I’m So Good, I Astound Myself: Diablo III From the Perspective of a WoW Veteran

A character sheet showing Aislin the wizard in Diablo 3.

Warning: Contains plot spoilers.

In case you’ve been living under a rock for the past couple of months, last week was the release of Blizzard’s much-anticipated Diablo III. Prior to being gifted the game like every other annual pass subscriber, I hadn’t touched the franchise at all. Sure, I’d heard about it from friends and whatnot (especially the guy who made thousands of real American dollars off duping), but my understanding of it had mostly been that it was a grindy sort of punishing game that only showered rewards on the most intense, most faithful. In short, sort of video game martyrdom, casuals need not apply. Taken in by the allure of something honest-to-god FREE, I decided I’d at least give it a shot.

I’m not what you consider a “hardcore” gamer. My area of expertise with video games and their complexities extends about as far as you can see the boundaries of Warcraft. I’m not excessively good at twitch, I’m terrible at shooting things and I have never owned a console. I know, I know. Settle down.  It’s very rare for me to pick up a game that takes me away from the all-consuming timesink that is Warcraft, honestly. I thought I was going to just kick my way around Diablo until I got bored; I was not prepared for the temporal vortex that this game is, sucking away hours of your life in a blink of an eye all while having the most intense, mob-killing fun of your life. Okay, maybe I overstate a touch. But I haven’t “lost track of time” in a game since I played Myst when I was 11 or 12.

Part of this is just due to the fact that unlike World of Warcraft, Diablo is pretty much tailored to you being the only person in the world. Despite having multi-player mode, the story is essentially that you are the savior of the world, one of the glorious nephalem that crawled into being after the destruction of the Worldstone. You can immerse yourself as far as you want in studying all of the books that drop in game, or talking to NPCs as often as you want. You hear conversations around you and none of it is really affected by whatever other idiots might be in your presence. Being able to freely explore and achieve by myself was a real selling point for me. I made a solemn commitment to playing all of normal-mode myself because I really wanted to understand and grasp this story. I felt that Warcraft had been so focused on rushing to the endgame that I hadn’t really stopped to smell the lore roses. I had all the time in world now and I wasn’t going to let someone prod me forward. So I noodled around, clearing every map fully, respawning dungeons for events, reading every book that fell into my lap. It was legitimately fun seeing what main story was unfolding as much as it was seeing all the little stories that were happening in the background (the Templar companion’s story most of all, I feel, is a real masterstroke.) Having cleared through all of the acts in somewhere around 40 hours, I found the story entertaining even if it wasn’t that profound and had a lot of loose ends or plot holes. Why does almost no one care about Leah? Where did Adria go? Who’s running Caldeum now? A lot of the major reveals (Adria’s betrayal, Belial, the mysterious stranger being Tyrael) were telescoped fairly hard, even for someone who is a real Diablo lore newbie like myself. (Not to mention that major spoilers are in the achievements page.) There’s also the strange matter of wibbly-wobbly-timey-wimey stuff  like your companion encountering a former self/similar person in Nightmare mode, having vendors you met in future acts being present in New Tristram who have, by virtue of their dialogue, always just been there.

The real success of this game though, for me, was just that there was a real proliferation of women characters, even if some of the consistent tropes of corruption/betrayal/death seemed to follow. For one, there’s your character if you choose to be a woman. There’s Leah, one of the main (and very capable protagonists) through Acts 1-3. Adria is present in Acts 2-3. There’s your companion the Enchantress, who despite the really annoying voice acting, is also a force to be reckoned with. Captain Asheara, leader of the Iron Wolves, makes a comeback in Act 2. The world feels persistently full of women who are not just there to be cannon fodder, it seems. Sure, no one really gives a shit about Leah after Diablo comes back, but it is a fair sight better than most other video games, like, ever. Some of the starting armor designs for women characters bugged me but you get progressively more clad as your power increases, so that at least was a small bone tossed at those of us who like armor to look like actual armor.

But Diablo isn’t JUST an RPG, it does have action.

Diablo has been, for the most part, a learning process – despite picking a caster class (wizard, naturally), I still had no idea about any of the actual class mechanics that go into playing it. I was doing alright through the first two acts with slows and as much hard-hitting DPS as I could muster. I also picked the Templar as my persistent companion, as having a tank proved to be indispensable. However, it wasn’t until I hit the back end of Act 2 and eventually Act 3 that I felt myself really struggling to stay alive. I had mastered the ubiquitous shift+casting, left-mouse -button movement, but I was still face-planting on the regular. Both my guildmate Adryon and my friend Mike, who play wizards as well, sat me down and give me such much needed advice and rares. First of all, Diablo’s DPS mechanics (which everyone has) work very differently than Warcraft’s. A lot your power is based off your weapon’s DPS and speed. This is very weird to me, as I’m used to a weapon essentially being a stat-stick. I was gifted a very nice slow 1H-er rare, patted on the head and told to use Disintegrate now. Not only did it tick faster but it did fuckloads of damage. Secondly, I got myself some Vitality. It is the difference between getting 2-shot and being able to survive full champion packs on Nightmare. I felt like a tiny god now. The game literally changed before my eyes and became a lot more enjoyable. Do I really understand most wizard-y things now? Well, no. I’ve always been fairly dumb to mechanics unless I’ve done extensive playing, but I feel a lot more capable now. I’ve been taken into the secret circle of more knowledgeable peers (Hello, Elective mode!) and taught the ways of truth. Playing a wizard is fucking fun. It just is. If you enjoy caster roles in RPGs, you will enjoy being a wizard. They are exceptionally smart and cocky, and their personality shines through beyond just the straight class mechanics. It doesn’t hurt that fem!wizards are voiced by Grey DeLisle, who was the voice of Azula from Avatar: The Last Airbender. Try not cackling when you massacre 8 mobs in a single blow with Electrocute, I dare you.

Diablo 3’s positives to me largely have been a lot of quality of life perks like Town Portals, the individuality of class choices and the cheap thrills of randomness and blowing shit up. It is easy to see these things. However, there have been criticisms aplenty, even if I find myself not overly concerned about them.

The persistent online-always mode was the cause of much of the anger, especially on launch day when most people were locked out from playing due to server overload. Had we not needed to get into Battle.net, the load would have been much less of a concern. This is to facilitate RealID/Battletags systems so while annoying (and having known no other ways prior to this), it has more of a benefit to me than harm. It also is an attempt to validate where items are coming from for the gold auction house as well as the impending Real Money Trading auction house. As someone who hopes to make a little cash this way, I don’t mind either of these reasons for being persistently online. As someone coming to this game new, I have no real dog in this fight. I enjoy the pleasures of having my friends list across multiple Blizzard games. But I can see where the frustration comes from.

The boss fights felt really…similar to Warcraft boss fights. Was this intentional or was it just a coincidence? It felt a little pandering. Azmodan gave me Lich-King era panic fits because of what seemed like Defile, Belial was Ragnaros all over again with tons of ground movement. The fights on normal didn’t feel exceptionally challenging or unique, even solo, with the exception of Diablo. Most of them just involved running away, shooting some random DPS and using a defensive cooldown. Most of the Diablo fight was like that too, but at least it felt like more of a skill fight rather than letting my pets do all the work. Obviously, I probably have my work cut out for me on Nightmare, Hell and Inferno respectively. However, doing a 4-ranged-party Skeleton King in sub-20 seconds drove a point home to me; it feels like some of WoW’s endgame motivations have leaked into Diablo. Normal is for storyseekers, Hell and Inferno are where the real “challenges” lie. Considering how fast people shot up to 60 to try and tackle world-firsts in Hell and Inferno modes, I feel like this iteration of design has left an indelible mark on the community as well. Does it deter me from greater challenges as I proceed towards level cap? Not in the slightest. However, it does make me look critically how even Blizzard’s success with one game in a different genre has impacted how they approach other parts of their franchise.

 All in all, Diablo 3 is a fun game. There’s no getting around that. I don’t think it’s going to have the long-term appeal that WoW has for me just due to the non-dynamic  nature of the content and linear paths of gameplay. That being said, I’m looking forward to hitting 60, I’m looking forward to going to Whimsyshire and I’m happy doing tons of boss runs with my friends. That is all I really need in a game and having it in a game besides WoW has been a bit of breath of fresh air during the typical expansion burnout period. We might be waiting on Mists of Pandaria to drop, but until then, consider me happy with Diablo until then.