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The RPS Verdict: Diablo III

Magic pants

And it so it came to pass that the bickering collective of Walker, Smith, Rossignol and Meer all gathered in one place to discuss their recent oddysseys of violence in Blizzard's latest offering, the electronic videogame known as Diablo III. Would this brave party come to embrace the high-speed demon-bothering or grumpily sneer at it from the back of the room? Follow me into the Cave Of Mysteries (level 1) to find out.

Alec: OK, shall we begin? I am happy to be ringmaster

Adam: do you have a top hat?

Alec: no, but my hair is very large at the moment

Adam: it'll have to do

John: Do you have a whip?

Alec: the action-roleplaying game known as Diablo III, then. Apparently we hate it on RPS, which is news to me. Who has played how much of Blizzard's latest orgy of violence?

Jim: I'm around level 20 with two different characters, and I have just started one for HARDCORE mode. I've been playing solo and with my woman, who has played a lot more of it than I have.

John: I've a level 25 ish, just in Act 3.

Adam: I bet I've played the least. Up to the end of Act II solo multiplayer and the end of Act I in multiplayer multiplayer.

Alec: I've played the most, then. I've finished the Normal mode and am in Act II of the harder setting with a level 40-ish Monk. I also have a level 15 Barbarian, the famous Slough. Played a bunch of co-op with chums and unsettlingly silent randoms. Do these playtimes reflect how much we're enjoying it or not?

Jim: I think that play time reflects how much I am enjoying Day Z.

John: Mine is based on how sunny it's been.

Adam: I wish I had more time to play but I don't like dipping in. I have to find a few hours so I can make proper progress.

Jim: If it had come along at another time, I'd have been playing it non-stop, I suspect.

Alec: I'm playing it as light relief from Game of Thrones RPG, which is slow and involved while this is like binging on Pringles. I'm enjoying it just fine, though I do suspect it will entirely fade from my memory in a couple of weeks

Adam: It's hypnotic. I know that once I start I'll probably do nothing else for the rest of the evening. Although I listened to an audiobook while playing a couple of days ago. That worked fine.

John: Yes, it's perfect company to a podcast or unvisual TV show.

Alec: we've previously established that Adam and I both quite like it, Jim loves it and John is somewhat dissatisfied by it. Has any of this changed in the last week?

Adam: I prefer playing the monk to any class in the previous games. There is that. Although that's partly because I find all the visual feedback more pleasing than is probably justified.

Jim: Yes, it's sugary clicky acceptableness, and I like that, but it's like eating sweets versus amazing steak, or something. I'm happy with it, but there's little substance. I wouldn't say I love it. I am having a great time playing it, but I don't think it really does anything interesting, which is a major issue.

John: See, I think I'm being miscast. I have repeatedly said that it's good. Just that it's not good enough to merit being so crippled, and it's a big disappointment that it fails to make a single innovation.

Alec: I'd argue it makes plenty of innovations, they're just not the innovations you wanted. Or I wanted either, frankly - the persistent auction house and the long road of crafting make me feel tired even to think about them.

John: Really, in what way does it move the aRPG forward?

Jim: The innovations it makes aren't interesting, perhaps. They're functional, commercial, but not things that raise eyebrows.

Alec: it's very much about builds, played and monitored on a very high level that I know I am unlikely to have the stamina to stick with. And it's very carefully designed to be an infinite experience rather than one bludgeoned through a couple of times then left alone. As in, it's an MMO in every respect except the actual levels

Adam: My biggest gripe, in terms of actually playing the game, is the difficulty issue. I don't necessarily want to play through it several times but I do want to feel threatened occasionally.

Alec: the second setting is so much better. Feels balanced properly, rare monsters and bosses are real threats

Jim: Has anyone tried playing it on hardcore? Because there's an interesting tension there. And I think it's the most interesting thing the game has done

Alec: Not yet, as I think it'll only be really worthwhile on Inferno or Hell difficulty. But that means I need to risk a character I've already spent 20 hours with.

Adam: I plan to start a hardcore character soon. I do like that idea.

John: So basically they've put an enforced 10 hours+ barrier before it's possible for the game to be as good as it's meant to be?

Alec: they've screwed up the balance badly, presumably in the name of accessibility. The second setting, or at least what I've played so far, feels like what you'd experience with a boxfresh Diablo II or Titan Quest or Torchlight

John: What a strange and enormous shame. It kind of makes me resentful of the huge amount of time I've put into a crappier version of what the game contains.

Alec: The counter-argument to claims they got it wrong is that this is how Diablo is supposed to be played, you have to graduate from rookie school with all the right gear to survive. Which is just bullshit. If they've put in an auction house and got rid of mana etc, why is changing the progression and difficulty-selection so sacrosanct?

John: It kind of makes me resentful of the huge amount of time I've put into a crappier version of what the game contains.

Alec: It is a lot more fun played co-op, at least. As Kieron said, it's something to do while you chat. Solo is a hollow grind.

Adam: Yeah, it's great background noise.

Jim: Agreed, I think I am enjoying, it mostly, because it's fun to play with the Mrs. We've been looking forward to it for a while, and that context of playing together adds much.

John: Laura would just complain about the blood, and then say, "But I love his hat."

Alec: It's interesting that I'm now 30 to 40 hours in and it's less boring than it was 15 hours previous, even though I'm nominally seeing stuff I have before. so while I do think Normal is a big screw-up, at least what you do get at the other end of it is an improvement.

Adam: What makes it more interesting? Different uniques, more risk and reward?

Alec: I'm really thinking about which skills and runes and looking for specific attributes on gear now, as well as recognising other classes' abilities and how they can help me. Playing it better, essentially. I mean, it's WoW Raids. And yeah, the shower of loot improves in volume and colourfulness. In some strange way, that makes me feel more heroic.

John: But I think we have to apply the Kieron Principle: If a game is crap for ten hours, it's a crap game. Diablo III isn't crap for ten hours, but it's average. So it's an average game.

Jim: My feeling is that it's a bit like wrestling. It's the same moves over and over, but occasionally it's really spectacular, and you stay for that. I like wrestling, btw.

Alec: Me too!

John: Wrestling is best.

Adam: If it was a wrestler, who would it be?

Alec: Rollerball Rocco

John: It would be Hulk Hogan, a formerly great wrestler who now does reality TV shows most of the time, but occasionally goes back to the ring.

Jim: it'd be the child of Ultimate Warrior and Undertaker, simultaneously cheesy and gothy

Adam: It's almost definitely one of the big lumbering monster types. Certainly not some high flying youngster.

Jim: I'm loving the art design, though. I am such a nerd for fantasy worlds, but it gets all that stuff pitch-perfect.

Alec: It's just weird enough, isn't it? In both the monsters and the powers. I don't subscribe to the Kieron Principle on this one, though. It makes a huge mistake, but it makes up for it.

Jim: Yes, that principle has many exceptions, especially where multiplayer is concerned - Eve was bad for almost a year before it became the best game I had ever played

Alec: That's especially pertinent for Blizzard's recent history. We might not want to turn these games into careers, but for WoW, SC2 and now D3 players it's all about working out and working out and working out and getting forever better at it

Jim: Yes, I know folks who were seeking those final rare bits and pieces in Diablo II right up to the release of D3. It's a weird mindset, but there it is.

John: Yes, but EVE was bad for a period of time, then was good from the moment you started playing later on. That's not the case here. We can't fall into the trap of forgetting the first ten hours of something, just because something good comes later.

Alec: I'm not forgetting. It needs to be made loudly clear that the first playthrough with each class is a bit boring, doubly so if played solo. But I don't see why that should preclude enthusing about the later stuff

John: Actually, I found no benefits from playing multiplayer. It was still just the same for me. But I couldn't listen to a podcast/watch Castle.

Adam: I'll stick up for solo slightly. but maybe that's because I find the radio more interesting than the people I play with (sorry the people I play with)

John: I entirely agree with Adam.

Jim: That's because your entire brain is geared toward playing alone, John. You hardly even enjoy multiplayer, so there's no reason it should be true here.

John: I love aRPGs for being games that let me consume other media at the same time, while still being fully engaged. And D3 gets that right, and is partly why I maintain it's still a good game.
Alec: I just dig the increased spectacle, the lightshow of powers, and the little tactical death-defying stunts of tackling a serious challenge with a team you're chatting to (and on that note, why the hell doesn't D3 include voice comms?)

Adam: I genuinely get a thrill out of finding new loot and having someone right there to swap a bit with is where I enjoy being with someone else - getting a bow for my demon hunting buddy - but I don't particularly invest in seeing how our classes support one another. That'll come later. But I still enjoy the level of exchange it gives me. And I find it all quite funny as well - swapping pants with people in the middle of a dank cellar.

Alec: yeah, loot swapping is great. You feel like a muscley Santa when you throw down something you know is good for a buddy.

Jim: Yeah, it ramps up with more people, and watching two of you explode mobs is a MUCH better feeling. Although I did die by alt-tabbing out while the Mrs aggro'd demons, so that was embarrassing.

Adam: We should all try hardcore characters together. See how long we last. And how many of us fall due to alt-tabbing.

Alec: or at least get logged out and lose our checkpoints. I suppose, once the hardest difficulty is unlocked, it becomes a way to have instant dungeons. you pick a level you know is hard-as and wade in there, just like a WoW dungeon but none of the waiting and far more frantic, tactile combat. It is in my head in a way that scares me a little. Knowing there's incredible loot out there that I don't have yet... it bothers me. It shouldn't, be it does.

Jim: A random thing that annoys me, actually, about this sort of game is having to leave a build behind. I had an incredible double axe-hook thing going on. It looked amazing, and was great at the right level. But I had to move on, and I like my character less again

Alec: oho, but if you look back you'll see its attributes have improved. The new unlocks aren't necessarily better. whenever you level, so do all your old skills.

Jim: sure, I was talking weapons, rather than stats

Alec: ah, yes. Well, there are always higher-level versions of stuff you like, if you filter down auction house stuff. But then you're playing eBay rather than Diablo

Jim: Yeah, and that was sort of what I spent a lot of time doing in WoW - the hunt for the sword that looked good and was actually useful. But I don't care enough about it here, partly because there's less personal unique investment in the character, and partly because so few people will see it.

Adam: Is it weird that I kind of resent the skills because they're fixed - as in not randomised like the weapons? I like the idea of being more unique, with odd little effects and quirks. That comes more from the gear than the skills, which everyone unlocks in the end.

Alec: I suspect that more Runes will be added in time to increase that kind of variety. For instance, with the Monk bell-from-heaven thing at the moment, I have three different types of it depending on the Rune

Adam: I do like that bell

Alec: yeah, I can't imagine choosing any other power for my right-click, no matter how much more effective

John: My spinny attack is way better than that bell.

Jim: it is a great big bell

Alec: We should all stop talking about my bell and go look at it instead. Right now


John: Shall we all just quickly and unanimously condemn the DRM and abysmal servers?

Jim: I kinda like it.

Alec: Consider it condemned.

John: Jim is a bad person.

Jim: Who doesn't want to be disconnected and lag in single player games? It keeps the "this is broken" flavour in PC gaming.

Adam: I loathe it with every fibre of my being. When I wake up in the morning my mouth is full of blood because I've been grinding my teeth down to the gums thinking about it ALL NIGHT LONG

Jim: besides, it's not like I was using my internet connect for anything else.

Alec: There's also the plot, which is bleh. Though the companions' backstories aren't bad if you stick with 'em.

Adam: On companions, has anyone noticed that companions can beat up a zombie for ages without either doing much damage to the other? If it wasn't for the player heroes the fight between light and dark would go on forever. Just people gently nudging one another.

John: Which is best, or they'd just play the game for you.

Alec: yeah, if you look at their DPS it's just a fraction of yours. They're just there to make it look/feel less lonely I think.

John: The plot does seem a deliberately egregious attempt to be bad.

Alec: I was saddened, though, that so many people interpreted my unofficial novelisation as a missive of hate. I was just taken with the disconnect between all that DESTINY and PRIME EVIL and the reality of CLICKCLICKCLICCK. Like GTA 4, where Nico has all that moral deliberation about the dark things he did in his past then goes and runs over 48 old ladies without blinking

John: My Nico didn't do that. Because of his deliberation. It convinced me not to.

Alec: Goddamned hippy.

Jim: Yes, hippy.

Alec: Well, shall we conclude?

Jim: Yes, I conclude that most people will buy Diablo III and find it to be moderately entertaining.

John: In conclusion, I'm right about everything.

Adam: Bells.

Alec: I concur with Jim, and will be taking John to court for his lies.

John: I would agree with moderately entertaining.

Alec: BELLS.

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