- Category: Reviews
- Written by Eric Schwarz
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Page 3 of 6The biggest benefit, and one that is admittedly quite welcome, is that players will no longer find themselves stuck with a character they made mistakes creating. Since all customizable stats are tied to gear, and skill load-outs can be changed at will, it's impossible to make a bad character, only play poorly. Whereas Diablo II had no respec options and had a lot of ideal builds players refined over the years, making your characters on your first play-through potentially useless for high difficulties or PvP play, Diablo III, in theory, requires less grinding to get the results you want.
The downsides, however, are equally obvious. First off, it's hard to even call Diablo III an RPG, because a core tenet of RPGs is the division of character skill and player skill, and there's really no such thing as "character skill" in Diablo III, only skill load-out and item selection. Moreover, it's hard to feel invested in your characters because any level 60 Barbarian will be the same as any others, save for loot. There's no long-term consequence to character building, and while it's a convenience, there are other ways Blizzard could have handled the problem (even if it was something as simple as a gold cost for respecs).
Skills and Combat
There are also a number of smaller changes which affect gameplay more than I initially expected. For starters, Mana has been overhauled such that every character now has a unique resource governing skill use. The Witch Doctor retains traditional Mana, but others, like the Barbarian, build up and spend Fury in battle, the Wizard has Arcane Power, which regenerates quickly but is fairly limited in quantity, and so on. These all work well and make using each class feel a little bit different.
Summarily, many skills no longer have costs; depending on your character, they'll either be free, limited by cooldown, or actually build up your resource(s). The Barbarian's basic skills, for instance, actually build up Fury, meaning you'll almost never use a "normal" attack except for the very beginning of the game. Effectively, Blizzard have embraced the skill-spamming that many players enjoy, and as a result Diablo III actually revolves much more around ability management, including cooldowns, than the previous games in the series.
A lot has been said about skill runes, modifiers you unlock on level-up that change the way your skills work. In a few cases, skills are changed dramatically - for instance, the Witch Doctor is able to summon very different creatures depending on rune selection - while others are much more basic, such as the Wizard's Electrocute spell behaving slightly differently. As you go deeper into the game and level up more, skill runes become more drastic in their effects, and it's a good way of ensuring that flexibility grows as the game goes on, while also allowing basic skills to still be useful. Overall, skill runes work well, even if many of the changes aren't as drastic as Blizzard has made them out to be.
Once you're in combat, there are even more alterations from the normal formula. Diablo II was oft-criticized for relying heavily on potion-guzzling to keep players alive, especially at high difficulties, with many boss enemies difficult to defeat without multiple trips back to town for potion refills. Diablo III instead attaches a cooldown to potions to prevent their frequent use, and Health Orbs are dropped by enemies during combat that give you a quick healing surge when they're picked up. Some gamers have been concerned that Health Orbs make the game too easy, but they really don't. There's a strong risk/reward proposition at play in picking them up, and I actually found myself relying on healing potions more than I expected to. Other changes, like converting the Town Portal into a spell with a 5-second casting duration, further ensure the old tactics don't work as well.
The end result of all these tweaks is combat and character progression that feels distinctly more MMO-like and more distant from the roguelike roots than ever before, especially for the classes that rely heavily on cooldowns. Moment-to-moment, fighting the legions of Hell is still fun and engaging; it's the larger gameplay systems like character-building that have been sacrificed, and, in my opinion, this just wasn't necessary. Blizzard's goal was clearly to keep players engaged, running into combat instead of running back to the safety of town, while constantly using their abilities, and for the most part it works well - it's just shallower than raising a unique character up from level 1 to become a god among mortals.