Stay for a Long Weekend, and Listen!

Over the long weekend I played a lot of Diablo 3. In fact, I finished it! Woo! JaneEyre the Barbarian rescued the world of Sanctuary (and Heaven) from the Prime Evil!

Here she is at level 27:

At one point all her equipment was yellow because you find a guy who sells you equipment paint and I made her yellow so she’d be easier to spot in a crowd. But then I swapped out a bunch of her gear.

Here she is when she defeated Diablo:

What I said I wanted from Diablo 3 was “more of the same” and for the most part that’s what I got, but I can’t help but feel that there’s something missing here. Diablo 2 was a game I played and played and played, with a variety of different characters. Don’t get me wrong, I’m having a good time with D3 and I’m not done with it yet, but it doesn’t feel as engaging as D2 did.

Now, D3 does do a lot of things absolutely right. A lot of stuff has been streamlined for a more fluid experience. You automatically pick up gold, which is great. There’s only one type of potion, healing, and monsters drop health from time to time, so even those aren’t as critical (still, don’t get too far away from the Q button.) You have a variety of skill slots, but two are your mouse buttons, four are numbers 1-4 (right next to Q, handy), and three are passive, requiring nothing to activate. You don’t have to futz around with them too much. Identifying rare items and the town portal are actions that only take up a little time (so you’re not going to do it in combat), eliminating the need for scrolls. The designers knew that we want to kill stuff, and we don’t want a lot of nonsense interfering with the killing of stuff.

With all this effort put into getting to the essentials, then, there’s something that makes no sense. The distribution of loot is weird.

There’s a barrel. Hit it and it might have some treasure inside (and, rarely, a monster). However, it often doesn’t. That doesn’t make any sense to me. There should always be stuff in barrels. Otherwise, why put them there? Saying, “Oh, well, there’s a chance it’s empty” doesn’t make sense because there’s near-zero risk in popping open the barrel. Sure, sometimes a monster pops out, but that’s never a big deal. Barrels and such should work like in the boardgame DungeonQuest, in which there are crypts and corpses you can search. Sometimes there’s treasure. Sometimes there’s nothing, and you’re cool with that, because sometimes there are awful things inside. So you have to decide if you want to risk it. Having barrels and bookshelves and things light up to be explored and then not do anything adds nothing to the game. In that screenshot, the part in red is a barrel, where there may be treasure. There’s already a place where there isn’t treasure; it’s called everywhere else.

So that’s me complaining about the portion size, how about the food quality?

Here, JaneEyre and her Enchantress pal have found some ph4t l3wt! Let’s take a look at this here “Damaged Maul” (it appears to have been cut in half by some energy blade, nyuk nyuk!).

What the hell? What is this japery? Look how it compares to my current weapon. This is garbage. Thing is, this is what most of the stuff the game drops looks like. Fine, so sell it in town. But…4 gold. That isn’t unusual, that’s about how much you can get for any non-magic item. As you can see above the maul, JaneEyre has over twelve thousand gold. She’s not going to take up space in her pack for a lousy 4 gp. By character level six you are ignoring pretty much any item drop that isn’t blue (magic) or yellow (rare), and even a lot of the blue stuff isn’t particularly good, it just will actually get you cash in town. You’ll still pick this junk up accidentally in combat and have to empty it out of your pack from time to time. I get that you’re supposed to be a towering hero among men but this is nuts. More to the point, it defeats a lot of the efficiency the programmers put in, because after a big battle you have to carefully pick up only the good stuff and not all this trash (or spend time later cleaning out your pack because you can’t pick up good stuff anymore.)

Now, nobody comes to the Diablo games for the plot, which is fine, because this one had some problems. First off, pretty much everyone you’re wary of and you suspect will betray you, will. At one point there are two characters you aren’t sure you can trust and it turns out you are absolutely right. The plot development that is not just telegraphed but set to a thumping disco remix as it’s illuminated by an elaborate fireworks display transpires exactly as you expect. Again, not a problem — I would have been upset if I didn’t eventually have to fight those folks.

I was prepared to give some major props to the game early on when there were four characters in my group (me and three NPCs) and all were women. That’s not bad for a videogame! But then, later, there was this:

The embodiment of Lust is a woman because why wouldn’t she be? (And a “maiden” at that.) It makes sense; when you think of grotesque, violent, demonic lust, you naturally think of a woman because they’re the ones always getting in trouble with their lasciviousness. Of course, if the designers instead gave us a horny priapic demon they’d then have to deal with the crotch panic of straight male gamers, worried that something gay was happening. (By the way, as long as the developers are looking up “maiden”, they should also reconsider the ellipses in that text. “Your…ample services” is not “Your ample…services”, which I think is what you meant.)

Moving on, when I said I wanted “more of the same” I should have specified that what I didn’t want was “more of exactly the same”. Act I of Diablo 3 is pretty similar to the setting (and story) in Act I of Diablo 2. Act II of D3 is a very similar setting to Act II of D2 as well, and Act III of D3 is pretty much Act V of the D2 expansion, Lord of Destruction. Only Act IV of this game gives us something newish, and a lot of it looks like Act IV of the previous game anyway.

I don’t know about anyone else, but I didn’t find the bosses to be overly challenging (except for Belial, who is a pain in the ass). Granted, I purposely started out as a Barbarian, mindlessly beating on everything so I’d be able to learn the game without having to also finesse a lot of weird attacks. Most bosses went down like chumps with only one or maybe two attempts. Belial and the Gluttony dude were exceptions, as well as a miniboss in Act IV. Diablo himself seemed tough at first but I think it only took me four tries or so to take him down.

Once I finished the game, the real weirdness began. I’ve unlocked the next difficulty, Nightmare, but only for my Barbarian character. Any other character has to start over on Normal. Okay, fine. I started up a Witch Doctor character named SnakeBucket (you can only have 12 characters in your name, which means no “BucketOfSnakes”) who is starting over on Normal. But the thing is, he still has all of JaneEyre’s gold and stuff in her stash. So he’s inherited fabulous wealth, yet the game is still dishing out these piddly level-one treasure drops. It just doesn’t make any sense.

I don’t want to make it sound like I only have complaints. I’ve played a ton of the game and am happily playing more. The core of the game is solid: hit stuff, get loot. The graphics are gorgeous, especially in the later acts. As you fight demons on the walls of a besieged fortress, you can see the war happening below you, and it’s just incredible. You walk through pits of torment and can see monstrous beings straining against their chains.

The game’s got great bones, and I’m hoping that a few tweaks and maybe some DLC will really make it pop. It seems like I have a lot of complaints above, but really they’re all very minor. Also, there’s still a lot of game I have yet to explore: three more character classes, other difficulty levels, and multiplayer. I’m having a…a…a hell of a time!!!

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