The Devilish Details of a Diablo 3 Analysis
By Josh Bycer
This is it ladies and gentlemen; the start of ARPG season 2012 begins with one of the most anticipated games this year. Diablo 2 has arguably been the king of the genre and the model that others have been judged for some time. With Diablo 3, Blizzard has gone over the formula again in an attempt to hook new and old fans yet again, but the amount of accessibility may be its undoing.
Building a Better Looter:
We’re going to skip the story part of this analysis as we have a lot to discuss. With Diablo 3, Blizzard has made several revisions to the design. First let’s talk about the good. The class design is easily some of the best from the genre both in variety and skills. Each choice plays completely differently from each other and removing the ubiquitous “mana pool” and replacing it with a unique energy source per class was a smart move.
The other change to class design and one that I really liked was the revision of the rune system. Originally, Blizzard wanted the player to find runes in the world that could be equipped on the different skills of each class. Using the same rarity system for loot drops, players would upgrade their runes over the course of playing and make their skills incrementally better.
During beta, the designers realized that this form would amount to too much work without much gain and instead changed it. Now runes are unique both per class and per skill and unlock with leveling. I wasn’t a big fan of this when I first heard it, but having played it, the new system works.With the runes now unique, it allowed the designers to make them to be more than just mere stat boosts. Each rune radically changes the dynamic of said skill and when you combine this with the limited skill selection, it leads to some great in game choices.
Here’s an example of a choice I had with my witch doctor. His first skill is a blowgun that shoots poison tipped darts. The first rune you equipped can turn it into a three dart rapid fire attack doing more damage. The next rune will replace the damage with a movement debuff keeping enemies from getting close.
Now you could choose one or other, but then there is his other skill: grasping hands, that summons a section of hands to grab the enemy. It normally comes with a movement debuff, but you could put a rune on it to increase its damage per second. The choice then becomes: what can I do with these two skills to make them work together?
With the limit of six skills and three passives, there are a lot of choices for how do you want to define your character. Chances are as time goes on, we’ll hear about legendary builds that players have used to turn the game into a cakewalk.
A Violent Sight Seeing Tour:
While the Diablo story may not be winning a Pulitzer anytime soon, the writers and artists at Blizzard have done a lot to flesh out the world. The game looks great and there is a visceral feel to the combat. As each character’s abilities tear apart enemies differently, makes each area look like a battlefield when the fight is over. New follower’s each with their own personality and skills, give single-players an able partner.
Instead of having the lore in the game manual, lore books are scattered around the world fleshing out the story of the game and of the different enemies. With most dungeons and outdoor sections randomized and mini event that can happen while exploring, give players something to look for on repeat plays.The boss battles of Diablo 3 are some of my favorite from the genre. They’re not about whaling on an enemy for 5 minutes and hoping you have enough potions to last. Each boss has unique attacks and tells requiring the player to be as much on defense as they are on offense.
So far everything mentioned has been a positive but with so many things Diablo 3 does right, it’s the little things that add up to big problems.
A Little Too Much Hack and Slash:
The main problems with Diablo 3 aren’t huge, blatantly obvious issues. But are small things that are out of alignment. In a game with so many moving parts, when there is one problem with the design it affects the other parts as well. The key point of each issue is Blizzard’s attempt at adding accessibility has led to simplicity.
First are the classes themselves, the problem is that there is no permanence to each character and the idea of personalization is an illusion. Each skill once unlock will act in the same manner for all time or until Blizzard releases a patch. While the runes do provide noticeable changes to their respective skills, once modified, the same problem remains.
While I’m fine with being able to mix and match at anytime, without some kind of growth, it eventually renders the act of leveling meaningless. On my witch doctor, once I had my six skills and runes set, suddenly there was no reason to care about leveling anymore. This happened around level 26 and I still had 34 more levels to go up before I hit the level 60 cap.
If there was something that I could do that would not be easily replicated or there were more choices, then I could say that my character was personalized. The passive skill system was designed with that in mind, but with only being able to choose from 3 of 15 available, once again leaves the player limited once they reach the cap. When I go more than 10 levels without making any major changes to my character, there is a problem.
To keep every skill viable, the designers made every damage causing skill scale based on different percentages of the character’s DPS (damage per second.) This by itself was a great change but when we look at this along with the simplistic attribute system, a problem rears its head.
One Way Fashion Shopping:
In Diablo 3, while characters still have 4 main attributes, players no longer assign points to them. Instead characters will gain a few attribute points on level up and the rest from equipment bonuses. The problem is that the designers went too far with simplifying attribute bonuses and hurt the options players have.
In Diablo 2, every attribute had value to each class. Intelligence affected mana pool, strength affected melee damage and so on. But in Diablo 3, only two attributes matter per class: vitality and a primary stat. The primary stat affects both the defensive options of the character and adds a direct bonus to DPS.
What that does, is now the only equipment that matters is if it has a bonus to the primary attribute or vitality. As a barbarian, there is no reason why I should take gear that gives a bonus to intelligence when I have one that gives a bonus to strength. Since all skills scale from DPS only, it’s suicide to not boost the primary or vitality whenever possible, especially on the harder difficulty levels.
The other consequence is that the search for loot has been dumb down. Each class can only realistically search for items relating to their primary stat. All barbarians are going to want strength items, demon hunters: dexterity and so on. If the other attributes offered some kind of meaningful bonus, like increase power regeneration or add a small bonus to the effect of each skill that would be a different story.
However, with the simplistic attribute system, the search for loot has been neutered. Given the decision to base each class on one main stat, I’m confused why I kept finding class restricted gear that gave bonuses to other attributes.
The culmination of the simplistic changes comes in the difficulty system. Blizzard has said in the past that they wanted normal to be easy or casual mode. Which is a fine opinion, but to make it that way the designers stretched the content to its breaking point.
In Diablo 2, players could find a wide variety of item rarities and modifiers from the get-go, and that feeling that you could find something great at anytime was an excellent motivator. With Diablo 3, both modifiers and higher item rarities can only be found on the higher difficulty levels.
As an example, when playing Diablo 2 within the first act I got lucky and found one set item and one unique. However in Diablo 3, I didn’t find either type over the entire course of normal and nightmare mode. The # of modifiers is also limited, with no resistance type modifiers in normal mode.
The problems with loot could also be seen in Torchlight 1, where the player was bombarded with so much loot that the player couldn’t use or didn’t want that it made the search for loot more of a chore. The difference is that Torchlight did it due to not properly curving up equipment attributes. While Diablo 3 is due to limiting what attributes work for each class and gating the access of more varied gear behind the difficulty settings.
I can understand wanting to ease people into the game, but with normal mode so easy to begin with, moving a lot of the deeper decisions and rewards to higher difficulty levels feels like it is punishing expert players. It’s very hard to get stuck playing normal mode, and the only times things were challenging for me was when I was playing with 3 other people and the bonus to monsters was in effect.
Normally the analogy is: having to eat your vegetables before having dessert. But in this case, it’s like being given a cake that’s 10 days old, and told that once you eat that, then you can have one that’s 5 days old, then 2 and finally a fresh cake.
Lag Spikes of Doom:
Finally let’s talk about Blizzard’s decision to require a constant internet access. For those that didn’t follow it, for Diablo 3, Blizzard has implemented a real money auction house system. Instead of trying to fight the people who sold items for cash in Diablo 2, Blizzard has now embraced it. The consequence is that to prevent people from using hacks and creating duplicate items, they want everyone to be on the battle.net service while playing.
This decision has fractured the community to some extent. The biggest issue for gamers is that if the server they’re on starts to lag, this can affect the game. I’ve had cases where I died from lag spikes or my health going from full to near empty before the enemy attacked. For me, while I can see the benefit of being connected to battle.net, I have to argue against it. As the benefits don’t have any bearing on what makes Diablo enjoyable.
Overall Diablo 3 is a good game, the changes to class dynamics and skill selection as a whole help elevate the design. However, it feels like Blizzard tried to fix something that wasn’t broken with trying to make the game accessible.
In the process, Diablo 3 feels tame and that there is a whole lot of tedium beating the lower difficulty levels before you can see what’s considered the meat of the experience. Personally I hate leveling games that say that the game doesn’t begin until you reach the cap, which is also why I got as far away from World of Warcraft as possible.
To be fair to Diablo 3, Diablo 2 didn’t reach its legendary status until after several patches and the additional new content with the expansion pack. As it stands, Diablo 3 is much better all around compared to Diablo 2 at launch and the issues present aren’t enough to ruin the experience.
If you’re expecting a grand revision of the ARPG formula, you may be disappointed with Diablo 3. But Blizzard has hone their craft over the years, and the subtle changes do a lot to elevate Diablo 3. And if they can fix the problems mentioned here, I’ll have no issue with giving the ARPG crown to Diablo 3.(source:chronicgamedesigner)