Diablo III Reviews in Progress, Interview

15 May 2012

While full reviews for Blizzard's Diablo III will take a while longer to arrive, we have managed to round up a couple of "in progress" pieces based on the first hours of the title and a fairly in-depth interview which should manage to bridge the gap nicely until then. We start with a "review as it happens" from PC Gamer:
• The new skill system is bizarre. Even as someone who played the beta 10 times, I find the mess of different windows, menus and categories bewildering at times. They’ve tried to make it simpler for new players by telling you which slots you should put certain skills in, but they’ve done it in a way that makes it hard to get an overview of what you have access to. You can turn off this restriction, but it still presents your skills as if they’re in these mutually exclusive categories.

...

• Whoa, actual difficulty! I whined a lot about how easy the beta was, even for an opening chapter. Final game has teeth. I ran into a boss mob of Wretched Mothers: a whole crowd of ultra-fast hags who vomit zombies onto the ground, spawning a horrific tide of undead it was genuinely tough to plough through. At this level none of my skills penetrate enemies, so it was like an advancing wall of dead flesh I had to smash through with my Frost Beam to get to the horrible things spawning it all.

Then we move on to Rock, Paper, Shotgun which is far from delighted by the always-online requirement and its consequences on gameplay:
Blizzard have argued that Diablo III’s requirement of a connection is not about DRM, but about improving the player’s experience. If people could play offline, there’d be no way to prove they hadn’t used cheats, and thus it would be unfair if they could then transfer those characters online. Oh, and their profit-generating auction houses would be inaccessible to such players. That’s all true, but none of it is a reason to prevent people from playing offline anyway. Sure, you’d not be able to transfer your character into an online game, and perhaps someone might want to change their mind after a long time building a roll, and be frustrated by their being kept out. But with that made clear from the start, it’s a person’s choice. A person who’s paid their £40+ for the game could choose how they want to play it, accepting that caveat. It’s simply disingenuous to suggest that enforcing an always-on connection is necessary for the players’ benefit. And that’s ignoring the vast numbers of people who just can’t play at all because of the lack of a permanent connection.

And the server drops tonight have shown exactly why it’s a bloody stupid thing in the first place. An error message pops up, and then you’re back at login. And worse, progress is actually lost. It only happened to me the once in my first two hours (others have reported more), but a series of small dungeons I’d cleared out in a graveyard were instantly unmapped, as well as a huge stretch of above ground location I’d fully explored. Blank maps aren’t quite the apology you’d be looking for after your game had stopped working for no good reason whatsoever.

And even without those delightful moments, there’s the frequent presence of lag. It’s not the end of the world to have to run the same few steps a second time, but it’s bloody idiotic to be experiencing it when playing solo.

Finally, Eurogamer has an interview with senior world designer Leonard Boyarsky and lead technical artist Julian Love. Obligatory snippet:
Based on the beta, there is a feeling that Diablo 3 isn't as punishing as Diablo 2, and some hardcore players feel this is a bad thing.

Julian Love: It depends on what part of the game you're playing!

Leonard Boyarsky: We were erring on the side of caution for a long time. People were saying it was too easy and we were like, no, no, it's not too easy. But then I was talking to Jay [Wilson, lead designer] and he was saying, especially from the beta, it just because evident after a certain amount of time that we needed to make it more difficult.

The upper difficulties were always difficult. Even back before we ramped up the difficulty a little bit, we had people saying, oh my god, this is extremely hard. So it's always been this thing where we wanted a spectrum. We didn't want to just have like one difficulty level.

So regardless of how much we cranked or didn't crank the difficulty in the first part of the game, it still has to progress all the way up to Inferno. We don't want it to feel like you're playing the same thing as Hell as Inferno. So we had to always keep in mind that there was going to be this spectrum that we had to fill all parts of.

Julian Love: If you think about it, this is really a game where there are eight difficulty levels. You can play Normal, and then Nightmare cranks it up, and then Hell cranks and then Inferno cranks it up to insane proportions. And if, for whatever reason, that was too boring for you, all you have to do is hit the Hardcore button and do it all over again.

...

What happens if a certain class or build emerges that is blatantly overpowered? How will you deal with that post launch?

Julian Love: One thing you have to do is just not launch your game and ignore it. You have to play it yourself and be out there with the community, playing with them and paying attention, because they will write about it and blog about it and all that good stuff. That's a great way. Plus, we have our own stats on our own side where we can tell what's going on.

Then, it's also a matter of figuring out whether or not those things are really overpowered or if they're intentional. Part of the fun in some cases of Diablo 2 was it did a good job of making the player feel like they were doing something that they shouldn't be able to do. Like, they were getting away with murder. I know in a lot of those cases those things were intentional. It's part of the magic.

You have a few errant cases where, oh, yeah, that is a bug. And maybe they are getting away with murder, when we need to address it. That stuff will be addressed if it crops up.