Sunday, July 6, 2008

Diablo III

So, Blizzard has finally announced Diablo III. Yeah, I'm kind of excited about it. Err, scratch that. I'm more than kind of excited about it. I mean, I know it's still at least a year away, and probably two to be honest. But, I can't help it. I mean, this is Diablo III we're talking about here.

I can very clearly remember getting sucked into Diablo II (I never really got into the original Diablo, only ever really playing the demo). I remember the first character I created. She was an Amazon, specializing in Bow and Arrow skills. This was my first character so she wasn't very good. I remember thinking it was really worthwhile to get Magic Arrow to a high enough level that it didn't require any mana. My thought process was something along the lines of: "I can attack enemies at absolutely no cost to me whatsoever". The fact that at this point Magic Arrow gave no significant damage boost nor an attack rating boost didn't occur to me as relevant. She also specialized in Ice Arrow. This may come as a surprise, but my character wasn't very good against groups. But, in her defense, she made it all the way to Hell difficulty (she didn't really make any progress in Hell, though, and this was prior to the expansion, I'm not sure she would have fared well in Act V).

I think my second character was a Sorceress who played exactly like my Amazon (except she used Fireball instead of Magic Arrow as her main attack and Ice Blast instead of Ice Arrow as her secondary attack). I can't quite remember how far I got with her. I'm sure I got at least to Act II in Nightmare before getting bored of her.

I especially remember when the expansion pack came out. I remember because I was on a trip in Europe when it came out and it was at the house when I got back. I remember that I was on a completely different sleep schedule and so I played it until 6 am or so (having arrived back home around 9 pm the previous evening). I then pretended to go to sleep for an hour so that I would look like I had woken up to go to school in the morning. I'm pretty confident my dad wasn't fooled.

Sigh. Watching those gameplay videos made me miss that game a lot. Well, intellectually miss it at least. The fact that I still play it for a minimum of 5-10 hours a month means that I'm still quite into it. In my defense, it's the only game that my ancient laptop can play (and, well, it's still more fun than most games out for my PS3). Of course, since watching those gameplay videos, I'm back to more more like 5-10 hours a week, minimum.

Nowadays, I'm playing an Assassin (yes, you've probably noticed the pattern that I only play the female classes, and no, I don't really have an explanation for it, but it's primarily due to the fact that I like the play styles and I swear it's not just because they're girls). I think she's something like level 70. She just finally made it to Act V in Nightmare. It's pretty tough because I only play with the number of players set to eight. This means that the bad guys are scaled under the assumption that there are eight people fighting them, but I play alone. In practical terms, it means they have 4.5 times as much life and they give 4.5 times as much experience. Primarily, I do it because it means they drop a shitload more items and I'm kind of a magic item whore.

To be honest, playing an Assassin almost feels like cheating. I mean, she's so ridiculously powerful it all feels kind of pointless (of course, they still kill me regularly, so there's still some challenge to it). Basically, she has one move that is effectively capable of casting three of the Sorceress's most powerful moves (so, it terms of skill points one skill point in that Assassin's move is worth 3 Sorceress skill points into each of those other moves). Yeah, it's ridiculous.

Anyways, back to Diablo III. I thought it was interesting that there was an almost immediate uproar that the game was too bright and happy looking. In some ways, I can see what they're talking about. I mean, the graphics really do look very much like WoW, which has a cartoony look to it. Diablo has typically tried to avoid that cartoony look. But, at the same time, it's tried to avoid a cartoony look while effectively existing as a sprite based game. Last time I checked, sprites are drawings and considering that these move, there is kind of an inherent cartoony-ness to it all. And, in all honesty, the switch to 3-D was pretty much guaranteed. And, since they're going 3-D you know they're going to have to be at least a little careful on the polygon counts, just because they have to be ready to have hundreds of guys on the screen at a time, so the result is that they have to use an art style that can handle relatively low polygon counts. And, well, last time I checked, relatively cartoony characters do low-ish polygon counts pretty well. Besides, they have plenty of time to work on the textures to add some grit to the world.

To be honest, I'm excited about this switch to 3-D. I remember dreading it prior to the announcement (read as: when I'd dream of them finally getting around to making Diablo III), but having seen it in action, I'm happy with it. I'm a little nervous about all that knocking bad guys off the narrow bridge thing we saw the Barbarian doing, just because that means we can't pick up their item drops, I assume, but hopefully that won't be too big an issue (besides, it's not like I'm going to be playing classes that would be knocking guys off bridges anyways). I'm definitely excited at the prospect of the bad guys actually getting to have a sense of scale. That was something that the earlier iterations simply couldn't really do. Everything that was meant to be big just looked fat.

Watching the gameplay videos, I couldn't help but be curious about what the online component is going to be like. I mean, Blizzard almost certainly isn't going to charge for using, but what if they did? What if they decided to actually make a semi-cohesive world? I'm not sure people know this, but Blizzard kept updating Diablo II well past the point when most people were still paying attention to it (clearly, I'm not most people, I think). They kept adding new Unique items and created a special separate "Ladder" realm. Characters in this realm had access to potential Unique drops and super unique monster encounters that couldn't be found in the other realms. These realms were also regularly reset and all the characters deleted to allow players to regularly compete for something or other (ie-status).

I don't know how much of a success this was, but assuming they were happy with the participation and response was positive, what could they do next? What can they build into Diablo III to keep improving the online component? Could they build 40 person dungeons filled with bosses unlike anything the single player experience could imagine? Could they create some sort of guild system to help organize the player community for these events?

In short, could they make late-game playing in Diablo III similar to the late-game play of WoW? Would they want to?

I'm not sure they necessarily would. To be honest, if I had to sit and pick a game to play, I'm about 85% sure I would pick Diablo II over WoW almost any day of the week. I'm all about killing huge numbers of enemies to see what I find and I can do that in Diablo much more efficiently than WoW. On the other hand, I'm free to do other activities while playing WoW, but I'm not sure I see that as a major advantage.

So, assuming there are other people like me, then Diablo III could, maybe even should, very well be the WoW-killer that everyone's been looking for. It makes a lot of sense to me. WoW takes a huge number of the gameplay concepts of Diablo and uses them as the backbone for the most successful MMO of all time. But, it kept the MMO conceit of very simple, limited combat. Bad guys are meant to be fought one at time (not necessarily one on one, though, of course). And so grinding in WoW is a patient affair of slowly killing enemies one at a time. This is dissatisfying. Diablo takes the gameply concepts of Diablo and simplifies combat to the bare minimum and allows players to take on innumerable enemies at a time. This is very satisfying.

I would not be surprised if the online component of Diablo III is at least as compelling as the online component of WoW (keeping in mind that the online component of WoW is its entirety). But, if it's as compelling as WoW, then, well, Blizzard will need to charge for it. Or they'll be cannibalizing their own income stream while creating a new resource drain.

So, yeah. I'll be dreaming of Diablo III for a long a time, and eventually I'll get to play it. I can't wait.

That is all.


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