My Thoughts on the Diablo 3 Beta

Hopefully those of you who also spent years in Diablo 2 didn’t miss the big news last weekend that Diablo 3 was in open beta for stress testing. The servers were up and down as Blizzard presumably was testing various capacities and training staff responses, but it was a tremendous opportunity for many fans of the series, like me, to jump in and try out the game.

For the unfamiliar, Diablo 3 is the 3rd installment in a fantasy hack-n-slash RPG. It’s set in a medieval world full of magic, where you wield swords, bows, fireballs, and more in a series of dungeons to defeat the Lords of Hell. The basic gameplay involves killing lots of monsters, which, to an inexperienced observers, looks like running around and clicking on monsters until they die. The slightly more observant will note that the game takes place from an top-down 3rd person view, and to defeat the monsters, you must run up to them and click them until they die. The final component to the game is roleplaying: you focus on developing a single hero over the course of the game and becoming stronger (by killing monsters) so that your character has more skills, better statistics, and better equipment, so you can kill more monsters.

Despite the relatively simple premise, the game is tremendously addictive. Although there are major quests to complete, the world map transitions you from one area to the next, where hordes of monsters have nothing better to do than to wait around for you to walk past. Moreover, the game is constantly rewarding you for playing: every monster killed means more experience (to get you stronger) and possible dropped items that make be useful to you.

As I mentioned, Diablo 2 had a large influence on my development, so I sprung at the opportunity to play this weekend. In the beginning, I was hoping to play through all 5 available classes (Barbarian, Monk, Demon Hunter, Wizard, and Witch Doctor), though I fortunately had better things to do with my time. I started with the Barbarian and quickly became comfortable with the format. Thanks to things such as reddit, work, and email, my clicking skills remained top notch despite being out of the game for years, and I had no problem with that.

Blizzard tweaked the gameplay to make some things easier: gold is automatically picked up when dropped by nearby monsters, statistics about your character are presented in a useful manner, and potions are largely replaced by health orbs that appear from dead monsters. They also changed gameplay aspects to focus more upon gameplay choices: skills are automatically gained (with builds being dependent on “loadouts” of  currently available skills), the environment like falling chandeliers can be triggered to deal damage, and crafting items has become much more relevant. Overall, Blizzard has done a good job of cleaning up the game and making changes that may seem detrimental, but actually really improve the experience.

But let’s face it: most of the time is spent clicking monsters, and in that respect, this game is a solid follow-up to its predecessors. And it’s for precisely that reason that I think I’ll pass on playing Diablo 3.

Unlike in “MacGruber”, the game is the same, but the players have changed. As snobby as it sounds, Diablo just doesn’t have quite enough to it to make me feel that it’s worth my time. Among my current interests, video games should be a low priority. And among video games, it doesn’t have the plot line of other RPGs like Mass Effect or the strategic depth that makes you feel like you’re learning like StarCraft. Out of Diablo, I get slightly better stats on my character and a worn-out mouse. Walking away from a game of Diablo frankly feels a little worse than I started because I’m only left with the desire to keep playing and feel the incremental improvement of a game that is purely grinding (that’s video game “grinding”. You better hope there’s no dancing grinding in this game).

The one thing that might convince me to jump back in is if there’s sufficient desire from my friends to play: it’s a half-decent social experience. But given the choice, I might push to do something else.

Overall, well done, Blizzard: you’ve improved the experience of a tried and true game. Sorry that I’m no longer part of your target audience.

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