Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Trials of Diablo III

I got off to a rocky start with Diablo III. I had planned on buying it ever since it was announced, even though I had essentially missed the boat with Diablo II. Then a friend, who will remain nameless, convinced me not to get it for some stupid reason. Then again I had my own reservations. I am a huge fan of Blizzard's work, but I was not really jazzed about the "Always Online" requirement, so I figured I could give this one a pass, or at least wait for it to drop in price. Then several other friends convinced me the game was awesome, and the initial friend announced that he had caved and bought the game anyway. So after searching for the game in several sold-out stores, I eventually bought the bastard and tried to install it.

A cool cover, but nothing groundbreaking. So all in all, 
a pretty good representation of the game.

Imagine my surprise when Battlenet (Blizzard's online platform/network/ubiquitous multiplayer thing) informed me that an authenticator had been added to my account. An authenticator, for those who don't know, is a little piece of plastic and computer wizardry that generates a key-code which you need to log into a secure network. It is supposed to provide an extra level of security to your account. I have never used an authenticator, and I never received an email notifying me that somebody else had tried to add one to my account. It had been a long time since I played a Blizzard game as multiplayer Starcraft II always struck me as a terrifying prospect, and I lost interest in Cataclysm shortly after hitting the level cap. So it had been about a year since I touched my Battlenet account.

The nightmare explanation I concocted in my head was that somebody had hacked me, and then using their leet haxxor skillz, added an authenticator to lock me out of my account. In retrospect it seems stupid and far fetched, but when I checked WoW armory to see if my characters still existed and no data came up, I feared the worst. After spending an hour and twenty minutes on hold, Blizzard's tech support picked up my call as I was literally about to hang up (thankfully my phone's touch screen was being screwy).

The actual, official explanation for why a phantom authenticator was added to my account is "We have no idea. Maybe there was a problem with your cache?" This explanation actually disappointed me for several reasons. Glad as I am that I was not hacked, I like the irony of a pirate leveraging security technology to lock people out of their account. You hear about them doing shit like this all the time, and frankly, it makes for a good story. The other thing that bugs me is that I never really got a straight answer as to why this happened. I have never used a blizzard product on this machine, and I have never even used it to visit battlenet in any way, shape, or form. The tech support agent (who was very polite), said she would try refreshing something on her end, and that solved the problem. A less charitable, more irascible person might even be tempted to conclude that this "error" was a deliberate attempt to advertise the authenticator. I don't think this is the case. It was a frustrating experience that did very little to sell me on the authenticator and Blizzard can frankly come up with better ways to make you want to buy their products. But still it's weird, and it makes me wonder in a bad way.

So, after I liberated my Battlenet account, I tried to actually play the game. I should tell you that my current internet situation is unusually bad. I live in a grand old neighborhood with awful wiring, lots of zoning and historical preservation laws, and very limited options as far as ISPs go. My internet is much worse than your average gamer's. It is worse than the average person in my generation.

I will concede that Blizzard's expectation that people will always play online really isn't that outlandish in this day and age. But it does screw over quite a few people who can't meet that expectation. And it begs a question: "How much bullshit am I willing to put up with to play a really awesome game?" It's a question that is teased frequently on Reddit's videogame board, and it doesn't have a simple answer. For most people, games are a social experience and this is especially true of an online-exclusive title like Diablo 3. I proudly drew the line at Origin, when EA was pitching Battlefield 3 and later, The Old Republic. But Origin really isn't terribly dissimilar to Steam; a platform I have grown to love (the ludicrous deals offered annually are a big part of that romance). And if Blizzard were to build Battlenet in a similar way, I'm not so sure I will be able to stand firm.

There were a couple nights where I was able to coax a decent performance out of the game despite my internet difficulties. And when it plays like it is supposed to, it is a helluva lot of fun. I'm still only on the second act, and I'm playing as a Monk to start out with. This game feels a lot more fun than Diablo II ever did to me.

I'm sure some people will mourn the loss of skill points, but I think this new system facilitates more customization and experimentation. It also makes it impossible to "break" your character, which was not only possible, but very likely in Diablo II, especially at high level play. I like that you unlock a new "thing," be it a rune, a passive or some other ability, every time you level up. I know it's an artificial reward structure. I know its deliberately addictive and more than a little manipulative. But that's why I play RPGs. I like getting new powers and abilities as I go that change things. I also like the simple 'click to unleash hell' gameplay. I also enjoy the health drops as opposed to constantly chugging potions. The new energy restoration methods make for more

It isn't a perfect game. I find Leah to be a bland and incredibly annoying ally (which is perplexing because the quirky Enchantress and roguish Scoundrel are actually amusing, if archetypal company). The plot thus far, hasn't been terribly shocking (and having correctly guessed Belial's identity right off the bat, I don't really have high hopes for the rest of the yarn). Also, my friend pointed out that the in the face of the auction house, crafting is a remarkably costly and disproportionately unrewarding endeavor.

So far, I think I have broken even on the Fun to Frustration scale. But this is a very big game, and I may revisit it after I've had a chance to sample some of the other classes.

1 comment:

Jonathan Lee said...

Not-so-nameless friend still rates it "eh" and got it at reduced price (which is the entire reason he got it). He's also heavily featured in this review.

Thanks for the plug, buddy!

For the harder bosses, they have healing wells to combat the amount of damage you can take because of the potion cooldown, so they kind of worked-around their own systems.

Their hot-fixes (though a good balancing act) have been kind of dumb because they changed some abilities, broke one (sucks for you 'cause it's a monk's), and didn't change the tool tips. This could be rectified by now with the release of a full patch.