So what's wrong with Diablo 3? It's an interesting question, isn't it? A lot of people have different views. Some love it, some hate it. All sorts of opinions are valid as long as they're substantiated. I feel I needed to convey mine, hopefully in an articulated enough manner as to make for a sound argument and sprout some meaningful discussion.
Starting by the skill system, the game is designed from the ground up to absolutely trivialize everything under max level. As you level, how many relevant milestones do you feel? How much control do you really feel you have over your character? Are you able to specialize? All these are important questions the designers should be asking themselves when designing an ARPG, yet it would seem like the D3 team didn't even realize what the focus of an ARPG should be. The journey, the progress, the strive. They're all ruined by the wrong focus.
It's disheartening, because they not only gave us the 3 previous difficulties, but also stacked yet another one, that happens to make the first three seem completely redundant and unnecessary, precisely because of the focus on max level experience. The main problem here, I think, is the way the skill system is designed. It isn't only awfully shallow and streamlined, but with the further development of gearcheck levels (officially labeled, MP levels), they've effectively shifted the focus over from viability to excessive optimization. It's the product of a heavily WoW-influenced team, who mistakenly keeps trying to shove MMO concepts down a different genre's throat, and failing at it. I've used this analogy before, but the dev team would seem like a bunch of trained monkeys trying to fit the cube shape on the circular hole. It simply doesn't work.
Now, taking stuff from WoW isn't be necessarily a bad thing, but it needs to have full support to be successful, and it needs to make sense within the context of Diablo. Why does WoW thrive? The answer is simple: Each expansion has several projected content patches, released every few months. It's not even small patches, it's usually completely new areas, new gear, new raids/BGs, pets, and so on. This is precisely why WoW can use max level activities as it's main focus: There's simply a lot of stuff to do at max level! Diablo 3 has had the same approach, without the mandatory content updates to sustain that model. This is why people got bored a few months after. I would expect the same thing if the WoW team didn't release those content updates. Just picture the current MoP expansion if we were still coursing through the Mogu Shan Vaults patch, for instance. I think it's safe to assume a large portion of the playerbase would have left months ago, just like it happened with D3.
Basically, the problem is D3 has been treated like a second class MMO. It has an auction house (soon to go, for the wrong reasons), it has an obsessive focus on max level, but has little support for extensive max-level gameplay, other than grinding with easily the most unrewarding and poorly conceived loot system ever deviced for any ARPG. Even the few content updates (talking about actually new content, not just recycled stuff and balance changes) wouldn't make up for a decent MMO content patch. Let's recap what these have been:
- New crafting recipes (archon gear, marquise gems, hellfire rings).
- The brawling guy 3d model.
- The room where you summon uber portals.
That's all, for new content. The rest, ubers, paragon levels, MP levels have all been recycled from the already existing (and imho, very small) amount of content. How could they expect a game to work like that? How didn't they see this complete revamp of an already successful formula would be a good thing for the franchise?
This is why I consider the Dev team simply doesn't get it. ARPGs usually don't need a whole lot of content updates to thrive, because their exceptional replay value comes from different sources, mostly rerolling new characters. It's crucial for an ARPGs success to have a character development system structured around commitment that fully encourages the player's creativity without trivializing the leveling journey in the way the current skill system does. Think about what made Diablo 2 special, and why it lasted for over a decade, and even today remains somewhat popular. It's a combination of the creativity-stimulating environment it's founded upon and the ladder system. The D3 team headed by Jay Wilson mistakenly (and imho, presumptuously) defined these aspects as artificial complexity. Big mistake.
In Diablo 3, not only you have very little milestones in the 1-59 bracket, but the MP system made it even more forced into optimization, as the ridiculous amount of health scaling forces players to pick the handful of obscenely overbuffed skills in order to even have a chance above MP5. So where did this "update" lead us? To an awfully optimization-focused game, with little room for actual creativity, where 80% of the available skills completely blow because they're still tailored for the old inferno, where healthpools were reasonably sized, or simply because they are a complete and utter failure (hot pursuit, anyone?).
At first, the skill system in D3 seems refreshing, liberating, innovative. To a certain degree it may be, but quickly, you begin to realize how much had to be sacrificed from the essence of the game to give place to this "innovation". Not only there's absolutely no character development, but the only source of anything resembling customization has been shamelessly monetized (gear), leading to a boring gold grinding treadmill with no soul. TBH, the only thing I would defend of D3's current iteration is the spectacular combat engine it runs, which is hands down the only thing preventing me from uninstalling this thing.
And since we're talking about gear, itemization itself has been another terrible aspect of the game, because it's, once again, oriented towards a linear, MMO-ish type of progression, that still requires periodic content updates to not become completely stale within a short timeframe.
Then we take a look at difficulty. Is the game difficult? I'd submit it is not. Basically, the game can be defined as a series of gearchecks. MP2 can be extremely challenging to someone in ghetto self found gear. Perhaps as challenging as MP10 to someone purchasing all his gear with a credit card. But at the end of the day, is this a game that actually promotes skillful gameplay? I honestly don't think so, precisely because of the gearcheck-ish nature it has. Imho, out of the current ARPGs out there, Path of Exile got the difficulty right.
It's a really simple concept, but it's surprisingly successful within an ARPG environment. Basically, they've structured difficulty around monster debuffs. Sounds silly, but when you think about it, many different monsters, stacking different debuffs on you is something that really compels the player to stay on his toes, instead of just soaking all incoming damage like it happens in D3. It's a cleverly thought out system, because it allows for real time difficulty scaling. To some extent, the skillful and diligent player will be able to fight better, because the focus of the game isn't just on maximizing DPS, but also on skillfully evading certain effects (lightning in particular, is very nasty in PoE). A better explanation of this system, by Kriparrian, for those interested http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1j5a_voG6K4
So why is this system good for an ARPG? Because it doesn't allow you to faceroll everything. Even if you have godly gear, you'll still die if you're sloppy, and even a relatively poor player can compete if he's skillful enough, even if it's really tough. Even if there was a Pay to win method, it wouldn't really do a lot if the player doesn't play properly In D3, a wallet warrior will easily outgear MP10 and farm it like a champ, even if his playstyle isn't very refined, but a skilled, yet poor player will not have a chance against the blatant gearcheck high MP levels are.
Thoughts, opinions, counter arguments, are always welcome.