I actually found this game.....boring
Let me start this review by saying I'm a huge fan of Diablos 1 & 2 and that I had no problem with the fact that a different Blizzard team were tackling this one. I played the open beta and, while frustrated with the server issues on the first day, I completed it, enjoyed it, and it left me wanting more.
I haven't devoured this game like a lot of the community and have only completed it on Normal difficulty with two different classes (WD & Wizard) but I think I've played enough to come to a conclusion about it and that is....it's a bit dull.
I've taken a while to get round to writing this review because I wanted to understand why I would find myself getting increasingly bored during play sessions and I've concluded it's mainly due to the lack of skills and the over-emphasis on loot drops.
But first the positives: the game is gorgeous and runs beautifully on my old system. The worlds & NPCs are much more interactive than before. Character dialogue & lore scrolls give the world more depth as do more interactive quests. The core loot mechanic is in abundance and the game has nowhere near the difficulty spikes (at least in Normal mode) as did it's predecessors. And of course the cinematic cut-scenes are still stunning (oh what I wouldn't give for Blizzard's CGI team to make a full length movie ala Final Fantasy VII : Advent Children!).
Now, unfortunately, the bad: Character classes are not as interesting as the last game. Skill-paths are nowhere near as diverse or interesting. Bosses, while not particularly frustrating, are rather dull (do we need bosses anymore?) and Death has almost no consequence whatsoever. And that's not even discussing the insane decision to make the game server-client based and perma-online (I'll leave that particular rant to the end).
I've never understood since playing the beta why they decided to simplify the skill-sets so radically; to only give you six consecutive skills, to remove the vast skill trees and replace them with an extraordinarily simplified rune system and then, as if this might be all too complicated for everyone, to hide the "elective mode" stopping you from choosing two skills from the same path at the same time. They then add skills which seem utterly pointless and bizarre (exploding frogs anyone? Btw, I don't class bizarre as interesting).
This is the first RPG I've ever played where, after leveling up I almost invariably stayed with what I had. Changing my skills, other than adding a rune, was a novelty. It's a strange feeling to expect disappointment at the site of new skills rather than anticipation of what benefits they could give me.
The benefits now seem to come almost exclusively from loot and this can break the balance of the game in both ways: I had experiences with my Wizard, especially early game, where it took me ages to kill a mob only to then find a new wand and start killing them with essentially one hit. Buy the right gear in the auction house and you can coast through entire stages of the campaign. Alternatively, be unlucky with drops and you will have hours of frustration. Again I am left bemused by the decisions that were made. The skill tree and skill-leveling mechanics that were introduced in Diablo 2 made WoW the biggest game of all time. Why destroy it so utterly? I could fully understand tweaking and simplifying but to this extent? For me it takes away any desire to replay a class. I know what all the WD skills do. I've tried and dismissed the vast majority of them. With the Necromancer class alone in Diablo 2 I tried five different combinations.
My final complaint, and probably the reason I shall never purchase another Blizzard game again, is the shoddy deployment of the game. Don't get me wrong, I'm not referring to simply the awful launch. I believe the sloppiness goes far further. I sort of understand the logic regarding the server-client model they implemented with this game but I believe they could have offered players like myself, who play the game almost exclusively solo, a choice : do you wish to play this game offline and never be able to access the real money auction house and limit your online experiences to other players who have made the same choice or do you wish to have all the MMO trappings and deal with the consequences? I would have happily chosen the former.
The server issues didn't just end after the first couple of weeks either. For some reason I had been linked to the US servers so completed the game with my WD and only realised weeks later (yes I had set it to European initially before you ask). Even now, when attached to European servers and with 150ms latency I still getting freezes and characters jumping across the screen due to lag. Fortunately this has never happened when I've been extremely low on health.
And finally, because my wife still occasionally plays WoW I was able to get the game free under the year's subscription model. I was sent a link to download the client and played for a few weeks until one of the patches came out. When I tried to play I found that I couldn't : the client I had was US, the servers I play on are European. Due to the staggered release of patches across the different regions my client had a later patch than the server preventing me from playing. Only after a long google search did I find a very hidden blog post directing me to download the European client, a client that didn't exist when I purchased the game.
I know my frustration with Blizzard places me in the minority (a game doesn't sell 6.5 million copies if people don't like it) but I think I'm done. For me Blizzard are the new Nintendo: they polish and iterate on already great franchises but never do anything original. They also make increasingly outrageous demands on their fan-base. It seems to be working for them and my departure will be a very tiny drop in the ocean. It would, however, be nice if enough of us did it to make a ripple.