It won’t come as much of a surprise that I spent most of my free time over the weekend playing Diablo III. I think that is my short-term endorsement of the game, that I did not want to play anything else.
The surprising… at least a bit more surprising… part is how much time I spent playing with other people, and how much of that was because of the always online nature of the game. The clear upside for the always online is how smooth it is to join a friend’s game and just start playing.
And so it was on Saturday night. Earl had been fishing all day and was beat, so it looked like we taking the night off from Rift. We left it with a general statement that getting towards level 38, where we need to be for the next instance, was our goal. Jolly also bowed out for the night, while Potshot said he was installing Diablo III and might give that a try.
I sent him my BattleTag(tm) and when I logged on that evening, I saw him online and in a game. And he had Ula along as well. They were level 4 and working on the quests in Tristram. My barbarian was already well into Act II at that point, so I wasn’t really interested in bringing him back to Act I. Also, I am not sure how things would have fared with him more than 10 levels ahead of the other two, as I am not yet sure what impact levels have on the world. Levels clearly unlock skills, raise your stats, and give you access to better equipment. But monsters in the world do not have levels, not that I can see. They seem to scale with you. When I brought my barbarian back to finish the one quest I missed early in the story, it wasn’t like fighting soap bubbles. Something to look into.
But I had rolled up a monk and had walked him town. He was all of level 2, which seemed close enough. So I jumped in and joined them, clicked on Potshot’s banner in the Tristram town square and was in their current dungeon with them.
They were a couple of quests ahead of my monk, but having done all the quests once already, I had the achievement… and achievements are account wide, not per character… so was not missing out on anything.
One of the first things I did notice was that the name above people’s heads is the name associated with their battletag and not their character name. I had not noticed this previously, since I had been playing with Xyd who had named his first character Xyd as well, and since you do not see your name above your own character. Though you do see it in the side bar. (See, look! I can wrap text around pictures if I want to. I just don’t want to most days.)
This made me pause and rethink the name on my battletag, which is currently the standard Wilhelm2451. I might go back and change it, now that I see how it is going to be displayed in the game, to just Wilhelm. Blizzard gives you one gratis name reset, probably for just that reason.
The confusing bit comes along when your character actually interacts with NPCs. The system will announce Wilhelm2451 has joined and what not, but when my monk was actually speaking as part of the story… and everybody gets a turn speaking when you’re in a group, the game is good about not leaving anybody out… it shows the character’s name. So while we had Ula, potshot, and Wilhelm2451 playing in the game, the characters were Ula, State, and Jintao.
Again, not exactly a strike against the game, but something to note as it came as a bit of a surprise to me.
Being level 2 with a pair of level 4 players did not seem to be an issue. My monk was able to hold his own in combat and, was actually on par in levels with the other two by the end of the night.
I am not sure about Ula, but Potshot and I have something of a completionist mentality when it comes to Diablo games. It isn’t enough to get to the next checkpoint, every bit of the map must be exposed, every side dungeon and event must be explored (something I would do anyway, but which is now rewarded with more achievements), and every last mob that might look at us sideways must die.
And then we started trying to see just how much of the terrain we could destroy. I got an achievement for destroying headstones. But otherwise, it is almost amazing how much of the world comes apart… and how things like debris and corpses going flying when you battle around them. So we got a little caught up in that for a while.
Which is probably why it took us more than three hours of play to get to the battle with the Skeleton King.
The Skeleton King is one of the first big boss battles. He is in his own room and if you wipe before killing him, you have to start over. Minor bosses in the game remain at whatever health level you left them at, but real bosses reset.
I did not have any problem with the Skeleton King with my barbarian, who is a melee death machine, but it took me three runs to take him down solo with a demon hunter. You need tactics beyond “There he is, get him!” for that.
But for the group of us, it wasn’t a big deal. The two melee classes got stuck into things while Ula sat back with her wizard death laser spell and burned the holy hell out of all the adds. I swear at one point body parts were flying through the air and catching fire as they hit her spell.
After that we called it a night, but it was a lot of fun. Diablo III works well for multiplayer, with some minor reservations.
The individual loot, for example, is great. You don’t have to worry about looking like a pig when hoovering up all the drops. On the other hand, we still ended up doing a bit of cross linking to see if something one of us had picked up was suitable for somebody else. I wish that was a little bit easier, though it was nice to see that after you pick something up, dropping it again makes it accessible to the rest of the group.
Then there is the difficulty level. For a standing group I wish we could jump right to the next level of difficulty without having to play through the whole game first. And then there is group size. Diablo III would be a perfect diversion for the regular group… if only a game could accommodate 5 or 6 players, rather than 4.
On Sunday I was able to play with Potshot… with different characters again… for a while. And then Gaff succumbed to peer pressure and grabbed a copy of Diablo III as well. I am kind of interested in hearing his reaction to things, since he never played the first two games. So while I see the whole thing through the lens of the past… and mostly Diablo II… it will all be fresh to him. There is no reuse of settings for him (an aspect of the game which, after a weekend of play, I am prepared to forgive, since the reasons are more clear now), no updates of past monsters (goatmen are one of my favorite Diablo bad guys, go moon clan!), and really no perspective on what has gone before.
Basically, he lacks all of the emotion baggage that I have when it comes to the series. So initially, he compared it to Gauntlet.
So there is an upside to having to be always online and logged in.
But there are still the downsides as well. The servers were up any time I wanted to log in this weekend. I saw no errors, though on Sunday night logging in seemed to be very slow. I am going to guess that they upped the default time-outs on some of the login processes as previously I would have seen an error.
And even though the servers were up, connectivity to them could cause problems. I was seeing 4-digit latency at a couple of points over the weekend. That could be Blizzard, that could be my own connection, or that could be caused by any number of points in between. The problem is that it really impacts the game, even when playing solo. How tightly integrated the game is with its back end is made clear when you hit bad conditions and end up playing with what amounts to a 2-3 second delay on commands.
Then there is the question of how to balance solo and multiplayer. I jumped into play with other people whenever I could over the weekend, and it was great. But then last night I was starting off Act III with my barbarian and in the thick of what is really the most epic battle I have faced so far… the battle on the walls to light the signal fires is great… when I saw Potshot and Ula log into the game. Of course, I wanted to go play with them. But it was also getting late on a work night and I was in the middle of a freaking epic battle.
And finally, there is still, in my mind, the question of levels. Should I keep a character near the level of Saturday’s group? What would happen if my barbarian jumped into their game, or if they jumped in with my barbarian way up in Act III?
So there is a dynamic there to be explored.
But all in all it was a very good weekend for playing Diablo III. I barely had any time for the Torchlight II beta weekend. But I did find some time for that, and since there was no NDA you can expect a post comparing Diablo III and Torchlight II some time this week. The sneak preview is that I heartily endorse both games for different reasons. But more on that later.