I have played Diablo III for dozens of hours. I have beaten the normal difficulty level with one of my “Heroes,” and I have made solid progress with a variety of characters representing each class. I came to the new sequel already a fan. I played through and beat Diablo II perhaps a dozen times, at nearly every difficulty level with every type of character. But now I’m done. I’m moving on. It finally hit me: Diablo III is the worst game I’ve ever played, for hours and hours and hours.
There is a moment playing Diablo games when it hits you. Why am I still playing? It’s a tough question to wrestle with, since this is the same question that could ruin all video games for you. What’s the point? So, I started to think about my favorite games. Some games have a great story line. You can make different choices each time, and affect the outcome, subtly or drastically. Some games are interspersed with amazing set pieces so massive in scale that you cannot wait to reach them. Some games offer challenging puzzles, with multiple ways to solve them, so you can constantly replay to try each permutation.
Most of all, though, the best games are simply fun to play. Video games run with the idea that “half the fun is getting there.” In the best games, that’s almost all of the fun. There are very few games that I replay continually just to see the ending. The actual gameplay has to be very fun. In fact, the gameplay has to be just as fun when you lose as when you win. I have a maxim of gaming that you should never expect to complete a gaming task once. Even the most difficult feat in gaming will often be repeated. So, it must be fun. Losing has to be almost as enjoyable as winning.
Diablo is simply no fun. The gameplay is beyond repetitive. It’s inane. It’s completely lifeless. It is mouse clicking with a few keyboard shortcuts thrown in. The entire game boils down to: look at that monster, I’m going to click on it until it’s dead. There is very little skill, or even thought involved in playing the game. There are no puzzles to solve, no riddles, no mysteries. There is a plot, but it is almost entirely revealed in high-quality cut scene movies between the action. Almost nothing you do in the game feels like it is contributing to the storyline.
It used to be that Diablo was about collecting cool weapons and leveling-up your character. You play more and you gain more awesome toys and cool abilities. To a small extent that is still true. But Blizzard has made serious mistakes in the game design and, at the risk of sounding cynical, it seems that much of the problem comes from the new auction house. Users can now buy and sell items in the game with real money. Blizzard takes a huge cut, of course, but you’re still making money from playing the game.
However, look where this has left the game experience. Items are now worth money, which means that Blizzard needs to create an entire level of items that is at once nearly-unobtainable and also very valuable. This pushes down the value of almost all other items in the game. Any item that is not ‘magical,’ which is to say the overwhelming bulk of the items you find, is completely worthless to the player. These items do not add to the gameplay at all, and you can’t sell them. Blizzard has strewn its virtual world with tons of virtual garbage.
Characters gain new abilities as they gain experience, but often these seem like a step backwards. I get new powers that add or augment my existing abilities, but these are often less interesting, or less powerful, than the powers I already had. The special effects look cool, but the action on screen can be jumbled and confusing at times. So, no matter how cool it looks, you are essentially just clicking on a massive pile of bad guys, and repeating this simple act until they all stop moving.
So, Diablo III has some very fundamental flaws, but it is the little things that bother me even more. Some of these are endemic to the hack-and-slash dungeon crawler genre, but the genre, and gaming in general, has grown up significantly in the 11 years since Diablo II was released. While competitors are creating deep virtual worlds and immersive environments, Blizzard has taken the laziest route possible with Diablo III.
Here are some of my favorite examples. In the game, you might have to kill a swarm of bugs. That swarm acts like one single enemy, but looks like a swarm. So, you just click your mouse on it, and your character starts shooting at flies with a crossbow. Some of these flies are so scary your character will run away from them, even though they look like all the other flies, and you wouldn’t know they strike such fear in the hearts of men unless you read the description, which says simply “nightmarish.” Okay, fine, your character kills these nightmarish flies and is rewarded with . . . a suit of armor? What?! Seriously, I’m supposed to believe that this swarm of flies was carrying a suit of armor? What the heck were flies doing with armor? And 80 gold coins? Where did they keep them? I suppose flies in Diablo III have pockets.
There are a few non-player characters, and you are forced to listen to the same repetitive dialogue from them over and over again. It has nothing to do with the plot or the action on screen. You could be fighting a nest of giant spiders, and the Enchantress character will ask if you think one of the boy characters likes her. You could be literally descending into the depths of Hell, and the Scoundrel character might talk about the women he’s taken advantage of. It’s boring and nonsensical, and worst of all, it’s repetitive. Each character has maybe a dozen lines or so that they spew at the weirdest moments, but over the course of a 20 – 30 hour game, you’ll hear these lines over and over again. And you can’t kill these characters. Trust me, I’ve tried.
Diablo III is simply an example of the laziest form of game design. It is as though Blizzard tried to imagine the least effort they could put into improving Diablo II while still calling this a new game, and then cut out half of those ideas. Blizzard has created a world that will make you feel worthless for revisiting. Why am I still playing? I’m not. I’m done.