My very first impressions, when I was able to actually login and play the game with a friend, was that some things seemed really cool. The thing I praise the most is the concept (not the execution) of the new loot game. The smash and grab dash through levels killing hordes of hell fiends feels great. The animations feel awesome and my spells are wicked cool. By the end of Normal mode I felt like they had delivered, in many ways, a strong follow-up to Diablo 2. I’ve let these ideas marinate over the past week or so, comparing the new game squarely with D2.

I don’t think D3, overall, delivered a great follow-up. In fact, the game has taken several steps back and over the next few days I’ll be reviewing those aspects.

It’s a very old franchise, not to be glossed over with a one page review. There’s a lot to critically analyze and some of that analysis has already begun on other sites. I’ll link whenever appropriate to those writers. Today, take this quick list of the top current complaints in the Diablo 3 community.

1. Bugs & Service

This must be first stated in any honest review of Diablo 3. The condition in which this game released was really bad. Some have argued that this isn’t uncharacteristic at all of Blizz games, almost all claimants of this have cited WoW’s release. That just makes it all the more repugnant; they aren’t learning anything nor applying solutions to recurring issues with their games. They should not, in 2012, still be having the issues of 2004.

Many thousands of players didn’t have access to even play the game and many others were denied a refund because their game didn’t work. Almost every issue at launch had been known in beta and apparently almost none of them were addressed. I don’t know how bad Activision is milking them, but make no mistake: Blizz understood that they could have released a pile of poop (which they probably did) and hordes of fans would have bought it and lapped it up. That may sound offensive to many hardcore fans, but to that I say do a self-check and see if it isn’t true.  Other, lesser-known, less successful companies would have been lambasted for much less, whereas many people seem to be giving Blizz a total pass on this fiasco.

That ole Blizzard quality is forever a thing of the past. This is a new company with a new attitude toward game delivery and customer service. And it doesn’t look good for us as gamers.

2. Itemization

In a nutshell, players aren’t getting the kinds of items they need to remain effective from Act to Act. Item drops are just not good and the only way, currently, to make sure you’re power is scaling is to buy items off the AH.

Jewels, runes, rune words, and many gems are gone. The Artisan System is an interesting idea, but the execution has failed.

As items escalate in rarity players, rightfully, expect them to escalate in quality. It’s something that shouldn’t have escaped the designers on this game. In a game where first glances are supposed to be extremely meaningful and quick, this counter intuitive system has created a situation where random loot has become a point of contention rather than a part of the game filled with anticipation of joy. It’s a disaster of a situation.

3. The Auction House

Foremost the truth. Gamers, don’t be in denial about this: The RMAH is a way for Blizzard to, in addition to the box price of the game, sell you DLC in the form of buying items. They’re selling items. Blizzard. No, this isn’t their benevolent way of allowing players to make money. It is a way for them to get a cut of the action. No, they didn’t think this up in their concern for your safety or you getting ripped off on the black market. It’s a way for them to fatten their bottom line. There’s no half-full/empty view of this. It’s in the game because it will generate cash flow for Blizzard. Because of this truth, the AH is designed to be a mandatory part of gameplay, a tool for acquiring gear that’s more efficient than simply combating demons. That’s why drop rates are intentionally low. That’s why the best way to gear is through the AH.

It’s simply a $60+ fee financial model.

Mixed reviews all around, otherwise. I don’t think the gold AH itself is an awful idea. It’s a nice social diversion. The real problem with the AH is that players are expected to farm it for good gear, not play the combat game for good gear. The other problem is that once the RMAH drops, the gold one will likely dry up somewhat …exacerbating the drop rate issue and basically forcing players to pay real money for upgrades.

4. Always Online/Lag

This is an awful precedent Blizzard has set for the industry. Players, thanks to Blizz, you can expect every company in the industry to start offering their games *only* as an online service and they now know that the service itself doesn’t have to be reliable. Afterall, if the richest among them can’t make it reliable, there’s no way poorer companies could, amirite?

You cannot design enemies which can one-shot a player in a game whose online service is clogged with traffic. This means the decision to not make an offline mode ensures players who are running solo will cause unnecessary traffic to the servers, thus creating lag for games which are multiplayer. It’s …not a good system.

In short, the offline version should have been made mandatory by this revelation. It’s simple, fair policy: if you can’t deliver servers which will keep up with the demands of input/response, you must make an offline mode. There’s no other way to deliver a good experience. So I’m left to believe they just didn’t care about a good experience. No, words don’t mean anything! Show me the game I paid for that was supposed to be completely online, but which is unavailable or has such performance issues that players just can’t play the game as intended. Unless it was intended that lag was part of Nightmare/Hell/Inferno difficulty. If so, congrats, you’ve made it.

5. The Story

It baffles me why they even bothered. The story is awful, painfully awful.  Yet more “stones” need to be procured and destroyed. All the acts mirror previous ones: Tristram, desert, forest, mountains, and hell. It’s really shoved in your face and down your throat. It’s not clear at all why they have put the game on rails, except that this has been a trend from WoW that’s been carrying over into every game they make. Diablo 2 wasn’t on rails and was extremely easy to follow. The story was present enough in your actions such that you didn’t need to hear a moldy tome read to you, acted out, or placed brightly, blinkingly, on your map. The story is overwrought and not well conceived.

If the story had been worthwhile, these things wouldn’t have mattered as much. But the story is incredibly dumb. Dumber than the rest of the series if you can imagine that (I happen to think the last two games did  a well balanced job of delivering a compelling story that enhanced gamplay).

More to come from me on the review side of things.  I’ll be publishing it as quick hits in the coming days in order to address each issue thoroughly.

Great, constructive feedback threads in the meantime from the official forums saying some things better than I can hope to do here:

 

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  • Kadomi

    I think above all I am most disappointed by the itemization. I just made it to Act II in Nightmare and am still shocked that the Butcher, the final act boss in Act I, dropped nothing worth mentioning. 90% of the loot I get as drops is disappointing. A loot-based game with no exciting loot is not that fun to play. I don’t want my cheap thrills from the AH. 

    • Doone

       @Kadomi It’s not a good idea, though Wilson said in the Reddit interview that they’re going to reverse position on this. It was intended that bosses wouldn’t guaranteed drop something nice. Idiotic to say the least.
       
      That said, most bosses aren’t harder than the unique creatures, heh.

      • http://pensiveharpy.blogspot.com/ Pai

         @Doone The reason I quit playing Aion about a month after it came out was because in the game at that time (not sure if they ever changed it), you could complete an entire 5-man dungeon and the bosses often dropped ZERO loot, or maybe just a gray trash item. It totally soured me on continuing to play it.
         
        I just don’t get the logic of expecting people to farm trash mobs and a boss over and over and tolerate getting nothing at all, especially for a game that is supposed to be built around farming over and over, like the Diablo series is. I know they want to funnel people into using the RMAH, but I think they made it a little TOO obvious that the game appears to be just a mechanic to milk players by making the AH the ‘real’ way to get loot.

        • Doone

           @Pai What’s worst is that Wilson completely denies this drop rate design wasn’t influenced at all by the AH being in game. A bald lie, imo. No game designer would insert an economic center like an auction house without considering item/gold inflation in order to maintain game balance and regulate player power at various levels.
           
          A bald lie.

        • http://pensiveharpy.blogspot.com/ Pai

           @Doone Either lying, or totally clueless that one could affect the other. Both possibilities are a Bad Thing.
           

  • http://endgamefarming.wordpress.com/ Ahthcu

    Great write-up: succinct and covers all the bases.
    <i>The RMAH is a way for Blizzard to, in addition to the box price of the game, sell you DLC in the form of buying items</i>
    That’s the thing about pay-as-you-go systems: it always ends up with a pay-to-win model. Nothing is more frustrating to me, as a gamer, than to suspend my suspension of disbelief inside the game to go make a purchase outside the game so I can continue to play the game ‘as intended’.
    Also:
    <i>Unless it was intended that lag was part of Nightmare/Hell/Inferno difficulty. If so, congrats, you’ve made it.</i>
    I chuckled.

    • Doone

      Hey there stranger! Welcome back to the ‘sphere 🙂
       
      I’ve got a lot of reservations about the RMAH now that the game is out. Things that are only recently occurring to me. I’ll have to solidify my thoughts before writing on it though.
       
      Also not sure why I can’t use the AH while I’m actually in town. Would love for them to explain why this is.

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