Diablo 3: It’s as much about economics as it is combat

June 9, 2012

I have 35 hours played on my way to level 50 in Diablo 3, and have only 10 more levels until I hit the cap. I need to farm more before I can beat Diablo on Nightmare, the second of four difficulty levels. The only way to get ahead now is to grind for a long time, or to purchase an item I can’t afford on the auction house. I have bid on a lot of rare weapons that are not the most optimal for a Witch Doctor, but would give me a much-needed boost in damage. I can’t afford to buy any of them outright, but there are so many that it is likely I’ll get one of the half-dozen I’ve bid on.

I’ve figured out that there is a maximum of 46 pages shown in the auction house, even if there are more items than can be held on 46 pages, and that what 46 pages you see depends on how you sort them. People tend to look for either low buyout prices or just bid on items without a buyout. Items that players make the mistake of setting at a high buyout but very low bid can be snapped up for bargain prices. I simply have to wait for the auction to end. I have just checked. The auction house is down, so I can’t see my stash. I may have won one of the items, but if I did, I can’t access it. I can’t grind for a better item yet: Nightmare difficulty doesn’t give rares at that high a level, and my weapon only requires level 44. The easiest way is to buy a level 50 rare that someone who got to Hell difficulty is selling.

The most difficult part about Diablo and any of the other bosses is dodging high-damage 1-shot kill moves, but it’s common to experience a latency of 200 or higher. So if I play at peak times, it’s very difficult to dodge some of the attacks that requiretwitch-reflex. I am frozen, I am in a pool of poison or fire, bone spikes try to cage me from under the ground. I can just play at another time. Fortunately, one of the Witch Doctor’s passive abilities lets him resurrect with 10% health immediately upon death, and another actually increases his speed and puts him the spirit realm, walking swiftly and safely over the various explosions and puddles that would otherwise be very difficult to avoid. So I abuse these mechanics. Try to get far in Diablo 3 and it’s a contest of wills, an abusive game versus abusing players.

Consider:

  • A group of four players realized that an invulnerability mechanic by the Monk class does not have a cooldown that is more than four times itself. So they made four monks and rotated invincibility until they were the first to beat the incredibly-hard Inferno mechanic.
  • The auction house commodities section has been down for almost two days due to bots which automatically lowered prices on their gems.
  • There is (or was) a really close cave in Act II that you can reset by re-logging in. It has about half dozen guards and a resplendent chest. You can farm it over and over.
  • Three times when I got to a block, I could go to the auction house to help me out. Shooting an enemy three times instead of seven makes the challenge much easier.

The story of Diablo 3 is a standard Blizzard tragedy, with betrayal and overwhelming tide changes. The acting varies depending on characters and class (including gender, which you can choose, and I don’t recommend the female barbarian). Covetous Shen I found very well-acted and written, but most of it is cheese. The movies, of course, are excellent and professionally done. It is nothing new under the Blizzard sun.

But the real reason most people buy it is for the progression factor, beating the harder difficulties, the pleasure of re-rolling other classes. And hardcore mode, in which your character dies permanently. The class customization is simple, which is very commendable, and the combat is simple and reminds me of difficult dungeons in World of Warcraft: you either tank through something if you are melee, or you burn or “kite” (that is, run and hit until the thing dies) it if you are ranged. This factor is multiplied even more as you play with more players. Tank and damage, something tries to hit the DPS, the tank tanks it and the damagers slow or stun it or run away. Very crisply done, fortunately, but the increasing difficulty (or decreasing if you upgrade through auction house purchases, and normal is the only difficulty in which this option can be ignored without frustration) is all a numbers game.

I’m saying that Diablo 3 is a grind. This is nothing new, people contest. But it’s a different grind this time. You have to be online at all times, and that is frustrating. You have to use the auction house, which is horribly designed and about 100 times worse than World of Warcraft’s auction house. And you have to figure out what moves are useless (there are many) and learn to tell whether your companions are carrying you or the other way around.

The really good items go for insane amounts of gold at the moment, and the real money auction house is not live yet due to complications. Eventually, it will be. Eventually, the servers are supposed to be fine also and you can play your single-player game without worrying about sudden lag, or that it’s not a good time of day to play! Those that defend Diablo 3 and insist it should be called good (because it will be) point to Blizzard’s track record.

Others, like myself, contest that Activision’s purchase of Blizzard has soured the company and that the fixing of problems will be of a different nature, that Diablo 3 is going to be Zyngafied by the legalized real-money auction house, the effects of which are not yet seen or tested. Some people will win at the game of auction-housing, knowing how to farm and grind, buy and sell. If you like that game, more power to you. Just know that the campaign takes most people about 15 hours to beat in normal. There is an achievement for beating Act I in under an hour. Same for Act II. They are both much longer than Acts III and IV. There are four acts total. This and about a dozen “events”, short fights with an experience reward, are the extent of the content play, farm, and progress in.

The economy here is very unstable, yet a required element of the game. It has not gone well so far. The question, then, is this: do you have faith in Activision Blizzard’s ability to make this into a game that is good for players? You can discover whether you do by engaging in a thought exercise. How do you feel about the World of Warcraft expansions since the Activision purchase in 2008, Wrath of the Lich King and Cataclysm? Was StarCraft II and its plan of expansions what you were hoping it would be after a decade of waiting? Because it’s been over a decade since Diablo 3, and it is a sequel just the way StarCraft II is a sequel. If you’re unsure, estimate that how you feel about those properties is how you’ll feel about Diablo 3.

Pros: Slickly done, smart simplified class-management system, great soundtrack and look
Cons: Economy is fragile, necessary, and untested; short and cheesy campaign

Score: 4/5

Questions? Check out our review guide.

{ 1 comment }

Grant Potter June 12, 2012 at 12:57 pm

Diablo III is an odd bird for me. I like it, but I think the short length combined with the lack of initial difficulty wore me down before I jumped into Nightmare. I’m one of those types that has to try every class, and so after my umpteenth time going through Act I I couldn’t even enjoy harder difficulties to the fullest extent.

I’ve also had constant issues with latency that have dampened the experience of having a harder difficulty.

I applaud their skill system though!