After a week or so away from it, I used the recent 1.03 patch as an excuse to get back into Diablo III. I grabbed my low-level Wizard and started breaking down skeletons for parts with my ice beam, but it wasn't long before I felt an emptiness inside. It had nothing to do with the patch, which is a benign piece of work; it's just that the Diablo III magic had faded in the 150+ hours I'd spent with it. I'm a big fan of a lot of the mechanical choices in Diablo III, but now that the novelty of those mechanics has worn off, I'm stuck realizing that the game just isn't that fun. It's pornography sex – technically proficient, but you really don't get the feel that anyone is having any fun in the process.
Make no mistake, I don't regret my purchase at all and still think you should try it. In fact, my last act at Gamespot was to give Diablo III a positive review (and the shitstorm I got for using complete sentences and suggesting that good mechanics should be reflected in a game's score are why I'm over at Giantbomb now). I've tried every possible permutation of solo/group and hardcore/softcore (talking about Diablo here, not the pornography), with my favorite being solo/hardcore (that one might actually work for both). But something's just not working for me anymore, and I think I've got it figured out.
The items don't interest me. I'm glad that Rare and Magic items are so useful, but the dearth of Set and Legendary items is a bit of an issue. In Diablo II, collecting Set and Unique items felt like collecting little pieces of the world, like I was actually involved in the lore and setting. I've found exactly one Legendary item in Diablo III, so I've got a whole bunch of Rares which, while effective, don't have much character. When I look at my inventory I see stats but no soul.
The world has as much charm as a cactus and just as many pricks. In bringing my various characters up to level I've seen some parts of the game maybe 15 times, which means I've had to deal with the lifeless world, irritating characters, and useless plot about 15 more times than should be allowed by law. The problem is that without a good backdrop, the gameplay lacks context and everything starts to feel like a meaningless grind.
The lategame content makes the Hindenburg seem carefully designed. When I first unlocked the Nightmare difficulty, I thought it was brilliant. The drops were cooler, the enemies had new and exciting characteristics, and I had a nice arsenal of skills available. I had a similarly positive response to the Hell difficulty, but after stepping back for a bit, I realize that I was way off the mark. I'm all for a challenge, but Hell and Inferno bring it without bringing any fun along for the ride. Enemy mobs get laughably powerful traits and the spike-heavy damage model in which you either escape a battle unscathed or not at all becomes more readily apparent and problematic. Frankly it feels like sadism on Blizzard's part and masochism on the player's, as you must really hate yourself to slog through the tedium of Hell and Inferno for the sake of an in-game achievement. Oh, the humanity.
So here I am, looking at a game that has all the right bullet points but no soul. However, I think there's hope for those seeking some actual fun in their ARPGs. This is going to sound strange given that I had some real concerns about the beta, but I'm actually really looking forward to Torchlight II (for the curious: My Good-ish But Not Great-esque Time With Torchlight II's Beta). It feels a bit more amateuish, but it's all about having fun, and maybe that's worth more than I give it credit for.