In Defense of Diablo III + New Article

Edit: Interesting timing for this post. A few hours after I put it up, Blizzard announces Diablo III is coming to both the PlayStation 3 and 4.

Also, Metzen is probably the only computer geek I’ve ever seen who actually manages to look badass.

Original post:

I think we can all agree Diablo III is a game with some significant problems. You may recall my own review of it was somewhat lukewarm. It is not, however, a bogeyman that roams the night doing unspeakable things to small children, fluffy kittens, and defenseless grannies.

My demon hunter exploring a tomb in Diablo 3But that is exactly how most of the gaming community seems to view it. Even nearly a year after its release, the Internet seethes with hatred for this game. It’s impossible to participate in any discussions of anything even remotely related to Blizzard without someone going off on D3.

The official forums for D3 are a nightmare. They’re so full of rage and hate for Blizzard it’s unbelievable. The name “Jay Wilson” is spoken the same way people tend to say things like “Adolf Hitler” or “sadistic pedophile.”

I play World of Warcraft, and I used to run the fan campaign to save Star Trek: Enterprise. I am no stranger to hate and nerd rage. But the hatred for Diablo III is unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. And it doesn’t deserve this level of bile.

I’ll be the first to say D3 has serious problems. For me, the biggest issues are that the incredibly poor graphics and incredibly archaic quality of life issues make the game feel years older than it really is. Why is it that the original Dungeon Siege had an auto-loot button ten years ago, but D3 makes me sacrifice combat stats just so my character can pick up gold more easily?

My wizard in the Diablo III open betaBut many of the arguments against D3 are just flat out ridiculous, and there’s nothing to justify the level of hate it receives.

Firstly, let’s get one thing straight.

Diablo III isn’t an MMO:

This doesn’t seem like something that needs to be stated. Diablo III is and always has been a single player game with a multiplayer option. The max number of players in a single game is four, and it has no persistent world. Aside from being a client/server game, it has nothing in common with MMOs.

But yet the vast majority of people seem convinced D3 is a massively multiplayer game, and many of their complaints are based on this assumption. Of course, D3 is an absolutely terrible MMO, which would be a problem if it was an MMO. But it isn’t.

Even the professional gaming media seems to have somehow gotten in their head that D3 is an MMO. Massively regularly reports on the game, despite being a site devoted exclusively to MMOs. I’ve even seen posts on the official forums wondering if the game will survive to the first expansion.

My demon hunter leveling up in Diablo 3*Splutter.* What? How does a single player game with no subscription not survive until its first expansion? How could it even die? I just… what?

The biggest complaint about D3 seems to be that it has no endgame. But since when do single player games have an endgame? You kill the final boss and finish the game. That’s your endgame.

Why aren’t people complaining that Mass Effect has no endgame?

The only legitimate complaint here is that the odd sequential way they did difficulty meant you might have to play through the game a couple of times before you beat the final boss on a difficulty that feels satisfying to you, which is pretty dumb. But even that has been largely solved with the monster power system.

People often cite the huge number of players who’ve quit after launch as proof of how much D3 sucks, but that’s how single player RPGs have always worked. I remember Blizzard saying before launch that they knew the vast majority of players would kill the last boss and then quit until the next expansion.

A close-up of my demon hunter in Diablo 3What’s amazing is that Blizzard gave people the option to continue playing with the same character indefinitely. What’s even more amazing is that they’re still putting out new content and new systems for dedicated players, and they’re doing it for free.

How many other single player games keep adding new content for months after launch and ask no payment in return? Normally, additional content like this would come in the form of paid DLCs.

And yes, these new content patches would be considered pathetically small if D3 were an MMO. But it isn’t.

Diablo III’s positive traits:

Yes, it does have them. They tend to get forgotten as people clamber over each other to demand Jay Wilson be flayed alive, but I think it’s time to add some balance to the discussion and remind people that, while significantly flawed, Diablo III has plenty of things going for it.

I mean, the combat may be pretty mindless, but who doesn’t enjoy seeing an entire squadron of demons turned into a fine red mist by a single ability? Nor can you deny the thrill of narrowly beating an especially difficult pack of elites.

My demon hunter blasting with bola shot in Diablo 3I know this will be an unpopular sentiment, but I will also go on record as saying that Diablo III featured one of the better storylines Blizzard’s put out in recent memory.

Yeah, it had a few disappointing bits — act II just didn’t work, and the ending left too much unanswered — but on the whole, it was a really epic and engaging story with much more emotional impact than I’m used to from Blizzard lately.

The real strength of the story in D3 is its characters, which are some of the best Blizzard has ever produced. It is a fact that everybody loves Shen. Anyone claiming otherwise is either lying or hates joy and awesomeness.

Kormac is an infinitely likable character, as well, and I’m not just saying that because he’s voiced by Dominic Keating. Well, okay, maybe a little. Eirena is also quite fascinating. It took me a while to warm up to her, but I like that there’s more to her than the eye-candy she initially seems to be. There’s steel in that girl.

Li-Ming and Eirena in Diablo 3Another great thing about the story in D3 is the way it’s presented. The fact that most of it takes the form of conversations and lore snippets that can be enjoyed without interrupting your zombie-bashing is absolutely brilliant. It represents one of the best meldings of plot and gameplay I’ve ever had the pleasure to experience.

And then there’s the huge opportunities for build experimentation. It’s extremely satisfying to be massacred by a boss, come back with a new build, and faceroll him.

Everybody, just calm down:

Diablo III is a game of many flaws. The controls are awkward, the graphics are terrible, it has many irritating quality of life flaws, and I don’t even know what they were thinking with the itemization. Overall, I’d say it’s not up to Blizzard’s usual standards.

But it’s not the bogeyman. It didn’t kill your mother. It’s still better than reams of non-Blizzard games, and I wouldn’t even say it’s Blizzard’s worst game to date. I can’t speak for everyone, but I certainly enjoyed it much more than I ever did its predecessor, Diablo II.

My wizard battles Azmodan's forces in Diablo IIIAnd for the love of God, it’s not an MMO.

I’m sure this post won’t make any difference. Trying to counter the D3 hate is like trying to hold back a tsunami with a sand castle. But I just felt the need to get this off my chest. I feel better having made this plea for sanity.

New article:

My latest article on WhatMMO is Top 5 Free to Play/Buy to Play Business Models. I was somewhat distressed by how hard it was to find games without a serious case of “pay to win.” I guess the free to play model still needs some refinement.

In other news, seriously, just buy The Secret World already.

9 thoughts on “In Defense of Diablo III + New Article

  1. You are correct – somewhat 😉
    It’s not an MMO (of course) but it doesn’t quite play like a single person game either. You simply cannot progress in the game at a “reasonable” pace without resorting to the AH or the RMAH to get the gear you need to keep going. Too much RNG on gear drops, stats, etc. doesn’t let you play the game by yourself.

    You have to resort to the auction houses which are dependent on other players.

    So…you’re not really playing the game by yourself. If you have crappy luck with RNG, you need to hope that someone else has been lucky and willing to sell you something.

    That’s the only reason I don’t play Diablo III anymore.
    I actually loved the game – the story, the game play, and my Templar. But it’s frustrating and counter-productive when you get “stuck” because of bad RNG and your only options are: 1) spending gold/real money for something to keep going or 2) re-running content you’ve already done over and over again in hopes that RNG smiles kindly on you.

    It makes the entire game experience grind to a complete stop.

    The other annoying aspect is because it *isn’t* an MMO, yet one gets bombarded with “friend” requests and other garbage from gold sellers, persistent “friends” lists that can’t be removed/deleted, and other “social” stuff that doesn’t have an “off” button in a single player game.

    I don’t think the developers really had a clear idea of what type of game Diablo III was supposed to be, and it shows.

    • “You have to resort to the auction houses which are dependent on other players.”

      Not really. It’s perfectly feasible to complete normal (and probably nightmare) without ever touching the AH. Certainly, I’ve never needed to use it. It’s a nice bonus, but I’ve done fine without it.

      Getting gear gets more difficult in higher difficulty levels, but those aren’t designed to be progressed through quickly. Those are designed to be an item grind — that’s their entire reason for existing. If you don’t want to grind the same content for hours on end, then you shouldn’t play the higher difficulty levels. It’s sort of like complaining you got ganked in a battleground in WoW. That’s what it’s there for.

      Again, once you’ve killed the last boss, the game is over for the average player. Continuing on into the higher difficulties is an option for those who like repeating content and grinding for items.

      “The other annoying aspect is because it *isn’t* an MMO, yet one gets bombarded with “friend” requests and other garbage from gold sellers, persistent “friends” lists that can’t be removed/deleted, and other “social” stuff that doesn’t have an “off” button in a single player game.”

      That’s a fair complaint. I find that rather annoying, too. I know they said they were going to add a way to block unsolicited friend requests, but I don’t know if that ever got implemented.

  2. My boyfriend and I have a nickname for Diablo 3–auction house farming. We play it frequently–or did til he found Path of Exile, lol. I have to say in all honesty, I agree with alot of your post–this game has serious issues, but it’s nowhere near worthy of the absolute bile haters everywhere seem to be spilling all over it. I wish people would stop complaining just for the sake of it. In any case….

    I definitely would not make a good reviewer for these types of games, because in all honesty, I think the graphics look great. Not stellar like some of the ultra realistic or guild wars style stuff, but good enough for an upgrade from Diablo 2. I suppose compared to the other stuff out there, they could have been better.

    As for gameplay, yeah, D3 suffers from massive problems in harder levels–I feel like the balance between being undergeared and overgeared is just wonky. What I mean by this is that on normal, D3 is a joke–waaaay too easy. On higher levels of difficulty, it’s really hard–you die a ton–then you auction house farm to get the best gear and the game experience goes from being really hard to being a joke again. I really hate the fact that I am able to mow down Azmodan, the star of the show, in under a minute….Also, this detracts from my enjoyment of the game. Being a huge lover of diablo 1 and 2, i remember one having to play strategically, even with great gear, to avoid dying. Why can’t that be the case here? I definitely think there were some math problems in terms of gear and monster health involved in design this time around.

    Lack of endgame? I dunno. To be frank, I felt act two was pretty awesome, though it was a *tad* obvious that the little emperor was a wee bit posessed, lol. Also, unintentionally hilarious line of the year goes to Maghda when she says “Belial would never betray me!” ….heh. Of course the lord of lies won’t betray you dear. Let’s all have tea now….

    Act three was okay, in fact I liked the return to the barbarian northlands, but Azmodan being so easy kinda ruins it for me every time. Still, I love mowing down armies with a crossbow….its rather satisfying, to say the least. But where alot of thought and detail had been put into acts one, two, and even most of three, act four just felt…rushed. It was shorter than the other acts which isn’t a big deal–Diablo 2 had a shortened act four–but the levels are small, cramped, and while pretty, just don’t offer that much more storyline to flesh out what is happening around you (i mean c’mon, they’re in heaven!!!). In addition, i found the idea of the angel”s wings shutting down as Diablo gains control of the crystal arch just…lame. Tyrael being banished and losing his wings for helping humanity was cool, but I thought this was Diablo, not Starcraft, and a machine powering their wings?…..hmm. Altogether though, I liked the idea of Leah being Aidan’s daughter and the hero being a nephilim. Mostly, the story held together. I just think that given the amazing material they had to work with they could have made more of what they had, but I had a feeling they were severely rushed as they neared the deadline.

    I suppose it’s the fact that they had close on ten years to work on this game which annoyed fans–they were expecting way better than this. Something more innovative, something better looking, something that wouldn’t leave the player stuck grinding for untold hours or spending real money to buy gear. Also, what really annoyed people was the multiplayer aspect–binding it to the account like Starcraft and Warcraft irritated alot of people I know who didn’t want to have a multiplayer aspect to the game at all, and who were enraged by the endless botfarming–not that that doesn’t happen everywhere else. But, on the plus side,there is no subscription, the game regularly patches itself and Blizz still listens to the largely bitter, hateful complaints, which is a huge deal for me–not every company does this and even less listen to it with the integrity that Blizz does.

    Diablo 3 may have its problems but I enjoyed the game enough to pick it up a month after I’d first done so, and play through it all the way to inferno on several characters. That, to me, is an indicator that this game has some great qualities.

    • A few points:

      1: The graphics for all Blizzard games are always love/hate for people. Diablo 3 is the first time I fell into the “hate” camp. I like the idea they were shooting for, but it just didn’t work for me. The game looks very muddy to me — like they took a great-looking game and then filmed it with a camera coated in vaseline.

      But it’s all subjective.

      2: I get your point about the wacky difficulty. I think monster power helps fix this a lot, but it is an oddly tuned game.

      3: Act four was my favourite, actually. All the previous ones (less so act three) felt like they were bogged down by a lot of filler. Act four felt really well-paced and to the point for me.

      4: The Crystal Arch isn’t a machine, per se. Basically, the Diablo universe began with two perfect beings — one good and one evil — and when they were shattered, the good one became the angels, and the bad one became the Evils. The Crystal Arch is a shard of the perfect good being’s spine, and thus the source of the angels’ power.

      5: I get the disappointment from a ten year wait. Everyone was a little disappointed by Starcraft II despite it being awesome simply because our expectations had gotten so high no game could ever match them.

  3. “The graphics for all Blizzard games are always love/hate for people.”

    Ain’t that the truth 😉

    What I find really amusing is the *assumption* that photo-realism = highest level of graphics, thus if a game doesn’t look “ultra-super-real” then the graphics are bad. That always seems to be the main argument from the ummmm… “art critics.”
    Yes, there are good and bad graphics in all genres but honestly, I’d rather play a game that has an artistic quality to it (e.g. GW2) than one more boring, any-monkey-with-a-tablet-pen style of “realism.”

    I thought the graphics style for Diablo III fit in very well with the whole story package, but I noticed too that everything seemed to have been put through some stock Photoshop filter which pretty much ruined it.

    • Agreed on all points. I do tend to prefer a game whose graphics have a little style (like GW2 or Starcraft II) to them as opposed to photo realism. Gives the world more personality.

      Sort of the same argument for why I like CGI over practical special effects in movies. I agreed that it doesn’t look real — it looks better than real, larger than life, fantastical and extravagant.

      • “But it’s all subjective.”
        Heheheh…almost missed this 😀

        Actually, it’s not – art is no more subjective than literature is subjective. Sure, I might think “lol wut u mad bro?” is a great piece of writing but it probably wouldn’t get published and become classic literature 😉

        Just because I don’t happen to like the writing style of a particular author or don’t like for example, Impressionists doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate the literary/artistic value of them.

        The “lol all art is subjective” is something I have to beat out of first year students 😀

  4. I remember playing Diablo1 over and over till diablo2 came out. I must have played Diablo2 for about 3 years straight, because it was that good. Auction house and mandatory internet connection is a deal breaker for me. I was also hoping the graphics on D3 would be so mindblowing that I would be forced to upgrade my 2 year old Alienware…oh well, gonna pass it up for the next big thing.

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