Tobold's Blog
Monday, September 12, 2011
Diablo III beta thoughts

I'd like to start this with a public service announcement: Diablo III beta invite phishing mails are the scam flavor of the month. Please be careful! Don't send your account data to anyone by e-mail or click on a link in an e-mail promising you Diablo III beta access. In fact the REAL Diablo III beta invite mails do not contain a link! They simply tell you how to go to your account status and download the beta client from there. Added bonus: You don't need the e-mail. If you got an invite and accidentally deleted it or it got eaten by your spam filter, you only need to visit to get the client, and log on using you account. Curiously the current Diablo III beta client doesn't use the authenticator, even if your account does.

So where am I in the beta? I'm on my fourth play through. The beta is rather short, just a couple of hours until the final boss and a message that you have beaten the beta. I played through that twice with my first character, the barbarian. First time got me to level 9, second time to 11. There doesn't appear to be a hard level cap in the beta, but there are obviously diminishing returns by playing through the low level content repeatedly. Nevertheless I like the concept that you can at any time jump back to a previous stage, keeping your character and only losing story progress voluntarily.

The barbarian is a solid melee character, and I especially liked his leap attack which can also be used to overcome some obstacles or jump *out* of combat instead of into. The second character I played was the monk, and in many ways that one was even more fun to play as melee character as the barbarian. The monk is a bit more difficult as he uses active healing compared to the barbarian's passive healing abilities. But the monk clearly has advantages with his melee attacks having a better range and hitting several enemies. The barbarian is probably better against hard-to-kill boss mobs, but most of the time you are dealing with large amounts of low-level mobs, and the monk dispatches these with less clicks than the barbarian.

My fourth play through with the third character is with a witch doctor. Frankly, I don't like that character. I've never been a fan of the indirect combat of pet classes. Furthermore in Diablo III you not only attack a lot of monsters, but also plenty of barrels and other containers. And you do that by launching your standard attack with your left mouse button on the barrel. It isn't as if that doesn't work if your standard attack is a haunting curse or throwing poisonous toads, but opening a barrel that way feels very silly. Another disadvantage I see with the ranged classes is that your main healing comes from walking through the health globes dropped by enemies you kill. That works very well in melee, but for a ranged character the health globes drop far from where he is standing. With the witch doctor the health globes mostly drop wherever your zombie dogs decided to attack, and you don't really have much control over that. I'll have to play the other two ranged classes to see if that works out better for them.

Betas in general often evoke the old discussion about what they are good for, with one side claiming they are for play testing, the other side seeing them as a marketing tool. The Diablo III beta is clearly on the marketing side of things. You only get to test a short part of the game, encouraging you to buy it to see more. I consider that valid, unless you run into a case like Age of Conan where the content *after* the part you could see in the beta was completely different from the part the beta showed. I don't think there is much risk of that in Diablo III. On the game testing side I honestly wouldn't know what I could "test", the game is already extremely polished. I could imagine Blizzard testing server capacity when the beta goes public, but other than that there is not much of a job for a potential beta bug tester.

Is the game any good? More and more I find that this question very much depends on what you expect. For example the other game I tried this weekend was Adventure World, a new Facebook game from Zynga. Which is brilliant *compared to expectations*, that is "for a Facebook game". Diablo III is undoubtedly much better than most other similar games, but then expectations are also much higher. It is very close to the best you can get out of an action RPG game with random dungeons. But it still suffers all the inherent disadvantages of an action RPG game with random dungeons: The deja vu of walking through the same building block of the random dungeon several times; the endless clicking on stuff; the ups and downs of random loot. If you loved the previous versions, you'll love Diablo III. If you played through to many Diablo clones in the last decade, Diablo III isn't going to offer you a fundamentally different experience. Just a more polished and cooler version of the same.

My biggest surprise in the beta was how closely integrated your different characters are. They not only share a bank, but also their gold, and even their crafting skills. Due to the crafting and the sharing of random loot, playing Diablo III with several alts is quite an attractive option. You *do* play through the same story several times if you have alts, but you'll find a lot of pages of training that way, which are the "skill increases" of Diablo III crafting. I do like the crafting system, where you disassemble unused items into essences and reassemble those into the items you want.

Although the auction house isn't switched on in the beta, the crafting and exchanging items between alts made it clear to me that the discussion of the auction house has been focusing on the wrong problem. Everybody was only discussing money, and gold farmers, and Blizzard's share in that. But the more fundamental issue here might be difficulty level. Now I can't say much about the final difficulty level of Diablo III based on the beta, which is said to be rigged towards even easier, and only offers the lowest difficulty level of "normal" and the lowest levels anyway. But I noticed the huge difference just twinking your alts with crafted and previously collected gear makes, and can only imagine how much worse that gets if you buy the really good stuff from the auction house. As far as I've read, you need to play through each difficulty level to unlock the next one, and then the higher difficulty levels hand out better loot, which make the game easier again. That is already a strange cycle for a single player with a single character. But if you add the possibility of characters on normal difficulty level wearing gear collected at "inferno" difficulty, you risk making the experience completely trivial. I can already hear the arguments of people claiming they need to farm gold to buy stuff from the auction house to enable their alts to play through the lower difficulties faster and get to the end game "where the real fun is". That fallacy of doing stuff you don't enjoy to make a large part of a game too trivial to enjoy, in the hope of getting faster to more fun at the end is already doing great harm to World of Warcraft. I'd hate to see that repeated in Diablo III.

The hard level cap is 13.
I think you should stop wasting time with blogposts and go play through the beta on a monk :P
Been there, done that, @Spinks.
I don't think that the AH has anything to do with alts. Everyone could twink out his alts from his main.

I think an average player will be unable to reasonably progress in the higher level with his main, using the gear he got in the previous levels.

So he will buy gear (that drops at higher level content than he is), sold by more progressed players who could beat that content.

That's why the real money auction house come to place. The lowbie has no gold to buy high level gear, so he pays with real money.

I start to like this game.
I think an average player will be unable to reasonably progress in the higher level with his main, using the gear he got in the previous levels.

Based on the design philosophy of World of Warcraft, I believe that the average player (and even the players down to 2 sigma below average, thus over 95% of all players) will be able to finish Diablo III on normal difficulty.

In a game which HAS 4 difficulty levels, it would be extremely strange if the lowest one wouldn't be accessible to just about anybody who knows how to click with a mouse.

I'm not sure that those having difficulty to play through Diablo III at a higher difficulty rating would actually be both interested and willing to pay for auction house items which effectively lower the difficulty back down to "normal".
The pressure to twink out low-level characters is exactly what makes Blizzard's decision to charge a flat fee for listing and buying item from the RMAH so cunning. By encouraging turn-over of low-cost, medium rarity items rather than high-cost, exceptionally rare items they dodge claims of rigging the system.

That said, Inferno-difficulty drops are unlikely to be a major issue when it comes to twinking due to the level requirement on that quality of item. Gaining a large wardrobe of twink items through all difficulties, from lvl 5-75, will be necessary to fully trivialise the levelling process to Inferno. More interesting will no-doubt be farming bosses on the Medium difficulty tier for a wide selection of common but useful rares and uniques (not unlike D2's Mephesto runs).

Bots etc. will probably keep prices and gold value low enough that relatively few will make any money from RMAH (except potentially through arbitrage), but it'll certainly skew the gameplay away from gaining items yourself and more into the trap of microtransactions to buy power in a game centred around items for success.
I think I wasn't clear. I don't question that average players will be able to complete normal difficulty without problems.

However there will be significant social pressure on the player to keep "progressing" on higher difficulties, and don't be a "noob" who just did it in normal.

On higher difficulty, average players will be unable to perform and will buy gear from higher content.

Simply speaking: average players will complete inferno difficulty in nightmare gear.
To be fair, this was how Diablo2 worked as well. Many players either didn't complete Normal or completed it and walked away. But for those who went to Nightmare and Hell mode, what they got was a game that played quite differently and was equally fun if you didn't mind dying a lot.

Nightmare and beyond was HEAVY into items. In fact you could not advance beyond a certain point without better items, and hence was born the item farming genre that is Diablo.

Another aspect was how you put skill points into your character. It didn't make too much difference in Normal but it sure made a difference in Nightmare/Hell. But since we don't have skillpoints anymore, they removed that roadblock for the more casual player.

PS. Tobold, did you get to try the Wizard class? I'd really like to hear your opinions.
Busy week, I plan to play the wizard and demon hunter next weekend.

I don't believe in the social pressure to finish Diablo III on a higher difficulty level than normal. This is not a MMORPG, nobody sees what you are playing. Playing through the same game at harder difficulty does not have the same attraction as being allowed to play a second, completely separate and harder game, as the current MMORPG raid endgame offers.

With a lack of "keeping up with the Joneses" effect, being only able to beat harder difficulties with the help of items from the AH means you are only lying to yourself about how leet you are. Who is going to pay real money for that?
@ Emlyn

"Nightmare and beyond was HEAVY into items. In fact you could not advance beyond a certain point without better items*, and hence was born the item farming genre that is Diablo."

*If you were melee ;)

@ Tobold

I imagine that yet to come is an announcement of some sort of social hook for the Game, possibly through Co-op only modes of gameplay or PvP. Imagine if there was a DotA mode with skins purchasable for real money *or* credits from killing Inferno bosses, how's that for inducement?
I think there will be an armory. But even without that, your "friends" on real ID will see you!
Some Clan/Guilds/Parties may require you to have the achievement before they invite you.

I expect some groups will recruit based on their difficultly. So there will be guilds that focus just on a certain difficultly level.

Also, you will have "buyers," people that will buy all of certain rare items for Gold and relist them on the RM AH. If when players look up builds online, they can only complete them with certain items, it will be easy for AH players to keep them off the Gold AH and only on the RM AH.

At that point you either go post on a form or use chat to try to find a trade, or use RM for the convenince of not have to keep looking around.

So, yeah I expect bots to be running searching the gold AH 24/7 for limited items, and grabbing them seconds after they are listed.
I've really been looking forward to this topic! Your review of the beta has really made me look forward to the game even more. I realize this comment has pretty little content in it compared to the stuff I usually write, but consider it my one fanboy (what a horrid word) comment. I'm just excited about the game!

At any rate, I look forward to hearing about the other two classes (There are only five, yes?). I'd also like to hear even more about character progression than just the "no talent trees" post you wrote, though I'm not sure if there is any more beyond that.

How does it compare to D2? How similar or different is it? With WoW? With a variety of other games that you may or may not have played (Torchlight, Darkspore, Diablo Clone N).

Of course, I'm sure you'll say what you want as you need, but like I said, you'll just have to forgive this one comment.
I'm hoping that they adapt a strategy of "you can't use these items until you have beaten this difficulty."

Either way, as Gevlon said, I'm really starting to like this game's economy.
Has the beta made your mind up about buying the final release?
I sure am going to buy the release version!
I haven't played Diablo 2 in awhile and I only played D3 at Blizzcon... but don't items have lvl requirements? I know D1 had stat requirements.
According to

"Hardcore characters are a breed apart. With the challenges and rigors of that play style in mind, it's important to note that Hardcore characters on a Diablo III account will share exclusive access to a shared stash (as well as an auction house and gold pool) that's completely separate from the one used by Normal characters. Players will still be able trade items between their Hardcore characters, but they won't be able to give Normal characters access to anything that's only available on Hardcore Mode, or vice versa."
I found Diablo 3 to be a waste of money and hard drive space, there are far better cheaper diablo like games out there with skills, random dungeons and entertaining content. This was a big Fail for blizzard, my five year old played this game and did just as well as an adult. They just took another game and dumbed it down for the kiddies. Skyrim for the win.
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