Oh, Diablo III, what a long, strange road it’s been. Well, mostly long.
Diablo III still doesn’t have a release date, but a privileged few have access to the beta test in order to get their craving for mouseclicks satiated. Despite its online-only status, and the fact that it is in beta, the game runs extremely well for the most part. Blizzard’s infamous real money auction house system is also available for testing.
Many changes have been made to the franchise, but it still plays like a Diablo game. Loot is randomized and rewarding, dungeons are randomized, levels are gained, and monsters are clicked upon. It’s a simple but compelling formula of slot-machine-like zen clicking action that gave rise to the genre being dubbed “Diablo Clone”, where every ARPG that isn’t Diablo is simply an imitator. Diablo III continues the tradition of defining an entire gameplay mode.
When it comes to sequels to previously successful games, stripping out player options to opt for a less complex experience is an ongoing trend. The polite gamer calls this “streamlining”. The less polite go with “dumbing down” or “consolization”. In the case of Diablo III, the most fitting term would have to be “simplification”, which also best describes the transition between D3 and D2.
“Simplification” is best exemplified in contrasting the differences between the two games. In D2, the player would level up and have skill and stat points to allocate as they so chose, and combat was predicated by “health potion spam”, life steal affixes on items, and gear. Gear is the only similarity that truly exists within these concepts. In D3, stat points are automatically allocated upon leveling up, and in a manner of speaking, the skills are as well. The player has no say in which skills are granted at which level, whereas in Diablo II, the player could pick between any number of skills to put points into, as long as they met the level requirement.
While the player cannot choose which skills are unlocked, they can at least swap out their skills at any time with the only penalty being a short cooldown. Monsters will now drop health globes that the player walks over to regain health, which adds a much-welcomed tactical element to battle. Health potions remain in the game, but they aren’t as prevalent as they were in the previous two games. The potions also have a cooldown in D3.
When these elements are combined, they all fit into the D3 development team’s goal of making the game easy enough for a grandma to play, while still offering depth and appeal to the hardcore player. Whether that goal is lofty and ludicrous is up to the player to decide.
Blizzard recently released a patch for the beta that allowed testers to try the skill rune system for the first time. The skill rune system is amazing in many respects, but most notably, it is one aspect of the game that forumites and facebookers haven’t rabidly attacked, and has in fact been very well received. It’s stunning to see gamers congregating in one place to talk about how good a game mechanic is.
Skill runes are unlockable bonuses to individual skills that are gained at pre-determined levels, the first of which being at level six. A rune will alter the functionality or otherwise efficiency of an ability, often also changing its appearance. A rune may do something as basic as reducing the resource cost, or it may drastically change how the ability operates. As an example, the Wizard’s Magic Missile ability has two runes in the beta test: one increases the base damage of the spell by a specific percentage, and the other rune splits the single missile into three.
Overall, it is an incredibly rewarding system, both in terms of combat and leveling. The main worry before this system was introduced is that the levels from 31 to the maximum level, 60, would have felt like a “dead zone”. The player, after 31, wouldn’t have anything to look forward to on their next level up, besides perhaps having a nice piece of gear to wear that required a specific level. Prior to the release of this system, the only thing a player got when they leveled was (maybe) a new active or passive ability, the last of which is awarded at level 30. So after level 30, leveling would be mostly meaningless to the player, lacking excitement or interactivity.
The skill rune system alleviates that (somewhat), even though the player cannot pick which rune they wish to unlock. There are five runes for every active ability, and each individual rune is unlocked at a different level. Previously, however, the rune system was item-based, and the runes were “socketed” into skills. This allowed the player to use any rune they wished, so long as they had the runestone. It is a bit of a hit to the enjoyment of leveling if the player has no choice in their runes. If a player had built a specific leveling plan, for instance, this plan would now be obsolete due to lack of options for rune choice.
Overall, the hardcore fan will be put off by some of the changes to the franchise, but at the end of the day, it feels like Diablo, and it’s very fun to play. The basic essence of the slot machine-style gameplay is fully in effect, which is what matters most to the series.