Like a lot of other PC gamers out there, I’ve had a less than productive two weeks.
I’ve made the hard decision I was pondering before, deciding to go with Diablo III instead of Max Payne 3 (for now). I stocked up on sleep and got almost all of my work done in preparation for this game.
Blizzard’s epic ARPG released to much fanfare then frustration. Many server issues effectively delayed the game to May 16th rather than May 15th. To this day, lots of folks are having connection problems or achievement mishaps. Amidst all that, gold sellers have already swarmed the game’s General chat.
A week into the game’s release, people have already beaten it several times, reaching Nightmare difficulty and higher on their class of choice.
I’ve spent a lot of time with the game this past week, whether it’s mashing at things with my Barbarian or poisoning things with my Witch Doctor. Past the instability issues addressed earlier, I’ve had a lot of fun with it. A good amount of my friends have the game, which means that there’s always someone to play with. In some cases, there are too many people to play with.
One thing that’s been emphasized from the start, has been that Diablo III will span multiple difficulty levels – Normal, Nightmare, Hell, and Inferno. The latter difficulty levels are punishing, with Blizzard outright saying that some people simply won’t be able to finish it.
This difficulty curve has been as much a problem as it has been a boon in my experience.
One problem with the difficulty is the slow burn that is Normal. Each friend I played with commented on how quickly we were demolishing waves of enemies, especially once we had a few choice rares and good weapons. We downed bosses so fast that they interrupted their speeches with new bits of banter as their health pools evaporated.
Depending on how fast and how impatient you are with quests, you’ll spend 7-15 hours liquidating everything in your path before you meet any real bumps in the road. For some players, that’s enough time to say that they’ve beaten the game before they move on to the next disc on the shelf, missing out on the real meat of the content.
You know, because that’s a real good chunk of time.
I understand the model, I really do. It’s just a little difficult going through the motions every time I want to try out a new class. I would have liked the choice of an in-between difficulty or a harder Normal difficulty for those of us who don’t want to sleep through the first 30 levels of a character.
Past Normal, the challenge is present. I can no longer wade into enemies without a care in the world. Elites are quite impressive in strength and tenacity. Loot is also plentiful.
There’s a difficulty sweet spot where monsters take a beating before their last breath while player characters have to mix in vitality and armor along with their offensive stats. For me, that hit around the end of Nightmare. At this stage, elites are fun to kill but not overwhelming.
Alas, this sweet spot doesn’t last long. From Hell difficulty onward, players have to specifically gear and skill themselves to survive while dealing a modest amount of damage. This severely cuts down on build customization. This relegates Barbarians to sword and board builds, eliminating the viability of two-hand or dual-wield play. The Witch Doctor’s Zombie Dogs are useless here, while skills like Hex, Soul Harvest and Spirit Walk become mandatory.
The only time you’ll get to use certain items and builds again is when you help a friend out in the lower difficulties.
There is a Hardcore mode with the consequence of permanent death for anyone who isn’t careful. But I’d rather not leave my fate up to chance with Vortex, Waller, Arcane, Mortar champion spawns. A lag spike here or there hurts a lot less when I can freely revive.
Then there’s Inferno, where everything goes out the window. Gear becomes immensely important, especially in Act II and onward. If you don’t have the gear, you simply won’t survive. It’s gotten so bad that a lot of the more effective builds involve going completely glass cannon and playing the game like Galaga, where any and every hit will send you to the death screen.
There is some light at the end of the tunnel, however. Creativity may have taken a hit but a kind of camaraderie has emerged. The Diablo III forums are active with shared success stories and overall gear critiques. Everyone is pulling everyone else up the ladder. The game’s auction house (though intermittent in its availability due to bugs) has helped many people find just the right gear they need to hit the next tier of enemies.
All in all, Diablo III is as much frustrating as it is invigorating. OK, maybe it’s just frustrating. If you’re into notoriously punishing games like Demon’s Souls then Blizzard’s ARPG should be in your library. The challenge is there even if the build diversity isn’t.
Back to hammering away at the Inferno difficulty..