Wasn’t 2012 going to be the year of the heir to Diablo II?
We had multiple contenders. There was the designated heir, Diablo III and all the weight Blizzard could bring to bear. There was Torchlight II, from a team that included many of the people who actually made Diablo II back in the day. And then there was the dark horse candidate, Path of Exile, planning on a free to play experience and the grandest skill tree ever seen.
Each of them managed to hit a few marks. Diablo III carried on the Diablo story line and was polished in that Blizzard way. Torchlight II clearly had the upper hand on price and play options. And only Path of Exile managed to replicate the dark atmosphere of the past Diablo games.
However, in my opinion, each of them failed in some fundamental way.
Diablo III had always online problems at launch, but the real issue became itemization. Gear drops, ever the life’s blood of a Diablo game, were huge in quantity and very bad in quality. The only way to reliably find some gear close to your level was either via a higher level alt or through the auction house. I didn’t really want to play via the auction house, but felt I pretty much had to when it came to end of act bosses. Tired of being pulled out of the actual game to upgrade gear, I stopped playing.
Torchlight II was better on itemization. It still had huge quantities, but quality wasn’t as universally awful, though without the auction house to fall back on, comparison of at-level gear wasn’t as obvious either. However, colorful and well lit graphics hampered any feeling of atmosphere and the story line felt very weak to me. I can give you a synopsis of the story line in all three Diablo games, but couldn’t begin to tell you what Torchligh II… or Torchlight… was really about. That and the dev team punting on the Mac version of the game… and just about anything else it seems… thus killing off any chance of playing with my daughter, put the game pretty low on my play list and I haven’t been back to it in probably a year.
And then there was Path of Exile, which certainly won on price. It is about a free as free to play can be I suppose, though a friend of mine who played a lot of the game says that there is a point after which
you pretty much have to pay to progress the grind of leveling becomes unbearable. That point is just much farther into the game than I managed to get. While winning on atmosphere, it also had “always online” problems. Basically, melee classes became pretty much unplayable at peak times, and I always play the melee classes and I apparently play at peak hours. That ended that.
So three contenders, all of which I felt I was pretty much done with by the end of last year and none of which I could whole heartedly recommend for one reason or another.
But the dev teams were still working on at least two of the three games. The Blizzard team, while slow to acknowledge that they had a problem, eventually owned up on the itemization front and last week those of us on the PC got Diablo III version 2.0.
It was time for a return to Diablo III. I rolled up a new barbarian and played through act one.
The first thing I was looking at was gear drops. And, hey presto, they did in fact seem to be better in quality and more likely to be relevant to my character. Quest rewards for various stages of the story seemed to be better tuned, mini-bosses along the way seemed much more likely to drop something useful, and even the vendor in town seemed to be stocking a higher quality selection of goods.
In fact, that was going so well that the game started to seem a bit easy. I was blowing through masses of undead or goatmen or whatever without much effort at all. That looked to be the downside of the boost to itemization quality.
But I had another 2.0 feature available to me. I was able to jump directly from Normal to Hard with my character.
This was actually a big win. One of the 2.0 changes was to remove what was effectively level ranges for various areas of the game and, instead, make all of the content scale to your current level. No more out running content and hitting a wall that could only be cured with a serious injection of new gear. (Itemization problem strikes again.) And no more playing through the whole story in normal mode just to get to a higher level of challenge.
While loot quality, experience gained, and gold dropped all went up with this change, difficulty went up enough to more than offset those and made the game much more of a challenge. Rather than cutting through mobs like butter, I actually had to start working for a living. I couldn’t just rush into a room and collect everybody the way you can in a 1-60 dungeon finder group in WoW. I found myself in trouble and in any number of close-run fights if I didn’t take care.
Still, I am not sure that “hard” is really the right term. It is closer to “not easy” in feel. While I got down to the red screen of limited health now and again, I never once died. It is just the right level of resistance to keep the game interesting.
It was also fun rediscovering some of the cool bits of the game after a long absence. While the atmosphere isn’t close to the play of light and shadows that was such a deep part of Diablo II at times… and honestly, none of the three games got all the way there… it isn’t the bright and colorful beast that some people were afraid it would be way back when. The atmosphere is pretty good.
Then there was the dynamics of the game while playing the barbarian. For a full on visceral experience, this is the class. I love how elements of the world react when he is pounding out a big attack. Furniture disintegrates, shelves tumble, tapestries whip and swirl, and corpses fly. Oh, and how corpses fly. Ending on a big pound can send multiple foes dead and sailing through the air, sometimes headed completely off screen. (Note the flying goatmen in the screen shot above.) It never gets old.
And the game itself is as well put together as one would expect from a Blizzard product. And the game is divided up into nice, bite size chunks via the waypoints, so you can get in and play for a bit while making it to the next stage of the story. Of course, this can still lead to the “one more waypoint” urge. Not nearly as strong as “just one more turn” is in a Civilization game, but it is there.
There were a few other small features added. We now have a map for the various waypoints as opposed to the old listing that the game and its predecessor used. I guess this adds a bit of immersion, or a sense of place, though it does also point out that I was traveling in a big circle as well.
I made it through to the final boss and remembered enough of it to get through the fight on the first try.
I had rather optimized myself, my skills, and my companion (the Templar this time) for healing, so it was more a matter of building up fury for big hits and staying out of the fire. I did not end up using either of the health shrines in The Butcher’s room. And then it was through to Tyreal and the wrap up of Act I.
So far, so good. Now it is on to Act II. We shall see how well the game sticks this time around.
I also managed to get quite a few levels in, as there was a pre-expansion experience boost in effect while I was playing.
That wasn’t a big deal to me. I guess it will get me closer to the level cap sooner. Is that a good thing?
And the question remain whether or not I will pick up the Reaper of Souls expansion given what it offers.
I like the idea of Act V, and the Crusader class feels much more like my favorite Diablo II class, the paladin. But is that enough to justify the cost? Has Diablo III version 2.0 changed things up enough that I will make it through Act IV? I have time left to decide. And to play. We shall see.