It’s been two months since I’ve ridden on the hype train and bought Diablo III. Since then, I’ve had massive fun slaughtering countless baddies in the rush to inferno. I’ve spent way too much time scouring the auction house for a good deal, clicked my way through the best builds and tips for Demon Hunters, and probably spent a third of my playtime helping my friends get through their own quests because I was so ahead. I even wrote a damn review on the game, mostly in praise of it. (And that review wasn’t short).
120 hours later, I found myself frustrated with the brick wall that is Act II. So much so to the point that I gave up. My friends have already called it quits with the game before they reached 60. The popularity of public games are only a shadow of what it actually is. The internet, especially the Blizzard forums, are ablaze with negativity regarding the subject of Diablo III. And I’m finding myself cashing out my character on the Real Money Auction House, probably not to be played again. I’ve tried to play other heroes, but they fail to recapture that magic of playing through everything fresh, becoming a daze of tedium and monotony.
And I’m not alone. Looking at various discussions and videos about the problem, the general consensus seems to be that “I want to love this game, but there is something missing”. So what went wrong?
Even though I am well aware there may be a silent majority that are still playing instead of bitching, there is no denying that the game has been a disappointment to some. Yes, it is true that Diablo III had massive, probably unrealistic expectations before its release. But when I see players leaving with genuine reasons, I have to conclude that the disappointment is not merely due to overblown expectations.
A summary of, not only my own thoughts on the matter, but those of the vocal masses-
All Work and No Play
When you see a rare item drop you’re supposed to be at least a bit excited about it. Your heart is supposed to pound the moment you see a legendary item. You’re supposed to speculate how much more powerful or rich your character will be the moment you see the colored text. Most importantly, you’re supposed to be driven to play the game because you are starving for the next rare item.
The current loot system turns this core source of fun and motivation of the game on its head. It’s not that rare items are too common, or legendaries are too rare. It’s just that most of them just plain suck. “Rare” items go straight to the vendor or blacksmith 95% of the time because they are just plain worthless. Wheres the excitement in unidentifying a yellow item when you are almost positive it’s going to be garbage compared to the gear you bought off the AH? Wheres the motivation in farming for a legendary when you know there are plenty, more common items that surpass it in stats?
Players who spend millions to be able to farm the latest acts of Inferno should expect to be able to make a reasonable return on their investment. Instead, they are presented with constant stream of useless loot, with maybe a few they could monetize for some gold. Item Level 63 items are supposed to be the among the most powerful a player can acquire, but identifying one often turns out to be a anticlimactic. What is supposed to be the most addicting factor of the game turns out to be a constant stream of disappointments. It is no surprise the game suddenly feels pointless and the motivation to get the next great item isn’t there.
One of the reasons that so many drops are useless is due to the simplicity of item affixes. There are a few interesting affixes here and there like Life Steal or Damage Reflect, but basic stats such as Dexterity and Resistances trump all. This means that the value of an item is determined by a simple randomized number of a few affixes that might not even be on it. Anything with a lesser number most likely becomes trash. Unlike in Diablo II, there is nothing like “cannot be frozen”, “ignore defense”, or “Frost Nova on hit”, affixes which can make a seemingly lowly item valuable. In Diablo III, improvement is defined by a mere a number increase in either damage or survivability, which is not as exciting or noticeable as gaining entirely new skills or powers off a single item. What is just +300 damage going to mean to a player a day later? Nothing.
A huge factor that gimps the excitement of looting even further is of course the Auction House. Since all players have to ability to browse through and purchase from an endless list of enticing gear, it is no surprise the items they encounter seem trash by comparison. Whether the AH is a positive or negative factor on the game is debatable, but there is no denying the effect on the player’s perception of loot. However, I believe if gear was more complex and versatile, the AH would have less of a negative effect on the loot system; it could even turn the AH into a more positive thing as new markets would emerge for off-the-wall affixes and builds. Even a simple idea such as adding “bind on pickup” items would add some more value to the time players spend acquiring items, instead of having the worth of everything defined by a number determined by the beast that is the Auction House.
The current loot system is focused on acquiring gold instead of improvements, since the chances of getting a drop that is better than one’s AH-bought gear is so slim. When one is farming for something to sell, instead of something that improves their character, the reward system becomes much less satisfying. There is much less enjoyment from buying an item than getting it yourself. The game is better played as an action RPG, not an eBay simulator.
To Grind or Not to Grind
Attempts to break through the “brick wall” that is the infamous Act II Inferno has resulted in much weeping and gnashing of teeth, not due to lack of skill but to lack of gear. It is nearly impossible to progress through without increasingly higher end gear, which one cannot even fathom of getting by straight progression. Due to the game’s design, the only choice is to backtrack previous acts and difficulties to grind for lots of gold to buy something nice from the auction house (unless you want to lighten your wallet on the Real Money Auction House).
This is where the game would begin to feel like a chore. What motivation is there for a person to constantly rerun parts of the game they already played, if the only goal is to reach further parts of the game which in itself is a rerun? Due to the current loot system, there is none. I personally made the choice to not farm at all, since later acts are not rewarding enough for my time. We are farming to farm some more. Again, the system is an endless, tedious hamster wheel with no satisfying results.
The game actually punishes you for trying to complete the game without grinding. With the drastic increase in repair costs, players are penalized for constant deaths; again, not due to lack of skill, but lack of gear. If you are undergeared, you shouldn’t even try to repeat attempts to complete inferno- you’ll just end up penniless. What is supposed to be an enjoyable challenge turns into frustration, and eventually apathy.
Repeating previous acts, as well as the difficulty of Inferno, could be tolerated, even welcomed, if it was play was actually rewarding. How great would it be if one could feasibly acquire powerful enough gear through their own play, and use that to complete Inferno? Instead, one has to earn a wage from long hours of tedious farming, due to the unavailability of viable gear players could get themselves.
It’s in the Journey, not the Destination
The road to 60 was a blast. The combat was stellar, the scenery was beautiful, and the enjoyment was multiplied by playing with friends. After 60, however, there was nothing waiting for me except failing to break through the brick wall or rerunning stuff I’ve already done. The game suddenly felt pointless. Getting to the high points of a game should feel rewarding and empowering. Ironically, the more the player progresses, the more tedious the game feels, and the weaker the player’s hero seems.
I think the biggest reason players are so disappointed is because they want to love Diablo III. They wanted this game to last them for a year, maybe two, maybe more. They want a reason to enjoy the game for longer than a few months, but unfortunately, couldn’t find one. A shame that a beautiful, big-name game with such high production values could have been so much better with a few changes. It was one hell of a ride- while it lasted.