Tobold's Blog
Monday, May 21, 2012
Beyond reviews?

On Metacritic Diablo III has a relatively high score from professional critics, and a rather low score from user reviews. I would say that both of these scores aren't representative of anything, and the truth lies somewhere in the middle. Furthermore I wonder if Diablo III isn't already beyond reviews, being such a cultural phenomenon that classic game reviews can't possibly say anything about it. The user review score of Diablo III is clearly pulled down by people protesting against DRM and server instabilities. But the professional review scores aren't any more accurate: They are being lifted up by this being Blizzard, and a decade of waiting for next Diablo.

Just perform a little thought experiment. What kind of review score would Diablo III have gotten if it had been a game with a different name from a less known company? Let's call the game "Hack'n'Slay" and review it: Hack'n'Slay is a game which is very linear, and very repetitive. Storytelling is weak, and the player avatar's and NPC's voice acting is wooden and stereotype. Combat of Hack'n'Slay is hampered by the very limited controls: The same mouse button does your main attack, movement, and picking up loot, leading to you picking up loot in combat or having difficulties to reach health globes when mobs are still around. 90% of combat consists of finding the right balance between left-clicking and right-clicking. There are only 4 hotkeys, and while they launch important abilities, the cooldowns are long compared to the length of a combat. Crafting in Hack'n'Slay is expensive and boring. And the auction house of Hack'n'Slay makes both crafting and gear collection somewhat redundant. Graphics of Hack'n'Slay are nothing to write home about, the fixed camera angle gives a very dated appearance, and the game could sure use a good zoom function. What sort of review score would you give to Hack'n'Slay? Maybe 70 out of 100?

But as soon as you don't call that game Hack'n'Slay but rather Diablo III, the review score goes up by 20 points. Everybody will explain you that all the features that you'd describe as "outdated" for Hack'n'Slay are "classic" for Diablo III. Hey, this is Diablo, you can't have in that! This is a game many people have been waiting for for a decade, and anything revolutionary or innovative would have been just as likely to anger the fans as to delight anyone. The point of reference for judging Diablo III is a game that is over a decade old, not any modern game. In fact Torchlight II will sell less copies than Diablo III even if it turns out to be a better game.

Yes, branding has value. News at 11?

On the one hand, I both understand and appreciate the point you are making. Objectively, a game's quality shouldn't change by writing a different name on the box.

On the other hand, there are all sorts of studies out there demonstrating that people believe $90 wine tastes better than $10 wine despite both samples coming from the same bottle. So, in a bizarre way, Blizzard is actually doing everyone a favor: without their name on the box, your actual play experience would be diminished.

Something to worry/think about.
I would argue that if it was from a smaller company (and without the always-on internet DRM which is contentious and affects gameplay but also distracts people from the actual game design), D3 would probably have generally gotten better scores because people would be more focussed on the class design, mechanics, and addictive gameplay.

Yes there are negatives, but people's expectations for a Blizzard/Diablo game are through the roof also.
Diablo III.

The game I was given with my annual pass (because I wanted beta access to a different game I already intended to play).

The game I had in beta that the only time I used was to accept a battle tag request.

I am installing it so again - I can accept battle tag requests.

I play single player games when I have no internet connections.

So ... neither MMO nor network free. mmm
And despite the massive power of the Blizzard brand, Torchlight's score was only five points lower.
Why invent Hack N Slay?

Torchlight 1 fits the bill of "a game with a different name from a less known company".

All of the critcisms levelled in your second paragraph are true - in fact T1 had almost no story, fairly plain graphics and 3 basic classes.

The critics felt it was fun enough to justify an aggrogate score of 83%.

Is D3 4% more fun than Torchlight 1?
What Azuriel said.

The "value added" by branding is not notional or imaginary.

As economists now acknowledge, buying decisions are not rational.
Lucky for me, I'm in a minority of people who don't really give a damn about professional critics and brand names. not anymore. I don't own diablo 3 and would probably never own it. friends who do, tell me that its an 8 hour game with very little replay-ability.

I watched all the cinematics on youtube and the storytelling has diminished in quality significantly. the always having to be online is the nail in diablo's figurative coffin. I can still pick up diablo 2 (or Torchlight 1 - that I'm in fact playing again) and play it whenever I feel like. Steam you say? perpetual offline mode, I say. already people are having trouble accessing their game.

honestly, diablo feels like guild wars without the amount of content.

its a sad fact that people are blinded by labels. as a creative professional I encounter that fact daily when my work is given less value just because I'm not well known. the only thing I can do personally is support the games that deserve support on their own merit and get my friends interested in them as well. one person and one day at a time.

P.S. @ Azuriel, I would actually say that its the opposite. Blizzard's, Diablo name on the box actually diminishes people experience because of that name alone, because their expectations and therefore disappointment is much bigger. Take Mass Effect 3 for instance. if it were any other game, people would rave about it and would barely pay attention to its flaws. but BECAUSE its Mass Effect and Bioware its judged much harsher.
It depends what you call 'rational'. Aren't choices that we call 'rational' simply the choices that lead to results that are most in concordance with our irrational desires?

In the branded analgesics example linked by Azuriel, the branded goods actually did work better - so there was nothing irrational about the choice.
Me, I just like to play games I like. Regardless of whether it's that Blizzard veneer or if it is "genuine" quality.

As it happens, I am thoroughly enjoying Diablo III. For me, it is more than 5% better now than Torchlight was in its time, but mileage obviously varies here.

One thing that's interesting here is that I find that I don't particularly mind the downtime issues that Blizzard have been having. From what I hear, the game is relatively short so I am sure that I will have enough time to play it through sooner or later anyway.

I appreciate that this is probably an all too defeatist attitude to take, but I stand charmed by the game. What can I say?
Everybody will explain you that all the features that you'd describe as "outdated" for Hack'n'Slay are "classic" for Diablo III.

But those features are being described as "classic" in Torchlight 2 and Path of Exile as well. I don't see any reviewers describing them as "outdated" in any hack & slay ARPG.
You are clearly more biased than the reviewers you're judging, it's just that you lean the other way.

I've told you in a previous comment that the way you over-simplify your ideas makes them always seem right at a first glance, but usually crumble if someone actually places thought into analyzing them.

Anyway, what I can say about the game is that it is the most entertaining and fun game I've played in the last 4,5 years. Heck, I haven't even played D1 and stopped playing D2 in Act 3, so I can't really be called a fan of the genre. But D3 really has me hooked.

As for your "review", I'm not gonna bother responding to it because most claims there are so ignorant and false they don't really deserve a reply.

Your friends are either misinformed or are lying to you.

Counting out all the afking and the times I repeated a zone, it took me 35 hours to finish my first run through normal. 35 hours is a more than decent amount for any game right now.

And about the replay-ability factor, again, it is by far the biggest of all games I've played. I mean, those 35 hours only got me to level 32. I still have tons of skills and runes to unlock, crafting to do and the real combat is just starting.

As an example, in normal, the Elite mobs you meet usually have only one special ability (affix) and these abilities are limited to only a few, like teleporting, waller, mortar, vortex, etc.

In nightmare, hell, inferno the elite mobs can have up to 5 affixes, not to mention that there are tens of new abilities introduced.

So you get to meet mobs that are "Jailer mortar arcane plague extra health". So basically he puts you in a jail from time to time, while he throws bombs at you and launches arcane laser beams and leaves pools of poison on the ground and is extra hard to kill. And this is a conservative example, there are far more crazier combinations out there and you never know what you'll meet, since everything is always random.
What you describe Tobold is what I call the "curse of the smart man".

One one hand you have to smart enough to see through the type of illusions that you describe. On the other hand what good does that really do.

I wonder wouldn't it actually be much better and lead to more happiness one didn't see through it and, through the sheer power of conviction ... oooooh Diablo 3 ... enjoyed the game more.

This is why placebos work, and frankly I wish I could enjoy Diablo 3. Alas I have very similar opinion to yours, the game feels dated, simplistic and kind of boring. Okay so I knew that from the demo so at least I did not buy it.
@Mynsc: Please watch your language, and respect the opinions of others. You are clearly a fan of Diablo 3, and that is nice for you. But that doesn't make negative opinions of other people on that game wrong, or your opinions the absolute truth.

Different people play the same game differently. There will be hundreds of thousands of people who play through Diablo 3 exactly once, or less. Some people play games for the story, others have less patience for repeating content. Just because YOU find pleasure in playing the game through several times at increasing difficulty doesn't mean that everybody has to agree with you on the replayability, length, and appropriateness of the difficulty of Diablo 3.

Your opinions on Diablo 3 would be just as valid, or even more valid, if you stopped treating everybody who has a different opinion as an idiot.

I consider Diablo 3 an awesome game, that's true. Even so, I do have the ability to accept bad reviews of it or general critique. Hell, I can already name several problems I have with it: I hate the skill selection menu, I hate that the AH is not accessible from inside the game, I hate that corpse running is a possibility and that mob packs don't reset after you die and I'm definitely not a fan of the first week lag we've had and still persists.

My aggressive comment was not directed at you in particular but at the extremely weak "review" you did of the game, in your second paragraph.

Your readers listen to you and many have not played D3 yet (or ever will), so they'll believe what you say. And frankly 90% of what you said in that paragraph is not true and is creating a completely false image of the game.

The controls are extremely simple to learn and I really have not encountered any of the problems you mention. Just so you know, there is a move command that makes your character move no matter if you click on a mob or anything else. Just like there is one (SHIFT) to hold and attack. You can also hold left click to move, if that's your preference.

The 4 extra slots can be configured with any abilities and the cooldown problem you mention is absolutely false. There are a few skills with cooldowns, but the majority rely on the availability of your class resource (mana). You can even place ones that generate mana there, that you can spam however much you want.

For example, on my demon hunter, all 6 six skills (left click + right click + 4 hotkeys) have no cooldown..

And combat is also a lot about positioning. I wouldn't survive for 1 minute in hell if I wouldn't know how to place my traps, evade fireballs and so on..

Crafting is only expensive at start. It's true that the cost of maxing Blacksmithing is high (650k I believe), but that comes quite easy if you play Hell + Inferno. The items are also quite useful, at any level.

About the graphics... have you actually played the game beyond Skeleton King? The backgrounds are absolutely amazing and the levels are the most dungeony I've ever played. Sure, D3 might lose if we start counting polygons, but the art style and atmosphere more than make up for this. I mean god damn, go play Act 3 and 4 and I dare you to still have this opinion.
I am currently in Act II, and the graphics of most areas and dungeons in that one are extremely weak and repetitive.

And I don't know how you can claim that crafted items are useful at any level: During the first play through it costs far, far more to craft a blue item with random stats than it costs to buy a gold item with the stats you need.

It is totally possible that at Hell level Diablo III is balanced, and crafting makes sense. Please give me your personal estimate of how many percent of players who bought the game you think will play Diablo III at Hell level. I would estimate less than 10%.
Tobold, did you dislike Diablo1 and Diablo2 as well? It does sound like it. Diablo3 is just like D2, just with more skills and updated graphics :|. If that doesn't turn you on, I'm not sure what you were expecting. Me and millions others do enjoy it, and to say it'd get "70%" if someone else than Blizzard was making it, is a strange estimation. Even if you don't like it, doesn't mean someone else, or even the silent majority, does like it.

Like Blizzard said - they'd rather excel at execution than at innovation, and to me, D3 seems to be perfectly executed hack&slash. Now, if you don't like the genre, that's fine... but saying that it's a 70% game is like saying that Gran Turismo is a poor game just because you don't like racing genre.
I spent hundreds of hours in Diablo 1, and played Diablo 2 through only once. But that was over a decade ago. Even for a hack & slash game Diablo 3 is decidedly old school.
I agree with Azuriel that branding is important. But it adds value: I might worry if TrendyIndy Studios will get their login servers fixed; I have no long term worries about AB.

D3 is a better product than an *identical* piece of software from a lessor name & smaller company. Whether you use 4P or 7C marketing, the product is more than just the item itself. So it could be that the T2 software is "better" to more people than the D3 software yet D3 is the better product.

There is also a network effect; a lot more people I know play D3 and talk about it (annual pass.) I can chat with battle tag e-friends whether I am on WoW or D3. There is a lot more discussion and analysis of D3 on the internet. Both of these make D3 a better experience for me than a game that is identical gameplay but without the other aspects of the product.

IMO, in a decade, the feature that game historians ( i.e. the next generation of bloggers & trolls) will reference re D3 is the AH & RMAH not the H&S. For that, size, longevity, & stability matter. So branding, in particular big brands, matters.
Meta issue: the more people push for social games, and gaming companies push it for profit reasons, the more the network effect pushes for *one* winner. In the past, it did not much matter if the solo cartridge or floppy I inserted was played by dozens or millions. In the social world, a game with 2 million customers is a better game than the same software with 0.5 million.
@Mynsc and others
Would you really rather Tobold write a post that went: "here's my opinion, some support for that opinion, however other opinions could be this, that, or even this. And probably this. And they are all very reasonable as well.Thank you for reading."

He forms an opinion, writes it concisely, and throws it out for discussion. He's not writing a theme paper.

Diablo IS very simple and a bit of a throwback. It's an old game. It's also fun and addictive as hell, or inferno, or whatever. And you can't deny that the brand recognition put its release and criticism front and center.

Tobold's a hard core gamer/thinker who is beating the drum for something truly new. Of course he's going to be disappointed with even an excellent game that's really just a reiteration.

If you want to read an excellent review of your favorite comic hero sequel movie, don't read an opinionated critic like Roger Ebert. He's going to tell you what he thinks about the movie.

You mention brand recognition. It is indeed quite huge in the case of Diablo. And for exactly this reason, the game can't stray away too far from it, at its first iteration in 10+ years. I mean, it's basic logic.

If D3 would have been a completely different game than D2, I can absolutely assure you that the outcry would have been 100 times bigger. People would be yelling left and right that they wanted a Diablo game and got something completely different, no matter if better or worse.

And they'd be right. Diablo is indeed a brand and Blizzard owes it to its fanbase to stay true to what Diablo as a game was. And that they did.

But this doesn't mean that there isn't anything new. You've got the RMAH which, as controversial as it is, is something not done before. Then you have the completely new skill and rune system. Then take a closer look at how the world is being built. Sure, D2 had kinda the same system, but compared to the one D3 is using, it feels like child's play. And there are many other improvements and even innovations that are smaller and harder to notice, but sure make an impact on one's gameplay.

Also, my problem with Tobold's opinion here is that it is obviously based on just a few hours of gameplay. Like he said in the comments, he hasn't even finished Act 2 on Normal, but is already saying the storytelling is weak and the combat is boring.. That's not exactly fair or balanced or helpful to the reader, unless the reader doesn't care about what the truth is but just about hearing what he wants to hear.
I often think it's the other way around.

Take Dragon Age 2. It's a fun game which I would have given a nice score if it wasn't from Bioware. From Bioware however, the cost cutting is not acceptable.

The bigger the name, the more you expect from them.
How is the story-telling poor? I'm not sure I get that specific complaint. I've heard it multiple places, but I must just be missing something. It's leagues better than both previous diablo games, for what little thats worth.

That being said though...I mean...I'm learning a ton about sanctuary that was unclear previously and I enjoyed the plot quite a bit, the one problem I had was how frustrating it feels falling for the same tricks and traps the second time onward, especially when certain NPCs who get burned were liked quite a bit by me.

I'm almost done with act 4 and about 30 hours in for what its worth. The AH is a terrible idea, I do have to say that I hate it and just ignore it completely. While I will turn to it when I get to hell or inferno for sure, using it at normal just destroys the enjoyment of the game, it removes the primary goal and reason to do things and makes the difficulty utterly trivial.

While I think you are wrong about your general feeling of difficulty and the idea that most people won't play hell mode (Which is utterly silly, it would be like saying the vast majority of people quit halfway through the game), I do think they definitely need to adjust the curve to flatten it out. Upwards at the beginning, downwards in inferno which is almost unbeatable even with the best gear in the game.

It also might be wise to ban people buying items from the AH in at least normal. Maybe even nightmare. Once you get your first character past that point though, you can use it freely so you can gear up alts.

People that don't know diablo and are just buying stuff off the AH are ruining the fun of the game for themselves.
The funny part about it is that with random modifiers on elite mobs, it's sort of basically what Tobold's been clamoring for in combat. Instead of preplanned strats, things must be figured out on the fly to defeat some really ridiculous packs. Not much will prepare you when you get caught off guard in the middle of a dungeon by an elite with some truly obnoxious modifiers. One bout of arcane enchanted/desecrator/vampiric/invulnerable minions comes to mind.
My main question at the people saying the story-telling is blah, I'd have to ask... Are you talking to any of the pc's? Reading the scrolls? Did you go back each quest to check if Leah's or Cain's book respawned?

The rabbit hole isn't very deep if you never try to actually go down it. Almost sounds like people aren't even sticking a finger in.
People are writing reviews that the game is not in-depth enough, when they are in Act II? You don't even have all your skills yet. Thats like writing a WoW review when you hit the barrens, or reviewing a movie when you have only seen the first 10 minutes. That doesn't say much for the credibility of the review...or the reviewer for that matter.

The funny thing about your review is that just about all your points explain what you dislike about the game and then you ironically give the game 70/100 which is "about average" when it comes to game reviews. To give the game a 70, you had to like more things than you disliked, and yet you leave the reader with nothing of the sort...odd.

If I was to review your review I would give it 50/100, because you only told half the story.
(Which is utterly silly, it would be like saying the vast majority of people quit halfway through the game

Industry standard is 90% of people quitting halfway through the game. (Source)

Red Dead Redemption players as measured by the Raptr software is the "Industry Standard" for game statistics now? I was not aware of this revelation. This changes everything!

Completing a game like Diablo (or many other multiplayer based games) is an extremely subjective observation.

I'll certainly take it back because you have a source and I don't, but your source looks a bit hinky. It seems to be a bunch of REALLY reaching hearsay that starts out "I think I remember hearing" and then a single statistic provided for a single game.
Le shrug. I don't know about industry standard or averages or sample sizes, but out of a sample size of just me, a 90% sample of games played but not completed would be around about right.

Most, if not all of the reasons cited in that linked article I can relate to. And thanks to Steam sales, my 'pile of shame' is truly epic in terms of number of titles and the expected required man-hours for completion.

It is entirely possible that I currently own more games (around 750-800) than can actually be completed, if you work, eat and sleep and socialize to healthy, average standards.
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