Impressions of Diablo in the Age of World of Warcraft

The headline hints at my initial impression of Diablo III.

It is certainly, from my perspective, a mix of good and ill.

The first two installments of the Diablo series pre-date World of Warcraft by a few years and did, in fact, influence the design of Blizzard’s first MMO.  Certainly not in lore nor in the graphic style, but the mechanics of the game show Diablo’s hand clearly if you care to look close enough.

Oh hey, a quest!

More than a decade later, the shoe is clearly on the other foot.  WoW dominates Blizzard as sure as the sun dominates our solar system.  There is no escaping it.  It intrudes everywhere.

Like everything else, this can be viewed as good or bad depending on your own baggage.  I tend to like WoW, but I still find some of the intrusions annoying.

Anyway, in order to put some structure around my first night impressions, I will divide them, like Gaul, into three parts, which, because they are long and meandering, you will find below the cut.

The space intentionally filled with words you can ignore to push the actual important stuff into your field of vision.  Damn cut mechanics.

Atmosphere

I am putting atmosphere first because it is, for me, the essential element of a Diablo game.  Diablo games are grim and dark for the most part.

And atmosphere issues were certainly one of the big issues that the Diablo community went after four years ago when the first screen shots were displayed.  There was outrage because it was felt by some that there were too many bright colors.

Well, in the few hours I have been able to play, I have decided that I need not have worried on that score.  While the graphics have been updated to a smooth and modern level, the world is still as subdued and grim as ever.

The first town is a charnel house… just the way I like it

I was a bit worried about how the world would shape up.  Initially you are on what is a pretty narrow path, with no place to wander.  This is not how a Diablo game should be.  But as the game progresses, the zones open up into the more traditional wide open spaces of the past.  The narrow path was there to guide you through the initial instructions.

I rolled a barbarian because traditionally only the melee classes have held my interest in the game.  I will no doubt roll a monk as well, but in the original I only ever played a warrior and in Diablo II I spent most of my time as a barbarian or a paladin.

And the barbarian works.  His strong melee attacks impart a feeling of visceral power as he pounds his enemies down.  I like the barbarian, he feels right and at home in this world, a heroic character destroying all who oppose him.

All, however, is not perfect.

Music helped set the tone in the past games so strongly that it is inseparable in my brain.  I cannot play a Diablo game with the sound off.  But so far in Diablo III, the music has been washed out and bland.  Rather than being an active participant in setting the mood, it seems to be over in a corner patiently waiting for somebody to take notice.  I am not that far into the game, so there is time for the music to stage a comeback.  But for now, I am disappointed.

And then there is the lighting.  As a reminder, this is how dungeon lighting looked in Diablo II.  The video is only 14 seconds, watch it.

A master work of light and shadow, where foul creatures were often hiding just outside of that circle of light around you.

In Diablo III, the circle of light is gone.  Instead dungeons seem to have had their own special indirect lighting system installed.  No doubt some sort of monster version of OSHA getting themselves into the middle of things.

The whole screen is lit

That picture does not show what I mean as well as I would like, but it is the best one I have at the moment that doesn’t have some other element I want to discuss.

Now, on the plus side, things are still dark, and certainly much darker than Torchlight, whose happy glowing dungeon helped defeat the atmosphere its music was trying to build.  But there is nothing hidden on screen.  Everything is lit with a safety lamp glow coming from an unseen source.  There is certainly no need to worry that your torch might go out and no need to seek equipment that improves the radius of your light source.  Everything has been lit for your protection.

Story

Diablo games have always followed a story.  You spent a lot of time in dungeons and in wide open fields battle random foes, looting gold and equipment, and following up side paths that had nothing to do with the story.  But in the end, it was about killing the bad guy.

In the original Diablo it was almost all dungeon with Diablo at the end, with only a couple of side quests.

In Diablo II, the story carried you through each of the four acts, guiding your journey and giving you a few intermediate goals.  But there were only, at most, six quests in any given act.

But in Diablo III we feel the full weight of Azeroth when it comes to quests.

Rather than being given a simple objective, kill Bloodraven or find Charsi’s hammer, and sent off to figure out how to get things done, you are now fed quests in bite sized chunks.  And there is a quest tracker there in your UI to make sure you don’t forget what you are up to.

Don’t forget about your QUESTS!

So in that picture (like most pictures I embed, click on it to see the full size version), you can see the quest tracker.  One of the quests was completed, so it has a check mark in its box, along with a green (1/1) next to it.  Then there is the word “COMPLETED” in bright text next to it.  And then there is a window that pops up at the bottom letting me know that a quest has, indeed, been complete.

So, there should be no question about the status of that quest!

The lack of subtlety gets some coverage in my next section, but clearly quests have taken a few steps up in importance.  Rather than the approximately 20 quests of Diablo II, I suspect that I will be following hundreds of quests throughout the game with the requisite NPC interactions that go with it.  And so far, none of them appear to be side quests.

Even in Diablo II, with its comparative paucity of quests, there were a few in there you could just skip and still move on with the story.  But so far, Diablo III seems to insist on a quest driving every movement.

Yes, this is an effective way to feed the player story in bite sized chunks, but it feels like a bit too much of a good thing.

Again, I am only a few hours into the game and have been indulging in my usual need to fill out all blank spaces on the map rather than chasing quests full time, so it could ease up a bit as things go along.  I am only in the early, and thus presumably narrative heavy, part of the story.  And the story itself is of the same simple nature as before.  Evil is back, in force, and you have to do defeat it.

Game Mechanics

Game mechanics tend to get attention only when they get between me and my fun.  I complain even more here.

The first and most painful mechanic so far is being online all the time.  Blizzard’s choice to save all your character data online has a few benefits… if you care about people hacking their own local characters… and the huge drawback of the servers having to stay up in order to play.  I have moaned about this in the past, but it clearly isn’t going to change.  Blizzard needs to get their act together on this because we all just want to play their shiny new game. The need to consult a server status page when I do want to play solo strikes me as wrong. (Though if your big anti-Diablo III argument is “it’s a single player game,” you look like a troll in my eyes.)

Bad (at least in the short term) client model aside, the basics of the game are the same as they ever were.  I chose the barbarian in part because it is a carry-over class from Diablo II and the click to pummel mechanic works the same.  But beyond the very basics, the changes creep in.

Potions, in another example of WoW influence, now have a significant cool down, something I learned the hard way.

Dead already

I could have run to the little glowing red drop, which is a Super Mario health power up, but I stood my ground and hit the Q key, which is now your health potion default, only to find that my Diablo II habit of rapid potion consumption had been nerfed.

Death itself puts you back at the last checkpoint you passed with all your stuff.  Death penalty officially nerfed.  It now has about as much sting as dying in Portal… unless you are playing with the hardcore perma death option.

Checkpoints are different from waypoints, the travel locations spread through the various major locations in the story line, and which werea key feature in Diablo II.  How often did I say I would play just until I got to the next waypoint?

Checkpoints are basically save points, and like so many other things in the game, are clearly indicated when you reach one.

Was that a checkpoint?

The in-game map is very good, showing just enough detail and following the tradition of areas remaining blank until you visit them, driving my obsessive need to fill in the whole map.

However, Blizzard did not feel the map was enough and felt the need to include a mini-map in the upper right hand corner as well.  This I do not like and immediately went looking for a way to disable it.  I was not a successful search.

I want to turn this off please

It is a fine mini-map (highlighted above with a red box around it), and shows detail and quest tracker information.  I just do not feel I need it.  Or, at best, I need it infrequently, and so would like to be able to turn it off (along with the quest objectives, which you can at least hide).  But it appears I am stuck with it for now.

The game is full of data.  Some of it is useful.  You can see a lot of detail about your character.

So many numbers!

And some of it I am not sure what to do with.

I seem to massacre a lot… and once killed 9 with one blow

There is also an achievements and statistics page, though I was annoyed to find that my real name was printed in big letters there.  One would think that after making a character name and a battle tag, that they would not feel the need to throw my real name on the pile as well.  I will have to check to see if that particular page is visible to others.  If so, that pretty much kills any multi-player plans outside of a circle of real-life friends.  Bad Blizzard.  I don’t want to be a part of your Real ID crap, so please keep my real name out of your games!

Other things are good.  I appreciate not having to click on every pile of gold.  I am happy enough with the old-school Diablo inventory management and constant equipment drops that you have to compare.

I even gave crafting a try, though that seems to me to be yet another WoW-like intrusion into the game.  Did we really need crafting?

More equipment options!

At least there does not appear to be any need to level up crafting as, technically, it appears to be giving you access to somebody to craft things for you.  And this crafting does give you the incentive to at least pick up magic items on your travels, and you salvage them for raw materials for crafting.

The auction house seems to be completely superfluous at this point however.  With all the items that drop, along with what the vendors have, plus the ability to craft even more, having yet another source of equipment feels like overkill.

But I am early in the game.

Later, at higher levels of difficulty, I guess the need to find just the right piece of equipment could drive you to the auction house.  And there certainly seemed to be a lot for sale in the gold only section.  But I am sure that those best-of-class pieces will all end up on the real money tab and will thus remain invisible to me.

Summary So Far

The game itself is good.  For all my gripes  I am enjoying it very much. It has enough of the Diablo franchise vibe to be fun and engaging.

I will undoubtedly play through the whole thing and give the other classes a try as well.  And I will at least team up with Potshot for some multiplayer adventures.  However, the four player limit on group size means that we cannot take the instance group into the game unless somebody wants to opt out.

The best aspects of the game reflect its Diablo heritage.  It is dark and brooding, the combat is active and compelling, the controls are are as responsive as any game I have ever player, and there is the simplicity of the whole package.

The worst aspects seem to come from the looming presence of World of Warcraft at Blizzard.  Treating the game as essentially one step shy of an MMO seems to me to have done at least as much damage as good to the Diablo franchise.

People carried on playing Diablo II for years after its one and only expansion.  Back when X-fire ran monthly top-ten lists, it was always amongst the top ten in the “other” category.  People hacked it.  People modded it.  People even worked out unauthorized patches to try an update it to do things like run at resolutions greater than 800x 600.

Will Diablo III, with its mix of new and old fare as well?

14 responses to “Impressions of Diablo in the Age of World of Warcraft

  1. It gives me fits that the q key is next to tab because I keep bringing the map up by mistake when I need to drink a potion.

  2. @Spinks – I haven’t had that issue… though honestly, I haven’t had to quaff that many potions either. The little health power ups seem to cover most of my needs.

    I do have to think for a moment about which key quaffs a potion though.

  3. Hah, OSHA!

    I like that you just have to run past the loot to pick it up. Perhaps that was OSHA’s influence too.

    I created a toon with one of my alt’s names, but I show up on the login screen and to other people in party chat as a completely different name. On my screen, I show up with the correct name. I don’t understand that.

    I dont’ care for the weird accents the monk and demon hunter have. They sound like vampires in a bad play.

    and I got booted after about an hour of play, when apparently the whole world went down.

  4. I must be the only person left on the internet at this point who haven’t as yet picked up D3.

    Might have to find some way to pick it up. Since haven’t played WoW in such along time, i can’t even remember my Battle net password at this point to use to access my Blizzard account.

  5. Your review, unsurprisingly, is spot-on. When first placed in-game my thought was “Oh, no. It’s WoW without the color,” but I was pleasantly surprised and am actually enjoying it. I also miss the music which was one of the most memorable parts of the game and an important part of the immersion.

    I’ve only seen a few map-related issues where I would get caught behind a desk or some such while my Witch Doctor would do some sort of salsa dance back-and-forth on the screen trying to get to my cursor.

    I do find it hard to believe we’re in Diablo III in 2012 and my character can’t jump off a ledge down one story.

    Keep up the good work, Ancient, and watch for my friend request!

  6. @Xyd – I still remember you, I, and… was it Aaron… playing the original Diablo on Battle.net way back when I was… closer to being young. I also seem to recall you telling me to go buy the game in the first place. Good call on that one. It was amazing stuff at the time. Now if the servers will come back up, I’ll dig your tag out of email…

  7. A crafting note: During Beta when you leveled up your Artisans for crafting, it was done for the whole account. So I leveled mine up with the Barbarian and when I switched to a Wizard I could get some better items to help my alt.

  8. Like Lukas said you can and should level up your Artisan so he can craft better stuff. Although maybe this early on it’s not important, but I imagine coming back to farm the materials to level him through the early bits could be a large annoyance.

    There are some additional side quests you can run into during the course of your adventures. The Jar of Souls quest/event is the only one that comes to mind from the Beta. But I would hope that there are more of them spread throughout the game. And I know that event is not always generated in every game so it’s entirely possible it wasn’t present when you passed through the relevant area.

  9. You can disable Real ID on your account settings page on battle.net under Communications Preferences. I think that should take care of your real name on the Achievements page (or anywhere else) problem.

  10. @Saski – I have parental controls turned on for my account just so I could disable Real ID. I will have to check if there is yet another setting for Diablo III. Defaulting it to “on” with an account that has parental controls active would seem like a bug to me though.

  11. Just one issue I have currently with D3 is the fact that fog of war seems to “reset”. Once I’ve walked through and area and revealed the map, it seems to reset when I log back into the game. Not sure if this is a setting that I’m missing?

  12. @Avokes – Yes, I have seen that as well. The fog you have cleared appears to be associated with the game and not the character as well.

    On the flip side, D2 used to do the exact same thing when you went from solo to multiplayer. It would take one of your map sets as the base, and anybody else would be back to unrevealed maps.

  13. Pingback: Huginn » Blog Archive » The Lowering Threshold

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