How Diablo III’s Solo Experience Reveals A Hollow Game

By John Walker on May 18th, 2012 at 10:00 am.

The game starts satirising itself.
My companions have stopped following me. The map has suddenly blanked out. The dungeon doors aren’t opening. And despite my just having cleared out a two-storey dungeon for the second time, there hasn’t been a checkpoint in over a half an hour. If I quit out to fix it, the entire area map will be reset yet again (a previous quit to see if there was any way to raise the difficulty had already done this to me once, and is how I discovered the dungeon wasn’t checkpointing), so in total an hour’s play time lost, and, well, here’s the thing: Diablo III just isn’t brilliant enough to warrant this.

Diablo III is mostly very slick. It’s a very decent game. The first three hours are very gratifying, a sense of having everything done right. It’s an aRPG born of decades of experience, streamlined and minimalist to the point of diamond-like perfection. But much like a perfect diamond, it bears a lot in common with a bit of glass. That all-encompassing need to Just Keeping Clicking is there, the sense of continuous, satisfactory progress is in place. You’re never not improving your equipment, skills and crafting abilities. It’s the concept of Diablo, and of a decade’s Diablo clones, refined. But with absolutely nothing new.

As I explore Act II, I’m still bewildered as to how they could have taken so long to make a game that adds so little. The engine is pretty enough, lavishly detailed, it does the job, but remains extremely dated in concept – there’s no analogue zoom (you can uselessly zoom right in on your character, which is great for screenshots and not a lot else), you can’t rotate the camera, you can’t interact with the world while the map’s on screen, the inventory covers up the map, and the tool-tips for loot seem completely arbitrary as to whether they’ll show up or not. No, rotating cameras aren’t necessary. But it’s important to keep in mind how relatively primitive the game is, when then taking into account its failings.

And they all come in the form of the always-on DRM. Yes, people are sick of the topic. But that doesn’t make it something that can be ignored. It was because the connection dropped in the solo game I’m playing that all those events in the first paragraph took place. Eventually, about fifteen minutes later, it admitted the connection was gone, and restarting yet again put me back at the last checkpoint, one dungeon and an entire map ago. And nothing – absolutely nothing – interesting lies between me and where I’ve reached twice before.

These failings, the DRM-based brokenness of the game, breaks the spell. While you’re able to just endlessly progress, endlessly improve, endlessly move forward, the illusion is cast around you and there’s enormous fun to be had. But in repeatedly forcing you to pointlessly repeat swathes of the game, it reveals just how little there really is.

Right, but quickly, here are some things I am loving about the game. That seems fair. I love how loot bursts out of chests. It’s so rewarding. I adore how much of the scenery can be smashed, and how satisfactorily it crumbles apart – and especially that it then awards you a bonus for doing this. I love that you can, on occasion, use the environment in fights, albeit infrequently and mostly ineffectively. I love how much care has obviously gone into so much of this stuff – nothing crucial to how the game actually plays, but the set dressing, that belies a love for the sheer act of creation.

But what does Diablo III actually add to the franchise, and even to the genre it created? The skills are made more simple, but in doing so actually end up feeling restrictive. Switching off those limitations only seems to confuse things. The inventory is less of a Tetris-frustration, but in that regard just means you portal to your base, sell all, return, and it plays no meaningful factor. (And the Act II base is hopelessly poorly laid out, meaning running to the one merchant is a bore, and the nearby town a chore.)

Monsters don’t attack in interesting new ways. While what almost everyone wanted was a click-fest, it would have been nice for there to be a reason for having those extra skills. I forget they’re there until I reach the toughest bosses, and then just hammer randomly. I think I’ve died four times thus far, playing solo, and try as I might can find no way to increase the difficulty to anything halfway interesting. I mean, I’ve 87 health potions in my inventory – what are they even for? The game drops so much health in every fight that it’s mostly impossible to get hurt.

The only novel enemy attacks I’ve noticed are the waspy dragonfly things, who just fly away from you, meaning if you’re not playing a ranged character they’re just tedious to fight. And there’s the beasts that cast fear on you, constantly taking away your controls, which has been fun in this many games: none.

The other huge problem is loot and shops. I’ve bought almost nothing from a merchant, since their goods are always generations poorer than anything I’ve looted. And worse, weapon drops haven’t meant anything since the merchant I helped out in Act I sold me weapons literally twice as powerful as I’ve found since. The balancing here is utterly dreadful, and that’s perhaps the most crucial thing for an aRPG to get right.

Of course, people will argue that to solo Diablo is to miss the point. Two responses to that. Firstly, the game does offer a solo game, and is designed to be played that way, so it’s absolutely vital that it be balanced and worthwhile. And secondly, and perhaps more crucially, of all the points above the solo aspect really only affects the difficulty levels – the rest remains an issue no matter how it’s played. Oh, and if you’ve not had server issues, others have, and that doesn’t make server issues okay – kind of a crucial one to remember there.

And yet, all these gripes, all these issues, I’d likely have just clicked past were the game not so woefully and deliberately broken. It’s fascinating to realise just how important the spell is to Diablo, and quite how damaging it is to have it broken. What’s revealed is a hollow game, that in no way fills in the gaps with the frankly abysmal writing. Of the three companions so far, none is even tolerable, and my monk is a sanctimonious moron. My NPC accompaniment repeat their lacklustre lines of nothingness with the sadness of a dementia patient, half the time talking at the same time as a book I’m reading. And as I face repeating the same damned map for a third time, watching my characters stagger about trapped in lag despite my strong, steady internet connection, I just start thinking about Grim Dawn and Torchlight II, and how much I can’t wait to see what they add to the genre. Because as far as I can tell Diablo III, as fun as it is when the spell lasts, has added little more than wantonly stupid DRM.

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601 Comments »

  1. Darko Drako says:

    Diablo III is coming out on the consoles right? I think that there is a real likelihood that the console version will be considered the definitive versions of the game, due to lack of always online DRM bullshit ruining the game.

    • Zanchito says:

      It will come out on consoles, yes, and I think it’ll sell REALLY well. But I don’t see how the console version will have an offline component at all.

  2. Zanchito says:

    Pretty much spot on commentary. I’d play this game if it wasn’t online-only OR the price point was half of what it is now. Also, I feel the itemization has been worsened from D2. Stuff just feels less varied.

    60€ for this is just plain NUTS.

  3. JackDandy says:

    That’s a thing that bothers me too-
    Besides the terrible DRM, cash shop, and all that, there’s a simple underlying truth: The Diablo games simply never were all that much to go bonkers about.

    I mean, when I was a kid I had a good time delving through the dungeons, splattering bad guys and getting stronger loot, but when I tried playing it some time ago again I realized just how shallow the experience is. Just mindless click, click, click…
    This kind of gameplay simply doesn’t hold up to today’s standards, which offer a variety ARPGs which actually require SKILL.

  4. superjag86 says:

    What’s disappointing me most is the lack of excitement I’m feeling,
    Normally when I new game from a franchise or genre I love comes out I can be ignorant of the problems for a while and just enjoy the game.
    That’s what I felt with GTA4 especially, the shooting was woeful and the “realistic driving physics” hah! I still enjoyed the hell out of the game and was excited to see what was next.
    With Diablo 3, it seems the magic has gone, which is really sad.
    It also makes ignoring all the issues so much harder. I mean who’d have thought there would be such a thing as ‘Single-Player Lag’! FFS
    I too am looking forward to Torchlight 2 more now as Torchlight the first definitely gave me that excited feeling :)

    • Hanban says:

      I have to chime in on this one. It’s all very flashy and nice looking. The blows from the Barbarian really connects. But to me it just feels empty. The only conclusion I can come up with is that I perhaps don’t like aRPGs anymore because I can’t quite put my finger on why I haven’t been enjoying it.

      • fooga44 says:

        It’s the combat, the combat sucks. Go play magicka.

        I feel the same way, but I figured out why. I had the same problem with Titan’s quest – the magic wasn’t there. ARPG’s aren’t just about loot (diablo) they are about combat, so if the combat hasn’t upped the excitement factor it falls flat. The real issue with Diablo 3 is they catered to the wow masses and just basically rehashed diablo 2 without understanding why diablo was successful to begin with.

        Magicka clued me in to why I didn’t find titan’s quest interesting – the combat, moves, etc, were not intrinsically very fun. But magicka was a blast because the combat was fun in and of itself. ARPG’s are really ‘action /fighting games’, but few gamers and practically zero game designers have figured this out.

  5. psyk says:

    HAHAHAHAHA First log in today and its a GREAT SUCCESS

    lol at the “its indie so its going to be better crowd” blinders on just keep looking ahead XD

    • Delusibeta says:

      Considering Diablo 3 is getting an (entirely justified) hype backlash right now, I’d say that Torchlight 2 will be a mad success when it’s launched in a few months time.

  6. Heliocentric says:

    The coverage this deserves is no coverage, its a dull trite game that belongs in the past, now more posts on games that are good please!

  7. AMonkey says:

    I was more impressed with the Path of Exile beta, than Diablo 3 beta. Either way, I’m very glad I didn’t succumb to the hype of “OMG NEW BLIZZARD GAME”.

  8. InsideOutBoy says:

    I think many of your comments could be levelled at World of Warcraft too. Some people just don’t “get” WoW and its mass success. It sounds like you don’t get the appeal of Diablo III, which owes as much to WoW as it does to Diablo 2.

    Nobody plays a Blizzard game expecting revolutions in game design. The newness comes in seeing how they take existing gameplay concepts and perfect them in magical ways that other developers end up copying.

    Camera control is unnecessary because the camera is always in the right position (so far).

    The game must have taken so long to produce because everything shows signs of loving care and attention (excluding the online connectivity). Every part of the actual game is polished, user-friendly and satisfying. This is a Rolls Royce of a game. Everything you touch is of the highest quality.

    I do think though the voice acting, story, is cheesy – agreed – but it’s brought into the game so seamlessly that people who hate it can easily ignore it.

    For me, losing map data is the only truly annoying thing of being disconnected and I hope that gets patched. Otherwise I have had to repeat no more than 10 minutes of content. As I hadn’t lost any items or xp; I enjoyed smashing through those 10 minutes again. If repeating content bores you, you won’t like Diablo. This is a game of sweet, tasty and somewhat mindless grinding.

    Yes, the rest of your comments can be levelled at the fact normal mode is compulsory. I don’t have an issue with this because I think if people don’t like the fighting on normal mode, they won’t like it on latter difficulties anyway. If you find the first 30 levels in WoW dull as dishwater, you won’t like the hardcore raiding end-game. I LOVE normal mode. I love being a superhero of destruction and soaking up the new locations, lore and skills in a low-pressure environment.

    Other points: Merchants having crap loot is the norm in RPGs. Try crafting or the auction house. Sometimes you can be stuck with an item for a long time (usually weapons), but a new one feels oh-so rewarding so think this is deliberate. Most characters seem to have a ranged move, or a way to catch up with fleeing enemies.

    I’ve purposefully ignored the DRM issues because I am sick of that debate too, but yes: anything that comes between the player and his game, such as lag, or disconnects is bad and should be eliminated.

  9. NotNyet says:

    Honestly you seem to dislike Diablo 3 for many of the same reasons someone might dislike Diablo 2.

    For me personally, technical issues, lack of pvp, a lackluster (read: mainstreamed) story and a handful of minor grievances aside, this is more or less the Diablo 3 I wanted to see.

    No, it doesn’t push the genre forward all that much, but it does what it does really well. I don’t actually know if I would’ve wanted it to either, fearing that it would no longer be the Diablo I remember.
    (credentials: level 51 on hell in hardcore)

    • psyk says:

      Funny right? dammed if you change to much dammed if you don’t. Still laughing at people who brought the game knowing full well what it was and then coming online to complain that they don’t like it.

      • Schaap says:

        I enjoy people’s disappointment as well. Even more fun than diablo 3.

  10. DustyGerkin says:

    Well I managed to play on the day of release but since they ‘patched’ it I’ve not been able to play for more than 5 minutes. And when I do there’s horrible lag at times.

    Paying good money for a useless game which for some stupid reason only allows you to play single player online is just not on. I don’t want to use the auction house so why can’t I play off line?

    Wish I’d gone for Torchlight 2 or beating myself in the testicles with a soap on a rope.

  11. Timmeister says:

    Don’t care what you all say, i love the game and will happily play it for many hours.

  12. MadTinkerer says:

    “even to the genre it created?”

    Er, no. No, no, no, no it didn’t. You may want to claim that Diablo was the first successful Action Roguelike, which, incidentally, puts it in the same genre as Minecraft, but Diablo merely popularized a particular style of action RPG gameplay. It was very much not innovative, painfully repetitive, and a huge throwback in a lot of areas. I don’t even own the original Diablo, though I did play a friend’s copy.

    I do like Diablo II, but the first Diablo is horrifically overrated and not even a little bit inventive, thank you.

    (Am i still bitter about what happened to Real PC RPGs in the mid-90s? Yes. Do I still blame Diablo? Less than I did then. Is Diablo, regardless, a far inferior game to Ultima VII, Wizardry Gold, Nethack, Ultima Underworld, etc? ABSOLUTELY.)

    “I just start thinking about Grim Dawn and Torchlight II,”

    Yeah, I’ve completely blown my Kickstarter budget for the next month or so, so I couldn’t back Grim Dawn, but I’m really looking forward to the full version of Grim Dawn as well as TL2 (which I’ve mentioned a bunch of times elsewhere).

    • Emeraude says:

      Am i still bitter about what happened to Real PC RPGs in the mid-90s? Yes. Do I still blame Diablo? Less than I did then. Is Diablo, regardless, a far inferior game to Ultima VII, Wizardry Gold, Nethack, Ultima Underworld, etc? ABSOLUTELY.

      Amen.

    • Hematite says:

      Diablo was the founder of the Productised Variable Ratio Reward Schedule genre.

  13. Dana says:

    Sooo…9/10 ?

  14. Kval says:

    As far as alternatives go, all I see here is torchlight 2. The lack of love for Path of Exile is just silly. For being an aRPG it is actually quite different and has a lot of very neat ideas.

    • Lemming says:

      Grim Dawn will get my money (and already has) along with Torchlight 2. Path of Exile probaby hasn’t been mentioned much because it has a similar tied-to-online functionality like D3, doesn’t it?

      • Kval says:

        That did not cross my mind, but you are indeed correct. It did have its fair share of very similar problems during some parts of the beta as well.

      • Delusibeta says:

        The difference here is that Path of Exhile is free to play. If the servers don’t work, well who cares? You didn’t spend a penny, so you’ve suffered no real loss (unlike Diablo 3, which is a full fat forty pounds and so you’d expect it to work all the time).

  15. MrPo0py says:

    I’m hooked on the game but I do accept pretty much all of the issues that were raised in this article. I wholeheartedly agree with Walkers criticism of the merchant system in the game. Just pointless. You seem to only ever use merchants to get rid of your non magic items. I’m hoping / expecting improvements when I complete the game take my wizard through it for the second time. But really the merchant should be useful from the outset.

    Also, I’m reluctant to roll another character for that reason. I don’t want to have to put up with the games frustrations a further time just to reach the end-game parts. That’s the same reason I never really got into WoW. Grinding characters, getting bored at level 30 then rolling again, and getting bored again and never really getting a character all the way to end-game.

    The game could easily have done with a further six months of polish and refinement. I’m shocked that this is what Blizzard considers a finished product. I thought they were a ‘it’s done when it’s done’ developer and didn’t rush games out the door with ongoing issues. Apparently not.

  16. Hanban says:

    I had to replay the Storm Halls three times because I kept getting disconnected at the very end. I live in a city touted as being one of the cities of the world with the fastest most stable internet connections so I know it’s not due to my ISP.

    I really just feel like an idiot buying the game. I bought Diablo 1 with allowance I’d saved up and didn’t hesitate to buy Diablo II when it came out. I played them to death singleplayer and only on LAN parties played it multiplayer. I had expected to have an equally nice singeplayer experience as I had had in the previous games, but as of yet I’ve been left out in the cold.

    • psyk says:

      You knew this was going to be the case and yet you still brought the game, well done on that. Lmao nice site link seems appropriate.

      • Hanban says:

        I’ll wear my seer’s hat in preparation for my next game purchase. I’ll admit I bought the game primarily based on my history with the series.

        • psyk says:

          What online launch has gone smoothly? shit eve still sometimes takes hours to go back up after the daily dt and that’s been out for ages.

          • Delusibeta says:

            The point is that if you’re playing single player, lag, server queues and outright server failures is not what you want, especially if you paid £40 for the privilege. It’s completely indefensible in my opinion.

      • Milky1985 says:

        Lets play spot the fanboy!

        Round 1…

        • subedii says:

          I’m not sure you’d get as far as round 2 before the game ended.

  17. Mordsung says:

    I have been luckily *knock on wood* untouched mostly by the connection issues of D3.

    So, coming from that position, I am enjoying D3 A LOT more than I thought I would.

    The game has actually completely shifted my opinion of Blizzard back into the black.

  18. Unaco says:

    So… Score out of 10? Reads like a 3 to me. 3.5 tops.

    I have one slight objection to your words John…

    Of course, people will argue that to solo Diablo is to miss the point. Two responses to that. Firstly, the game does offer a solo game, and is designed to be played that way, so it’s absolutely vital that it be balanced and worthwhile.

    I don’t think it is the case, that if a game mode is included in a game, that it must be balanced and worthwhile and a legitimate aspect of the game to critique. The point is a little moot here admittedly… as this is specifically looking at the single player, and, as you say, soloplay isn’t a mode thrown in with little consideration in D3… but I’m not sure I’d agree with your reasoning (above) behind holding the poor singleplayer up as a black mark against the whole game.

    Would you look down upon multiplayer BF3 because the single player was a reel of quicktime events, jingoism and scripted setpieces? What about ArmA? Does the horrendous singleplayer component drag the exquisite multiplayer down? If an MP shooter game comes with offline bots, who turn out to be pants, does that make the actual game any worse? If a brilliant singleplayer game throws in a multiplayer component as an afterthought (like Deus Ex for example), and its (lack of) balance makes it unplayable, does that reduce the singleplayer component?

    Does a single bad mode of play in a game bring the whole game down? Or is it just one bad mode, alongside other modes which shouldn’t be tarnished with that bad modes… er… badness? Do all modes offered by a game have to be “balanced and worthwhile”, and if they aren’t, how does it, or how should it, affect our judgement of the whole game (with the “good” modes included)?

    • psyk says:

      nice

      • zeroskill says:

        Unaco: Diablo IS a single player game. Millions of people play Diablo because of the single player. The comparison you make is like saying: Let’s judge Team Fortress 2 by its practice mode. People buy Diablo just because of the single player. Its an integral part of the game.

        • Unaco says:

          @Zeroskill:

          I’m not denying that Diablo 3 is a single player game or that the single player aspect is a major part of it (read again what I said, specifically: “The point is a little moot here admittedly… as this is specifically looking at the single player, and, as you say, soloplay isn’t a mode thrown in with little consideration in D3“)

          My comment has almost nothing to do with Diablo 3, so forget about D3 and solo play… I’m trying to get beyond that to the question of should an included gamemode be balanced and worthwhile, and how should a single poorly implemented mode affect our appreciation of a game with other, much more worthwhile modes. The TF2 comparison is good… but understand, I’m not saying that we should judge TF2 on its Practise Mode, I’m asking “should we judge TF2 on its Practise Mode?”

    • Milky1985 says:

      If i recall correctly, people did mark BF3 down for its single player, there were lots of quotes saying “multiplayer good, ignore single player” and scores given appropriately.

      Theres lots of hate out there for tacked on multiplayer modes.

      Diablo 3′s main target market based on the last game is single player (apparently based on the 60% of diablo 2 players never went online), if its boring then its a bad sign.

      I have to say the desert area in act 2 is an awful idea, deserts are boring and featureless. This is not a good location for a game which invovles doing not much else other than clicking, it needs a bit fo variety in the area to make it interesting.

    • Kieron W says:

      So… Score out of 10? Reads like a 3 to me. 3.5 tops.

      You’re not from round these parts, are you?

      • Unaco says:

        Which parts would they be?

        Edit: Doesn’t have to be a numerical score… what about a swatch of colour to indicate your feelings on the game? Green if you like it, yellow for a mediocre experience, and red for a terrible game? Or you could indicate your approval/disapproval of the game by, I dunno, a thumbs up or thumbs down from Optimus Prime?

        BTW, you don’t understand long running gags about RPS’s lack of a numerical/quantifiable review metric, do you?

    • Shooop says:

      I had a good feeling you’d be one to miss the point and instead try to dissect hidden meanings where there aren’t any.

      The point is RPS is making is they think the game itself is pretty good. IF they could play it.

      An actual working single-player mode would have prevented this problem.

      • Unaco says:

        But, surely, here in the discussion section, we can discuss other things, perhaps beyond or in parallel to the points made in the article. I’m not looking for hidden meaning, John has given a stance that’s quite evident, I quote it in my original post. I was hoping that the ideas involved in that could be discussed further… if you don’t want to contribute and advance the discussion, that’s cool.

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      jrodman says:

      It’s a fair point. If a game mode is not a substantial part of the game experience, weighting it significantly when considering the game is perhaps not well advised.

      However, I don’t think that really has a lot to do with what was meant here. This isn’t like a minigame addon.

      • Unaco says:

        I agree… there is no conceivable way you could claim that single/solo play with D3 is anything other than a significant aspect of the whole game. But then, how do we, in other cases, judge what modes are or aren’t a significant enough part of the game? Is it just by mere inclusion? Or by how significant numbers of people play?

  19. Iskariot says:

    It really pleases me to see how Diablo 3′s back is broken by its own crappy über DRM scheme.
    And I am proud to see that RPS is the first gaming magazine to notice it.
    I hope that other game producers read this carefully and learn from this experience.
    I, for one, am incredibly glad I decided not to fall for it and ignore Diablo 3. I was a fan once, but no more.

  20. Hendar23 says:

    Poor John is a games journalist who’s job it is to care about this stuff. The rest of us have the privilege of just being able to walk away from this game.

  21. RagingLion says:

    Those are some pretty scathing sentiments and it does shine some light on interesting things about games that have been present for a long time but don’t always get talked about. The being put under ‘a spell’ by the game is particularly interesting.

    I always feel better about games where you I can justify the time I’ve put into them afterwards. It’s one of the reasons I could never let myself get into Pokemon almost on a philisophical basis, because the gameplay just seemed so slim and hollow – the same here. I could maybe see that if I was really feeling like progressing within a world into a deeper darker and more difficult environment that that would suck me in and feel of worth though.

  22. BatmanBaggins says:

    I realize that my own personal experience is just a drop of water in a big great sea, but I really don’t mind the always online aspect. When I played Diablo 2 solo, I made an online character and created a private game for myself. That way, I could play alone most of the time but still easily group with my friends if desired. Diablo 3′s much reviled forced-online setup doesn’t really change this at all for me, and I know a lot of other people pretty much played D2 this way as well.

    My main complaint about D3 would really just have to be the extremely lackluster story (yeah yeah, who plays Diablo games for the story, right?) and awful writing (“FOOLISH MORTAL. NOW WILL YOU TASTE THE TRUE POWER OF MY blah blah blah”).

    Normal mode was definitely very easy, and I’m only just now in Act II of Nightmare, but I’ve already noticed that I actually have to be -careful- sometimes, so that’s cool.

    • subedii says:

      I don’t get how even after all this time, Blizzard are still so terrible with storylines and dialogue. Starcraft 2 suffered from the same thing. After 10 freaking years I’d expect better dialogue than… well… that.

      Yes it’s ancillary to some degree, but it doesn’t have to be, and a good story and dialogue can do an absolutely amazing amount to draw you into a game far more than you would have been, even if the gameplay’s rock solid already. And when it’s not, you play on because you have something compelling (that’s the key thing, not compulsive, compelling) that’s driving you forward because you want to see how things turn out next.

      It’s disappointing to me because Blizzard of all companies have all the time and resources they could ever need to do so, it just looks like they simply don’t want to and don’t care.

      • Reefpirate says:

        I disagree. It’s not that I think their writing is brilliant, but it’s very archetypal. Kind of like Joe Campbell or classic mythology type stuff. It’s predictable and cliche, but they seem to embrace that fact.

        Also, I do kind of tire of this yearning for greater narrative depth… What do you want exactly? Some sort of ‘it was all a dream’ twist at the end? The player was actually Diablo the whole time? Leah has an affair with the Scoundrel but is too ashamed to admit it?

        Some more depth on the characters would be nice, but seriously the story has good vs. evil, it has religious and mythological themes… I gotta say I kind of felt for Tyrael, the angel of Justice sacrificing his position amongst the angels for humanity. It was his choice so it was more meaningful than something deterministic like the Christ story.

        People make these demands for game narrative all the time but I’m never quite sure what they’re asking for, so I truly would appreciate an elaboration. Then again, I am the type who would defend the story of Die Hard and who scored very well in my 20th Centruy Literature course by arguing that it’s mostly full of subjectivist garbage/diarhea (spelling?).

        • Calabi says:

          The Japanese can do stories. You can do all kinds of things if you have real seeming characters with real seeming emotions, instead of just copy pasted achetypal generic fantasy.

          • Reefpirate says:

            Leah had a father. Her father was brutally murdered. Leah was very upset and crying. She was sad. That seemed ‘real’ to me. It featured a ‘real’ emotion. I think you need to go a little deeper than that.

        • subedii says:

          Oh it’s predictable and cliche alright. Except that they don’t embrace that and treat it as cheese for the sake of it, or play it up for effect and come out the other side, the authors believe it’s good writing. Which is where the whole thing falls down.

          Take an example: Rayner’s big speech to motivate the troops near the end. Trite, plain, cliche, certainly, but also just plain bad.

          The odd thing is, that in some ways I felt SC1 had better writing. Compare that speech with Mengsk’s speech from the end of the Terran campaign. For some reason, there they managed to nail a fair amount of epic scope they were aiming for, whilst in the latter, what should have been Rayner’s “crowning moment of awesome” was just a damp squib.

          Honestly, there’s a whole raft of things I could write about SC2′s dialogue and story, but that would entail me playing through it again just to remember all the bits and pieces. And I’m just not keen on doing that all over again.

  23. Synesthesia says:

    Great story. Im glad you are making the dangers of these design philosophy well known. I specially enjoyed the why the problem with diablo isnt diablo article, that was EXACTLY what needed to be targeted and shouted at. Its agressive, a danger, and an abuse for customers.

    On the other hand, with all this negativity, i feel like reading some more of the beautiful dayz… i have dropped every single other game i was playing (including sim city 4 and lone survivor) just to be able to squeeze a few more hours in.

    What servers do you rps crowds usually roam in?

  24. fish99 says:

    I agree with every word John says. Something I’ve always said about Diablo games and clones, they’re only fun as co-op games, there just isn’t enough there to make them worth playing single player, the gameplay is too repetitive. That applies to Diablo 2, Titan Quest, even Borderlands, I couldn’t get more than an hour into any of them single player (but finished them all co-op).

    Btw you can add to the list of bizarre frustrations – having separate loot drops but a shared fog of war on the map (wtf Blizz?). Or there’s the times the lore dialogues get cut off because the other player talks to an NPCs.

    • mwoody says:

      If the other player has seen an area but you haven’t, it’s in a lighter shade of gray, so you know enemies are cleared but loot for you hasn’t been. The fog of war is actually very well handled.

  25. kael13 says:

    Well.. I’ve been having a lot of fun, in a largely unfettered experience.

    Gameplay wise, I think it’s probably the most fun I’ve had in a game… Since uhm.. Since… I don’t remember being this absorbed by a game’s combat. It’s just that fun to play. In the later acts, when I hit a wall, as a Wizard, against a boss or pack of mobs, I’d portal back to town, switch out some skills, swap some stuff over come back and feel like I’m playing an entirely different character. It’s amazing.

    As for the battle.net service.. I’ve died to lag, twice, during peak hours at 250ms or so. And that sucked. Also, there’s the poor writing of the main plot and characters, and how dialogue is cut off or spoken over when picking up a lore book. Fixable? I would hope so.

    So I completed the game last night and joined my friend who was soloing Nightmare close to the end of Act 1 and I had a blast. I died a lot but quickly caught up after scrounging off some loot.

    People are saying Torchlight 2 will be better? I say wait and see. And don’t be a hipster and hate something because it’s popular.

  26. theoriginaled says:

    *Plays 1.5 acts of a 4 act game with 4 difficulties*

    “BLEH THIS IS TOO EASY AND IT ALL LOOKS THE SAME”

    come on RPS I thought you were better than this.

    • Malk_Content says:

      If the difficulty was optional I would say you had a point. As it isn’t I think it is perfectly acceptable to judge a game on content your are forced to play in order to get to what you want. It would be like someone forcing me to read Harry Potter before Lord of the Rings and expecting me to not only do that, but also be happy about it and say how awesome an experience it is. As it is he is playing through the game how you have to play it and he isn’t enjoying it, what more needs to be said from an opinion piece?

      • pkt-zer0 says:

        “As it is he is playing through the game how you have to play it”

        There’s only a couple of quest-related baddies per Act that you have to kill, you can skip the rest. I’ve found that does speed up progress quite a bit as well as making things more challenging. I don’t think your options here are as limited as people seem to think.

    • fuggles says:

      Did you somehow miss the part where they can’t progress owing to server fail?

    • Premium User Badge

      liceham says:

      I wanted to start the game on Hard difficulty (of course, I then discovered it was called Nightmare for some reason), but that isn’t an option.

      Wait, why isn’t that an option?

    • limbeckd says:

      To me, this article shouts, “I AM STILL IN ACT 2″. The difficulty definitely ramps up as the game goes on (even in normal difficulty), and enemies with new attack patterns are introduced pretty regularly. I don’t want to spoil all of the later enemies that change things up, but there are plenty. The variety of enemy types and the interesting ways they are combined is what has impressed me most about the game. Playing as a barbarian, there are a lot of enemies that have been really tough for me.

      I encountered a group of nightmare enchanted archers in Act 3, and tried my typical combo of leap in, ground stomp (runed to suck in enemies from further away), rend, but they would fear me before I could even get off a ground stomp, so instead, I would leap in, then get feared and run away. Leap in, get feared and run away again. Leap in, get feared and run away yet again before I can even get in a hit. I got them eventually, but the game definitely told me, “No. You can’t do the same thing you’re used to here.”

      I’ve also had to mess around a fair amount with the skill system, and while I feel really good about 4 of my skills, I still haven’t totally figured out what would be best for the other two, so I end up doing a lot of experimenting on those two slots depending on what’s giving me trouble at the time. Annoying ranged enemies? I tried Ancient Spear. Trouble killing Diablo? I added more single target damage.

      I never played D2 online. It always seemed riddled with dupes and bots, and that really turned me off. Playing single player D2, however, meant that I would never find the best loot (who ever actually found a Zod?). I really like the always on aspect because now even if I want to play alone, I can still access a multiplayer-based economy without having to worry that the items are illegitimate. I also haven’t had any connection or lag issues, so that certainly is a factor.

  27. Gothnak says:

    as i walk around this office, i see 12 people playing Diablo 3, and they are all playing it single player… I however have too much work, so will be getting it in a few months when the stability should be a bit better, although everyone i know won’t be playing, so i’ll be playing it single player too…

  28. S Jay says:

    I am probably risking my life saying this, but I played about 1 hour of Diablo when it was released, tossed it aside and played something else. Never touched or got excited with any Diablo after that.

  29. Freud says:

    It was obvious from the start RPS was going to go activist on us when it came to this game. Each to their own.

  30. Premium User Badge

    daphne says:

    ” I just start thinking about Grim Dawn and Torchlight II, and how much I can’t wait to see what they add to the genre.”

    I will not speak for Grim Dawn, but from what I’ve seen, suggesting Torchlight II will add anything to the genre (seeing as you’ve discarded Diablo III’s innovations in the skill system so readily) will seem disingenous. Just saying.

  31. NeuralNet says:

    Good article, it’s nice to see some real analysis of the game rather than ramblings from others that it’s great simply based on the fact that it must be because it’s a Blizzard title.

  32. Maldomel says:

    Sad, but that is probably what is bound to happen when you focus your game on multi player, while still offering a single player mode that becomes poorly done and useless. and that is broken due to DRM.

  33. MFToast says:

    Meh, I never really enjoyed the multiplayer side of previous titles, so this is right out. I don’t care about building some uber strong PVP character, I just want to play the damn game, simply. I can’t tolerate even the remote possibility of getting lag problems in a single player game. Ridiculous.

  34. Premium User Badge

    daphne says:

    Also — how does “always-on” have anything to do with the game being hollow? I’m sorry, but it seems to me that this article is fueled by ideology more than an effort to criticize. A righteous ideology that I do get behind, but nevertheless hampering the critical qualities of this article.

    Nitpicking on merchants also seems rather nob. My monk on normal (my first character yet) is using two artisan-crafted fist weapons at the moment, and also chanced on a rare weapon sold by a merchant once. It is exactly this kind of incidental use that players are intended to and probably will get out of these NPC agents. Why do they need to be any more?

    I much prefer Eurogamer’s two-sided take, to be honest. At least there’s some sense of fairness to that. Of course, this is John Walker’s opinion, and he’s entitled to it.

    • Premium User Badge

      Morlock says:

      “Also — how does “always-on” have anything to do with the game being hollow?”

      He explains that. in the text.

      “These failings, the DRM-based brokenness of the game, breaks the spell. While you’re able to just endlessly progress, endlessly improve, endlessly move forward, the illusion is cast around you and there’s enormous fun to be had. But in repeatedly forcing you to pointlessly repeat swathes of the game, it reveals just how little there really is.”

      • Premium User Badge

        daphne says:

        I did read the article beforehand, and that does not explain anything.

        What he refers to as an “illusion being cast around you” is very much in the game. It’s not hollow, it’s got real substance to it. You are able to constantly progress, improve, and customize your character. The ARPG fundamentals of this game, as well as its own iterations on ARPG systems are rock-solid. A disconnection does not take away from this (never mind the hyperbole involved in “forcing you to replay swathes of the game”), no matter the understandable frustration involved in being suddenly kicked out of a single-player game session.

        Rather, it seems that the author is attempting to forcibly associate this failing with a perceived mechanical shortcoming. That shortcoming (whether it exists or not, and I obviously do not think it does), however, is nothing that can be revealed by the always-on nature of the game. Whether the game is “always-online” is irrelevant towards revealing the game as hollow. That is what I’m trying to say.

  35. Calculon says:

    I completely agree with the author. I find D3 boring, repetitive, non-challenging…its just a click fest, which really gets dull fast.

    I think the hook is supposed to be getting phat l00ts and being ub3r powerful, which is not entertaining when that’s the meat of the game.

    Great, so I can destroy everything in my path without even thinking about. That’s fun for all of about 15 minutes, tops.

    I played last night for the first time without dropping a connection, however when it was starting to get late, I thought to myself “Ok…time to go to bed soon, maybe in a half hour, I better find a check point” and then groaned to myself that I “had to find a checkpoint”. I couldnt find one for almost an hour.

    Eventually I just gave up and logged out of the game, knowing I would have to repeat that entire area, which is quite large. Normally this might present an opportunity for some fun play to replay an area – but quite frankly, its a chore.

    I think they should have had at launch the ability to select between Normal Mode and Nightmare mode right out of the box. Normal mode is such a snooze fest, but even if they had done that, Im not sure it would have fixed the myriad of issues, for instance, even at level 11, my Monk is so bloody powerful that I dont even use 50% of the skills he has available to him. There is no point. Just *left click*, *left click*, *left click*, *left click*…ooooh surrounded for a moment…*right click*, *right click*, *left click*…there all monsters dead, and not even a scratch,and I still have 40+ health potions left.

    Part of me wonders if they polished and polished and polished to the point where there wasnt any substance left. There wasnt a reason to even play anymore, because they had taken out all of the things that motivated the player to move forward and enjoy the game.

    Honestly, total waste of $60.

    I just hope Grim Dawn is better – I chipped in for that to get the Alpha and Beta access….

  36. EisenKreutzer says:

    I don’t agree at all, actually. It’s like I played a totally different game than John Walker did. I find the difficulties satisfying, the monsters varied and interesting and the combat challenging enough to keep me wanting more. I haven’t experienced any lag issues mirroring what is described in this article, and I’m in the middle of Act three, having soloed most of the content. I think the Skill + Rune system adds enough depth to be engaging while still being simple enough that it doesn’t take a degree in math to master, something which is very important to me. In short, I just don’t agree.

    • Emeraude says:

      I find the difficulties satisfying

      The question would be *what* difficulty ? I’ve seen a friend go through a level without so much as looking at the screen more than a couple of times, while we were having a conversation.

      I’d say this hints at a problem design-wise.

      • EisenKreutzer says:

        I have no idea what game your friend was playing, but it wasn’t the same game I’ve been playing.

  37. Twoflower says:

    I don’t see why Blizzard couldn’t have allowed two different types of characters — unsecured and purely offline (or allow online but only against other unsecured characters), and persistently online secured characters. (Games like PSO might’ve benefited from that too, although in theory as a closed platform it shouldn’t have needed it.)

    That would satisfy all comers. Can’t keep a solid connection? Well, you can at least play the game, even if you can’t RMT. Having no connection problems, but at the same time you want to run mods or run a hacked character for some personal lulz? Unsecured offline is what you’ll want. Keen on the RMT house and completely unhacked multiplayer? Secured it is!

    But alas, they made the design decision to only allow secured characters. The D3 client is essentially a “dumb client” and all maps and items and AI and such would be streamed, cloud computing style, even when playing by yourself. And that means they voluntarily put a bottleneck up, which a lot of people are running headfirst into, preventing them from playing their purchased game. That is a decision they CAN be faulted for.

  38. Freud says:

    It is precious to hear Walker complain about merchants not having good enough loot to sell, when thanks to it being an online game there is an auction house that has millions of items on it. But I guess since those people who put it there were online-only, that gear is not interesting. Better to insist the vendors should have great stuff.

    • Hug_dealer says:

      Why even offer merchants in that case? Allow crap loot to be instantly converted or auto added to the auction hall.

      Of better note, why are people worried about loot on an easy difficulty level

  39. Hug_dealer says:

    John summed up all my fears. I was kinda worried i would miss a good game but it seems i only missed a meh game. The people saying you have to beat the game before it gets tough, you guys arfe idiots. Thats what difficulty levels are for. So i can play it from the start as a challenge. I dont care if thats how d2 did it. D2 did it wrong.

    Why isnt d3 a browser based game? The graphics, always on gameplay with mobs and levels streamed.

  40. Jamesworkshop says:

    “if you’ve not had server issues, others have, and that doesn’t make server issues okay – kind of a crucial one to remember there.”

    Just because you have had server errors doesn’t mean you can tell someone who hasn’t that they must have- also a crucial one to remember there.

    • Ysellian says:

      I think what John means is that you cannot rub off servers problems in your assessment of the game, because someone you could potentially be recommending the game to could have loads of issues.

    • Emeraude says:

      The thing is, there is no transitivity between the two propositions here:

      People who have no problem can’t say to people who suffer from it that there is none.

      People who suffer from a problem can’t say to those who do not suffer from it that there is none.

    • Shooop says:

      That works both ways.

      Would you be comfortable recommending something that may not work to your friends if they can’t return it or get a refund?

  41. mwoody says:

    Seriously, RPS, quit it. We get that you hate the DRM; yeah, it sucks. But trying so hard to nitpick a fantastic game to death in some sort of moral crusade to make it fail is just childish.

    I’ve been a fan of RPS for years, and will continue to do so, but sometimes how you guys interact with big-budget releases makes me a bit sick to my stomach.

    • Calculon says:

      I think there are a number of people that dont think its such a fantastic game, DRM “Always Online” or not, myself included.

      It seems that a number of developers continue to dumb games down into mere scripted predictible events that have little challenge, or emotional response involved in them.

      There was a time that gaming involved thinking, involved being challenged and having a interesting complex experience to play with. Now the majority of games I encounter are similar to watching TV or a movie. I already have TV and movies. I prefer good games to both of them because it engages my brain, and emotions. D3 does none of these things, and the DRM has little to do with that.

      I always wanted gaming to become more mainstream – but now I regret that because quite frankly it has largely ruined what I enjoy bout gaming.

    • alundra says:

      Again, who is “We”, speak for yourself please.

      Mr. Walker’s article is spot on, thanks to the DRM monstrosity of this thing, he’s realized the game is mediocre at best.

  42. pazmacats says:

    Played Diablo 2 a decade ago and got hooked. Played Sacred, Tochlight, Titan Story, etc. and hated them all. Bought Diablo 3 and I love it. Maybe you guys complaining about Diablo 3 not doing something new have played too many bad clones?!

  43. Porpentine says:

    Fantastic review. Glad someone got it right about this bloated, sacred cow.

  44. Frostiken says:

    If Diablo III had a different name and was released by a different developer, but was fundamentally the same game, you people would be ripping it apart.

    Blizzard is a spent, wasted developer. The talent left long ago, now they’re just another franchise-grinding appendage of Activision. Take off the fanboy goggles and admit it.

    Being an apologist for them won’t help them make better games, and given their track record it isn’t ever likely to change, especially not if you keep queuing up to spend $60 on buggy, incomplete, shallow dumbed-down games clogged with DRM obviously made by developers who don’t really care about making great games, it just encourages them more.

  45. desolateshroud says:

    This article is spot on. Staying away from the DRM complaints – which I agree with 100%, – my biggest problem with Diablo 3, admitting that it is polished nearly to perfection, is that it feels very shallow.

    I really dislike not having control over your character’s stats and not being forced to make hard choices about their skills.

    Regarding the story I am just getting into act 2 and it can be summarized thusly: being told by strangers to go places and kill things for no apparent reason. Yes its diablo, but a little exposition would be nice.

    They mentioned this on the pc gamer podcast yesterday but I cannot stand the muddiness of the graphics. I barely got to the first town before searching for a solution. Here is that solution: http://darkd3.com/ – I couldnt play without it.

  46. Blackcompany says:

    $60 for lag in a single player game that’s only around until servers go dark. Wow. No thanks.

    Waiting for TL2, PoE.

    • Hematite says:

      Don’t wait for Path of Exile, join the beta now! It’s great!

  47. dawnmane says:

    I must say that I find the frustrations about the game in this article completely out of proportion. Yes, there are server issues and yes, they should be fixed, but I’m sure they will be! The game hasn’t been out for a week yet! And I love the way Blizzard has intentionally left out rotatable cameras and other conveniences in order to facilitate their artistic vision for the game. By raging about the always-online stuff and the lack of innovation at the same time, the author ends up sounding like a cross-breed between an old bitter traditionalist and an entitlement-generation kid. This is the game they chose to make. Like it or dislike it, don’t get so upset about.

    • Delusibeta says:

      The elephant in the room is what other companies will do. I wouldn’t be too surprised if the success of Diablo 3 will lead to EA and Ubisoft doubling-down on their always-online DRM. Add in the probability of Activision migrating to Battle.net and you’ll have a pretty bleak PC gaming outlook if your internet is spotty or (more likely) the companies in question decided to shut down the game shortly after the sequel is released.

      • dawnmane says:

        the thing about companies shutting games down is in fact the only thing about this trend that really worries me, so thanks for adding that point of view.

      • Brun says:

        This. However, their experience with trying to emulate Blizzard may end similarly to their earlier attempts to grab a portion of WoW’s market share – we’ll have to put up with five or six years of bad games like that but ultimately those companies will realize they aren’t up to the task. I’m not saying that’s acceptable, but the bright side is that the damage may not be permanent.

    • JackDandy says:

      Here we go, this idiotic “entitlement” argument.

      People who pay money for games SHOULD feel entitled to get great experiences, instead of being manhandled by draconic, nonsense DRM.

      If someone gets a shit product after paying good money for it, he has every right to complain.

      • subedii says:

        I felt Tycho from Penny Arcade had a particularly good response to that angle:

        http://penny-arcade.com/2012/05/16

        Reading around, it’s clear that one needs to phrase their dissatisfaction in these matters in a very specific way. This is one of the stranger new Universals, by which I mean things All Right-Thinking People Believe; things like China Miéville Is An Enjoyable Read. Before you can say that you’re unhappy about something you bought not working, you have to make the parenthetical case that you’re above the whole fray, and it can work or not work, it’s all so droll; you can’t imply that any of it matters because that would mean you weren’t concerned with matters of global import.

        I should take care not attend the same potlucks as these people. The kind of family I have would eat them; I think that they would actually cook them and eat them, because these people have not done enough to distinguish themselves from food.

        We need to think for a second about the extent to which this supposedly carefree fucking dialectic enables these precise abuses. No, actually; it is not okay that the definitive Game Developer can’t make their shit work. Is it as bad as the Foreclosure Crisis? I don’t know, probably not; but nobody is talking about that. There isn’t a list of things that we have to worry about in order. We can decide on a case by case basis whether or not something is bullshit, and then we can feel some way about it, and we don’t need to wait for a transmission from central command to know if we’ve paid in enough psychic penance to enjoy something.

      • dawnmane says:

        No one has a clue if this will be a “shitty product” yet! No company, however gigantic, could be prepared for all possible outcomes of a scenario in which millions of people log on to an online game with such a large randomized component. The entitlement thing comes from people being so damned impatient about stuff like this. Of course, if the issues persist, we as consumers are perfectly entitled to complain (even though the game doesn’t come with any kind of warranty in that direction, so legally, we’re not entitled to them changing the game to fit our wishes, because we bought the game, and the info about the game having DRM and that stuff was clearly out there for anyone to see). But I think most of them will be fixed in a week or two. Or, at the very least, why not give them the damn benefit of a doubt? Why are people so angry about this?! It’s just a game that didn’t turn out to be the game people hoped it would be, and that’s not a good thing of course, but Blizzard have been very vocal about the changes they have made to the original formula, so it’s not like it should surprise anyone. Instead of being so angry, people who feel disappointed about the game should just go play Path of Exile or Torchlight II, or, even better, go back to playing Diablo II, since that seems to be the only thing they’ll settle for anyway. I’m going to go enjoy Diablo III. And disconnect sometimes and be annoyed about it. But I think I’ll be fine, and so will everyone else. Let’s see about the bugs in a month.

        • JackDandy says:

          “No company, however gigantic, could be prepared for all possible outcomes of a scenario in which millions of people log on to an online game with such a large randomized component. ”

          Oh, but that’s the biggest point- They could, by simply including an “offline-only character” option.
          The only reason they haven’t done so was so everyone would have access to the cash shop, whose main function is to gain more ravenue for Blizzard\Activision.

          Well, it was a dumb choice on their end, and every costumer has a full right to complain about it.

      • copernicus_phoenix says:

        “Entitlement” is the stupidest argument ever advanced. Mostly, because it’s not an argument, it’s the world’s shortest rant against consumers having their own minds and asserting their desires. “Entitlement” is the message of every slack-jawed moron who just carries on drinking (and paying for) the Kool Aid without ever standing up for themselves.

        “Entitlement” is the battle-cry of the pathetic.

        • dawnmane says:

          The “entitlement” thing is not about consumer habits! It’s totally okay to voice your complaints about a product! That’s not what I am saying. It’s this intense emotional reaction to this stuff such a short time after launch by people who are probably going to be playing the game for years to come anyway (and have been online for years AND need to play offline in the middle of a forest once a year). NOONE was the least bit entitled to a Diablo III game they could play offline. I DO think the connectivity issues suck, and something should be done about it, but that’s a simple question of sending them as many bug reports as you can, and, regrettably, wait around for them to fix it. I’m just saying that there is so much more negative feedback than positive feedback to almost anything that comes out in the gaming community, even though we are some of the most priviliged creatures in the history of civilization, with all this spare time (you have to have spare time to rant in forums and comment sections) and all these highly advanced games to play. NO, we shouldn’t just accept anything, but the gaming community is becoming increasingly spoiled and and unappreciative, is what I’m saying.

  48. Kiril says:

    I almost missed the Grim Dawn kickstarter. Thanks to this article, I managed to get in. Holy crap, does that game look awesome. Sadly no Linux support for me, but I will live with Wine.

  49. boats says:

    I can’t help but feel the headline is baiting for controversy much like the “MW4 isn’t a game” article did. I also realised I need to get out of the insane bubble that is games journalism. Enjoy the hits.

    • subedii says:

      I would say it was “headline baiting” if the article itself was at odds with (or even just less definitive in its statements than) the headline. Or if he hadn’t gone into a fair amount of depth explaining what he means and why.

      It’s not headline baiting. You could accuse the article of populist bandwagon jumping if you really desire, since that would be on the nature of the opinion itself. But that’s a separate issue.

    • Freud says:

      I think John Walker sees himself as a champion of gamers rights (DRM, different release dates for different regions) and this article reflects that. It’s possible the DRM thing so completely overshadows everything about the game for him that he can’t enjoy it, but it is very tendentious journalism.

  50. Ratchet says:

    I’m glad someone has put into words what was beginning to form on the edge of my brain (saves me a headache). It *is* an incredibly hollow game.