Diablo 3 is an action RPG, in other words, it is one happy dungeon romp after another, always in search of the biggest and brightest loot to make the character of your choice that much more powerful. D3 does a wonderful job at using a variable reinforcement schedule when it comes to getting your items as all treasure dropped by monsters is random, so you never know when your lucky spin is going to come up. Someone did their psychology homework, full marks Blizzard. D3 falls down in a few areas for me that I would like to touch on, specifically the character advancement system and how, despite a plethora of neat character skills, almost every skill does exactly the same thing. I have a couple of quibbles with the character advancement schema as well that I will touch on before getting to what I see as a major problem with Diablo 3.
Character advancement, as opposed to Diablo 2, is rigid as character statistic advancement points are doled out in what is deemed to be the correct ratio for your particular character class. So, for instance, as a Witch Doctor, when you level up your intelligence always receives the majority of your advancement points. Contrast the beefy barbarian that advances her strength at a increased rate. Now, these predetermined choices make sense for how each character is designed, but by making the point allocation automatic, players miss out on customizing their characters to their wishes as opposed to what what Blizzard thinks is best. Why bother with attributes at all when they are not player controlled? This leads, in a minor way, to a certain baseline similarity between characters in terms of how they are built. You won’t find a burly mage, or a barbarian that is intellectually gifted. Not really a big problem, but it plays into my main concern with how D3 feels distinctly modular when it comes to the core mechanic of the game.
Diablo 3’s core mechanic is to defeat monsters and gain experience and gear that make your character more powerful and set up for the next challenge. Not a complex task, but a viscerally satisfying one as you, through various means, send the earthbound minions of hell back to hell, preferably in bloody, non-tessellated bite sized pieces. I’m good with that and the graphics for the various characters their associated skills are really quite amazing. When I see a Wizard call down a meteor swarm my screen shakes and huge fiery globes of burning death rain down on the enemies – Awesome! Or when the Witch Doctor summons an inhospitable pool of acid for the baddies to bathe in, or when the Barbarian begins adding extra ventilation on the nearest demon, it is all good. But here is the thing, despite all the cool graphical monster annihilating madness being served up what is actually being inflicted upon our most gracious enemies is a number (and the exact same number in each of these cases) and its called DPS, or damage per second.
The DPS generated by your character is dependent on your (predetermined) statistics and of course the gear you happen to have on. This is where I find the modularity of D3 detracts from the game. The epic minion crisping meteor swarm cast by the wizard does damage based on her DPS rating, that same wizard could cast Blizzard, a different area of effect spell, and do roughly the same amount of damage. Different graphical effects, same end results. There is certain amount of variation as you can modify the abilities you use with different runes that are unlocked as you gain experience, this provides some variation but does not adequately address the problem of modularity. It is like playing with Mr.Potato Head, whether you slap the goofy glasses on that lovable spud or configure him to wear his nose as a hat, in the end he is still just Mr.Potato head. Similarly in D3, using the the wizard example, you can pummel and deep-fry your foes with meteors and do X damage, or you can freeze them with blizzard and do, you guessed it, that same X damage.
So all you need to worry about is your DPS (damage), the choice of what shiny way you want to deliver said damage is mostly inconsequential, because if you remember the game mechanic that D3 is based on is slay da monster, get da loot, rinse and repeat. As the game increases in difficulty instead of becoming more complex the choices really boil down to two factors:
1. How much DPS am I doing?
2. How much life do I have?
Not enough of 2, but lots of 1 means your are one means you’re viciously kicking ass, chewing bubble gum and taking names until you cut yourself on the gum-wrapper,bleeding out as you keel over dead.
So really, the meta-game of D3 is finding the balance between killing your foes and not becoming fish food yourself. Determining this requires playing with two factors, your DPS and your Vitality (life), everything else is secondary to this axiomatic notion in D3. And that is where the problem for me lies.