I’m really not much of a gamer; but I did the Diablo dance back in the day, and have enjoyed revisiting the franchise. Herewith remarks on that thing that’s been responsible for so many red-rimmed eyes at early meetings this last couple of weeks. D3 isn’t just flawed fun, it’s interesting in a serious way, I think.

I just finished taking a Demon Hunter (now L31) through Normal mode, playing only an hour and a bit in the late evenings. It was fun. In D2 I was an Amazon guy, and enough of the old reflexes still worked that I usually didn’t feel like a complete idiot.

Considered solely as a game, D3 includes triumphs and failures. The apparatus that goes around it is probably going to prove way more interesting in the big picture.

Triumphs · The really big deal, and what I think burned most of those years getting ready to ship, is the general gameplay balance. For a reasonably-competent player it is excellent verging on exquisite. Time after time in the mid-to-late game, a large-scale battle scene beat me down to a shred of life, but left just barely enough space and tricks to fight back and win the day, breathing hard. There is loads of space for creative maneuvering in these situations.

Another triumph is the performance and stability. I’m running a 2008-vintage Mac Pro with a 2010-vintage Radeon 5770 on 50M cable Internet, which is I think solidly in the 2012 mainstream, and the game holds together like a rock, even in big-party boss battles; better than D2 ever did, for sure.

Another (and this is major-win territory) is the time-of-day readout up in the top right corner of your screen. If you’re a reasonably adult person this will keep you from hanging in till it’s 2:30AM and your eyeballs are hanging out on your cheeks. I adopted a policy of not starting till everyone else went to bed, and knocking off at midnight, and really had no trouble sticking to it. Thank you Blizzard!

The game-sharing scheme doesn’t have many options, but doesn’t seem to need many. Ask to join a public game and quite a few times, it’ll find one that’s OK. Open up an in-progress game and you’re quite likely to attract a decent party.

Failures · When I’d finally exulted over Diablo’s corpse, I watched a few of the closing credits roll by, and broke out laughing when someone was credited as “Lead Writer”. I’m surprised the name wasn’t Alan Smithee. I mean, gimme a fucking break; every cut-scene narrative made me think of a bunch of Seventies stoners sitting around talking about the awesome textures in the shag carpet. Angels in armor vs. the forces of Hell, the latter having bulging muscular pot-bellies. I guarantee I won’t watch a single one on any subsequent trips through.

The boss battles were kind of meh, (except maybe Belial just because of the remarkable visuals). There was just nothing very creative there; the thrills were in the fights along the way.

The graphics would have impressed me if I hadn’t played Skyrim for a couple weeks around Christmas. If you put this kind of teamplay into an open world like that, that would be a good thing. Well, maybe not; the entire global economy would take a beating while everyone checked out to play.

Interesting · So, D3 is free-to-play, which I thought the contrast between D2 and the MMPORGs had shown to be, well, wrong. But it’s going to have an integrated real-money auction house, where you can swap in-game gold and shiny-toys back and forth for real money. With the landlord taking a cut, of course, and presumably policing out scammers.

I think this is likely to become a frenzied and fractured behavioral sink. I think serious money will be involved. I think the distant echoes from Neal Stephenson’s REAMDE may become deafening. It’s sort of already started; there are blogs out there right now to coach you on gaming the auction house.

I don’t play games that often, and when I do it’s to get away from this kind of real-world bullshit. Oh well.

Tactics · Hey, you can’t write about games without giving advice:

  • Demon Hunter is a blast and has lots of scope for creative tactics.

  • If you’re going to build one, learn how to use Vault, and use it all the time.

  • So far a pure glass-cannon build doesn’t seem viable, you’re going to need to pump up that Vitality.

  • Switch builds depending on what kind of party you’re with and what kind of battle you’re having.

I also started out a Barbarian but couldn’t hang in for more than a couple of hours; there just didn’t seem to be any tactical depth to it. Which is a pity, because a couple of the parties I joined were sans-tank, and that was a problem.

It occurs to me that I should have some sort of junior character for my DH to stash stuff away for, but I don’t know which.

My 12-year-old is building a Monk and maybe he’ll let me play that sometimes.

It’s kind of fun to be part of a global pop-culture moment.



Contributions

Comment feed for ongoing:Comments feed

From: jamie (May 24 2012, at 16:49)

Am I missing something? How is D3 free to play? Looks like it cost US$60.

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From: Stephen R (May 24 2012, at 20:35)

I'm still fighting through Normal with my Witch Doctor but really enjoying it. IMHO, the best thing about this game is its long tail. The items sort of suck right now but they'll improve them with patches. I assume they're tip-toeing into the Auction House bazaar by having lukewarm swag at the outset. They'll improve the characters along the way propping up weak ones and leveling off powerful ones. They'll probably add a class or two and maybe even an Act or two. They'll add timed events and special events if they go anywhere near the same path as D2, which, by the way, is a big reason I didn't pass my Master's qualifying examination on the first pass. :) So much fun to be had now and in the future! A good time to be a PC gamer!

(Though I will say console gaming is MUCH more comfortable at my age. I just can't sit at a computer desk with a keyboard and mouse all night like I used to. Especially after having sat at a computer desk with a keyboard and mouse all day at work.:)

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From: David Terei (May 25 2012, at 10:08)

I'm a little disappointed in the game so far. The story line as you say is laughable and maybe this was just a result of being far younger when I played D2 but I remember being pulled into the world far more. The graphical style is also less appealing to me this time around than D2 was. I also really enjoyed with D2 crafting out your character. So 'd have conversations at the back of the classroom with school mates about what ratio of character points to go with for my Amazon, what skill tree to choose, which ones to pump up... D3 has removed all that and instead made it about items in a WoW style which has little appeal to me. The forced internet connection to play the game is also very frustrating, trying to play on the train between Palo Alto and SF just doesn't work that well.

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