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The Most Fair I Can Be: Five games, One review

June 1, 2012

Dear Reader,

So having had some time to play and think, I feel ready to give a full review of D3 now.  I’ve trickled out complaints over the last few posts, but today I want to examine both the good and bad decisions involved in creating D3.

I’ll start by saying this.  It’s summer for me now, and I have no idea why I was so shortsighted as to think I shouldn’t work.  I used to get painfully bored during the summers, but since moving here I’ve had to work for financial reasons.  Now, since I’ve secured a full time job, I figured I’d “reward” myself by taking the summer off.  Wrong.  I hate being bored, and I get bored with things very quickly.  Already, rather than playing D3 obsessively and by myself (like my friends have; my buddy has 4 characters above level 37), I’ve re-downloaded 4 games on Steam that I never really gave a fair shake to: Company of Heroes, Puzzle Quest 2, The Longest Journey, and Recettear.  Each has their good and bad qualities.

Company of Heroes is an RTS.  That’s about the only “bad” thing I can say about it.  I don’t play RTS games because invariably I get to a point where I can’t progress because I’m simply not fast enough.  Still, I looked up the “top” strategy games of all times, and it was just about the only one I hadn’t played.  I’ve played two full boards, and so far it’s been fun, but too easy.  I’m sure it’ll get harder and harder until I can’t compete and give up.  I play a board every day or two, and it takes an hour or so, so it’ s a start at filling up my long free time.

Puzzle Quest is simply an RPG where combat is resolved by playing competitive Bejeweled.  It’s fun, but it gets old quick, particularly when you fight a hard-won battle where you’ll win on the last possible turn only to have you attack blocked by RNG, and you lose.  At least I can say it’s not too easy.  It’s a fair fight, but it’s an odd combo when you’re playing “intelligently” and “strategically” and find yourself losing due to RNG.  That can be frustrating.  However, it’s another hour or two eaten up.

The Longest Journey is an old-school point-and-click adventure by the guy who’s behind The Secret World.  I only play an hour or so, but it’s a good story if you can see past the dated graphics (1999).  I’m enjoying it’s extreme weirdness and haven’t had to look up how to progress just yet, but I will, I’m sure, and I won’t feel bad when I do; I’m past the whole “I have to figure out every tiny thing myself” phase of adventure games.

Recettear is a very strange game that I feel a little embarrassed playing.  It’s conceit is that you have inherited an item shop that’s deep in debt, and you have to work the shop and get out of debt.  I played it a little before (as I did all of these games), but found it very hard to meet the payment deadlines. I’ve come back to it to give it another go and hopefully do better.

Of course throughout all of this I’m playing Civ 5.  I looked for other 4x games and tried a few (Star Ruler – too complicated even for me), but none really stuck.  I feel like with the 4x genre I’ve kind of “seen it all.”  I played Moo2 and GalCiv2, which are commonly regarded as the best of the best.  I played every Civ since the first, so the “real world” 4x is played out, and I played Master of Magic and Lords of Magic, so the fantasy realm is sort of gone.  Once again, if you’ve any suggestions for solid, immersive 4x titles, I’d love to hear them.

The five of these games can pretty much fill up a day.  Still, I play D3 when I can, but I’ve found I don’t see any reason to play alone, and I only want to play for 2 or 3 hours at max at a time.  This doesn’t meet up with my friends’ ideas of “finishing” a game, and I have no doubt – NONE – that my buddy will be done by the end of next week, either because he’s hit a wall or because he’s won.  I’m not sure which it’ll be.

Tobold made an argument a few weeks ago that D3 was “beyond reviews” due to its historic and gigantic nature.  I understand his points and agree with them, but I’m going to review it anyway.

Graphics:
The background graphics are impressively detailed.  They go from scenically beautiful to ominously threatening.  The foreground graphics, though, are dated and unimpressive.  The character animations are very cool, but character customization is confined to changing the color of your clothes.  A huge mix of good and bad here.

Sound:
The music is all right, but doesn’t hold the threatening, oppressive nature of hell like I remember D2 doing.  I don’t really remember, D2, though, because I barely played it.   The sound is a little rough, though, and I feel like a lot more could have been done with it.  It’s not that it detracts from the game; it doesn’t, but it doesn’t do much to add to it.  Consider the use of sound in Asylum (a half-life 2 mod), which is used to make the player paranoid and afraid.  While I know D3 isn’t a “horror” game, you are fighting legions of demons from hell.  The sunny desert of act 2 could have been made a lot scarier of a place with a few well placed sounds.  Overall, I find the sound pretty unimpressive.

Design:
The abilities are a lot of fun, and I think the core of the game, learning to use your abilities to survive increasingly difficult stages, is sound.  I’ve died sometimes, but not too much (except when first meeting the suicide bombers).  I’ve checked my abilities, adapted strategies, and moved on.  I think that’s why so many people are enjoying D3 – it is  fun – for now.

The board mechanics are fun, too.  The level of destructability and the triggered reactions to your characters moving around the environment (burnt out houses falling down, parts of ramparts falling away) make it feel like you’re affecting what’s around you, so the immersive level of gameplay is good.

The bosses are varied enough to keep your play fresh.  Each mini and end boss has their own mechanics that you have to learn and survive.  Still, most of it comes down to the old WoW standard: don’t stand in shit.

The multiplayer is excellently designed.  I’ve never played a co-op game that made groups smoother, and I think it’s one of their biggest triumphs with D3.

Okay.  That’s about as fair as I can be.  Now let the negative come out.  I’ve identified 8 terrible decisions that I want to cover here.  It’s nothing you haven’t heard before, I’m sure, but I think putting them side by side allows the impact to really sink in.

1.  Either have skill groupings or don’t.  Don’t pretend there’s groupings but allow a few mouse-clicks to overcome them.  Really, then, there are no groupings and all you have is a level progression of getting the abilities.  That means there’s really no individual customization, just choice of what to use, which is inherently different.  Everyone is the same, but you’re naturally limited to how many buttons you can hit within a given time, so setting “only six” really isn’t that much of a limit.  Just be honest about it, then, and don’t pretend you went in to more design than you did.

2.  Either allow offline single-player hardcore mode or do something to protect your players from your own shoddy connectivity (or their own, but I’ve yet to have a lag spike that my friends in NY didn’t also experience).  I was playing hardcore mode solo, but stopped, because I know if I die to lag I’ll probably stop playing altogether.  I know my own limitations; Blizzard should have known the same.

3.  Don’t make such an absolutely atrocious crafting system.  It should cost either money OR mats, not both, if the results are random.  You’re inserting THREE potentially limiting factors into just crafting: the money, mats, and randomness.  That’s an unacceptable bet to all but the most uninformed gamblers.  Either reduce the crafting requirements significantly or allow some control over the outcome, or crafting becomes pointless (as it already has)

4.  If you’re going to have random crafting, don’t have a gold based auction house.  I can deck out my character for the same price as making two random yellows, both of which will probably be unwearable and unsellable.  There’s simply no contest between the two.

5.  Don’t make your players wait unacceptably long hours to do tiny, inconsequential updates.  If you’re going to require us to be online for a potentially single-player game, then you’d better be on your toes and above the estimations of your abilities.  What we’ve seen since the first patch is hours of lost gameplay time, and really that’s unacceptable.  I heard, though I have no idea whether it’s true or not since I was playing other games, that in a 48 hour period the game was more often down than up.  If that’s true, it’s ridiculously unacceptable.  If it’s not, then the very fact that someone might suggest that indicates you have a problem.

6.  In today’s gaming world, if you’re going to have a “3-D” game, it’d better be three dimensional.  Let us rotate the camera and have a legitimate, smooth zoom function.  Games from more than a decade ago had this (Syndicate Wars), but games in 2012 don’t?  Basically, D3 isn’t a 3D game; it’s a 2d game on an isometric playing field.  That’s hugely underwhelming.

7.  If you’re going to provide storytelling as part of the reward for playing, make the storytelling good and make more of it for later playthroughs.  The main story should be given to everyone who finishes normal mode, but that doesn’t mean small additions couldn’t be made throughout the game, such as what you see in Act 1 nightmare when you start with the blacksmith and jeweler.  There should be more of that as the game goes on, but there’s not.  That means the narrative reward stops flowing 5/16ths of the way through the game.  Not to mention how lousy and cliché the story actually is.  I won’t go into detail here so I don’t have to worry about spoilers, but it’s pretty atrocious, really.  Of the 5 main characters, one has an interesting story line that is then ruined at the end.  More on that another time.

8.  If you’re going to wait 10 years to release a sequel, it’d better be a huge, impressive change on the old game.  Don’t release the same game again and hope everyone wants “more of the same,” even if they do.  They’ll play for a while, then get bored of it like more quickly since they’ve already “finished” it in D2, and then stop.

In discussing all this with my buddy last night, I had a realization and made a bold statement.  I think that D3 will go down as one of Blizzard’s worst games.  It’s not happening now, nor do I forsee it happening in the near future, but I think that longitudinally all the bright-eyed reception will fade.  People played D2 literally for years.  I think D3 will be another “3 monther.”  Hell, I’m already playing other games now.

Sincerely,

Stubborn (and bored)

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9 Comments leave one →
  1. June 1, 2012 5:48 pm

    I loved The Longest Journey. That said, do not play the sequel, Dreamfall. The first 2/3 of Dreamfall are amazing, but the last 1/3 is terrible.

    My thoughts are here. No plot spoilers, but I do use an adjective to describe the tone of the ending to The Longest Journey, so you might want to avoid until you finish.

    • June 5, 2012 11:18 am

      I’m enjoying it, too, but I only play a little each day. I try to figure out 1 thing each day I didn’t figure out the day before. Right now, it’s “Where the hell do I find my timesheet?”

  2. June 2, 2012 7:56 am

    Now take all the things you said about DIII and take an honest gander at SCII. There was absolutely zero [i]gameplay improvements[/i] (much less simple changes beyond the ‘updated play’) from the first to the second. Well, relabeling ‘ghost’ to ‘spectre’ was developer genius, but that mark of brilliance aside…
    When I look at it, since about the WoW TBC timeframe, everything that company has produced has become more and more just pure rehash. Blizzard aren’t innovators, they’re polishers. There’s a limit to how much you can polish and old hat: just like there’s a limit to how effective Botox is on an aging face.
    MoP won’t be their greatest game, that’s for sure. The really interesting bet will be Titan. Will that launch be able to rejuvenate a company who’s showing its age?

    • June 5, 2012 11:20 am

      I fear it’s not just Blizzard, to tell you the truth. While the video game industry’s always been about making money, I fear the greater incorporation of many studios under a few corporations is going to promote making more and more of the same as long as the same is what keeps selling. I foresee a lot of FPS and MMOs in the future as the focus on their success slowly wanes. After that, who knows? Hopefully something we haven’t envisioned just yet.

  3. June 3, 2012 11:09 pm

    You’re starting to sound like Tobold. =\

    But at least you’re not quite as jaded as that fellow who commented above me who seems to imply that there have been no new ideas in WoW since 2009, and that the only change between Starcraft and its sequel was the name of one unit.

    Games are games are games. I’m pretty disappointed with Diablo and Blizzard in general of late. My solution was to reinstall ToR last week– that game’s pretty fun.

    • June 5, 2012 11:17 am

      I think old gamers must go through a gaming mid-life crisis, which I’ll be writing more about soon. I’m doing like you, though, and installing older games I enjoyed or didn’t play enough to really understand. I think that’ll work for now, but who knows how long it’ll last. Thanks for the comment!

  4. Keidot permalink
    June 4, 2012 7:38 am

    My friends and me were first very hyped about D3 in January, but became more and more sceptical the nearer we got to release.
    Now three of us have refused to buy the game right away, but to squelch the thirst that built up due to all the information, we reinstalled Diablo 2 and are playing that together.
    The game is still fun, especially for me who has never played with the expansion.

    • June 5, 2012 11:15 am

      That’s probably the best bet for getting a really solid Blizzard game for the time being. I mentioned to my buddy the other day that by the time D3 has been “tuned” to being as good as D2, we’d both be done with it. In other words, we’ll never see the game in its best incarnation. In yet other words, we paid the “new game” price for an imperfect product. Foolish, really, of everyone involved. Thanks for the comment!

  5. kaleedity permalink*
    June 4, 2012 9:00 am

    I’ll probably have to wait for balancing tweaks to start consistently running act3+ in inferno on the barbarian. I can do things, it’s just probably not worth the time investment. The big thing is I haven’t grown bored of runs yet, and my two biggest accomplishments are doing belial-inferno with a demon hunter that can be one-shot by any of belial’s or his minions’ attacks, and doing trio WD-DH-Barb inferno izual on the first try. The game still feels very visceral, even after all I’ve done. I’d rather it be impossibly hard than easily clear-able but maybe I’m weird. I know people don’t like the deck-stacked-against-you feeling that the melee classes give off in inferno, and it’s annoying that it is literally impossible for me to find a weapon upgrade out of the first two acts, but meh, I can still manage. I’ll hit my goal of clearing inferno with a twohander. Some day. At least I can clear the first two acts with no shield.

    It’s unfortunate that you can’t possibly “tank” hits on inferno in a 4 player game without really overgearing things or having both a barbarian and a monk with stacking buffs. I mean the unique/champion packs — the bosses are all definitely tankable to some degree.

    I really liked Recettear. Once you find out the tricks to optimally sell things, it gets too easy, but it does not make optimizations very clear. I had a good time barely making it through the debt on my first try. I highly recommend not reading any kind of guide on it, because knowing the calculations going on behind the scenes trivializes the difficulty. I will say that the npcs have a limited wallet, and will sometimes pick out things they can’t really afford — at least at my first run’s corporate overlord rates.

    I just try to think that the art is like disgaea. Yeah, not a big fan of the style.

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