Diablo II and its expansion are two of my favorite games of all time. Ever since they first came out, I’ve sunk countless hours into the world of Sanctuary, hunting Diablo and then his older brother Baal. For the past ten years I’ve installed Diablo II, gotten addicted, ended up uninstalling it, and then repeating the process all over again a few months later.
I’ve waited for Diablo III ever since I saw the end of Lord of Destruction. Tyrael destroys the Worldstone? What’s going to happen next? For twelve years I wanted Diablo III to arrive and sink its hellish claws into me the same way its predecessor did. Sadly, I don’t think that’s going to happen. Not even close.
While Diablo II was a game that could keep me coming back year after year after year, Diablo III will probably be a “one and done” game for me. If it wasn’t on PC, it would be a game that I’d end up selling as soon as I finished the campaign. Bear with me as I try to explain this indelible feeling that Diablo III isn’t as magical as Diablo II.
There are several major areas where the game doesn’t rise above its predecessor. Let’s address them one by one in no particular order.
Let’s start with the fan service. When you have a mega-successful franchise like Diablo, a bit of fan service is expected. I get that. However, this game takes it farther than that. You start off in New Tristram which happens to be built right near Old Tristram from Diablo and Diablo II. As such the environments, though sporting a new art style, still look eerily familiar. There are lush wooded forests, mountain passes, and all the things you remember from Act I of Diablo II. Wait, what environment comes next? A desert? Wait…this also seems familiar… Then a mountain fortress in the Barbarian lands? By the time I hit Act III, I thought the developers were just having a laugh. Act IV in Heaven is the only truly “new” area you encounter.
But it’s not just the environments that seem rehashed; it’s the enemies and characters too. I was happy to run into Deckard Cain again.
His wizened voice telling me to “stay awhile and listen” was like an old friend all by itself. But then I ran into King Leoric and the Butcher? Weren’t these guys taken care of in Diablo? There’s a fine line between tasteful fan service and going overboard. Diablo III feels like Blizzard crossed that line.
The skill system is another area where I think Diablo III is a step down from Diablo II. Yes it’s true that in Diablo II you’d see tons of Hammerdins and Cold Orb/Blizzard Sorceresses running around, but you also had opportunities to build PVE “non-viable classes” or classes dedicated to PVP. Blizzard has gone on record to say that they believe Diablo III’s revamped skill system will discourage the “cookie cutter builds” seen in the last game. I have to disagree.
This is only my personal experience talking, but whenever I played Diablo II, I loved making non-conventional builds. I’ve played as an Avenger (Conviction+Vengeance Paladin), a Ranger (Holy Shock Paladin that uses bows), a Lancer (Paladin that uses Charge and spears in PVE), a Dragoon (Leap-centered Barbarian), and a Bearadin (Paladin that transforms into a Werebear), and as well as many other more “conventional” builds.
I loved being able to distribute my attribute points and skill points the way I wanted. This new system takes away control from the players. Your attributes are given to you with each level, and certain skills are earned once you hit the proper level. Sure you can change which ones you’re actively using, but restricting everybody to the same skill set takes away a lot of the customization previous games offered. (Note: there is an “Elective Mode” that gives more options when choosing skills than the game originally offers, but it’s hidden in the options menu and Blizzard did a poor job of explaining how it worked. I had to be told about it from a friend after I was already near the end of Act II.)
I suspect that I’d be a little more into this new system if switching between active skills was a little easier. Instead of being able to use hotkeys (if you can use them, then the game does a bad job of explaining this feature) you have to open up the skills menu and select which ones you want to use. Trying to do this in combat would be suicidal at higher difficulties and it kind of defeats the purpose of being able to switch your tactics on the fly.
And what about the loot system and the auction house? Ever since the beginning of Act I, I’ve had no need to go to a vendor other than the blacksmith. Nobody sells gear remotely as powerful as the stuff I can craft after salvaging all the “blue” items I find for bits of magic dust. It’s bad enough that this blacksmith can craft weapons beyond my level requirements, but he renders everyone else (and so far the towns all have multiple merchants) completely obsolete.
And if you can’t make something good enough to get you through the hordes of Hell, the auction house lets you buy your way to great loot. If you buy an item that is leagues better than what you can find or even craft yourself, then what’s the point of all the loot? It’s not a good sign when one of the series’ main draws can be rendered moot with just a few mouse clicks in the auction house.
Already there are numerous gameplay issues that are holding the game back in my mind, but let’s look at the biggest one: the fact that the game requires you to always be connected to the internet. Now Blizzard has said that this is to avoid piracy and keep the real money auction house working properly, and I get that, but it’s still stupid to require a constant internet connection for the single player portion of the game.
The always-connected nature of the game means that you can experience lag in a single player game. Think about that for a second. Lag in a single player game. It’s ridiculous. Now imagine having to deal with that in the permanent-death Hardcore more.
But what about Blizzard’s servers? Diablo III didn’t have the smoothest launch, and numerous players experienced problems logging in and playing the game—even if many of them only wanted to play solo. Okay so now it’s weeks after the launch; Blizzard has ironed out those problems, right? Everything’s good, right? Wrong.
Like I said before, I played Diablo II off and on for the better part of ten years. While it’s nice of Blizzard to keep the online services for that game active, if they ever shut down the servers, I’d still be able to play Diablo II by myself. That’s not an option with Diablo III. Or what happens if something happens that affect’s Blizzard’s financial stability? If for whatever reason the company goes out of business, consumers are going to up a certain creek without a paddle. It’s a big “what if” but not entirely out of the realm of possibility. Other big companies like THQ aren’t doing so well, so nothing is impossible.
Diablo III is fun; let me make that perfectly clear. It satisfies that “click on bad guys until they die and drop shiny objects” itch. But there’s a difference between satisfying an itch and creating a whole new craving. If I’m already having these misgivings this early into the game, what will Hell and Inferno modes offer besides increased difficulty? I needed to play Diablo II, but I merely want to play Diablo III, and once I finish the game to see where the relatively lackluster story goes, I don’t know if I’ll come back to it. King Leoric may have fallen under the spell of the Lord of Terror, but when it comes to Diablo III I’ve been overcome by the Lords of Apathy.