Late to the Party: Diablo

After snagging a trial code for Diablo III… I’m still not too sure about it. Being new to the franchise I thought this would be the point where I’d see some kind of light, but a combination of Blizzard’s DRM policies and my own computer have stopped me from playing anywhere near enough of the game to form a complete opinion.

The only other Blizzard game I own and have played is the original StarCraft, and I’ve played barely any of it since 2000, so unlike all my friends I didn’t feel the obligation to immediately lay down $60 on Diablo III, and I’m starting to feel glad I was cautious. There’s a lot that’s telling me this is an exceptionally well-crafted game, but I’m still not sure if it’s one for me.

Since everyone’s talking about the online problems with Diablo III I’ll start with the game itself from the perspective of a newcomer.

At first glance and through the first few minutes of gameplay Diablo III comes off as basically Torchlight with higher production values. Usually that means more intense graphics, but what initially caught me off–guard about DIII is that it feels like a Blockbuster game that deliberately goes for art over tech. I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen that.

Anyone who looks closely will notice that the character models are at the level of a PS2 game, but it seems like Blizzard poured all the money into the textures, art direction, and 2D elements (HUD, backgrounds, etc.) to smooth things out. It really lets the art stand out as what makes Diablo III look like a AAA game while also probably allowing it to run on most of today’s computers.

The core game – the combat, is where my jury is still out. Like Torchlight, I immediately noticed a very refined game inside Diablo III despite being unfamiliar with the franchise. All the systems work just about perfectly and feel very convenient which feels doubly amazing for someone who’s only recently encountered them. The thing is though, I’m not sure if it’s totally compelling for me.

I haven’t really started feeling that addictive nature people talk about – the nature that ensures people not playing the game are still thinking about grabbing the next cool piece of loot. All the loot in this game just feels like a bunch of numbers to me.

The game I’m contrasting this with is Phantasy Star Online – my favorite loot-gathering RPG (in which I’m now finding shocking similarities to Diablo). For some reason PSO’s gameplay feels more personal to me. Mainly, I get a better feeling of satisfaction from finding a new sword or piece of armor. Maybe it’s because I see the name first and then the numbers, or maybe certain numbers are more prominent to give them more meaning, I don’t really know. Maybe it’s because I feel a greater sense of agency from PSO’s closer camera, console controls, and slower-paced combat. I’m not sure but I don’t think I can blame it on Blizzard. Maybe I just have that loyalty towards PSO.

…and then I looked at Diablo III’s clock and realized that I’d been playing for more than two hours.

It’s been a very long time since a game actually made me lose track of time. I actually think Half-Life 2 was the last game that did this to me. I’m still trying to figure out what it was with DIII. I think it had something to do with the game’s combat though.

The core of it is that Blizzard simply nailed the feeling of clicking on enemies and getting a tactile response. Somehow the combat even feels more precise than Torchlight, which I could typically only play for around 45 minutes at a time.

In my experience gathering the loot isn’t that exciting at all. In fact I find the skills and abilities to be far more interesting. I feel more enticed to try out new skills than new weapons, though that could be because I’m playing as a monk who strangely must equip weapons he doesn’t actually use. I’d be surer if I could actually play the game.

Look, I understand that Blizzard doesn’t want people hacking auction house items offline – that’s exactly what happened to Phantasy Star Online and is why the homebrew version is online-only, but I shouldn’t be experiencing lag in a $60 singleplayer game. I think I’ve been kicked out of singleplayer four times already, though mostly because of my own internet problems. That shouldn’t be an issue for singleplayer though.

I guess the main problem is that singleplayer and multiplayer are linked. If Blizzard really can’t get around that, I’d be fine with starting an offline-only save file. I have no idea how much I’d actually end up getting involved in co-op or the auction house, but I have a feeling that if I bought this game I’d spend significant time in singleplayer, but as-is I can’t in good conscious pay $60 for it on principle. Diablo III is probably a great game, but I have other equally great games on my plate right now.

BULLETS:

  • So Thief and Thief II finally came out on Steam and are now on sale. Took long enough.
  • I never watched Buffy, but apparently fans of that show might want to investigate Persona 3: http://t.co/xSfoXcep
  • I always said Payday was basically Left 4 Dead in a bank, now they’re admitting it: http://t.co/E6IzM8w3
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