Saturday, June 2, 2012

Diablo 3 - Back from Sanctuary


Once again it certainly has been some time since I last had the chance to bring you any updates from the life of the geek.  As some of you might have noticed, the updates suddenly stopped popping in around the 15th of May and have been in hibernation ever since. So yes, I’ve been caught in Sanctuary for the last month.
We’re doing quite well there at the time being. I originally rolled up a Witch Doctor as this was my beloved child pretty much from the very first intro-video Blizzard made. As we slowly  progressed, some friends and I, I didn’t approve much for his play style, especially that the use of minions was disapproved the further I got into the game. My poor zombie dogs were obliterated and I kept to my towering zombie-hulk despite of what everyone said. Eventually, after spending a certain amount of gold on him, I decided to reroll a barbarian. Some people would laugh at me for this, pointing out their low viability on later difficulties if you weren’t ready to sacrifice millions of gold on the gear. But I’m a gear-whore, this didn’t discourage me.

At this time of writing we’re part of the 1.9% of players who’ve progressed into Inferno mode and as you’ve likely heard things really beef it up in there. Inferno was intended to be hard, borderline masochism. When we entered Hell we got our asses handed to us initially because we didn’t care much for gear. But we quickly upgraded an caught on the pace. The same story more or less repeats itself now, albeit in a MUCH slower pace.

We’re teaming two barbarians and two wizards. A lot of people are pointing out the unhealthy scaling going on in inferno, discouraging you from actually bringing friends in there. There is a certain element of truth to this statement. I don’t have any specific numbers, but gathered we’re talking something around +110% health and +15% damage per extra player entering the game, to each mob. That’s some numbers. Do feel free to correct me if I’m wrong.


At the time of writing we’re holding up with four players, actually quite smoothly. Both me and my friend play tanking barbarians and I’ve recently hit the 40k hp marker with about 700+ in all resistances and 6000+ armor. With my String of Ears and around 700 life steal I do manage to keep myself floating through most elites and even the butcher has a hard time killing me. Still, I can’t help the feeling that we’re somehow caught in limbo between act 1 (which we seem to soon overgear) and 2 (which simply smashes us whenever an elite shows up…). I’m about to soon try out soloing some act 2, but I’m pretty certain my stats still aren’t good enough for it.


We’re having a great time running act 1 together and hanging out (which is frankly what Diablo should be all about; smashing monsters with your friends!). I do wonder, however, whenever this will become tedious or even worse, force us to play separate games in order to stand a chance? Plenty of people on the WoW-forums (which, I admit, is far from the best place to gather constructive criticism) point out the problem once they hit act 2-3 and would rather play alone. If this is indeed the case, I truly do see a problem here. I rarely whine about difficulties and we could always have a go at Hell again, of course. But we’ve enjoyed the challenge of act 1 which feels just about right for us. But I never think I’ve seen a game punish people for playing together?

 Of course this COULD be a way to say that everyone has to pull his weight; after all – free loaders are never encouraged, and just having one of them with +110% health to all mobs is serious business. In this regard there are several factors, such as not everyone having the time or gear or luck to have gear, or the fact that melee-classes (monk+barbarians) really need a LOT more preparation before going into Inferno than, say, wizards and demon hunters. I don’t know the answer here; I’ve felt it and for sure I’m not the one killing much in Inferno when we four-player it. I get in the way, I can take a severe beating from many mobs and allow our wizards to blast them to pieces and in solo games I truck along nicely, rarely dying. But in four player-games, I don’t kill much at all. Alternatively is getting a great 2-hander, which sacrifices much needed defense usually needed for melee contact.

The servers have been a nightmare. I’m not going into the rights or wrongs or whatever of this, just say that it pisses me off. I have great sympathy for those not able to play the game or had to wait days before they could get on. I really do, and it perplexes me that a game as Blizzard, with so many years of MMO/online experience, can drop the ball so severely. Still, I do believe I’m one of the lucky ones in this regard.

I will, however, rate Diablo 3 a full 8/10 experience as it has kept me captivated for soon three weeks and no other game has been granted time ever since. My minor issues with it are certainly there, including the co-op scaling issue. Lots of people have hated on the loot-system and I will agree it seems flawed at the moment. Blue items and particularly yellow-rare items can easily equal or surpass unique’s (which are now known as ‘Legendaries’). Diablo 2 fans likely remember the best in slot unique items that were the dream of every class, the end all-be all drops. Of course these had internal variations as the stats were randomly determined, but you were pretty sure that if you were a summon-mancer, Arm of King Leoric was usually never a bad deal. 


This feeling of uniqueness is severely diminished in Diablo 3 and I’m sad to see it, even though I DO understand the point they’re trying to make. It’s a step away from the WoW-notion that best in slot items shouldn’t exist and just because you have a legendary it isn’t the best you can get. The thing is, some (if not, quite a lot) of said legendaries, are downright terrible. Whereas some, such as weapons, can have good stat bonuses, the average damage on the weapon is simply too low compared to, say, a blue inferno item with LOTS of extra damage. And at this time in the game, said weapon can be picked up from the auction house for a modest sum of gold. Several of the ‘interesting’ affixes from Diablo 2 such as the ‘can not be frozen’ or the casting of unusual spells or abilities outside your class-domain, well; they’re gone. It’s all RNG now. Some people will love this, some won’t.


The problem as I see it, is that there will ALWAYS be best in slot; things most players desire. Blizzard has made sure that these have become much harder to get, especially since so much is randomly generated now, and therefore the time invested getting them is dramatically increased. If you ever get it at all. Of course you always have the auction house, which does indeed seem to be the central crux of the game as such. When I leveled my barbarian and approached the later stages of Hell, I have to bluntly admit I spent millions on the auction house preparing for Inferno. Even then, I’ve likely spent 3 millions in addition to get the gear needed. Some of it even from Act 3 and 4 from Inferno. Alternatively, you would be stuck on Hell grinding for a whole long time. At the time of writing, the Gold AH is the sole supplier, with real money AH entering sometime this summer. The prices on the good stuff and the few great legendaries are downright through the roof, up to 25 million gold for a single item. Only time will tell whether the advent of cold cash-shopping will bring this market to a crash, or even turn it into a barren wasteland.

There is no doubt that Blizzard has intended for the AH to be an important part of the game, especially in regards to Inferno. Perhaps too big a part of the game, one could wonder. As there is no doubt in my mind that Inferno will eventually get nerfed in difficulty, we might see the RMAH have golden days for quite some time. Grinding 25 million gold in game takes time and the people that seem to make a smashing turnover at the AH are those flipping items or being able to sell drops from the later Inferno acts. For me there has been little use in selling all but a very few items dropped from Hell and Inferno act 1, meaning you’d do yourself a favor to learn to play the AH or simply hog your gold and wait for prizes to crash.
The gold-selling sites are likely seeing a good era as well, offering gold in million-packs for hundreds of dollars. At this time in the game, the reasonable solution seems to involve a deep breath and patience for times to grow more reasonable. In the end, it all depends on your patience and whether you support the purchase of items, ofc.

I’m not really a huge fan of the story, I’ll have to admit. There were some really good ideas initially and while it did catch up during the first act and managed to add in some more in the second, it felt like all the air left the balloon in the third and fourth act. Also, the cinematics are all well and good, but they are certainly not the epic narrative masterpieces we saw of Marius and his journey from Diablo 2. In a sense, this seems like a waste in a Blizzard game. Also, the villains fall quite flat, ranging from stereotypical to boring to downright comical and pathetic, such as a purple fairy in a dress, looking like she belongs in a Disney Movie instead.
The levels are far from as mazy as we grew used to in the previous two games. Sometimes they are almost one long line doing some twists and turns and at other times they can feel a bit longer. You get to enjoy much of the scenery, of course, which is downright beautiful, but you can’t help muttering “It’s only a model…” at times. Some of them CAN take time, but we’re a long way from Kurast Sewer.


But all in all I’ve come to forgive Diablo 3 for its faults as it’s a good and solid game, deepdown. It’s a tried formula that works and doesn’t really try to be anything else. We, as fans, have to realize that it isn’t Diablo 2, for good and ill, and from there on decide whether we can live with that or not. In a recent article Blizzard stated that they would look into the legendary-issue and some of the Inferno difficulty. This sounds promising in my ears. We can hope for an expansion later on, which will bring back and perhaps reintroduce some of the elements the hardcore Diablo 2-fans yearn for (yours truly included) such a rune-words and bigger/more detailed levels.

If you’re on the fence regarding this game, there will be a trial-edition from what I’ve understood. It’s definitely worth to give it a go and see whether you like it. I have no doubt that Diablo 3 will hold a healthy amount of affection from my side in the times to come!
Now; drop that friggin Stormshield!

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