I’ve got back into playing Diablo 3. I say back into playing Diablo 3 because I bought the game when it was released on the PS3 and gave it a shot. I was enjoying it. I got through to the early stages of Act 2 and then my Demon Hunter just seemed underpowered. I just couldn’t kill things fast enough. She’d get over run. It all got a bit frustrating.
It became everything I feared about loot-based games as I assumed I hadn’t built my character well enough, I’d not ensured I had the the gear that was needed and I’d hit a brick wall.
I’m not convinced now that was the case, but something was certainly going on as this play experience has been entirely different.
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My Loot-Based Game Dichotomy
I enjoy loot-based games. I don’t enjoy loot-based games. The weird thing is both statements are true for me and it comes down to the detail. That detail that swings it either way is simple.
I like loot-based games but I don’t like thinking about loot.
I enjoy digital dungeoneering games. Going to interesting places. Killing things. Taking their stuff. Then as you get more powerful you go to ever more epic places and do the same thing. This is what allowed me to enjoy World of Warcraft. It’s also what caused me to get frustrated with World of Warcraft as the more difficult elements of the end game kicked in.
I don’t like games that make the character build part of the game. That’s not a game for me. It’s as annoying as hell. I want the game to be in the actual playing not theorising about building a character so I can access the actual playing. I avoid pretty much all games that have this feature be they video games or traditional tabletop games.
This is what’s allowing me to enjoy Diablo. So far, I don’t have too think to hard about the loot.
The Diablo Loot System Is Genius
The loot system in Diablo 3 is total genius. It’s genius because it’s amazingly efficient. It is a brilliant piece of console interface design. The risk with loot-based games is the process of managing your loot becomes a burden and is very time consuming. Do you have enough bag space, organising your bag space, travelling back to sell your loot, finding a way to easily decide what loot to equip in the middle of a dungeon.
You get the idea. There are games that have done this very badly. You could argue earlier Diablo games fell into this trap. I remember one had a really annoying ‘bag’ interface with each item being a different size and shape in the bag space.
Diablo 3 has stripped it all back.
As soon as you pick up loot you can cycle through it with the up arrow and easily choose whether to equip, drop, mark as trash, etc. You can do this quickly, easily and naturally while running the dungeon. It just becomes a natural action. It brings virtually zero friction to the playing experience. It does this by clearly indicating for any piece of loot, with simple up and down arrows, whether that piece of equipment offers better damage, defence or health stats.
The system also speeds up other decisions as having marked the items you’re not going to equip as trash when you get to a merchant you just press one button to sell all the trash. Done. As for getting to the merchant. A simple teleport. Hit the trash button. Jump through the portal back. It doesn’t even have to take a minute. Hell, if you’re playing with others you alter that slightly by ‘teleporting’ back via your fellow adventurers banner and you pop back in right with them. This means the dungeon-delving can continue uninterrupted.
Even I find it easy and frictionless. That means it’s pretty damned clever.
Character Build Choices Are Fun!
Diablo 3 manages to provide just enough complexity in the character build choices that it’s actually fun. It doesn’t feel like something that is complex and takes a lot of thought to get right or you’re screwed
I’m not saying I’ve got the most efficient or best character but if even I can start seeing some of the fun combinations then it isn’t overly burdensome.
I like the system it uses because it offers choice but keeps the choices simple as you’re not presented with limitless choice. I get that some players like this, but for me limitless choice just results in two things: paralysis and the potential for picking combinations that actually make the game unplayable to one degree or another.
You have active and passive skills.
Passive skills are easy. You choose which ones are active and they do something constant. You get to have a number of passive skills active as your level increases to a maximum of three. Easy.
You have 61 active skills which sounds like an absolute nightmare. Each active skill is tweaked by five runes. The genius of it is it’s perfectly manageable. This is because the active skills are split into six types and you can only have one active per type, each type being assigned to a button on the controller.
This makes the options fun to choose and use.
I’m pretty sure my choices are open to major criticism, but I’m enjoying my build which is focused around various ways to chill things and then some thing kicking in to cause more damage when enemies are chilled. I seem to kill things efficiently enough, albeit on standard difficulty, and it affords for awesome crowd control.
The Multiplayer Is Awesome
It’s complete and utter chaos, but it’s still awesome. It’s also been enjoyable when we’ve been five to ten levels apart from each other despite the fact it does not scale to the level range.
We though it did since the experience worked that well but research for this blog informs me it doesn’t. The game is scaled to the level of the player whose game it is. What does factor into the level difference is the experience each player gets.
Basically, the lower level player always hosted the game. It seemed to work. It did mean the lower level player tended to catch up with levels as the higher level player was getting a lower percentage of experience.
The multiplayer is a social event of killing hordes of things and it’s fun.
It’s Visually, Aurally And Destructively Addictive
The actually play of Diablo 3 is just: addictive. The beauty of it is it’s not addictive in that unhealthy association with games infected with mmo-isation. This is because the actual play is efficient, loud and destructively joyous.
The focus Diablo 3 has is its greatest benefit. It is free of a sprawling open world full of puerile quests. It is immediate with zero barriers to the experience or friction to actually enjoying the game. This means you can play the game in relatively short moments and it feels useful. I keep having to put ‘end game’ caveats in, as I’ve not experience that, but you don’t have to set whole days or half days aside to play Diablo 3.
When you do play it. Have the sound turned up loud and just soak up the visual destruction and the sheer joy of killing hordes of enemies. The more the better. This gets particularly fun when more of the characters abilities kick in. I don’t know about any other class but the Demon Hunter can face a horde of enemies by having three turrets, chilling enemies and laying down chill zones, periodically launch a reign of arrows from the sky and then fire into the chilled horde.
It is totally visually, aurally and destructively addictive. The genius is it is an addictiveness that you can walk away from and engage with on your own terms without your play of the game being diminished.
The Story Has Its Moments
The Diablo 3 story is a bit odd. It’s a pretty typical Diablo and Blizzard affair. It has the demon lords. It involves powerful beings falling from the sky. It’s all up in the epic shit. The cut scenes are pretty amazing, but then we’ve been used to that for some time across Diablo, Warcraft, Starcraft and World of Warcraft.
The oddness comes in the fact the story isn’t really yours. You’re like an observer to the main protagonist’s story and that protagonist is: Leah. She is the main character in every cut scene cinematic. It is about her successes, losses and relationships. I guess this keep things simple as it means Blizzard didn’t have to create a cinematic variation for each of the classes. You never actually see your character in a cinematic as a character. I’ve not reach the end but I doubt this changes.
I’m currently on act 3 and Leah’s prominence seems to have diminished just a bit but I’m pretty sure this is temporary and when the next cinematic kicks in it’ll be about her.
If you step back from the cinematics the in game story stuff is pretty good. So far the characters that stand out are Maghda and Azmoden. They appear as a presence throughout their respective acts and they’re really good characters. The sound design on Azmoden’s voice is really good ensuring each time he speaks is a joy. Maghda is just very good visually and a is a brilliant design. She’s so good I’d be inclined to use a variation on her visual look in a tabletop role-playing game.
Despite being a bit odd. It’s not Mass Effect or Uncharted. There is enough of it combined with its distilled dungeoneering experience to keep you killing your way through the game. The third act is particularly epic so far as it takes place in a fortress under siege and rolls on from one impending disaster to another.
I’ve sort of played Diablo II and, as stated in the beginning, I made a go previously at Diablo III. Each time it’s been enjoyable but I’ve never got to the end or the maximum level. It’s never gone the distance.
I’m pretty sure Diablo 3 is going to go the distance. Despite all the complaints when the game was originally launched, and I do realise it’s a very different game now, plus the console version always got better reviews, I believe this version is the best version of the game.
Simply because it’s the only one that’s going to get me to the end of the story content. What happens after that? No idea.