By RedRocketWestie 51 Comments
I can't remember how long I've been looking forward to Diablo III. I've never owned either of the previous games, though I've played both of them, and I feel like I was able to beat the first one on my brother's computer. So between poor details, old memory, and nostalgia, I should disclaim that I might view the earlier entries in the series with rose-tinted glasses. Regardless, ever since I quit WoW (before the first expansion), I've been looking forward to Blizzard's signature brand of loot lust. Torchlight scratched the itch for a while, but ultimately it wasn't the deep experience I was looking for.
I was able to play a little of the beta during the open weekend, once through with a Demon Hunter and a Monk, each, and I came away from it scratching my head. Surely Blizzard knows what they're doing, and I have my own guesses for the reasoning behind the decisions they've made, but I just can't find myself getting excited for Diablo III anymore. Here are some of the things that stuck out to me.
I remember reading the article a while back that said "Diablo III won't be forcing players to unlock skills through the talent tree. Instead, they'll be unlocked through level progression." At the time, I panicked and thought they were getting rid of the talent system altogether. Then I reread it and rationalized that they were simply not putting active abilities in the talent trees. This was corroborated when they released the "character builder" so people could toy around with different builds. I was trying to keep myself from getting too hyped, so I didn't look at it at the time. Had I done so, I would have realized my first instinct was right. In lieu of talents, levels unlock abilities and/or "runes" that can be used (one each) to slightly customize each ability.
I can understand the move away from letting players apply stat points every level; you could spend them poorly and paint yourself into a corner. Likewise, having the stat progression be set makes gear requirements easier. It was always awkward that you might need to wear a ring with +5 STR so you could equip a particular weapon. Now gear is just limited by level. I'm not entirely against streamlining like this, but the negative effects of doing away with talents entirely are twofold:
- Earning a level no longer means you necessarily get a character-building reward. Stat increases are fixed, and if you only get an ability or a rune you don't want to use, you're playing exactly the same way until your next level, maybe longer.
- All max-level characters are one global cooldown away from having the same exact build. There's no commitment, so there's no attachment to your character being built "your way."
I like to think of Blizzard as amongst the best at understanding the nuances of effective character building. Maybe they're leaving that style of progression to WoW, since they may feel like they've mined that audience completely there. But it seems like they've sacrificed too much customization for the sake of accessibility and/or action-oriented gameplay. Diablo is still supposed to be an RPG franchise, which leads me to my next point:
The remaining "build"
I glossed over it earlier, but Diablo III does have a fair amount of decisions that can be made to customize a character to play your way. Each character has 6 ability slots, each holding a different ability type. Each ability slot will (over the course of the game) accommodate one of several abilities, each of which can be equipped with one of several "runes" which modifies the way the ability behaves. For example, the Demon Hunter's second Primary attack is a snare that hits two enemies, and the first rune unlocked increases the number of targets to 4.
In a purely mathematical sense, there's a massive number of combinations that can be applied to your abilities, then. But the problem is in the narrow constraint of how to apply them. As a Demon Hunter, I will only ever have:
- One primary ability, with one rune equipped
- One secondary ability, with one rune equipped
- One defensive ability, with one rune equipped
- One hunting ability, with one rune equipped
- One devices ability, with one rune equipped
- One archery ability, with one rune equipped
Again, I can understand the motivation for this simplification. Generally speaking, you're only going to use a handful of abilities anyway, so why not just make the player choose a "loadout" and commit to it, customizing each ability with a single rune to complement the others. The issue here is that, again, because the progression is linear by level, players are probably going to be equipping their new ability or new rune every time they get it, to try it out, or just for a change of pace. This leads to a similar progression trajectory for all players, regardless of playstyle. And even if your playstyle might lead you never to use an entire category of skills, you can't just slot in a skill from another category to backfill. It would make a huge difference to even be able to hotkey a second skill to swap in when needed, and give the swap a semi-long cooldown, but make the skill usable instantly. Instead, you're left planning your abilities before you enter an encounter, customizing with runes that add flavor, but not much in the way of playstyle, and probably, ultimately, leaning on the stuff you unlocked most recently (or having near-meaningless level-ups).
Dual Wielding (WTF?)
The class selection preview for the Demon Hunter shows him/her holding two one-hand crossbows. It's a slick look and plays to the fact that the Demon Hunter is the only class that can use one-hand crossbows at all. So the entire time I was playing through the beta, I was looking forward to picking up a second one-hand crossbow so I could dual wield, sacrificing the defensive potential of my shield for much greater damage potential. Imagine my surprise when I equipped a second crossbow only to find my DPS go down. So it turns out if you have two 1H weapons, you alternate attacks, meaning you average the damage of the two weapons. So unless the stats on your second weapon are SO AMAZING that it's worth giving up a shield, a 2H weapon, and/or a powerful class-specific off-hand, there's never going to be a good reason to do it. I can't fathom what the logic was behind this decision. Even in WoW, they balanced OH weapons by reducing their damage, but it was still additive to your original weapon. As it stands now, I can't imagine an off-hand weapon that has good enough stats to overshadow the damage output of a 2H weapon or the potential stats + defense of a shield. In the case of the Demon Hunter, you can even equip a quiver (passive OH) while using a 2H weapon. Why would you ever use 2 crossbows in that case? I'm hoping I'm missing something here, but it's not like there are talents to change the way off-handing works.
The Monk class is kind of dumb
I'm risking nit-picking here, but after my first playthrough as a Demon Hunter, I decided to try a melee class. I like the idea of the Monk being a spiritual melee class with healing abilities, like a light-armor Paladin, so I gave it a try. The Demon Hunter's abilities are all ranged, so you can't use them with melee weapons equipped. Similarly, the Monk's abilities are all hand-to-hand techniques, so I expected there would be restrictions on what weapon types (fist, staff) would be supported by them. So imagine my surprise when I can equip an axe for the stats and have my Monk character run around punching people while holding an axe. I understand that they didn't want to lock an entire class out of most of the weapon loot in the game, but if you're not going to make custom animations showing how the monk uses the weapon, don't make it so compelling to equip it just for stats. It feels incredibly silly and takes me out of the game. It didn't seem like there were any bonuses being applied to use of fist weapons, which would have been a very elegant way of incenting use of the class-appropriate equipment.
A smaller issue was the first rune unlocked for the Monk's first primary skill. It allows the player to teleport to the enemy on each attack, making distance-closing a non-issue. It's a cool ability, from a practical perspective, but there's no animation for it. You just blip around, and it's very disorienting. My co-op partner thought it just looked like I was lagging. Maybe these will be things that are addressed in the final game, but as of now it's really making the Monk feel like an afterthought of a class, just a collection of abilities with no real tie to the in-game lore.
Loot (of course)
So the loot is still strong. And given that it's the best/only way to truly have a character be uniquely yours, that's a good thing. I'm a bit confused about the new item identification mechanic, though. Maybe this is another placeholder thing that will be addressed in the final game, but unidentified items can be identified by right-clicking them. That's it. One extra click to equip them. What's the point of this? So you have to clear out room in your inventory before you can decide if you want to keep something? I mean, it takes a couple of seconds to do, so there's a bit of suspense, and you can't do it in battle, but who is equipping things they just picked up in the middle of battle anyway?
Ultimately, I had a good time with the beta, but it was pretty short and I had a lot of built-up anticipation pulling me forward. I don't know how much the systems they've built into the game would keep me interested, and for how long. And even though I'm still considering purchasing the game when it comes out (or after reading a few reviews), I can't say I'm as excited as I once was. I know it's not fair to judge a game or make a purchase decision based on beta code, but the biggest issues I have are fundamental to the structure of the game they've built. It's not the game I thought it was or wanted it to be. Is it close enough? Maybe. Or maybe I'll hold out and see what Torchlight II does before I commit.