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2012/05/23

On Diablo 3

The last two weeks have been a blur for me. Conference, funeral, lots going on at the office, and Diablo 3's release. I'm itching to get back to Flare development soon, but taking a break to enjoy some D3 is nice.

Here are my thoughts on Diablo 3.

Blizzard still has a way of polishing games that is second to none. What I mean is that the game feels professional and finished. There are tiny interface and feedback tricks that action RPGs (and many other games) will be copying for years.

I'm a bit surprised at how actiony the game feels. Maybe I'm not remembering D2 well, but everything here feels over the top. The game certainly makes you feel like a badass that can mow down hordes of enemies (even rewarding instant bonuses for Massacres of groups of enemies). It's a long way from the lonely wicked survival feeling that Diablo 1 had.

The sounds in D3 are excellent. Even regular weapon swipes can't be just a swooshing sound; it has this sort of "metal-on-metal" slicing sound that doesn't make sense but feels awesome.

Most of the models are incredibly low poly. It's really surprising. It seems more of the rendering (time) budget is spent on mist/lights/particles instead, and poly count isn't the main bottleneck. Kind of interesting really. I think D3's art style is fine (I enjoy the painterly feel of some areas) but they certainly could have pushed more polys if they wanted. It makes the game feel a bit dated. That didn't stop Diablo 2 at the time though.

I'm mixed on the art direction. Some of the higher end weapons/armor look a bit gaudy. But I thoroughly enjoy all of the environments I've seen so far. Even the "mundane" dungeon areas that others might find boring. I found myself taking note of all the tiny features of each tile set. I really liked three areas of Act II: the oasis, the sandy dungeons, and the ... sewers? Each had interesting layers of features that showed some great attention to detail. I'm blown away that some really nice art was only used in very small segments.

I find the number of stats overwhelming. Will anyone actually care about the range for picking up gold and health? Does the game really need both % lifesteal and N lifesteal?

I really dig the action bar. Essentially I was slotting four cooldown abilities of various lengths, a main attack that built up my power, and a secondary attack that spent power. I think that's the way to go for designing powers: 2-3 main powers that juggle your resource levels and 3-5 cooldown abilities for varying occasions.

I like the cooldown on potions. I find the health globes intriguing. Those features definitely help to normalize the balance of difficulty (can't just chain chug potions).

The main story is very pedestrian. There's far too much dialog stating the obvious. It causes theses Prime Evils to really feel one dimensional. E.g. the Demon Lord of Lies did a poor job of manipulating anyone in the game, much less me as a player. The companion/vendor stories are much more interesting so far.

The game's fun. I can't stop thinking about it. Something about solid action RPG gameplay gets me, even when I know I'm obviously in a Skinner box.

It's disappointing that there is no offline single player. I always played Diablo 1 and 2 single player. So far I have no interest in the Auction House nor in coop play. Hell, I'm constantly tempted to dismiss my companion so I can maybe feel that lonely dread that came from Diablo 1. I think a real money auction house is weird.

It makes me feel that Flare has a niche though, providing a solid DRM-free single player experience for Action RPG fans. Blizzard is definitely set the polish bar pretty high though, and it's intimidating to think that people will be comparing their Flare experience to the juggernaut that is D3.