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Diablo III: refusing to succumb to the late-game grind

Tuesday, 3rd July 2012 08:43 GMT By Patrick Garratt

Diablo III’s a blast, but you have to be dedicated to move beyond a few campaign runs, says Patrick Garratt. Bottom line: how many times can you beat the horned overlord before giving over to boredom?

I’m left looking at a pretty game engine with an exponentially ratcheting difficulty level, staring gloomily down the hair-clogged plughole of a blood-splattered time-sink. It’s at this point I turn it off.

I admit it. I’m bored of Diablo III, and it’s over nothing technical. While a wash of recent evidence suggests all is not well in Sanctuary for a variety of reasons – the real money auction house (RMAH) has been accused of unbalancing top-end play at a fundamental level, and Athene’s posted a video apparently showing him beating every boss on Inferno difficulty with his eyes shut – it’s a lack of content and balance issues that nailed it for me. It may well be the most successful PC game ever shipped – depending on the metric you feel comfortable with today – but it’s obvious Blizzard’s hellish bed isn’t as odorous of demon roses as it ought to be.

I’ve played through twice, once as a Witch Doctor and once as a Barbarian. The first run took me 17 hours. I watched everything, read all the text, slogged through every mob. But even for me, as a content tourist, there were noticeable oddities. While second-to-second play itself is slick to the point of absurdity, there are times when the co-op and instance system does become a little odd. Balial was proving difficult, so VG247 reader Erthazus turned up with his 60 Wizard to lend a hand. I got killed and kicked, couldn’t get back into the instance and Erth ended the stupid crabby bastard in half a second. The game lavished me with co-op awards and XP, and I wasn’t even in the room. Surely that’s not right? I didn’t do anything. I should have been cheering. Instead Erth was asking me if I wanted to repeat the encounter, this time with me in the event when we killed the boss. I was very grateful of the assistance – I know Erth will read this and he’s helped me a lot in D3, so please don’t think I’m whining – but the game’s design knocked a key moment dead. This caused some face-pulling.

The imbalance in joint play was obvious in the later stages, too. Lauren Wainwright, now of MCV fame, joined me for the last part of Act IV with a 40-something Demon Hunter (again, I was getting smashed and needed a lift). Diablo, lord of all hell, lasted about 15 seconds. Lauren even apologised for crossbowing him to death too quickly. On a few occasions I’ve been playing with Erth, he’s had to stand off to one side and let me actually kill things as his level was so far beyond Normal that even major bosses were dead in a button press. Yes, I know I can set myself to busy and stop people from coming into the game, but isn’t the drop-in-and-out stuff kind of the point? It’s an online game and that’s how it’s most fun, but it’s when you introduce other players that it becomes most problematic. The difficulty balance for a single character is nearly perfect, but should it switch from “challenging” to “cake walk” simply by bringing in a friend? I’ve really enjoyed playing with people like Erth and Lauren, but it feels as though finding common ground between the low and high levels was too much even for Blizzard’s designers this time.

Athene beating every boss on Inferno difficulty
with his eyes closed. Yes, it’s a stunt, but
come on.

But still. I had a blast. There are times when you’re totally “in” the play and it’s like watching a very violent firework. Diablo deserved to die. I’ve been to rainbow pony land, and I’ve been killed by a teddy bear. It’s fun. But once it was done, I just couldn’t face pushing through with the Witch Doctor again. Instead, I chose a Barbarian. I ran Normal in less than 11 hours, skipping everything and calling in high level help as often as possible just to get me through it. I wanted it over and done with.

And that’s because I was bored.

I didn’t want to savour any of it. The entire system had been deconstructed to numbers and kit. Every battle was an annoyance. I was just clicking. Diablo III had become nothing but grind. The first time you encounter the later stages of the Skeleton King story, when you go into Leoric’s dungeons and see the torture equipment, there’s a thrill at the darkness. The blood-stained walls had been drained of magic in the second run: they were just textures. For a game that demands you replay endlessly, to be sighing so quickly isn’t a good sign. Exactly the same thing happened to me with World of Warcraft, but it took about 100 hours. Suddenly I shake my head and the fog evaporates. I’m left looking at a pretty game engine with an exponentially ratcheting difficulty level, staring gloomily down the hair-clogged plughole of a blood-splattered time-sink. It’s at this point I turn it off.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve put in nearly 30 hours – more than 95% of all the games I play – but I can’t see myself going back without an expansion, simply because I don’t want to smash through the same content again. I might try a new class over the summer, I guess. I’ll certainly try PvP when it’s patched in, but I’ve got a feeling it’s going to be a 60-plus charnel house where Jethrine the 34 Witch Doctor is a one-click corpse. Considering there are such obvious balancing issues in co-op, it seems likely PvP is going to be a “put up or die” affair.

I haven’t even touched the RMAH. I fiddled with the in-game gold side of it very briefly – I was trying to buy Jethrine a legendary off-hand frog – but I don’t want the game to be about managing sales. The whole thing feels as though it’s just demanding my time for little reward now. Maybe it’s just me. I can suffer a lot, but enduring tedium by choice isn’t one of them.

Let’s have some more content, Blizzard. There’s only so many times killing Diablo in ten seconds can hold anyone’s attention.

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22 Comments

  1. Erthazus

    That was awesome. Yeah. Funny thing is that you can say much more than the average person i play on Inferno.

    What you said about Diablo III is pretty much how it is right now. I can say from my perspective that Diablo III is just a remake of Diblo II and i’m disappointed. But i’m a sucker for Diablo Games. I put more than 400+ hours on it and still will play it with my friends.

    Yeah, we need the expansion and this time Blizzard need to make it right because what they have done with AH and the game is not really great especially after 12 freakin’ years of development.
    My biggest problem is that it is too short. As you said you read everything and tried to explore stuff for 17 hours. That’s not enough. Not enough of content.

    But for me it was even worse. Diablo III locations are exactly the same from Diablo II (some of them from Diablo I) with the ACT 4 exception. It was the only new location.

    the next patch is going to be a PVP patch, but Blizzard have already issues with balance and AH. They have problems with Auction House all the time.

    P.S. Fun fact! I can kill “stupid crabby bastard” in Inferno for 38 seconds!

    P.S.2. Ahhh… Pony level. Your reaction Pat was priceless :D

    #1 3 years ago
  2. Patrick Garratt

    @1 – :D

    It’s brilliant playing it with other people, but the balancing’s all over the place. If you and I were playing it on Nightmare now, I could stand aside, let you kill everything and just collect all the boss XP. I wouldn’t have to do anything.

    And yeah, the real problem is the length of it. I mean, I’m no “hardcore” player, but 11 hours end to end after 12 years of work is pretty rubbish. I just hope they have a ton of content waiting in the wings.

    Pony land was amazing :-D

    #2 3 years ago
  3. TheWulf

    The problem with Diablo III is that they made it too much like their prior games in that it’s a numbers game. Win or lose, it’s decided more by numbers than it is anything you do. By comparison, Guild Wars 2, an MMORPG is a far more skill-based game than Diablo III is. To be honest, I’d go so far as to say that Champions Online is more skill based than Diablo III.

    That’s why there’s so much grind involved. Because you can’t be clever and get by on certain abilities and being really good. You can’t. You hit a point where the numbers are against you. The numbers say ‘the mobs win,’ and that’s that. Diablo II and Diablo I especially were games where you could get by like that. Torchlight (and Torchlight II, it appears) are the same.

    But with Diablo you hit number walls. If your numbers are too low, you can’t progress. If your numbers are too high, the game is incredibly easy (so easy that you can play it with your eyes closed). So ultimately it solely comes down to how good your numbers are and damn near anything else. It’s always about the numbers with Blizzard.

    And that’s what’s wrong with how Blizzard approached Diablo.

    Ultimately it’s a game of attrition, and this is why it gets boring quickly. Has the going gotten too hard? Well, that’s not real difficulty, that’s just the game telling you that you need better gear. So you get all these items which are all clear upgrades, you slot them in, and the game lowers its difficulty automatically because with better gear you have better numbers.

    Once you see through the illusions and see that it’s just numbers, the game becomes really dull.

    A mob has 10 and your gear equates to 2, you lose automatically.

    Your gear equates to 10 and the mob has 2, you win automatically.

    It’s always a numbers game. A game of attrition. Nothing more.

    It’s easy to get bored of that.

    #3 3 years ago
  4. Erthazus

    @3, “By comparison, Guild Wars 2, an MMORPG is a far more skill-based game than Diablo III is. To be honest, I’d go so far as to say that Champions Online is more skill based than Diablo III.”

    To say that first of all show me that you finished Inferno. Without the right screenshot your argument is invalid.

    I played Guild Wars 2, CO and ofc Diablo III and finished Diablo III (among 1000 first people) on Inferno before a nerf.

    and i can say that Diablo III is by far more skilled-based game than any game you mentioned. Also, i finished Inferno with my Wizard without looking at AH for your information.

    #4 3 years ago
  5. BULArmy

    Pat I like you, we played early in the game, but I kind of disagree. Diablo was never a game about variety.

    Yep Nightmare can be a problem, Nightmare and Hell can be absolute pain and if you are alone, but with 4 ppl all the same don’t have a lot of problems with Belial or any other boss. Grinding some areas is also a good option for leveling and getting good equipment and the proper stats for you character, if you go 2 lvl more then the standart you are almost invincible on Nightmare. And Pat bringing a 60 lvl friend is not changing that is just cheating. :D Playing with ppl your lvl is much nicer.

    But you must not make the mistake of not having a Magic Find stat of around 50% or you are screwed. I made this mistake and had some dearly consequences in Hell for some time.

    @1Erth what do you expect from Blizz. SC2 was the same, a very good remake of the previous game. Things added were not so much, but that don’t make the game bad. You see the cry that is the new skill system which I love, because of the flexibility. Have a problem with a rare boss with you current build, change some skills and things get easy.

    Content Erth in D2 was not much more. You can get through the game fast or slow, it is up to you. Maybe D3 feels shorter, because of the 60 lvl cap, but in D2 getting to 99 was tedious and not better then what we have here. Then we had hours after hours of grinding for levels and equipment.

    The AH for me is absolutely no problem. Why everyone care if the ppl he is playing with are using superior equipment bought on the AH? I don’t, but I play mostly with friends who don’t use it. Maybe in PvP can be a problem, but this is just a legalized form of what we ever had. Buying equipment is nothing new. If somebody want to spent money, go on, I would play the GAME to find my items.

    P.S. I don’t have so much time to play, but with a lvl 60 Barb and lvl 20 Dh with over 120h spent I don’t feel bored. And I am a person that gets bored by games very, very easy. I have hundreds of games I like, but never finished. Playing games for 120+ hours is absolute miracle only single games have achieved like BF series, D2, RTW:Enemy Territory, the original Witcher and Age of Conan on the MMO front and not may others games which I have played them 2-3 times.

    #5 3 years ago
  6. Deacon

    Hey Pat. This echoes a lot with how I feel right now.

    Have a 44 Monk on Nightmare and a 25 Wizzy on Normal. It’s definitely a lot of fun on the first playthrough, though I thought Normal should’ve really been called Easy. The harder mobs in Nightmare and beyond add a LOT to the challenge, but it’s still not enough if you’ve a keen eye for gear in the AH. I found myself just smashing my way through entire screens of enemies with ease because the gear I’d bought (for way less than the vendor items) was just too good.

    I really think that the auction house itself is killing it for me. I know if it gets too tough all I need to do is to buy a few new rares and I’ll be fine. Trying to not do this once you know it’s there takes some discipline, and I think it’s the only way to really appreciate the progression.

    With all that said I am very much looking forward to the higher difficulties. I’m gonna lay off the AH a bit, and get the game to the point where the balance feels right. I guess that’s the point I was trying to make.. that the balancing is kind of in the hands of the player.

    #6 3 years ago
  7. Erthazus

    @BULArmy, Starcraft II issues were completely different compared to Diablo III. When Blizzard joined Acti, everything changed. Activision wanted Starcraft II to be completely similar just to please Korean public, instead they alienated most of their core fanbase even there.

    Starcraft II is not a bad game, but it is not a good one either. In this industry, especially Blizzard. People expect not just a good product from them but a revolutionary one

    and they failed with Starcraft II, they failed with Cataclysm and they absolutely failed with Diablo III in everything.
    After 12 fucking years we got Remake of Diablo II that is shorter? COME ON.

    #7 3 years ago
  8. BULArmy

    @Erth we had colossal amount of whining, because we don’t play with the classes from D2, that the skill system is not the same, that there is no Horadric cube and for every other small change that we had. Now think if Blizz changed a lot. Hell will break loose. :D

    Blizz fans don’t like change at all. I also think that D3 could have been a lot better, but I am content with what I have now. I will continue to play and if nothing Blizzard are absolutely the best in terms of supporting their games.

    D2 was also a mess when it released, we just don’t remember it. It needed a lot of patches to become the game it is now. After 2 years, the first expansion, people will forget about the hiccups of the beginning, that is what I think.

    Nobody can argue that those games are made with a mind to earn a bazillion dollars, but that is just the reality in that business. The happy years of the 90s and early 2000s are gone and never will come back. Hight quality games need huge budgets and hundreds of people to make, so aiming for the biggest possible profit is nothing unusual.

    I played Torchlight 2 and Runic did absolutely the same as Blizz, nothing groundbreaking. They just enhanced the original. It plays, feels and in most parts it is just the same game, with slight changes.

    #8 3 years ago
  9. Giskard

    I fullheartedly agree with the article. Diablo 3 is indeed polished to perfection, yet the content is not there.

    I am usually OK with grinding something until my hands are bloody stumps, but with D3, there’s just no will to do it.

    #9 3 years ago
  10. GrimRita

    Ah Blizzard. The masters of polishing turds. I havent and wont play D3. I was interested in SC2 until I found out its just a rehashed SC1 and looking at some of the comments, the same can be said for D3.

    Has Blizzard lost their shine since they teamed up with Activi$ion?

    #10 3 years ago
  11. Erthazus

    “Has Blizzard lost their shine since they teamed up with Activi$ion?”

    Yes. 100%

    @BULarmy, “D2 was also a mess when it released,”

    I remember it, but the difference between diablo III that it was actually a sequel to Diablo I, not a remake and it was a fantastic game for it’s time.

    “Blizz fans don’t like change at all.”

    No one asks for changes, people ask for decent content and GOOD game and Blizzard failed to do both stuff.
    Especially after 12 years. Twelve years. 4380 days!!11

    #11 3 years ago
  12. TimClark

    Really enjoyed this, Pat. I’m playing through for the first time (I’m only a very intermittent PC player) and although I’m enjoying it, I was startled by how easy it became once Rachel’s higher level character joined me. I kept whining like a baby ‘ don’t kill them aaaalllllllllll, wait for meeeeeeeeeeee’. Shameful. I also got really twitchy about not being able to control the pace of progress, and feeling embarrassed if I was spending too much time dicking around in my inventory while she stood there patiently. Presumably seething. When I told Graham on PCG that I’d dipped a toe into Diablo’s lava he smiled and gently explained that beneath the pretty was only grind, and the partition was wafer thin. Nonetheless it’s my first one, so I’m enjoying it plenty. But doubt I’ll play twice. Rarely play anything twice.

    #12 3 years ago
  13. Talkar

    @10
    Once again i must disagree with you xD
    SC2 is in no way shape or form a rehashed SC1. Just take the Hydralisk for example. This unit was iconic for SC1 because it was so dirt cheap that you could just mass them. In SC2 they are a lot stronger, deal more damage have a longer range, but they are also way more expensive. This meant that a lot of the strategies from SC1 was in no way viable in SC2 due to the entire metagame being shifted around. Sure some of the units may be the same as the units in SC1, but the only similarity between these units are their names. And HotS will by the looks of it change all of this even more, for example Hydralisk again as the example, gets a speed upgrade, which makes them excellent for harassment attacks, whereas now they really aren’t due to they slow movement speed. If the changes HotS brings to the table are good or bad, i don’t know for sure yet. I haven’t played it, and i’ve only seen 2 showmatches of it, so that isn’t really enough to say if the expansion is good or bad. But to say that SC2 is essentially SC1 is just absurd :P

    #13 3 years ago
  14. Erthazus

    “But to say that SC2 is essentially SC1 is just absurd ”

    but it is.

    Game mechanics and everything else is the same.
    Unit balance does not make a game different.

    #14 3 years ago
  15. Talkar

    @14
    That is just the point, it isn’t. Some mechanics are game balance, for example the Hydra speed. If you can tell me what exactly it is that makes the SC2 the same as SC1 i’ll be happy to hear it. I’ve just yet to see any evidence of it, and frankly if the mechanics weren’t different wouldn’t every single pro SC1 player be a pro in SC2? Since you know, they are the same?

    EDIT: Have a look at this video, a BW map in SC2 where Day[9] continously points out the differences from BW to SC2.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5hk0s8Q9Fu8

    #15 3 years ago
  16. AHA-Lambda

    To be fair I’ve heard many people say the same thing, it just seems that looking on from launch diablo 3 hasn’t impressed alot of people =/
    I can’t throw my hat into that one personally as I haven’t played it.

    Although, if you were so bored Pat I’m surprised you even finished the 2nd run through the campaign, no?

    #16 3 years ago
  17. TheBlackHole

    “Ah Blizzard. The masters of polishing turds. I havent and wont play D3.”

    the latter part of that statement makes the first bit entirely redundant.

    #17 3 years ago
  18. soqquatto

    I’m loving/hating Diablo 3 as many other people now. I’m playing it but there’s just not enough content and the “system” (as in everything, stats, loot, abilities) is not right. random dungeons won’t cut it since they’re always the same maps with very little variation. we need something that can be procedurally generated, we need more events, we need infinite dungeons (just like torchlight) and mobs and bosses that show their mug only at the deepest levels.
    we need an item randomizer that won’t churn out 100% useless weapons (like mighty weapons with INT or wands with STR and DEX), a “budget” system for the item randomizer: you can’t seriously tell me that a vast amount of your primary stat is worth x% in pickup range or even poison resist.
    we need better abilities that play toghether AND interact better with other players’ abilities (hell, like Magicka!). we need also MORE concurrent abilities, to have a more varied experience, so that you’re not clicking away millions of insects always with the same graphical effect.
    we need a single player that’s not plagued by online problems. we need a reliable online service.
    of course, Blizzard has already stated that they’re not doing significant updates outside the main expansions and those are so far away in the future it’s not even funny. oh well.

    #18 3 years ago
  19. JB

    Diablo 3 was always more about what the developers and the corporate side wanted, and not nearly enough about what the players wanted.

    Just look at the end credits to where all their resources went.

    I uninstalled my own copy weeks ago…

    Lol at the ones who thinks it`s polished to perfection ^^

    Most of the ares feel exactly like the ones in Diablo 2.

    I never got any purple or green item sets. I used the same “skills” for late act 3 normal to act 4 in hell.

    Most of the gear I got was rubbish, and if I got anything my Demon Hunter could actually use, it was pathetic compared to the same item level stuff in The AH.

    I wanted to at least unlock the blacksmith and the jewelcrafter to level 10, but after roughly 60 minutes in each new difficulty level you cannot level it further – untill the next difficulty level – you`re not allowed to compile tomes from your pages, and besides the things you get are very rarely worth it anyway.

    But I did unlock a lot of banner patterns and other retarded shite.

    Diablo 3 is all about quantity and not quality. They developers just carpet bomb you with stuff like “new skills”, banner patterns, achi`s and loot – It`s just too bad most of em are useless, but at least the theory crafters are busy then…

    And I could go on, but I`ll stop here.

    Sigh!

    #19 3 years ago
  20. bymindx

    I stopped playing the game after finished hell, and realized I don’t have the gear to do Infernal.

    My friends are just botting the game 24/7 hoping the make money off RMAH. Quite frankly, Blizzard spends all their time trying to stop privacy, but doing little to nothing when it comes to bots/hacks and such. My friend is progressing more in the game than me by botting, it’s just not worth the effort to play anymore.

    #20 3 years ago
  21. DSB

    Pat Garratt hit the nail on the head. I don’t see why they couldn’t just have made it three times longer and just had people select the difficulty straight from the menu.

    I feel exactly the same way. The core gameplay was solid, but that’s pretty much the only thing about the game that worked. Everything else seemed to be either tacked on or patched together.

    To me that’s some form of crisis for Blizzard. Naysayers are often quick to assume that everyone but themselves are brainwashed, and they’re the keepers of the holy burning truth, but that’s usually saying more about the way their own minds work, than those of others.

    At the end of the day, quality matters. Blizzard are where they are because they’ve managed to “bring it” for a very long time. From Lost Vikings to World of Warcraft, they’ve been blazing the trail, but with Starcraft 2 and Diablo 3, they’ve moved absolutely nothing, and people aren’t blind to that.

    I don’t see how they can keep going like that.

    #21 3 years ago
  22. OlderGamer

    Really well written Pat. And I agree on most points. At the end of my play time with D3, I just felt like I should be having more fun.

    #22 3 years ago

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