In the year 2000 a new game was released that I stuck with for many years, that game was Diablo 2. It was the sequal to Diablo which I had only played a sporadically late in its life. As for Diablo 2, I was playing that from release. It was fun to build different kinds of characters and it got updated over time with patches and an expansion which kept it alive for quite some time, even if things always grow old eventually.
Actually what made me come back to the game in the later years was running Mousepad’s Maphack. It made playing much more streamlined. I added icons for unique items, charms, the largest potions to be visible on the minimap. With this hack I could add custom icons to the map and minimap. I enthusiastically changed player icons to small dots, added dots for uniques, charms and large potions, added icons for enemies and rare enemies as well as arrows pointing to the next area and to the waypoint for the current area. I dreamt about this being a real ingame reward being earned by finishing the hardest difficulty or something similar. Then development stopped when a bunch of players got banned using it online, luckily I only used it offline, so then that fun ended.
The wait for Diablo 3 began way before we knew it was actually being developed, but it became real when Blizzard officially announced the game in 2008. Now, 12 years after the original release of Diablo 2 it was finally time for the third game in the series. Was I hyped or hyped? Of course I had pre-bought the game digitally so I could install it before the servers went live.
Below is the video of me playing through the main content of the game, the entire single player campaign on normal difficulty, on the day of its’ release. Beforehand I had been up since morning and the launch was at midnight, after that I played through the entire game and then some, racking up 48 hours without sleep. Not really recommended unless you have a really good immune system.
In addition I think all the clicking resulted in some inflammation or something in my knuckles which four months later still makes itself reminded, not sure how to get rid of it. The nurse I spoke to said my hand just needed to rest, but as I am currently studying app development I don’t see that happening anytime soon. Just typing this blog post is making it worse, haha.
So, what is the main point of this blog post? Well. Diablo 3 sadly didn’t get me hooked. Sure I’m older now, more than 50% older than when the previous game was released (!!!), which could be one contributing factor. But, there were a bunch of things that didn’t do it for me, and I’m going to list them for anyone who is interested.
Diablo 2 was extremely replayable because it had randomized terrain and levels. Sure I circumvent that later with the Maphack, but even if you knew the way it was still a different experience each playthrough. The problem in Diablo 3 is that the randomized features are either a small part of a larger fixed structure that is always the same, or very large part of the entire level which individually did not change much. This meant that I quite quickly learned what different alternatives could happen.
Some areas always had the same entrance, exit and borders, only caves and sections inside the area woudl be randomized. Certain rooms in dungeons seemed to always have the same content, a book, waypoint, trap or chest. Smaller dungeons would look the same each time you got there. In the end it felt like replaying one of a set of levels instead of having a completely new level each time.
You know, I was very intrigued by the infinite respeccing in Diablo 3, especially after having played World of Warcraft where respecs cost gold, and in Diablo 2 you could first not respec at all. It was very nice to be able to experiment, to try all the skills that unlocked when the character progressed.
But, quite often I got stuck with a build as new skills seemed worse, meaning I would stick with the same skills for a long time. A side effect was that when I finally decided to totally remake my skills, it felt like I was playing a completely different character. My muscle-memory connection to control the character was now incorrect and it was like borrowing a friends account playing someone else’s character.
When it comes to statpoints it gets really boring. Sure it’s very convenient that they are automatically applied, as in World of Warcraft, but that limits the customization of the character even further! The fact that all characters have a primary stat also makes items that drop either worthless or not perfect, as the stats that are not primary are wasting space, unless it’s vitality which gives more health. More on this under itemization.
The infinite respecability also resulted in characters being factory replicas. In our group we realized that it was only to respec as another character and trade the gear and you would have that exact character. Not a single thing made your character unique, except the name, but the name is hardly ever used ingame anyway.
What was curious was why we couldn’t even pick skin color, hair or facial features even with the game being rendered in real time 3D. Those things would have added at least one layer of character uniqueness, you know, something to make it your character. When I still played World of Warcraft, the character look was set in stone, and that was one of the things you then identified with. In Diablo 2 the permanent stats and skills was what set your character apart and made it unique, as well as the name which was always displayed while playing.
In all honesty respeccing made it into Diablo 2 in later updates but not without an ingame cost, and in World of Warcraft you can now change your character in whichever way you like, oh the horror.
In Diablo 2 I knew many of the item types and names by heart, and still do, but in Diablo 3 I know just about nothing even after having played through it many times already. Item types are not displayed after items have been identified, and this is a shame. I never got to learn what item is actually what, making it less exciting to see drops on the ground, I don’t know what it is until I pick it up or inspect it.
What really made the game feel exhausting was the incredibly low droprate for legendary and set items, the highest item qualities which corresponds to unique and set items in Diablo 2. I know people who had played through normal and nightmare and not getting a single legendary or set drop, not even a low level one.
Getting a special drop in Diablo 2 was one of the best moments in the game, and it was common enough that you learnt which base item became what unique or set item after identification. In Diablo 3 legendaries are uncommon enough to actually deserve their name. Also, in vanilla legendaries weren’t even that special or good, compared to unique items in Diablo 2. This has later been addressed in patches.
Coming back to the stats on the items, which I should say is randomly generated for each item. As the primary stat is the one that gives you damage, which essentially is what you want to be able to kill monsters, you mostly look for items featuring that stat. After a while it began to feel like you could never ever find that perfectly rolled item yourself, and that the best idea would be to just try to earn money so you could buy that item off of the auction house.
Entering the auction house pretty much ruined what was fun in Diablo 2, the item hunt. I was never a trader in Diablo 2 as I mostly played offline, this meant I could keep playing to find the items I were after and then occasionally trade with other people when we were LANing or played via Hamachi. My already detached character which now was only unique from the gear it wore could quickly be transmogrified into a killing machine of previously unmatched proportions by spending gold on the auction house.
I was also able to sell my own drops and make more gold to get new gear with, but I didn’t really enjoy that as it’s a meta game outside of the game world, but it felt like it was the best way to beat the game. Sure, it was exciting to find a good item and then buy it, but the end result made it feel like I was hacking the game.
In World of Warcraft there was also an auction house, but there many of the best items became permanently bound to your character when you picked them up, which meant that whatever ended up being sold was not the best items in the game. In Diablo 3, everything gets put on the auction house, making super endgame loot available to any person with (tons of) gold, pretty much enabling you to skip that content ingame.
Sure there are nice colors and plenty of effects, but where is the grit? The older games got a certain feel from their pixelated look due to low resolution, this made them feel dirty and hard. The colors were also desaturated which induced a certain mood. Diablo 3 feels more like, well, Torchlight really.
Skill effects are exaggerated with noises and particles, which is awesome as visual and auditory feedback, but the thing is that all the skills are equally visceral which together generates a stimuli overload. It still works fairly well in solo, but in multiplayer it gets very chaotic and it becomes quite hard to discern what is really going on.
The art itself is quite nice, but feels more cartoony than Diablo 2. Many of the backdrops doesn’t just seem painted, they look like paintings, meaning not realistic. It is apparent that some things are pretty much billboards with a nice texture meant to only be seen from one direction. Sure, it’s an interesting and beautiful artstyle, but not what I would expect from this series.
Story and World
So, games are meant to be player experiences, not a movie. Sadly many game companies seem to look to Hollywood for inspiration. Sure Diablo 3 has a story, but that only matters the first playthrough, but we are still forced to skip all sequences, cutscenes and dialogs manually every time we play that part again. In Diablo 2 you didn’t even have to pick up a quest to finish it! Diablo 3 feels like one long annoyance with all the skipping required.
It is also so that you start a game by picking which quest to start at. This means that only the parts unlocked up to that quest will be available in that game instance. You are also locked to a single act, you cannot just travel to a different act but you have to start a new game. These limitations makes the world feel more like a movie in which you can jump into certain points in time, not like a coherent world in which you can travel and do whatever in, like in Diablo 2 where you had full access to pretty much everything you had discovered.
Enough bashing though. I really enjoyed my first experience of the game, even though I have not played much after the first month. The combat is engaging, the inferno difficulty is plenty challenging (even too much, but they have nerfed it), the art is very nicely produced, the cutscenes are made out of awesome and the online component works fairly well.
It’s a nice game in its’ own, but it would probably have been better received if it was not the sequel to Diablo 2. It is also clear that the game was shipped unfinished, as an example when you inspect someone the frame for details is completely empty, but I heard a rumor that the shipping date was not really voluntary for Blizzard.
My plan was to level all five classes to the max level of 60 before I would stop playing, though the pain in my hand and the repetitive content had me stop early. I’m not sure if I will play more before an eventual expansion, I am still keeping up with news but my interest is waning.