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Reflections on Diablo III

Diablo III has been out for a while and I’ve been playing it a fair bit. I thought I’d share my own views on the game, to add to the general level of noise on the internet about it.

There is very much complimentary to say about Diablo III.

The graphics are gorgeous. The generated levels and dungeons slot together seamlessly. You do start to recognise elements, but it never becomes jarring or obvious the way it has for games in the past. There’s no “tiles” as it where, and any that exist are very large and not distracting.

The cut-scenes are gorgeous, in true Blizzard style, and put many so-called “blockbuster movies” to shame.

The story is simple and a bit clichéd, but carries you through the game fairly well, it was hardly meant to be the primary focus of the game and what there is of it is enough to keep you mildly engaged while you’re playing, at least during the first or second play through.

Unfortunately this is where we start running into the problems. There are four difficulty levels and each one is supposed to be a much harder challenge than the previous. This is certainly true, but the difference seems very artificial. The enemies get more abilities, they get more health and they do more damage. So much so that there are far too many one-shot kills and often enough you can run into a group of the more challenging “elites” or “champions” and you’re dead before you even realise it.

The challenge to beating these enemies is very artificial. I’m playing a wizard. I should do masses of damage to compensate for the fact that I have little healthy and no real armour. In the first play through you can just use your primary and secondary spells and you’re fine. In the next you need to start using all your skills, and start running away quite a bit. In the next difficulty you are running all the time with barely enough time to cast a spell. Often enough if you do stop to cast a spell the mobs catch you and you die. Beating these enemies becomes a case of simply running away and dying.

There’s no real way to beat these enemies by changing your strategy or spell selection. The mobs get to trap you and pin you into place, but there’s no real spells that allow you to do that back to them. The enemies get abilities (and more of them for each difficulty level) and some combinations are just so impossible to defeat that no matter what strategy you employ you have no real chance. Take elites with “invulnerable” minions. That’s right you cannot damage those extra mobs, but they can damage you. You also as a wizard cannot cast your ranged spells at the main mob because the shielded ones are in the way. The entire fight becomes a case of just running around and trying to sneak a spell past the invulnerable enemies. Run in the wrong direction and more enemies appear, wait a fraction of a second too long after casting a spell and you die, or get trapped by running in the wrong direction and die.. or get trapped because the enemies also have the “waller” or “jailer” ability as well. One or two hits and you’re dead. There are other ability combinations equally frustrating. It should be a challenge, it should require you to learn and plot and improvise, but there’s nothing in the game that gives you those options.

The only real way to beat these fights is to have decent gear to bring your damage and armour/health up high enough to be able to take the odd hit while running around in circles. There’s no point changing your strategy, because there’s really only one strategy that works.

That’s the next problem. There’s no really good loot drops. Masses of loot drops but it’s all crap. You might get an upgrade item for one in a thousand drops. The loot is random, but it’s a bit too random; or maybe their algorithms are broken. For some reason my wizard gets a massive amount of quiver drops (which he can’t use). I’m level 58 and still wearing some rings I picked up around level 20-30 because in the 30 hours of game play since, I’ve not had a single ring drop that’s better than the two I already have.

Replaying earlier parts would be a lot more fun if you the loot that dropped could actually be an improvement, but for the most part you look at what drops and it’s stuff you might have liked 10 or even 20 levels earlier, but it’s nothing as good as what you have and certainly nothing as good as you need to beat the current hardest enemy you’re facing.

This leaves you with no real choice but to farm for gold and buy stuff from the auction house. Unfortunately there are gold sellers running rampant in the game and inflation in the auction house is out of control. An upgrade for one of my rings (just a simple magical ring with some better stats) is listed as millions of gold. According to my stats, I’ve collected 1 million gold in the 70 hours of play so far. How am I supposed to pay for items then? I’m not a student any more, I can’t play for 12 hours a day, every day.

The gameplay issues are bad enough… add to that that this game requires an always-on internet connection and the servers are collapsing under the load and there are whole evenings and weekends where you cannot even connect to play and I’m glad I got this game as part of a deal and didn’t pay for it directly.

The game is becoming more and more monotonous and, in truth, boring. Things that might keep you playing, like the thrill of getting good loot, or a great drop, isn’t there because drops are so far and few between that by the time you get one any thought or chance of excitement has long been replaced by frustration and exasperation and your only response is “about bloody time”.

Maybe Blizzard will fix it, maybe not. For a game that’s supposed to be “infinitely repayable” it’s very disappointing. There are better games out there, Torchlight, springs to mind; maybe not as polished graphically and musically, but certainly less frustrating to play.

In the scheme of things though I’ve got 70 hours of entertainment out of a game that retails for about €55, and I’ll still get more, as I play through the game with the other classes. Compare that to a cinema ticket of €11 for 2 hours of entertainment, or a football match for €60 (or a lot more) and it’s certainly good value. It just could have been so much more.

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