Doom & Gloom for Diablo 3?
Diablo 3 has not had a very good launch in terms of stability. As of this writing, it's been a little over 40 hours since Diablo 3 launched in the US and some folks are still having trouble getting into the game or maintaining a reasonable connection that keeps them from lagging. There's also that nasty game-breaking error that occurs when you equip a new shield on a Templar, which I certainly will not be testing for fear of breaking the game.
Now, I've waited 12 years to play Diablo 3, and I don't mind waiting another day or two for Blizzard to get its gears running properly, but I doubt everyone has the same patience. All across the internet, people are disputing Blizzard's dominance in the genre it created and giving the game low user reviews on meta-review websites. For some of them, Diablo 3 may very well be the end of Diablo's reign on the hack-and-slash genre of gameplay.
Of course, it's not that clear cut for me, seeing as I'm the devil's advocate. If you'll stay a while and listen, perhaps we can discuss how the changes made to the game are indicative of Diablo's attempt to keep its status as the premier dungeon crawler.
12 Years of Education
I have very fond memories of playing Diablo 2. I would consult guides on how to best enhance my statistics and use runes and the Horadric Cube to further my abilities.
For Diablo 3 to be a commercial success, however, it has to take the 12 years in which other hack-and-slash games and MMORPGs have come out, and use the best aspects of these to appeal to a broad audience, some of whom may not have experienced slaying the Lords of Hell back in the day, or who don't want to ruin their experiences by alt-tabbing to a database. Some may say that such a move is a dumbing-down of the game, but it's simply good business to appeal to more casually inclined gamers.
To that end, changes have been made in the game's design that take a cue from current game development methods. These changes allow for better immersion, streamlined yet enhanced character progression and easier future scalability. These were discussed in great detail by poster Dontinquire on the Diablo 3 forums, but let's sum up the points for easier reading.
Better immersion is created by allowing players to learn about the game's systems, story, and statistics without consulting external sources (otherwise known as alt-tabbing). Diablo 3 immerses the player in the world by giving the game a more fleshed-out tale for players to follow. It gradually eases you into the game's systems through tutorial pop-ups, and also allows players to know exactly what items and skills will best benefit them by offering more informative tooltips than in Diablo 2.
With the help of the tutorial pop-ups and tooltips, Diablo 3 also allows for a streamlined yet enhanced character progression process. Instead of talent trees, players have a main and secondary attack, as well as four additional abilities. These can be switched as needed and enhanced through skill runes, which create additional effects for each. Since you gain new abilities and skills incrementally as you progress in levels and can actually see what's coming up.
Along with the skill and ability progression, item crafting services replace Diablo 2's Horadric Cube system and the purchase gamble (Gheed, anyone?). The acquisition of a blacksmith and other crafters allows users to do the same things as before, only with more control and a lot less guess work.
One of the more difficult things to do in a game like Diablo 3 is level scaling. Diablo 3 appears to make it easier for the developers to add new features or an expansion pack later on and, I have to admit, I never thought of it till I read Dontinquire's explanation:
D3 has been designed with growth in mind. The inferno difficulty is the best evidence of this fact. When an expansion comes out and the level cap becomes 80, Blizzard just goes into a “monster level in inferno” spreadsheet, changes 1 value (61->81) and all the monster damage, reaction speed, projectile quantity, level of ability are now end game again. They all tie into level to derive their power. Just like a players auto-stats are tied to their level. A few stat point adjustments can be made behind the scenes (for balance reasons) and the player may never be the wiser.
The Auction House Issue
Perhaps the most contentious issue that some players have with Diablo 3 is its auction house system. There are actually two auction houses in play for the game, one of which uses in-game gold to purchase items, and another yet-to-be-released system for real money trading.
I doubt many folks have issue with the gold-based auction house, but let's discuss the basic premise of both auction houses and how Diablo 3 is in a unique position to capitalize on a controversial system.
Diablo 3 is unlike its predecessors in that its single player game is ultimately created with a multiplayer component in mind as a result of the design decision to maintain always-connected DRM. This philosophy of playing alone, but with others, is a bit of a throwback to the mindset of the modern MMORPG, and while I would prefer to play the game by myself, the auction house system allows for a certain convenience aspect.
Basically, it's twofold. Through the auction house, users can purchase gear that can allow them to have an edge in more difficult game levels. The auction house system also allows players to make gold to fund personal in-game efforts, by harvesting magic items for gold to train crafters rather than as salvage for blacksmith crafting and the like. The same goes for the real-money auction house, though since it's not out yet, I can't really tell what effects it'd have on the gold-based economy as well.
The auction house itself is unlike the auction system in World of Warcraft, at least for now. World of Warcraft has a lot more moving parts to shuffle around, and is almost needed if you don't have the right tradeskills to acquire raid consumables or starting dungeoneering gear and lack a strong guild. Diablo 3's auction house, on the other hand, can be left well alone if you're there for the story or for a greater challenge of self-sufficiency (I imagine No AH runs will become part of the norm).
Whether the real-money auction house system will put people in debt or make them a profit, though, is beyond my ability to foresee.
Not an MMO, But Close Enough
We can say that Diablo 3 is inching itself ever so closely into MMO territory. It's not actually an MMO, but it exhibits some of the same issues that many MMOs in this day and age face, bad launches included.
The thing is, while some of the issues of this game may not be great as a result of its attempt to take MMO conventions into the hack-and-slash genre, it is trying to keep itself fresh by innovating and appealing to today's generation of gamers.
I don't think Diablo is dying elsewhere other than our game screens. The game's pulled in over two million pre-orders, and despite the issues, people who have managed to enter the game are enjoying themselves. By keeping the game updated, it has managed to pull in a fair number of fresh and ready adventurers who want to take the fight to hell.
And you know what my butcher friend says about fresh things, right? Ahh... fresh meat.