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Aaron N. Tubbs

Dragon chaser.

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This whole thing is about Diablo III. There aren’t any hidden software engineering metaphors or anecdotes about wine, I promise. You can stop reading now, as this is mostly rambling and incoherent.

I’m not really qualified to talk about Diablo III. I think I completed the original Diablo on the easiest difficulty and played Diablo II for a couple of hours. I’ve spent some quality time with other Blizzard games, but I didn’t really “get” the point of playing Diablo until I played Diablo III.

I’m not really into the story, it’s more the game mechanics that are interesting to me. I half-listened to the cinematics and conversations on the first play-through, but they’re downright irritating thereafter. I wish there was an option to outright suppress all cinematic and scripted content after one’s seen it the first time. Especially when farming earlier acts to gear up or getting chain-slaughtered by a boss, hitting space bar all the time becomes a chore.

In terms of progress, I have a Wizard in Act III Inferno right now. It took me a few weeks to grind out appropriate gear to get to this point (~1000 resist all, 30k dps, 30k hp). I still have some white-knuckle 10-minute kite-fests when I’m trying to progress, but farming Act I is mindless and farming Act II is possible.

Specifically, I just scraped by with Ghom, which was stupid difficult. Post-1.0.3, Ghom is a bit of a bitch for Wizards that aren’t melee-spec (and I didn’t really want to completely re-gear for this). I spent a few hundred thousand gold in repair bills getting the kiting perfected to the point that I could succeed in the encounter. I believe Ghom is an encounter that breaks certain builds at the moment. It’s one of the few portions of the game post-1.0.3 that feels completely imbalanced in favor of other builds or classes.

In general, as I progress through inferno, progress keeps getting more difficult. With very few exceptions, each death is clearly my fault. I could have executed something better (often far better) or anticipated what was going to happen. Further progress is exceptionally difficult, but possible. Progress means lots of heart-racing muscle-clenching white-knuckled non-stop madness until that next checkpoint is reached. Progress, therefore, is satisfying and rewarding in and of itself: Getting somewhere in inferno feels like an accomplishment. Again, I think this speaks to the polish of the game: It’s been very carefully designed to achieve this balance.

So, I’ve not “beaten the game.” My Mad Cow King Rod is only attuned to Hell difficulty and I have not slaughtered Big Red in Inferno yet, but I’d like to pretend I know what I’m talking about otherwise.

My progress to this point has been via the solo game. My few attempts at truly public games have been unmitigated disasters where nobody seems to really be playing and whoever joins most recently gets to play the game at 4x HP, which doesn’t go so well. Group play with people I know is somewhat more straightforward, but isn’t really what I signed up for. My experience there tells me that the game feels a lot easier for the group than it does for the individual. This sort of bothers me; Diablo III seems like the sort of game where the individual game shouldn’t really be easier or harder, it should just be. On the other hand, being able to “beat” the game solo is impressive. With that said, using the group game to gear up for the solo win … I don’t know, it just seems like a bit of weirdness.

So, whatever. Long story short most of my playtime is solo and I think that’s the real game, but maybe I’m doing it wrong.

I’m getting off track. Inferno was an adjustment. Act I wasn’t a big deal, but Act II was definitely a brick wall for a ranged soft class. 1.0.3 was a substantial improvement. If you’re not an outright idiot at dungeon crawling games, everything up to Inferno is straightforward and just a matter of a little leveling and gear progression. Inferno is the treat waiting for you when you’ve hit max-level, because you’re clearly not geared for it when you first get there.

Once you’re in Inferno, re-gearing via the Auction House is the only realistic way to progress. Grinding for gear for yourself just doesn’t pay off quickly enough. Maybe that’s different for other classes, but I can count the number of times that I’ve seen an outright upgrade drop in several days of elapsed endgame gameplay: once. The outright advantage? A 1% uptick in attack speed and 3 more vitality in a pair of pants. Yikes.

Diablo III delivers a very polished version of the “kill monsters to get gear to kill harder monsters” dungeon crawl. I’ve experienced a few connectivity and lag issues, but otherwise the game has never hung or crashed. Wow. To use software that runs for days without any major incidents. Amazing.

Let’s restate this: The amount of effort put into polishing this product is incredible.

I played WoW for years. This is in an entirely different league of stability and polish, though admittedly the attack surface is far smaller. There’s an interesting trade-off made to achieve this: The game prohibits things like mods and presents a very uniform and consistent world, which makes the problem vastly simpler.

The bugs I’ve run into otherwise are relatively minor, and are usually things like “named mobs don’t seem to drop loot,” which was fixed by Blizzard.

Anyhow, DIII is a loot and drop game. There’s some die-hard contingent that hates it for some reason, and I don’t really know why. Some of their premises are on point: The itemization is sort of boring; there’s very little chrome, and Inferno gearing is all about min-maxing. I’m assuming this will change with time, but it’s a bit bland right now. They’ve really distilled the formula down, though perhaps it’s too carefully distilled and some of the interesting and enjoyable crap is missing.

The tactical depth is interesting. A player gets something like six skills, some of them passive, and a rune for most of them, which leads to further customization. Thus, despite the game just being clicking with mouse buttons and maybe a half dozen other keys, the variety is actually pretty ridiculous. At first, there were only a few combinations that really “worked” for certain classes, but this has gotten better post-1.0.3. I think this is pretty impressive: Tactical variety while maintaining a level of simplicity. Interestingly, the way the skills unlock for sixty level straight, there’s plenty of time to learn how it all works: At no time is the game overwhelming in complexity, as a result.

Definitely worth the money. Really well made. Demon Hunters and Barbarians are way OP, but I’m sure that’ll get better.