Diablo III: A post-mortem
After less than a month of play, the shine has worn off of the new toy and I’m pretty sure I can say that I’m over any infatuation I may have had with the title. I’ll still play from time to time, but the epic journey of Grillex the wizard has turned more into an episodic sitcom at this point.
(hints of spoilers abound)
What went right
- The Gameplay is spot on for the successor to the previous two entries in the franchise. Everything feels right. It’s like visiting an old friend and staying up all night talking about good times.
- The Skill System – Every time you level, it’s like a present from Santa – whether a new skill, or a new
glyphrune. You get a chance to adjust your combat accordingly. This pushes a lot of buttons in the reward center of the brain.
- The Story – I’m sure someone’s putting on the hipster glasses and sneering, but I did not see the end of Act III coming ((And I dearly would like the image of #SexyDiabloWalk at the start of Act IV to fade away!)). I like that Blizz took some risks and "went there." And I loved the cinematic at the end of Act I. Tyrael’s entrance was also pretty groovy, but enough clues are around that that was only a minor surprise.
What went wrong
- Connectivity – I cannot emphasize this enough; Diablo and Diablo II were offline games. They were the kind of game you could fire up idly at a moment’s notice and go kill some hellspawn just because, well, hellspawn. D3 changes all that by requiring you to login. And authenticate. And show a birth certificate. And … aw, screw it. I got other things to do.
- Moar Connectivity – I cannot emphasize this enough; forcing this kind of game into an online mode is an atrocity in gaming terms. I didn’t buy this game for the social aspects or other online aspects. I bought it to go kill hellspawn. Only, if the servers are getting laggy, or my local data center has issues … I keep reappearing twenty feet behind where I thought I was. The online element takes this from a walk with an old friend to a heart-exploding sprint for the door to the closes mall as your old friend pounds on your heels keening "braiiiinnnssss….". It’s wretched. There is no amount of gameplay features to make up for that. This is not an MMO. It’s a real-time shooter. And servers don’t do "real-time".
- The Auction House – Again, nobody really asked for this except Blizzard ((You can say those guys auctioning off epic weaps in D2 asked for it, but I guarantee they certainly did not. Blizzard wanted a piece of that action.)). Most of us, ten years ago, were content in single player mode and didn’t care for battle.net, networking, or other players, because we were a universe unto ourselves, and we liked it that way. The Auction House forces you into a social mode that is, for me, completely unwelcome. It has no place in the lore of the game, it has no place in the setting of the game (there is no actual auction house in the game itself). It gives those that would rather be doing something OTHER than playing the game the means to gear up without having to actually play the game more than needed to collect gold. Which brings us to
- The Real Money Auction House (RMAH) – So if you wanna trade in Blizzard Bongo Bucks ((You can’t actually buy anything useful with this cash, such as a steak dinner, but you can buy things from Blizzard. Except for game time. Go figure.)) instead of gold, you an flip a switch and do so. Here’s the way to gear your toons without actually having to play the game AT ALL. It’s a rich being’s game if price is no object. Now, if I cared about other players in this game – which I don’t – I might have some angst towards those fortunate sons and daughters. But since I intend to stay isolate and blissfully ignorant of what passes for online culture in D3, they are more objects of abstract amusement.
- I must admit, the less abstract point of amusement is how many so-called auction house "experts" didn’t see the behavior of the RMAH in the first days coming. I mean, really? If you’ve spent as many days on the auction house as I have, you know that these things have irrational patterns right off the bat, that that only behavior over long term matters. To have been crowned (or self-anointed) a goblin prince, and not understand this basic statistical precepts of any AH just reinforces my internal conclusion that these are the same people that can’t figure out why you don’t like it when they send you spam in your inbox.
The Overarching Conclusion
Diablo III is a wonderful continuation of the franchise that has been despoiled by its online requirements and the attendant AH shenanigans.
What amazes me is how wrong they got the online/social aspects … and yet, not amazed. I have yet to see Blizz execute an online launch smoothly. This is the only company that I know of that would call for a weekend of load testing and then completely fail to act on the results.
What further amazes me is that there is a perfect exemplar out there that shows how this sort of thing should be done, that being, of course, Steam.
I didn’t buy Civ V when it first came out because I was worried about the Steam thing. When I found that Steam had an offline mode, I was completely mollified – doubly so when I saw it at work.
It’s that simple; emulate Steam and Blizz can salvage this thing for those of us that don’t care to be online just to slay hellspawn. Otherwise, I’ve got some railroads to build.
I want to love this game so much … but I just can’t.
WoW is safe for now, I think.