Category Archives: We’re not in Azeroth anymore

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 glyph rune. 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.

The true WoW-killer

When I signed up for the yearly pass, part of the reason was to get the free D3.  Not so much for me, but for my kid, who is the world’s biggest Diablo fan.  Unfortunately, it turns out, you can’t transfer licenses ((You couldn’t even prepay from Blizz then transfer. For shame!)). So I was left with a working copy of D3 and no real desire to check it out.

But when opening night came, I decided to see if it was worth all the hype, so I installed it and started it up.

I started out with a wizard (my D2 character had been more vanilla).  The male wizard looks like a cross between Tom Hiddleston and Skrillex – so of course, I called him Grillex. I’m hoping eventually to make his arcane blasts go wubWubWubWub as they glide across the room, but first things first.

What I will say of this game thus far: the best way I can describe my experience is that of a long walk on the beach with an old friend. There is practically nothing that I don’t like. It’s a time machine taking us back to when we were playing D1 and D2 in almost an identical way.

Sure, there are gameplay elements that have changed, but the fundamentals have not.  And that makes all the difference. Blizzard have hit the ball out of the park on this one.  The "X" factor that made D1 and D2 such runaway hits is still all there.

The only downside to this game is the mandatory online aspect. You can’t just fire up a session on your laptop to kill an hour or whatnot. There are procedures. You Must log in, you Must authenticate, ergo you Must have a working network connection at all times.

The other downside to this is that any time you lose the network, whatever instance you were in is completely reset. If it’s a special one with special bosses with special loot, it might disappear altogether!  This is a harsh price to pay for server instability from a company that has not once managed to launch a game without server instability.  Now that they are pals with Valve, maybe they can switch to Steam deployment, and have that "work offline" option.  I mean, Valve CAN make it work, after all.

Within the game, the only thing that isn’t my cup of tea so far is the witch doctor.  I don’t get this class. It doesn’t belong. Unless you consider the "jungle" area with the pygmies ((Which also make an appearance in Uldum in WoW.)) in D1/2 to be the source of such – hello, negative stereotypes! Thanks for reaffirming Blizzard’s tone-deafness in matters of diversity. And ooga-booga to you, too.

Over all, though, it’s a glorious incarnation of an already legendary game, and I suspect this one will surpass the previous two in popularity.

Of course, some of the biggest Diablo fans in the world are playing WoW. Or, were, rather.  All around the ‘sphere we’re hearing of dead cities, silent chat channels, even the ANAL guys have bailed to go play D3. Nothing has had such an impact before.  Aion? Nothing. Rift? A pip. STWOR? Shaken, but not stirred. But D3 … it’s done what none of the "WoW killers" could do.  Granted, it’s in the pre-expansion doldrums, but still.

Which confirms what I’ve said all along. Blizzard’s worst enemy is Blizzard themselves.

See you in a few days. 🙂

Inconvenient Truths

While I haven’t really been inclined to get my wookie on and swing a lightsaber, I do follow some aspects of STWOR if for no other reason to have some inkling about what people are getting uptight about.  Usually I end up nodding and saying something like "Some things never change."

One recent controversy did raise my eyebrows, though. There was rumblings about enrage timers, but then a more interesting twist emerged: no damage meters, no combat log.  As so many experience DPSers will tell you, this is pretty stupid.  Here’s one now:

So I’ll come down in favor of DPS races and enrage timers, but only if there are combat logs (and the subsequent parsers and DPS meters) so you can actually FIX the problem if you’re not beating the content. The problem generally isn’t with DPS meters themselves, anyway; it’s with the way some players choose to use them to exclude their "inferiors" from participating in content, and the fact that they often broaden the definition of "inferior" well beyond the needs of the content.

If you think I’m shallow enough to link to this to say I-told-you-so, you’d be completely accurate.

The DPS role is dependent on its numbers, whether you take them subjectively or absolutely is irrelevant.  But of the two, an absolute reference is much better than a relative one. Numbers are absolute. You can feed them into spreadsheets, save them off, compare them to each other. You can make multiple passes and chart your progress or lack thereof. Your damage meter is your friend. If you were doing 20K last week on a particular boss, and only 18K this week, you have something to look in to before you’re the cause of an enrage-timer wipe in the future.

Smug mode: engage.

I’m sure Bioware or whoever will address this to everyone’s satisfaction at some point.  I’m not sure if WoW came with a working addon API out of the box, but given how late it was announced for STROW I’d venture that it was an afterthought and still has some work to go.  I’d advise patience, but that’s not particularly the hallmark of your average STWOR player ((i.e. "Blizzard doesn’t add content fast enough" impatient.)). So, good luck with that, I guess.

=-=-=-=-=-=-

That’s not actually what this article is about. Well, peripherally, it is, but only in that damage meters and combat logs are involved and it deals with DPS.  Namely, mine.

A couple of patches ago, we got changes to the Beast Master Hunter spec that promised near-parity with other specs. Then the guild got gutted of over half its overall raiding roster and it became more difficult to judge my performance against those of my fellows. Then there were more adjustments in the last patch, including some buffs to both SV and BM. Then we started inviting some people from another guild to raid with us regularly, which included a SV spec hunter.

I saw that BM wasn’t doing that great at all. He was topping the meters, I was bringing up the rear. My best choice at that point was to focus on utility. I’ve had to do this before, many times, as far back as Kara. Hoping that being useful (rather than deadly) would keep me in the rotation.

Or, I could change specs. Give it a go.

Looking at gear and gems and reforges and enchants, I realized I only had to change one enchant – agi to mastery – to optimize my armor for SV.  Stat-wise, there was virtually no difference.  So, I left myself geared for BM and greased into SV mode.

After looking at the meters, after looking at the combat logs, in all respects, my performance improved. On average, a 3K difference in output, and I’m not really used to the rotation yet.

So here we are at the end of the expansion and I’m having deja vu all over again.  Because this is exactly where I ended up as I started crawling the passageways of Icecrown in the final patch of WotLK. Survival.   BM was the red-headed stepchild of the team; people like me ran it if we had to, but otherwise we used one of the other specs because they delivered what our class is expected to: ranged damage, and lots of it.

So that’s the upshot of my weekend: I guess I’m shifting to SV and swapping my BM pets for a stock of SV. Alas. BM is, by far, my favorite hunter spec, because it’s so darned fun. But sometimes you gotta give up some funsies to get that boss down. And that’s a sad thing. Of all the issues about talents and specs, that is the greatest one of all – that one cannot just play the spec that one enjoys the most and still expect to perform the same as others.  Maybe you get lucky and it works out. Maybe you don’t.

In my case, not so much.

Don’t be this guy

I don’t often blog about the world outside of WoW, since this is, yah, a WoW blog.  But I do watch other games closely. And yes, that includes STWOR. I guess it’s assumed that the main reason I don’t want to play it is because I have never heard of George Lucas and his progeny. That’s a negative, Ghost Rider.

Anyhoo.

In an interview on Eurogamer (as pointed to by Massively), the Game Director for STWOR, James Ohlen, had this to say.

Star Wars: The Old Republic Game Director James Ohlen isn’t surprised that the game’s received the flak it has from a segment of reviews and fans. In a candid interview with Eurogamer, Ohlen addresses both the issues of being a "big target" for critics and the claims that SWTOR’s lacking innovation.

For the most part, players and critics have praised the game, Ohlen shares, and BioWare is seeing an "exceptionally high" desire among its playerbase for continued subscriptions. But was BioWare prepared for the backlash as well? Ohlen says it was: "We knew that there was going to be people who wanted us to fail. But that’s just the nature of the game. If you’re going to build a huge game and try to go out to a lot of people, you’re going to have people who just react poorly."

Basically, he seems to say, if you have something bad to say about the game, you’re a hater. 

In one fell swoop, he attempts to reduce any criticism – legit or not – to just plain "haters gonna hate, bro" and thus, in his mind at least, can move forward about talking about how wonderful the embroidery is on the next tier of armor or whatever.

I’m not going to address the concerns expressed elsewhere either collectively or individually. Not my concern. But when I see a video game company handle legitimate criticisms in such a cavalier fashion, it really annoys me. It’s a sleazeball move and it just paints the whole development team in a bad light – and usally they don’t deserve that.

Well, sure, he works at EA, and we all lower our expectations whenever we talk, shake hands with, or generally share space with someone at EA these days ((More’s the pity, I remember when EA was a known mark of quality and excellence.)). But that does not excuse the practice, any more than if it were someone at Blizzard ((Has that happened? I’m sure it has, and there’s still no excuse for it.)).

If I ever have a critique of a game, it will be based on the game and not on nature of the players within or the nature of the content.  The fact is that the "franchise" does not interest me, but that is not a critique of the game itself.  What I’ve heard of the game itself has been largely positive. I’ve heard more negative about the community around the game than the game itself. That doesn’t make the game a bad game, any more than LFR makes puggers into bad people.  They are mechanisms only, and should be judged on that basis.

When you try to insinuate bias without proof, you come across as a sleaze, plain and simple, and when you do that, you inch closer to losing a sale from those that care about that sort of thing.

Now, do I actually believe this guy meant things that way?  At the moment, I’m on the fence. As usual, reading the full article embellishes things a bit. But this is the bit getting the widest exposure, and it so far hasn’t been walked back too briskly, so I don’t know what to think about this guy.

What I DO know is that this is a practice I have seen over and over again, from game makers at all levels (including Zynga, ew). So if it’s gonna quack and walk like a duck, I’m going to lay down the duck-like attributes on it.

The practice itself is just not cool, it shouldn’t be pandered to, and "reporters" on the scene should call it out when it happens instead of nodding and smiling and holding on to that free pass for one more quarter.