Diablo 3

What I think Diablo 3’s problems are.

diablo7 - What I think Diablo 3's problems are.

I'm just gonna make a list. It's long and I have a lot to say on the various topics. This is in no particular order. Yes, some of these have been beaten to death.

Art Style

The art style changed too much. Diablo 1 and 2 had an iconic gritty, semi-realistic style. I'm not a graphic artist and have only a limited art vocabulary to explain why Diablo 1/2 and 3 look so drastically different but a lot of the fan edits don't totally do it for me. All of Blizzard's games (except Diablo) since Warcraft 3 have a similar art style and given that Diablo started out on a different footing, it was at first jarring. Blizzard should know a thing or two about brand identity. I can only assume they changed the art style because it's the same style all their other games have. The most I can say is that coloration and gradients often look very smooth in Blizzard games and Diablo 1 and 2 don't have that.

Character Development

It's easy to see the big ass difference in Diablo 3 when it comes to player decision-making. Diablo 3 automatically assigns stat points on level-up, whereas Diablo 1 and 2 let you pick. Diablo 3 automatically grants you all skills as you level-up. Diablo 1 randomizes skill selection as book drops and you may not get what you want. Diablo 2 asks you to make trade-offs.

You have a large amount of choice when it comes to character development in Diablo 2 and comparatively little, with just item selection, in Diablo 3.

Whether these choices are effectively meaningless has been debated to death. There are clearly bad skill tree choices in Diablo 2 (putting any points at all into Blaze) and there are clearly bad choices to make about stat allocation (putting all points into Strength for a Sorc).

In my opinion, yes, they're meaningless but grant some meaning to your character. Diablo 3 tried to add this back but did so in a way still distinctly Blizzard Not-North: the choices you make with the Paragon system don't matter because 1) you can change the allocation at any time and 2) by level 800 the choices you made on tabs 2-4 don't matter.

In the end, I really can't explain this one. I know it's there, I know for some reason I want it back, I know the reasons most games now probably don't do this anymore (simplification?). And yet it still comes up in discussions in 2018 about why someone might like Diablo 2 more. For some stupid reason, having a hand in your character's growth matters, even if the choices are pointless. Some kind of skill tree is probably more important than stat point allocation, unless Blizzard can come up with some kind of exciting way to make stat points per level matter, like how Divinity: Original Sin makes its allocation points heavily affect your character.

That said, as an side, D:OS has pretty amazing character development and per-level "stat point" allocation that matters. You can change it at any time in D:OS2 but it's semi-permanent because 1) it's a long trek back and 2) those skill books are $$$ until late game. Try this game if you want to see what good stat point allocation can look like.

Permanence

Go play a Final Fantasy game. Square-Enix is notorious for permanent decisions, especially in the later games, that can mess you up or help you out a great deal. I remember making doing some crap with skill crafting in LR:FF13 and cursing and praising Square at the same time. At the same time I was a thinking: "there's no way in hell Blizzard would ever do this." I also thought, yeah, it gives FF13 some kind of charm that a Blizzard idea of this game would be lacking. Permanence is obviously closely tied to character development because while I was making permanent choices in FF13, I was making choices about my character's growth.

There is no permanence in Diablo 3. Again, Diablo 3 has a different point of view when it comes to player decision making: Diablo 1 and 2 let you choose your stat point allocation, and thus lets you screw up a character and Diablo 2 also includes a skill tree, which also lets you screw up a character. Also in both games, your skill use is built as you go (books in D1 and tree in D2) whereas in D3, it's handed to you as you reach 70, with 1-69 treated as a tutorial.

The point of permanence is that, while items in Diablo 2 were maybe half of a build, in Diablo 3 they are the entire build. A bad item is not a permanent decision. A bad character means you need to start from scratch. (Most people will tell you that you can bring a Diablo 2 character from 1 to, say, 60 pretty fast but it still takes time.) You don't need to worry about committing to a decision in Diablo 3 and can keep all the items you find for all builds on one character. Games are all about making decisions you find fun and you if you read a lot of Blizzard's posts, blogs, etc. on making WoW (most relevant Blizz game to Diablo), you can see a lot of their reasoning on decisions has to do with player choice: what's a fun choice and what's not a fun choice. If you take away a decision, you may very well have taken away some of the fun. Not having a decision be permanent? Hm.

Diablo 1's skill system of books means you don't need to worry about correcting mistakes, you just need to wait. Diablo 2's skill system of trees means you need to make permanent trade-offs, giving more weight to the decisions you made and creating meaningful "builds". Diablo 1 had no real "builds" as there were no items that had anything skill-specific and books were easily bought/found. Diablo 2 had builds because of skill trees but items were generic enough, with some specific items having important +skill bonuses. Diablo 3 technically has builds in that your skills are easily changeable but your items are the entire build, which are also changeable. In Diablo 2, your character is the build with items being disposable (at least, you can always move items from one char to another). Once you have an item, you still need to commit to making another character to use it. In Diablo 3, once you have all classes to 70, you can try all builds.

There is no permanence in Diablo 3 because there is no character development and items are easily changed (if not easily found).

Item Use

I'd be lying to all of you beautiful people if I said Diablo was not a game about finding items but if you replay Diablo 1 (go on, do it) and really pay attention to how you interact with items, you aren't dumping 90% of what drops like you are in a typical Diablo 3 rift. Books are useful. Scrolls can be useful. Potions are pretty useful.

Yeah, a fair portion of the items that drop are bad but it's fair to say that if you open up a chest in Diablo 1, it may pop out with something useful. In Diablo 3, that same chest is just going to flood your screen with gray items and some Kulle-Aid. This ties into…

Itemization – Power Balance

Where's your power come from in Diablo 3? If you answered anything other than "my items!" you're a dirty liar.

Where does your power come from in Diablo 1 and 2? Kinda depends on your class. Spellcasters wouldn't be dead in the water without their items. A barbarian might be kind of screwed due to a reliance on weapon damage. Where does your power come from in Divinity: Original Sin? It's kinda split. But back to Diablo 3. It moves all character development off the character and onto the items. I think we can guess the point was to remove permanence, which was seen as a bad thing since, after all, Diablo 2 eventually added respeccing.

The fact that all your character's power rests with the items really just means there's no character development and leveling up isn't as fun because there's really little increase in power, aside from any new skills you get, since skills don't get much stronger on level up compared to getting a new item.

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Diablo 1 and 2 pretty much left stat increases to leveling up. Diablo 3 obviously puts that gain heavily onto items.

Itemization – Power Growth

And with that, how about the items themselves? There's a cap on power growth in Diablo 2. "+2 to All Skills" is the top dog when it comes to damage, and it only has to compete with "+1 to All Skills" or "+X to Mana" or "+I Don't Remember What Diablo 2's Mana Regen Affix Looked Like". None of those are multiplicative and if I remember right, most of the Diablo 2 skills grew almost linearly in damage. (Fireball has a jump at level 9 but grows pretty linearly again all the way to max.) So, Diablo 2 didn't have exponential power growth. Diablo 1 had almost no power growth. That just leaves Diablo 3.

This exponential power growth means the standard Normal, Nightmare, Hell difficulty setup doesn't work because a few items and you can one-shot Diablo. Turns out CHC and CHD scales pretty quickly. Diablo 3 used to only have 4 difficulty levels and now we have 13.

Itemization – Stat Range

That brings me to one of my biggest gripes with Diablo 3's itemization: the ridiculous range of some stats. Some Diablo 2 items had way more affixes on a single item. Diablo 3, mercifully, has less but those that remain have an amazingly large variation. Not only do you need the perfect 3 affixes and socket but you also need the available range to be good. Finding the exact same item with just a bigger number is an upgrade but as some people might agree this is not a fun upgrade to get. Being stuck with a rare level 61 amulet with 100% CHC, 50% CHD, +300 stat and CDR, with the CHC having been enchanted until you find a legendary 70 one with the same properties but +500 stat is just as unfun. And it's so damn common.

I wonder if Blizzard realized this, which gave way to the introduction of ancient primals as a band-aid for the massive stat range, since no drastic changes can (or at least, should) be done to itemization without Diablo 4. And we'll say no more about that.

Itemization – Customization

Runes were fun. They ultimately functioned as a piecemeal way to build an item if you couldn't get that one rare you liked. And because you could upgrade lower level ones, you could progress even if you kept getting Eld.

I feel like Diablo 3 dropped the ball on this. Runes provided some random item customization early on, until the point where you collected enough good ones and could make a runeword item. Dol Eld Hel Ist Tir Vex, baby!

If I remember right, the reason Blizzard gave for their removal in their direct Diablo 2 implementation was that you had to look them up on the Internet: breaking you out of the game was a no-no. Relying on a third party feels weird from a developer and player perspective.

(And yet, some other RPGs heavily rely on collective player discovery, like Final Fantasy or D:OS's crafting system. In D:OS, you could just craft an item, whether you discovered the recipe in-game or not.)

I get it. That makes sense. Needing two monitors just to do crafting is weird. I wonder how many casual players knew Silence even existed. But there has to be some happy medium. After all, Diablo 3 has a gigantic item crafting system that lists all the valid recipes that no one uses and could be bent towards runeword creation.

Gameplay

I lied. I really don't have anything bad to say about this. My business is killing demons and business is good. Combat flows pretty cool.

But there is one big difference in gameplay between all of the games: combat pacing.

  • Diablo 1's combat pacing is a lot slower. You can die pretty easily so there's no jumping around. Every corner you turn should be pretty deliberate. A screen full of monsters is usually over pretty fast, especially as the sorcerer. Even then, you want to split them up as a hail of arrows coming at you hurts. And sometimes, even surviving a string of hits still means you're stunlocked in place and dead anyway. Getting hit in Diablo 1 is bad, much worse than the other two games. I'm playing Diablo 1 kinda as I'm writing this as a sorcerer and when I come upon a pack of monsters, I'm literally spamming Chain Lighting to kill them all as fast as possible, mana conservation be damned because their hits take more out of my mana pool than my spell casts (Mana Shield). Or else I'm running away madly while spamming Guardian and chugging mana potions.
  • Diablo 2 sort of lowers that risk with the ability to regen health in combat by "Life on Hit", and throws a screen full of monsters at you way more often. On the flip side, you die quick if you stop hitting but you have some movement abilities to get out of tight spots.
  • In Diablo 3, if you aren't facing a screen full of monsters then you just aren't having any fun! Aside from being able to take damage like a boss, there's a ton of mitigation options, straight up "*claps* NOPE, I'M OUT" options and abilities that will literally bring you back to life if you die. Getting hit by literally a dozen monsters at once is no challenge, so long as your health pool can survive it. It takes out a lot of the danger and tension — and speeds up combat — monsters have from the earlier games.

Somehow in the transition from Diablo 2 to 3, a screen full of monsters became expected, whereas big packs of monsters was a death sentence in Diablo 1 and a flashing caution sign in Diablo 2. It's really just a way of life in Diablo 3. There's pages of people talking about jumping ship in GRs if they don't have the right density.

That said, let's jump back to Diablo 3's release. Blizzard was totally right when Diablo 3 first came out: people were expecting more monsters than the game ever threw at you at first: Blizzard showed videos that Diablo 2 really didn't often toss that many monsters at you but somehow, it felt like fighting only a few guys at a time in Diablo 3 was boring and slow. I wonder if it's because the risk of dying is a lot lower in Diablo 3 even with that many more monsters, and you can only regen health with globes, since your one health "potion" is on a large cooldown. The end result: combat pacing in Diablo 3 was just so much faster than Diablo 2 and so fighting only a few guys at a time was (and still is) boring. In Diablo 1 and 2, you can go from 1 HP to full in one push, several times a second if you have to but the combat pace was generally slower and so fighting less monsters at once was necessary. (Since when you did fight more, at least as a Sorcerer, they all died pretty quickly. Because if they didn't, you did.)

Music

Matt Uelmen. If you live under a rock, this was the person who made the music for Diablo 1 and 2. If I remember the story right, he pestered Blizzard North with samples until they finally caved.

Now, I don't mean to dump on Russell Brower, the lead composer (I believe) on Diablo 3 and WoW, but I haven't really been a fan of Blizzard music post-Warcraft 3. There were some memorable tracks from Warcraft 2 — looking at you, "Orc 1" and "Orc 2" — but the majority of music from their later games is heavily orchestral ambience, maybe?. This coming from a guy who likes Nightwish. But, just like my art vocabulary, I don't have one for music either. Diablo 1 had a lot of drums, maybe? The "Harem" track from Act 2 in Diablo 2 is something you'd never find in Diablo 3.

Atmosphere

I'm not so much talking about the ambience in the game. It's still generally creepy.

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As I understand it one of Blizzard's core tenants in games now is "the hero!" The character you play has to feel strong and heroic — and by extension, have no faults! — and if I remember right, one of the gameplay pillars of Diablo 3 was something like "lol overpowered" (paraphrasing).

The end result is what we have: we're one of the most powerful creatures in the world and we're just getting started. There's no stopping us. Personally, I'm a fan of the flawed or tragic hero, but that's something Blizzard has never really done for a main character. Kerrigan and Arthas came close but they weren't main characters and at this point I don't think Blizzard would let them be given the focus on the hero archetype. Guys, would it kill you to have a main character with a dark past? Some personal drama/trauma?

Diablo 1 was definitely a classic gothic horror story. It was relatively small in scope, though there were obvious hints of a larger world, and pretty personal. Nearly all of the dialog supports it. One of my absolute favorite parts of Diablo 1 is the "less is more" with respect to story and dialog. This was probably a consequence of the random nature of the game but it left a fair portion to the imagination.

Diablo 2 changed it a bit, mostly because it went more global and tried to have and tell a more cohesive and complete story. Diablo 3, however, just patted the prior games on the head, gave them their dolly and walked headlong into the sunset, pages of dialog fluttering in the wind. Yes, I speak of the Butterfly Princess Maghda.

The other end result is that, whereas in Diablo 1 you're definitely "trapped in there with the monsters" and for the most part so it is in Diablo 2, in Diablo 3 it's definitely "you're trapped in here with me!" Generally speaking, I'm okay with the "you're trapped in here with me". See: Doom 2016. But the gothic horror fantasy introduced with Diablo 1 and sort of carried with Diablo 2 is completely lost in Diablo 3.

That said, this kind of supports the combat pacing.

An Aside on Adria

And, come on, I also speak of the cliche shit y'all pulled with Adria. I don't like to directly dump on people but here it is: you could have done so much better by Adria. Make her something altogether more ancient than Cain. Or a high-level demon from the armies of Hell turned human. Introduce an evil older than Diablo that she knows about but Cain doesn't. Make her the one with the traumatic past. Have her try to divine future events. Could have used her to add foreshadowing. Make her the one to kill Cain, but on accident. This way she can be super helpful for you in the beginning but then powerless as she feels guilty for Cain's death, but then at the end of the game she snaps out of it and sacrifices herself to help you! You could have even pulled a twist: make her out to be evil but turns out she's actually trying to help.

She was the speaks-in-riddles prophet archetype that everyone fears because they don't know much about her in Diablo 1. You could literally have gone anywhere with her story, and instead moved right into "well I was evil from the start, haha, tricked you all!" I don't like this turn for Adria because it feels like the easy way out with her ambiguousness in Diablo 1 and the fact that no one really seemed to like her anyway. Of all the plot points in Diablo 3, this one bugged me by far the most. I'd have milked the shit out of her ambiguousness for dramatic tension with a reveal towards the end of Act 3. (Disclaimer: I'm as much a writer as I am an artist and musician.)

Sets

Eh. I find some of the set builds to be really bland. I'll never really be a fan of builds based on cooldown reduction because until you reach 100% uptime, there's periods of "LOL KILL IT ALL TOP KEK TROLL FACE" and "and I got a rock :(". The current setup of sets means you really have to choose one of the sets that most fits your playstyle and hope it's balanced well with the ones you don't like but are stronger. That ties into…

Power Growth Curve

Because of the limitless and exponential power growth in Diablo 3, there's no real point at which "this much power is enough" like Diablo 1 and 2.

Lack of Game-Over

I'll keep this short. Hear me out: Diablo 1 you can actually "finish" on a character. At some point, you're powerful enough in Hell mode to say "I can breeze through". The same can roughly be said of Diablo 2. Diablo 3, not so much. Once you beat GR 203, move on to GR 202! It's so much more fun than GR 201!

In all the complaints of Diablo 2, I rarely ever hear someone say "this game needs a fourth difficulty". Due to permanence and character development, playing Diablo 2 doesn't just mean playing one character forever, it means trying out different characters or builds. The lack of fulfillment I get eventually from GRs is that moving from GR5 to GR6 is the same as moving from GR505 to GR506: it's just numbers. Sure, ancient and primal items start to drop but they're exceedingly rare and no new gameplay is opened up around them.

Closing Thoughts

If I did a post on what Diablo 3 did right, it'd be the obvious things: gameplay, audio, art, balance. "Bi*ch, you just said those were problems!" you cry. Yep.

Just because the art direction took a turn I didn't expect doesn't mean that what we have isn't any good. It's just what Blizzard's artists do, and regardless of the fact that it's "not Diablo 2", it still looks fantastic.

I've never had any complaints about Blizzard's sound effects.

Contrary to popular opinion, WoW is a hard game to balance and Diablo 3 arguably has as many knobs to turn given the class count, ability count and item count.

Gameplay has been one of Blizzard's strengths, or they wouldn't be making games for 27 years. If I remember right, they basically studied Diablo 2 during Diablo 3's development but I think they missed the mark on one thing: Diablo 1 and 2 took after Roguelike games. Diablo 3 seems to have abandoned that ethos.

For a way more directed look at Diablo 2's design, here's a website/book/IDKwtf someone made: http://thegamedesignforum.com/features/RD_D2_1.html

What should Diablo 4 be? I think it should address some of the obvious shortcomings: the lack of no game-over, some of the itemization issues, the insane power creep and character development. I think it's a damn shame they never got to work on a second Diablo 3 expansion because I think they could have addressed a ton of the gameplay issues, even if it really takes a new title to fundamentally address them (such as the CHC/CHD scaling problem).

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