Archive | May, 2012

Diablo III is a hellish disappointment

20 May

Growing up I loved the Diablo series. Diablo II is actually where my name “Godless Paladin” Comes from. The paladin in Diablo II was holy warrior-super knight, clad in heavy armor, that waded into combat laying waste to hordes of minions.

I had an affinity for tank like characters, and so I picked him. Years later when I became an atheist and started this blog, I still was into medieval stuff, had a suit of armor of my own, and still loved the paladin, yet was now godless. The image of a righteous paladin without gods and masters came to mind. It was the best thing I could think of at the time, and so I ran with it.

But back to the game.

Diablo III was a game 11 years in the making. Production started in 2001, while Diablo II was still in the market. I have a theory that after a game’s development time passes around the 3-4 year mark, it’s going to be a really shitty game. Why? Well because it’s at that point that I imagine most of the delays to be originating from too much producer and executive input.

Creative people and programmers can come up with an idea and put it together. The speed at which they do that depends heavily on how much resources the company can allocate to the project. Blizzard is a massive company with almost no end in funds, with an extremely solid production history, so why the hell did it take 11 years?

I can only imagine that the producers kept trying to control how the game turned out, instead of giving the creative people room to be creative. That’s at least how the game feels.

The first thing that sticks out are the graphics. To some people, graphics don’t matter, they let their imagination do the work, but to people like me, they matter a lot. A beautiful game is really important to creating a feeling of immersion, the sensation that you’re there, and after all, that’s what gaming is all about.

At the time of writing this, Battlefield III is one of the PC gaming industry’s graphical benchmarks for excellent graphics.

Diablo III’s graphics look like they’re stuck in 2006. I know that Battlefield III and Diablo III are fundamentally different games, being played from different view points, but the issue that I’m trying to get at here is that the technology exists for Diablo III to make use of much better lighting, shading, shadows, textures, and particle affects. Instead we get something that looks cartoonish and borrows heavily from Blizzard’s other flagship series, World of Warcraft.

In the process of doing so, Diablo III loses a lot of the gritty, gory, hellish feel to it that Diablo II had. That loss really cuts at the essence of what this game is supposed to embody. Further example, examine these two screenshots. First from Diablo II, then Diablo III.

The next thing that struck me as a let down in Diablo III occured to me after I realized I had just played the first three hours of the game single handed. That’s right. The entire time I was playing, I was playing and winning with only my mouse hand, and winning easily. I feel Diablo III lost a lot of the challenge and strategy that was in Diablo II, that the game had been dumbed down. As I’ve been playing more, I’ve started to use the hotkeys on the keyboard, but only sparingly.

The game feels like I’m just clicking on things until they die, and they always do because as a witch doctor with a rapid fire long range blowgun, I mow enemies down before me with a few rapid clicks.

On the bright side, at least I can hold my drink in my other hand while playing.

Over the past few years, voice acting has taken on a much greater prominence in gaming. Games tell a story after all, and it is important that they tell that story well. Bethesda Studios is famous for their voice acting, and so is Bioware. Both studios put a lot of effort into crafting a good story, and then having good actors give voice to those characters.

Blizzard fell short with Diablo III. The voice acting is cheesy and the lines are cheesy. I feel like the characters have the minds of 13 year old kids. Their attitudes towards fighting, glory, valor, evil, and fear are all very naive and innocent. To make matters worse, it is as if they recorded six lines of dialogue for each character, and I keep hearing them over and over again. The attack noises are pretty annoying as well. One attack, for the witch doctor, involves flinging frogs at the enemy. The frogs so far have proved useless, but the thing that is most annoying is the sound the witch doctor makes when you fling them. It’s like shocking a cat with a taser. When you’re rapid clicking in order to spam frogs, it’s extremely annoying.

I ended up just muting the game and listening to my audio book while clicking through one handed. Not a good sign.

The next major issue I wanted to discuss was character customization.

Diablo III is supposed to be a Role Playing Game (RPG). In a RPG, you create a character and then customize and improve them throughout the game. The majority of the excitement comes from getting new items to improve your character how you want, trying new strategies, and altering the look of your character.

Blizzard takes all of this away in Diablo III, and it’s a deal breaker.

When you “level up” in Diablo III, the game unlocks new abilities, but you have no say in what abilities it unlocks. Blizzard decides for you. This leaves every character more or less the same in spell abilities. A level 10 witch doctor is going to have X spells. A level 15, X, Y spells. A level 20, X, Y, Z spells. The only possible difference is the equipment, but even that has flaws which I’ll get to later.

Your character is no longer your character. You have no say in how they evolve, what areas they focus on. It’s all decided for you and it destroys the fun.

I mention that equipment differed slightly, but not really. While equipment might have certain small affects on your abilities here and there, you have no way of customizing the look of your character. You will inevitably go for whatever equipment gives you the better boost, regardless of how it looks. The end result is something akin to a color blind toddler trying to dress themselves from a random barrel of clothes. You look disjointed and like an idiot.

This is further compounded by the “Pay to win” system Blizzard has implemented in the “Real money auction house.”

Blizzard legalized a system for using real money to buy better equipment in game. This means that those who spend more than the original $60 will have an easier time beating the game, and will have an even easier time killing other players who can’t afford to shell out more money for better items.

The other fun part of the fun of an RPG besides customizing your character is finding cool equipment to customize your character with. What’s the point if I can just buy the best equipment and walk straight through the game, ignoring every chest and dead enemy, knowing I already have the best equipment? This further hollows out the game.

The final issue I want to address is the copy right protection on Diablo III. Instead of making a better product and hoping people buy it, and instead of crying over “lost sales” from people who pirate because they don’t have the money to buy in the first place, game developers are more and more moving to make paying customers jump through ever increasing hoops to play the game they bought.

This only serves to increase player frustration and spur on piracy. It’s bad enough that the game you own isn’t really “yours” to do with as you like (ex: some games can only be installed on certain computers, and only a certain number of times), but now Blizzard has set the precedent of requiring constantly on internet connection. The idea is, while it’s easy to crack the protection on a game that doesn’t require internet, it’s not easy to hack Blizzard’s servers and play an illegal copy of the game.

Yes, just about everybody has internet now, but at different speeds, and at different prices. I have discovered that lag is a significant issue. If your internet connection is slow, the game will often lag, causing your character and the enemies to jump all over the map, or for you to suddenly die because you were being attacked and couldn’t move. Whenever this happens it makes the game uplayable and I end up just quitting till the internet improves.

The launch of Diablo III exposed another major flaw in “always online” gaming: it relies on servers.

Diablo III was supposed to go live at 3am EST on May 15. I, along with thousands of other loyal fans who had grown up with the series, stayed up late to play.

But the servers crashed.

It would be one thing if this was some other company, but Blizzard is the company behind World of Warcraft, a massive multiplayer online RPG. Servers should be their bread and butter.

People couldn’t log into their games. People who did were kicked off the servers. It was a grade A clusterfuck. When the servers finally did slowly come one line, others were forced to wait in queues in order to play the game they bought. I ended up just going to bed. 14 hours later and the game was still having issues letting people on.

The whole launch night experience is summed up very nicely in this short video:

I’ve been able to get on since, but the precedent is unnerving. There has been a trend in the technology and gaming industry over the past several years, a trend towards not allowing customers ownership and control over the things they buy. You’re not so much buying a product like you would buy a house, you’re buying a license to use a controlled product, one not controlled by you.

Diablo III reeks of this loss of control.

The creative people lost control of the product to producers and executives seeking to cash in on a beloved franchise after 11 years.

The player lost control over the development of their character, how they play, and when they play.

The game lost its soul of dark demonic combat and the thrill of exploration.

The whole thing is just a sad let down.