- "Diablo III" arrives 12 years after the series' last installment
- As with past "Diablos," gameplay relies heavily on "point and click"
- "Diablo III" is engrossing and visually impressive but hampered by technical glitches
"Diablo III" has the distinction of being a great role-playing game with an intense and passionate fan base while causing much angst and anguish among gamers when problems -- real or perceived -- arise.
The nature of this diametric split changes from moment to moment and reflects the high hopes many gamers had for a release that took nearly 12 years to reach players' hands. It is a love/hate relationship with Blizzard Entertainment that stemmed from the creation of a fantastic franchise but causes so many angry words on chat boards and Twitter when game servers go down.
The game takes us back to Sanctuary and everyone's favorite scholar, Deckard Cain. Cain claims the End Times are coming with the rise of the Evil. The player is tasked with searching out and destroying demon lords bent on taking over the world and literally bringing hell to Sanctuary.
The game has received praise for its realistic physics engine, variety of available combat styles and sense of full immersion in what is basically a "point and click" game. However, for all its grand flourishes and spectacular battles, none of it matters if you can't play.
Blizzard was plagued with server issues from the very start. "Error 37," a server busy error, quickly became the buzzword among players, indicating problems logging in. Indeed, Blizzard acknowledged the problem and warned players it could take several login attempts before they could connect.
For a while, the error became an Internet meme, sparking many funny postings about the frustrating message. While the company worked quickly to resolve the initial issues, the Internet lit up with players proclaiming their hatred of Blizzard and frustration with the always-logged-in requirements.
Maintenance time and patch updates have also revived harsh feelings among some "Diablo III" players. Forum boards reached their limits after players voiced their displeasure. There are more than 4,200 Diablo III forum threads, most discussing some aspect of the game that, in players' opinion, is broken.
Loot-drop troubles, character stat rollbacks, complaints about the game being too easy (or, in some cases, too hard) -- the variety is out there, and yet people keep playing, or at least talking about it.
A forum poster who uses the name KrimsonMask has played 120 hours and gotten more enjoyment out of "Diablo III" than many other games but philosophically thinks the game has failed in its basic approach.
"There's a fallacy that simple, easy to understand games appeal to a broader audience of gamers, an idea that complexity will confuse and frustrate the masses, scaring them away, an underestimation of what the average gamer can handle if you will," KrimsonMask wrote. "They didn't want to confuse people with the complexity of stats. They wanted to make it easy for everyone."
Other players go the other route, thinking the game is "broken" because it is simply too hard. Forum poster "Themaceguy" describes what he called "Icarus hard," a reference to pushing the game's limits and being punished for it, like the Greek mythological figure who fell to his death after flying too close to the sun. It's an acceptable approach for him.
"Diablo III" is not Icarus hard, he said.
"I find myself clearing Act I over and over again just to either make a little money or find items that are maybe marginally better than what I have but not good enough to be able to play Act 2 the way I want to ('Icarus hard')," Themaceguy wrote. "The thing is, you can make a game balanced so that every class is no better than any other but that RUINS the game. It makes every class feel hokey, and nobody feels special."
The irony is that both forum posters use the previous installment, "Diablo II," as an example of what "Diablo III" should strive to be.
They want improved complexity, more challenges and more variety to ways of building characters and playing the game. Many fans of the 12-year-old game still play it, and its expansions, even now that "Diablo III" has rolled out. It is its "end game" scenario -- being able to complete the game yet still find things do to -- that made "Diablo II" such a long-term success, they say.
Blizzard, for its part, has been issuing fixes and patches (it is now up to 1.0.3) since launching the game and recently addressed the end-game content players have been seeking. Players want to be able to do things after they "beat" the game besides just farming for more loot.
In response to a forum post, "Bashiok," a community manager for Blizzard, said the company recognizes that players are probably running out of stuff to do. However, he said, it isn't going to be able to release new content every couple of months.
"Killing enemies and finding items is a lot of fun, and we think we have a lot of the systems surrounding that right, or at least on the right path with a few corrections and tweaks. But honestly 'Diablo III' is not 'World of Warcraft,' " Bashiok wrote. "There needs to be something else that keeps people engaged, and we know it's not there right now."
A new patch (1.0.4) is expected soon, and a version 1.1 will contain player vs. player arenas, a feature that has been on hold since the title launched. Bashiok said both patches will give players more but aren't a real solution to the end-game problem.
"We have some ideas for progression systems, but honestly it's a huge feature if we want to try to do it right, and not something we could envision being possible until well after 1.1 which is itself still a ways out."
Will players still be around for the changes? Some say they have gotten all the enjoyment they can and are moving on. Others say they continue to play, seeking greater rewards in what they can do already.
With so many players and fans of the franchise, Blizzard is trying to hit a moving target. It isn't going to be able to please everyone, and the forum boards will continue to fill with players who aren't happy with X or want more of Y.
What's funny is that some players who have said they are abandoning "Diablo III" are still hanging around its forums to ask those playing why they're still in the game. While some posts are mocking, others really want to know whether there is something they've missed, some aspect of the game they haven't seen. Perhaps fans are willing (hoping?) to believe there is more to be discovered in Sanctuary.
In a humorous and tongue-in-cheek post, forum user "Furiant" may be trying to get everyone to just relax and enjoy the game.
"A friend of mine told me they were playing with some person earlier who -- and I'm just the messenger here -- seemed like they might be having fun while playing the game. I don't know how true this is, but if it's even a possibility, god help us all."