickly.

    I’m still going to purchase the CE version of the game on Day One, As it comes with the digital versions of d2 & d2 lod expansion. I loved summoning an army of skele’s with my necromancer.

    But I have serious doubts about how long I will play in solo mode. I’m mostly buying this game so my wife and I can play together, as a full mmo might be a bit out of scope for her/our comfort level.

    Time will tell whether waiting a decade for d3 will prove fruitful or be a complete waist of time.

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  6. From another point of view, I had never played Diablo. Picked up Diablo II a few months ago after I decided to take the annual pass offer. I hated it. It was just not fun, graphics awful, combat seemed on auto pilot, story was dull. I seriously couldn’t find anything I liked about it.

    I finally had a few free hours last night and downloaded the beta because the screenshots looked pretty nice.

    I played until 3am. I have no idea why it felt so different, but it just flowed. I liked the voice acting, choosing weapons was intuitive, combat felt more responsive, and the skills were fun but didn’t feel like there was one way to do it “right”. Also, the music was much less intrusive. The music in DII just irritated me.

    I’m really looking forward to it now, and I’m going to give DII another shot. With the music off.

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  7. “Pointless Weapons”

    “There is never even an option to attack with the pointy or blunt object you are going to be very visually carrying around for the next hundred hours.”

    Yes there is. Drag the abilities off of the click keys, and that will allow you to melee using raw weapon damage. Weapons have the exact same purpose as they did in Diablo 2. Necromancers never swung their wands either, and if you used a sword late in the game, that was a poor play choice (just like now).

    Speaking of elective mode…

    “Essentially, you have six buttons: 1-4 and left/right-click. Your left-click is always going to be one of a handful of abilities.”

    That is also incorrect. If you choose Elective Mode, you can map any ability to any key, and drag from one spot to the other at any time.

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    • Point taken about being able to remap an actual attack key – I looked for one, but I must not have looked hard enough.

      However, no matter how you remap your keys, you will never be able to use both Corpse Spiders and Poison Dart (both being Primary Skills), for example. That is what I meant with “handful of abilities.”

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  8. I have said this somewhere else today — Diablo 2 belonged to a subgenre that nowadays may not be as compelling as we are all expecting. Not in itself, at least. When D2 launched, multiplayer endeavours were restricted to LAN connections or primitive lounges, such as the early battle.net that Diablo 2 put forward. MMOs were in the shadow, starting to grow. Only with WoW would they reach critical mass and present a model of community which would be adopted as “the ultimate multiplayer”, a massive persistent world.

    I’m looking at this issue from the point of view of an MMO player. I do not know how other players conceive the game. I can only imagine how an MMO player such as myself could react to it.

    Diablo 2 was successful at the time because its model could not be contested. It was new and revolutionary, and appealed to a wider demographics than D3 does now. There have not been many hack&slash games since Diablo 2. In themselves, they could not provide anything different, of a greater magnitude, than D2 did, especially because as time passed, new game genres emerged, and the model from D2 could not compete. When compared to the multiple paths than MMOs allow (exploration, PVE, PVP, roleplaying…), the Diablo model is too suffocating, and lacks many of the features that we have grown accustomed to. However you consider MMOs, as a journey or as a goal, D3 is lacking in both areas – the journey will not vary, it will be a one-time experience; the goal is cyclical and primitive: loot for loot.

    The way Blizzard tricks their playerbase into playing this game and not another one is very cunning – they appeal to the idea of monetarizing their gaming time: “As I will be wasting my time (being entertained, mindlessly killing, etc) for X hours, I’d rather get something out of it.” Instead of developing a game that would be attractive based on its own qualities, Blizzard has mastered a psychological trick so that D3 is legitimized in front of other entertainment options, when the fact is that D3 is based on an archaic model which cannot last on its own. In MMOs, loot is not the end (for most -sane- people), but the means to overcome challenges with your friends/colleagues; in the Diablo franchise, loot is the means as well as the end. In Diablo 3, a patchwork end has been sewn to it: selling your spoils. We can put up with much more (repetition and tedium) when we are being “paid” for it, even though it is a small, illusory sum.

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    • I will admit, it is very tempting to think that I might be able to buy a month of WoW time or a server transfer by virtue of selling a D3 item (I’m hoping the ~$1.25 cut is only applied if you cash out).

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    • Looking at Diablo 3 and trying to shoe-horn it into the MMO genre is a flawed line of thinking. It would be as valid as trying to compare the MMO elements of StarCraft to WoW.

      Diablo is an action-RPG, hack and slash, loot and blood fiesta. It’s it’s own game type, that won’t be for many many MMO players, but neither would an FPS (for example). If you are looking for Diablo 3 to fill an MMO gap for you, it will fail, because that’s not the kind of game it is.

      If Diablo 2 has lasted this long on that model, why can’t Diablo 3? Not to mention highly successful games like Torchlight.

      “Cyclical and primitive: loot for loot”
      Just like raiding.

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  9. Slightly off-topic:
    Regardless of whether I agree with all the points you raised Azuriel, I feel this has to be said – you’re a fantastic blogger :)
    The text, the pictures (the first one is a winner! :)), the flow of the narrative and of course it the sly sense of humor.
    I guess what I’m trying is, thanks for the posts and keep up the great job!

    As for the issue at hand:
    I didn’t get closed beta access, but I did make it into the open beta (only a couple of times though, due to the frequent server downtime).
    As a single player game, D3 felt “meh”. I played with graphics (except for shadows) at thier highest levels and they still looked underwhelming. Maybe as a previous poster wrote we’ll get better ones on release.
    Gameplay was nice, but there was nothing new (in essence, not talking details).

    However – and this is a big one – multiplayer *rocked my world*. Here is what it felt like, in WoW terms: Imagine an LFR-like system where people continuously and smoothly drop out and in of the game, without any interruptions to your gameplay. Limited to 4 people max, with almost no penalty imposed on anyone if one of even two of the people go off on their own, or head to town. With no need (or ability) to kick AFKers, no loot drama, no waiting for a tank or healer because there are no such class roles.

    The streamlined multiplayer selection window (no more scrolling list of named games to choose from), the short queue (oh please please let that hold for live too), the ability to click on a banner and get teleported right to where the action is. The non-stop, frenzied, fight-loot-move-on flow of each and every group I’ve been with.

    Everything just *flowed* for me in multiplayer. I had imagined it to be limited to playing with my RID (or BattleTag) friends, but now that I’ve experienced it – I’m sure random groups will be good enough for all of normal mode, and probably most of Nightmare.

    I love WoW, but it is *really* hard for me to login for just 30-60 minutes. With the exception of farming (now *there’s* a term that’s going to get a whole new meaning come MoP :)), anything really interesting requires significant time overhead, which if I’m pressed for time, is a problem for me.

    But a quick login, select stage/quest, randomly be assigned to a group of strangers, click banner, hack-run-slash-loot, teleport to town to get rid of excess blue items, click banner again, say /p and log off 30 minutes later?

    How can WoW compete with that?

    It may be that I’m seeing things through the prism of having already pre-ordered D3. Having paid for it, my mind is trying to convince itself I didn’t throw away good money. Maybe.
    But I honestly had fun with multiplayer mode, and if D3 will have enough active players, I think the live experience will be much like that of the frantic-yet-fun open beta. Here’s hoping… :)

    P.S. – are any bloggers sharing their BattleTags? I for one would love to log D3 Americas from time to time and play there with Azuriel and friends :)

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  10. Conversely, I found the multiplayer a bit rubbish.

    The other players plow on ahead, spamming AoE as everything around us explodes. If you wait a few seconds to loot something, you fall behind. It was like the worst aspects of Dungeon Finder made into a game.

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    • Sorry Bernard, but I’m not exactly sure what you’re after. What would have pleased you?

      Carefully planned pulls?
      Kiting?
      Fights requiring complex execution?

      See the thing is, we have all of the above already. It’s called WoW :)

      The way I felt during the open beta, D3 multiplayer is going to be a huge success exactly *because* of the issues you listed, not * in spite* of them. That’s because D3 is meant to be quick, fluid, no-hassle gaming. When I want raiding, I log WoW. When I want kiting, I’ll log my hunter or mage and go solo some boss. If I want difficult 5-man content… err well, I’ll have to wait for MoP I guess and still be wearing greens :)

      D3 is simply not as fun, to me at least, when it is slower. Hence why I found single player a bit “meh”. The whole idea is massive pulls, AOE like mad, followed by mobs and loot exploding everywhere. Fun times :)

      Not only that, what is D3 all about? It’s not about the challenge of downing bosses, that’s WoW’s thing. If you’ve ever played D2, you know what Diablo is about. If you’ve read any blue posts, they’ve made it crystal clear what D3 is about.
      D3 is about loot. Loot loot loot and more loot.
      Fast multiplayer action gives you more loot/hour, *significantly* more, than single player.

      Of course, there are caveats:

      1. As soon as the difficulty ramps up enough – and it will, the only question is when exactly – the D3 group pace will slow down by necessity. Once you’re in tough enough content, pulling too quick or running ahead will result in the same result as for a badly played WoW LFD group – a wipe.

      2. There are 2 comments I’d like to make about looting and falling behind.

      First of all, and again this is both very clear once you play a bit of D3 and was also said multiple times by blue posters – you don’t need to loot everything. D3 is all about loot explosions, so Blizzard loaded up the mobs with grey and white loot. But it’s all just junk and worth so little to vendor, it’s just not worth picking up. As you noted, it slows you down. It fills up your limited bag space. And there’s nothing really to do with it except vendor or drop it. Since the vendor price for such junk is below that of most gold stacks that fall off a single mob, what is the use of slowing you down by picking up such loot?

      So, if you were falling behind by looting every single thing you could see on the ground – you were simply wasting your time. Use “alt” to see where the blue or better items are, click on them, run through any nearby piles of gold, and continue down the trail of destruction.

      The other thing about falling behind is – to a certain extent, so what? You can always follow the arrow on the minimap showing the direction to your other party members and dungeons are usually linear enough to not get lost. However even if you do get lost, all you need to do is teleport to town, run to the nearest player banner and click it. Boom, instantly back in action. This works too if you need to have a quick hop to town to “disenchant” your blue items at the blacksmith, to clear up bag space.

      Finally, last point but not certainly not least. Just like you can queue up for LFD with 4 friends, avoiding the whole “annoying random strangers” issue in WoW, the same solution is available in D3. Find nice people, exchange BattleTags, join them for some multiplayer fun storming through D3 mobs, but still be able to say “wait up! I need to pee!” if you need to :)

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    • In the later game (and higher difficulties), your friends that are plowing ahead will not be able to live without the full party there. The more complicated and harder hitting champion packs will decimate partial-parties.

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