Sunday, May 20, 2012

Diablo 3: First Impressions

Since Diablo 3 has been released, I, among others, have been playing the game, whether to enjoy the storyline, rush through the game to get to the endgame content (for monetary reasons or otherwise), or to enjoy the company of others. Now that I have had my fill of Diablo 3 over the week, I thought I'd compile some facts about the game. On top of that, in order to make this unlike most other generic postings that describe the same thing, I will also give my impressions so far with the game.

Notable Facts 

Here I will list some things about the game, especially those facts that may be helpful to Diablo veterans so they know about what's changed since Diablo 2, which I have sorted into two subsections.

This part primarily covers character customization and progression:
  • Skill trees are gone, but are instead replaced with active abilities and passive effects that unlock as you level up. You are ultimately able to have up to six active abilities and three passive effects at any one time, and they can be quickly replaced, though it will trigger a cooldown, penalizing quick ability switching in combat.
  • To keep some level of character customization, active abilities have "runes" that can also be used alongside the ability that can augment the ability, making it stronger or work different mechanically. Passive effects can be chosen from a pool of such effects.
  • There are four different attributes, like in previous Diablo games. They are Strength, Dexterity, Intelligence, and Vitality. It should be noted they work a bit differently in this game, however.
  • Strength increases base armor by an amount equal the it, which in turn grants damage reduction. It is also the primary attribute for Barbarians and each point increases their damage by 1%.
  • Dexterity increases chance to dodge by an amount equal to 0.1% * Dexterity. It also gives Monks and Demon Hunters 1% additional damage per point.
  • Intelligence increases all resistances, which reduce magic damage taken, by 0.1 per point. It also increases the damage Witch Doctors and Wizards do by 1% per point.
  • Vitality increases health by a flat amount per point. This increases as you gain levels (for instance at level 52, my Demon Hunter gains 27 health per point).
  • It is not possible to allocate stat points like in Diablo 2. You automatically gain stats upon leveling up.
  • However, item attributes are far higher, so character customization in terms of attributes is now largely related to the gear you use. Take note that like in Diablo 2, items can also gain other non-attribute qualities (no +light radius in this game though).
  • On that note, it is possible to craft gear in this game. Magic items you get (blue text items), which no longer need to be identified, can be "salvaged" at the Blacksmith NPC and give essences, which can then be used to make items at a cost. These items will be randomly enchanted, so it's a bit of a gamble. (You can craft rare tier items but not unique items). This essentially replaces the Horadric Cube from Diablo 2.
  • It should be worth noting that the Blacksmith has to be upgraded. This costs gold, and eventually, other items.
  • Rare items and above must be identified, but only need to be right clicked to identify them, unlike in Diablo 2 where Scroll of Identify was needed.
  • Scroll of the Town Portal is gone. In its place is a free teleport (Hotkey T) that transports the player back and gives a return portal like a Scroll of Town Portal.
  • Since the Horadric Cube isn't in the game, there is also a Jeweler who can upgrade gems (three of a lesser quality makes one of a higher level quality) at a cost. There are far more levels of gems in Diablo 3 than in 2 (there are no socketable runes). As with the Blacksmith, the Jeweler also needs to be upgraded at a cost.
  • Your stash, your gold, and the Jeweler and Blacksmith levels are account-wide.
  • Inventory management is much better. No item can take more than 2 inventory slots. Characters have 60 slots, and the stash has a total of 210 slots (starts at 14 and you can unlock more at a cost).
  • The level cap is 60.
  • There are four modes: Normal (Levels 1-30), Nightmare (Levels 30-50), Hell (Levels 50-60), and Inferno (Level 60 - Endgame tier).
  • Dying no longer causes you to lose your items and gold, but instead damage equipment for 10% durability. Take note it's much easier to die in Diablo 3 (I'm serious). Upon dying you can release and you will return to the most recent checkpoint.
  • Armor can be customized with dyes that are purchased from a merchant. There is also a consumable item that removes dyes from an armor piece.
  • There are no hirelings for your character, but you will acquire followers (up to three, with only one usable at a time). They cannot die but upon reaching zero health are incapacitated for a short time. They can be equipped in ways similar to the Diablo 2 hirelings and it is possible to interact with them in terms of dialogue.
This subsection covers interaction with other players, such as the party system and the auction system:
  • The co-op system is very strong in this game. You can join any game your friend is currently in (as long as you meet the requirements to access it, such as being a high enough level and meeting the other prerequisites to enter Nightmare Mode). In addition, you can join Public Games that are on a specific quest as long as you meet the requirements to join it.
  • Furthermore, if you liked playing with someone, there is a "recently played" list, where you can choose to befriend them, try to join their games, or invite them.
  • Players who die in co-op can be resurrected by teammates who click on their grave and finish the cast (disrupted by most damage). If you ever played a game like Magicka, you might be familiar with this mechanic.
  • Each player receives their own set of loot drops. In short, there is no loot "free for all." Items that are dropped by a player can be picked up by any player.
  • Followers cannot be used when playing with other players.
  • There can only be up to four players in any given group game. In addition, like in Diablo 2, monsters get stronger for each additional player in the game.
  • Player names are usually shown by their Battle Tags.
  • People added to friends via Battle Tags can be seen as if the player is a Real ID friend, except with their Battle Tag name instead of their real life name. Players added by another method will (also) be seen by their real life name (as of this posting).
  • The auction house (which seems to crash a lot at the moment) is a good place to trade, but any item you sell has a 15% transaction fee (only if the item sells).
  • You can only have 10 auctions active at a time. This includes consumables like gems.
  • Items that are damaged cannot be auctioned and must be repaired.
  • You can only cancel an auction within 5 minutes of posting it. After that it's not possible to cancel it and you have to wait two days before the auction ends.
  • Consumable items can be sold in bulk. The system will post an auction for each item without taking more than one auction space at the price per item you choose to set (similar to the Grand Exchange in Runescape).
  • Like the World of Warcraft auction house, items can be bought at a bid or buyout price.
  • Item filtering is available, allowing players to choose attributes on equipment, or otherwise find certain types of items. Only some items can be found by name.
  • Completed auctions (failed or successful), items purchased via auction, and gold resulting from being outbid all go to the "Completed" tab. You can then send items and gold to the Stash. Items cannot be sent if there is no room.
  • The real life auction house is not available. As of this posting, it will be available on the 29th of May (about a week from now).
My Thoughts So Far   

I am pretty impressed by Diablo 3 so far. The storyline is strong, bringing back characters familiar and new with a clear motive for your character at every point in time with twists and turns, especially as the game reaches the second half. The cinematics and voiced dialogue are fit to match. There are also numerous events and additional dialogue that tells compelling stories of some of the major characters. I found that in terms of composition, the four Acts are similar to how the four Acts in Diablo 2 were set up, so an air of familiarity is about there. I also noticed there is potential room for an expansion, although Blizzard may just choose to end the story here.

In terms of gameplay, it was really fast-paced and smooth. There was some exploration elements, as is standard to Diablo games with the random map generation, although some overworld maps are fixed with random elements generated on it (such as dungeon entrances). The controls are fairly simple, but they work very well. Each class plays a bit differently and seems to have different resource systems. In addition, the option of having a follower to suit your character's class or playstyle also helps. These choices can range from having healing to strong crowd control to a tank.

The difficulty ramps up at a reasonably steady rate until you reach Act 4, where the difficulty jumps a bit and you realize you can't just stack damage stats and get away with it. The difficulty continues to increase in the latter manner through Nightmare and Hell, with monsters becoming tougher and tougher at regular intervals to the point you may consider turning to co-op. Boss and regular mob mechanics are a lot tougher to deal with in this game, whether it involves avoiding a giant fireball that will almost certainly one-shot you to constantly moving to avoid the swift attacks of your enemies.

As I mentioned before, the co-op play system is strong. In particular I liked the loot system, where every person gets their own loot. This has significant potential for farming as a group and gives each person a larger chance of getting loot they want assuming people choose to share loot with each other. It is also easy to join and leave games when doing public games, so you can get some help on a specific quest (either by joining a public game or making yours public in the menu) if you so desire.

I also like the methods to acquire gear and sell off or otherwise use excess equipment in a useful manner. The Auction House's sorting system is good enough that I can usually attempt to find items I want at the price range I want. If that fails, I can attempt to craft an item I want, although I find this to be a last resort as the randomization can be unreliable.

However, there are some issues with the game. For instance, the game has some crippling latency problems that have gotten me killed on several occasions. Because the game is online, it becomes inaccessible if some sort of issues or maintenance occurs, even though Diablo 3 can be played like a single player game. I understand this may be related to the Auction House and perhaps improving group play functionality, but it seems like quite a price to pay.

I also found the game's difficulty curve a little too brutal on Act Four. I suddenly went from going through enemies with relative ease to being one-shotted by a boss mob. On the other hand, there's a lot of cheap tricks, such as eternally stunlocking bosses (apparently doesn't work on Hell or Inferno mode) or otherwise becoming close to invulnerable.

The Auction House is another problem. Not only is the amount of postings a little limited, but the inability to cancel auctions seems like a major pain. I understand that maybe it's to prevent Auction House spamming, but the measures seem a little extreme. In addition, auction postings are very long. In general, I wish the functionality was more similar to that of World of Warcraft's.

There are also some major graphical issues. For instance, fire effects seem to cause massive framerate issues (to the point I sometimes cannot use certain class abilities) and playing with additional players further worsens the issue. Graphics options aren't that strong either (or I would've turned graphics down by now), as there is only a graphical toggle to set things to high or low for some options like textures.

There are other issues as well, such as a lack of functionality (dyed items don't have any indication of being dyed outside of visuals), sound not continuing in the background, and so on. In my next Diablo 3 article I will go over these issues and then offer suggestions to improve the game.
I found a Zarhym.

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