Sunday, June 24, 2012

Diablo 3 Design Flaws (Part 2)

Here I'll take a grabbag approach to Diablo 3's problems, focussing on a few more key areas.

Plot and writing
Writing has never been Diablo's strong suit. The writers have tried somewhere to create a setting, and in that there is some vague success, albeit in a fairly generic fantasy style. However, Diablo 3 really draws a short straw when it comes to writing. Which would be so bad if it wasn't actually trying to pass itself off as having good writing. It's obvious that it's trying to be well written and have a plot that is engaging to the player, but in no way does it succeed. Blizzard have been asked questions about the quality of writing, but have insisted that they have mostly received praise for their writing. How anyone could possibly praise the writing in the game beggars belief, and this kind of hollow self-praise does nothing to further the gaming industry's reputation as far as producing good writing is concerned.

Perhaps two of the most laughable things (and there are many) are the demons Belial and Azmodan, who are supposedly known for their skills in deception and strategy respectively. Yet neither of these demonstrate any whit of either trait. The demon Belial poses as the junior ruler, Emperor Hakan, although it becomes patently obvious to the player that this is the case. For a demon who is meant to be a master of lies, his deception is so transparent that even the player's character isn't fooled, and calls out the trick at the end of Act in what is obviously intended to be a reveal for the player. In the next act, the "master strategist" Azmodan simply places obstacle after obstacle in the hero's path, and is so stupid as to effectively tell them what they need to do next. He is even so foolish and brazen as to tell the player that he sent an enemy to destroy from the inside via the basement of the castle the player is defending. No master of strategy would ever tell their adversary their true plans and actions, yet Azmodan does this virtually every time he speaks.

 Watch as I reveal my entire battle plan!

Always online
Yes, many, many people have already complained about this, but there is really no excuse Blizzard can come up with that should be acceptable for users. Their prime argument is to stop people from hacking/glitching the game and producing items to then flood the auction house. That is a developer problem, and as such should not force a problem onto the users. Variable latency (or any latency at all) can cause player issues, hit detection, lag spikes, or being unable to play the game at all. Preventing piracy is another rationale for this approach, but why is it that every approach produced so far to combat piracy in games has a greater negative effect on legitimate owners of a game than those who pirate it? I have a fairly good Internet connection, but I still occasionally suffer from wonderful issues like this...

No, that's not Diablo 3 music. It's much more interesting.

Useless items and modifiers
I find it hard to believe that for all the advancements we've had in games and technology and the myriad of clones and failings we've seen, that action RPGs still insist on having magical modifiers that are completely useless. No one likes getting a magic item that is completely useless, as it ruins the enjoyment of obtaining the item. No, not every item should be excellent, but no individual property on an item should be useless to every single player. One of the best cases within the genre is "damaged returned to attacker" modifiers. This is where an enemy is damaged upon dealing damage to the player. It needs to be removed from the genre. No ifs, no buts, no maybes. Get rid of it. 

To anyone who has played an Action RPG, this has almost universally been considered an utterly useless attribute on any gear. It's simply not a useful proposition, and Diablo 3 does nothing to improve that. At higher levels, you can find gear that reflects a couple of hundred points of damage if you're lucky. However, monsters have tens of thousands of hitpoints, meaning it would take dozens of hits to even have an appreciable effect on their life. Of course, it's not possible for characters to take dozens of hits, making this statistic worthless. The genre is all about dealing damage to enemies and trying to minimise the damage the player takes, and reflecting maybe 1% of an enemy's total health when each of their hits likely dealing 10% or more to the player is nothing short of worthless. Blizzard's insistence on keeping this modifier in demonstrates a lack of imagination.

Even at level 7, that returned damage is useless

The Auction House
This is where Diablo 3 really shows it true colours, and it is found wanting. The auction house allow people to purchase items for money they've earned in the game, buying their way to advancement through virtual or real currency. In essence, this gives the player the option of convenience to obtain items from others than would take a lot time for them to find. However, this highlights the vapid nature of Diablo 3: it is nothing more than a grind. Kill monsters over and over in order to be lucky enough to find an item you want/need to progress, or simply pay to do so. Kill monsters over and over until you make enough money to buy the thing that you want/need.

Roll up, come get your items here!

This demonstrates that gold farming has effectively become the player's job. Repeat a mindless and fairly menial task over and over again until you are fortunate enough to make sufficient money to obtain something you want/need. I thought games were supposed to be entertainment, fun, and enjoyable, not a repetitive task requiring no real thought or skill. Diablo 3's Auction House says otherwise. It says they're all about grinding and making money. If that's the case, count me out.

In the next post, I'll be bringing these points together (and a couple more) to point out the ultimate flaw of Diablo 3.

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