Friday, September 16, 2011

Diablo 3 - Some more speculations

Hello Everyone, we’re back with another round of old faithful Diablo3 speculation. Also known by the-oh-so-appealing syndrome of not being able to play the damned beta and deciding to do the next best thing. Hypothesize about it.

I will let you know that I have downloaded the official client at this time of writing, and in that line I will say; it’s one damn fine looking log-in screen. The interactive sub-menus are superb, and you can spend several seconds playing around with the various setting.

Dear lord, Blizz, send me a beta key. I’m such a prominent person on the internet. Really. I might name my hedgehog after one of your products instead. Might.

In entirely related news, I’d like to point out this nice little collection of footage from the beta:

Having now watched most of them there are some things I want to share my thoughts about.

Diablo 3 = WoW in Sanctuary?Let’s start with one of the hot potatoes. The WoWization of Diablo 3. A lot of people have posted quite steamed remarks on YouTube about this (not a surprise, really) whereas other have sat down and given the question a lot of thought.
How much of Diablo 3 is really going to feature elements from World of Warcraft? And is that really such a bad thing?

On an entirely personal level, I’d have to say yes to the latter. Not because I nurture antagonistic feelings towards WoW. I’ve been a sworn defender of it in years. But because I’m really convinced that a lot of players out there are looking forward to D3 because they have high hopes for something new. I don’t think it’s entirely wrong to say that many people tend to enjoy more than one Blizzard game, the case often being that a player will be involved in both WoW and, say, Starcraft 2 or Diablo. Or all three of them. Starcraft is somehow the odd game out in this regard, mostly due to its different genre, objectives and setting. The similarities between WoW and the universe of Diablo are much easier to spot. They’re both located in a medieval inspired fantasy world and the primary incentive for playing is to kill monsters and improve your avatar. Their respective ways of doing so, however, have always been exactly that. Respective.
What I do believe many people (and myself to some extend) fear, is the possibility of the lines being blurred out between the two. Certainly not in the way of interface, as WoW will be WoW and Diablo will retain its isometric perspective and click to kill approach. We might therefore ask in what areas the similarities might grow bigger?

Judging from the videos there are some elements to point out. Mind you, I’m merely speculating here. I’m not out to degrade, bash or in any way rant about these initiatives. The game is still in beta. Much will likely change. And either way I will still be standing in line for the midnight release. I just find the process of analysing appealing.

First and foremost there is the role of potions. When I saw the very first game trailer it was my solid impression that Diablo 3 wouldn’t feature any potion-system at all, instead relying entirely on health orbs to keep the game running. I did, however, also foresee some problems in this regard. For example in the cases when you’d have trouble killing the first couple of monsters in a group and would therefore get slammed before you had a chance to heal. In that case, potions really would be a necessity.
It wasn’t any big surprise for me when I noticed potions making it back into the footage from the current beta. You will notice them in the bottom of the screen in some cases, and the players will utilize them as they go along. Another thing worth noticing in this regard is the fact that potions seem to be on a cool down, meaning a downtime between using them. Sounds familiar?
I admit that the ever growing potion spamming in Diablo 2 did become somewhat annoying in the end, though. Potions seem to undergo a change with every transition between the games so far, and perhaps this will be the golden standard we could all wish for?
Also, this might just be me, but I never did notice any kind of ’resource potion’ along the way. Known as mana pots among friends. I don’t have any remarks about this, but it’s certainly interesting to note.

The talk about resources brings me to the second point of the WoW-effect, and this did actually surprise me a lot. Apparently, Blizzard is breaking up with the old paradigm that mana is the universal currency for anything besides an auto-attack. That is, the Witch Doctor gets to keep his mana pool (and by being my favoured class by far, once again shows how old and conservative I am, even without making a conscious effort). The monk is now empowered by the power of spirit, which grows when he makes an attack. The wizard now utilizes arcane energy, and the barbarian uses Rage. No, wait. That’s fury now. It seems to grow when you hit stuff and take damage, and enables you to unleash powerful attacks. Sounds familiar?
The demon hunter is an interesting case. Otherwise (in my opinion) being the most bland class of the game so far, she actually has her resource orb split into two halves. One for hatred (which is replenished rapidly) and one for discipline (which is replenished slowly). Whereas the former empowers her attacks, the latter seems for mainly defensive actions. It’s hard to tell how well this will work, but it certainly is a new take on the situation, much alike how WoW did it. As mentioned, perhaps this will be the prime reason for not including resource potions in the game. After all, when watching the footage those bars seem to refill pretty damn fast. Not sure whether that’s a feature of the beta or they’re merely intended as some kind of global cool down for all your abilities, forcing you to utilize them wisely. I’ll admit this was an issue at times in Diablo 2, when you could basically load up with mana pots and spam your strongest spell to infinity. Corpse explosion comes to mind.

Then there is the issue with the names. There are some talents which share exact names and style with the WoW counterpart, such as the demon hunters’ Fan of Knives. Some people will likely be put off by it, some people won’t. I suppose I belong to the latter population in this regard. It does bring a certain appeal to the WoW-players and anyway Blizzard has been doing this for some time now. I point at the conjured water elemental from the first Warcraft game. Although it didn’t make it into Warcraft 2 (why?) we did get to see it return for both Warcraft 3 and WoW.
The point I’m trying to get across is that you can’t really put too much in a name or a similar ability. Again, take the Fan of Knives. It’s an awesome ability, in looks and concept. I really don’t mind it being in the game.
On the other hand, just to represent the other point of view (which is only appropriate) there is recycling and there is pure laziness. What I really don’t hope for Diablo 3 is to see the majority of skills as mere rip offs from the WoW counterparts. After so many years it’s not unreasonable that we as gamers do expect some kind of creativity from Blizzard. I mean, the leap from the skills in Diablo 1 (in which there was basically no difference between the classes, and those few that were unique were also damn useless) to Diablo 2 was downright MASSIVE.
Would it be possible to see such originality again, without feeling that most of it is just WoW converted into Diablo?
I really hope so.

Monster pack sizeNot really sure whether this is just me or a byproduct of graphical improvement… but has the average size of the monster packs actually decreased a bit? I’m just wondering here, but I seem to recall the occasional masses upon masses of monsters back in Diablo 2, which in multiplayer games could pretty much clock the entire screen. When watching the beta footage now I get the impression that monster packs are much more concentrated and appear in rapidl small groups?
Then again, we did encounter the barbarian mass-butchering the ghouls in the original gameplay trailer, and the final battle featured a pretty sum of summoned skeletons. It’s likely that this is something that just hasn’t been as prevalent in the beta as one could assume. Not really something I’m vastly concerned about.

Diablo 3 is not dark enough!I’ve deliberately been waiting to touch upon this subject, not because I’m without opinion, but because there was still room for development. At this stage of the game, however, it seems more appropriate to comment on.

I truly do understand where this critique is coming from, though. There is an obvious difference from the previous two games, and yet I never thought it to be…Torchlike-bad. I might quickly add that I never disliked Torchlight, but on the graphical side it certainly wasn’t bleak. In fact, the comical, lighthearted colors and animations were something that made the game somehow appealing to me. Of course, I never played Torchlight for more than a few days before getting hopelessly tired of it, so I won’t say the visual aspect kept me around.
The point about Diablo is that I somewhat expect things to be dark and gothic. I know this aspect did gradually decline from the first to the second game. If you went to Hell in Diablo 1, you’d see burning crucifixes, bloody sacrifices, pentagrams and the succubi were naked chicks with huge…tracks of land. Not all of this made it through to the second installment in the game but some of it did turn up.
Now one could wonder whether Diablo 3 will feature much, if any, of those elements. They might’ve been sacrificed on the altar of mass-appeal in the same way the savagery of Warcraft 2 entirely disappeared in the third game.

Judging from what I’ve seen in the beta and videos so far Diablo 3 certainly does feature great amounts of blood from splattered enemies (and to be frank, that’d be the day for me, if they ever removed that) and there are references to the occult themes. The areas, however, are not really you average grey run-of-the-mill milieu you might be accustomed to from the the previous games.
I’m not trying to bring back the whole issue with the ‘ZOMG rainbows in Diablo??!?’ (frankly, that’s a natural result of light and water interacting in that way. Try watching a sprinkler in the sunlight or merely a waterfall). It’s a question of overall mood. And somehow, it might seem like such a little thing to complain about in the big whole. Which is likely why I will still try out the game.

When is Diablo not Diablo anymore?I once read a story that made some impact on me.
It begins with a soldier being severely wounded in the war after which he is sent to hospital and meets his wife. Sadly he contracts a deadly disease from his wounds, that will spread unchecked unless the doctors amputate quickly. They therefore make haste to cut off his legs and replace them with new working ones (this is the future of Deus Ex-standards, mind you). However, it seems like they were too late and then have to replace his arms, which later repeats for his chest and finally for his head. Although they’re able to retain his brain and cognitive profile, the soldier finally sits down with his wife, and notices her breaking down crying. She sobs that he is no longer the same man, even though he theoretically speaks, thinks and rationalizes the same way he always did.
This sparked a heated discussion in my class in which we concluded that the vital point of no return would be the replacement of the head. A few tree huggers said ‘the heart’ but they were obviously ignorant.

In this light I can’t help but wondering, how much can you really change in a continuation before it’s no longer a  'real' continuation? Or, let’s stay specific here, how much should you change in Diablo 3 before it’s nothing more than a brand made to sell more copies?
A lot of people felt that titles such as ‘Dragon Age 2’ or ‘Final Fantasy: The spirits within” were simply stolen titles to otherwise poor products that didn’t offer any of the original hallmarks.
I can’t help but wonder, how much can be changed in Diablo 3, before it’s just a game with a recognizable name? Or, what parts are more than others seen as cardinal traits of the series?

One could argue that with an auction house, varying resources between the classes, potion cool down, the revamping of the talent progression, the more visually appealing environment… have we reached a limit? In itself the respective elements would never cause a moment of doubt about this game, but pooled together I can’t help but at least wonder what kind of game we’re going to end up with. In a curious way, mind you. I’m not arguing that we’re going to see a bad game. But we will likely see a different kind of game than what we’re used to.

I did some asking around between all my fans on Twitter “What would they have to remove from Diablo 3 before it’s no longer Diablo?”.
Some of the mentioned elements were:

- Isometric view
- Randomized drops
- Slaying demon lords
- The fairly bleak atmosphere.
- Deckard Cain.

Personally I’d have to say the following aspects had to appear:
- Diablo (Well, d’uh?)
- Unidentified loot (also known as, hauling tons of stuff to the surface and rummaging through it at Cain) which of course had to be randomized.
- Mass slaughter of Hell’s minions (and the feeling that they are indeed endless)
- A clear indication that said minions are truly evil, besides the fact that they’re ugly (The Butcher’s Room, the destroyed Tristram).
- The subtle, creepy and yet catchy music
- A town, preferably small and bleak (Notice that even though Lut-Gholein is rather big by Diablo standards, it’s still downright moody).
- Isometric perspective
- The feeling of wielding truly great power. But also the necessity of doing so, since your opponents are certainly not to be underestimated. (This is partly what killed Torchlight for me. Even when playing on the higher difficulties the enemies kept feeling like morons lining up for ass-kicking).
- Randomized levels
- Unique classes with uniquely tailored skills.
- Pure DPS-classes differentiated by how they kill stuff (No tanks or healers, Diablo is about killing things).

There is likely more to consider. This seems to be the most important though.
Whether assuring or puzzling, it doesn’t really seem like Blizzard removed too much from my most wanted list.
Diablo certainly seems to be back, although we aren’t really entirely sure whether he really is Diablo. He looks like him, though. I haven’t spent much time investigating the story, but I have figured out it has something to do with this fallen star. More light shall certainly be shed, of that I am sure.
In some of the beta videos the loot seemed to be identified when picked up, but on the other hand there did also seem to be scrolls of identification scattered around. Likely no biggie here.
Regarding the slaughter I imagine this has been taken care of. I somehow hope there will be more mobs than what I’ve so far seen in the videos, but it’s not the end of the world if not. Are they truly evil? They do certainly seem more like standardized fantasy minions to me, and expecting the naked succubus to make a comeback might just be a bit too much to hope for. That being said, I really hope we’ll at least see some of the occult and gloom references experienced in Diablo 2.
Music, I really like the music so far. They’ve even included some sound effects from the previous games. That’s great.
I might have skipped out on my reading but I am not really sure whether we will see more than one town or stick to New Tristram? I would hope for more towns, but it worked well in the first game having just one, so I suppose I won’t get too excited about this topic.
Isometric perspective. Well, check. Same counts for randomization.
Truly great power, I do see it. Especially in regards to the barbarian. In addition, the classes do seem quite different in nature. I still hold a tiny grudge regarding the “Oh boohoo, we couldn’t include the necromancer, but here’s a guy that basically does some of the same stuff”. Seriously.
They all seem very dps-like. I do recall something about the monk, I think, being able to provide some healing of sorts. But then again, so could the paladin in Diablo 2, and I usually saw people trashing it for more DPS. Ah well. We’ll live through it.

All in all I am still quite excited about this game. I suppose it has become more of a cautious excitement the more I’ve seen of the game. But it’s there. We will likely have to wait for some time, still, and I’m frankly fine with that. That tendency has been a lovely trait of Blizzard for as long as I’ve been buying their game, and in the meantime we can always sit down and do some more of those lovely Mephisto-runs, right?


One thing. Will we get to see a cow level?

I know I’M psyched!!


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