Diablo III in the Living Room: lost in translation?


Brandon Cackowski-Schnell and Tom Chick will be posting daily updates on Diablo III for the Xbox 360 over the coming week. This is their third entry.

Brandon:Was the PC version this stingy with information for the player? I’m not looking for a JRPG experience where I’m still getting tutorials ten hours into the game, but I feel like there’s a lot of stuff here that Blizzard is assuming the player will just stumble onto.

Tom: I don’t recall the PC version being stingy with information, but that was over a year and a hundred hours of game time ago. So much of this is so familiar to me, which is how it should be. The basic experience of Diabloing is remarkably intact, with only a few exceptions that stands out like a sore thumb for me.

After the jump, sore thumbs

Tom: For instance, using the right thumbstick for an evasion roll, Kratos style. That sort of evasion takes up a skill slot for some character builds, but here it’s a universal ability. I guess this is because it’s so weird to directly control the characters rather than clicking the screen with a mouse to tell them where to go or what to attack. I’m not convinced this works well, but we’ll get to that later. What’s giving you problems?

Brandon: Take runes for example. I got two runes while we were playing and if you hadn’t told me that you always want to go with skills that have runes, even if they seem less powerful than skills without runes, I would never know that on my own. How would I know that? The game doesn’t tell me anything, it just says “oh hey, you got a rune” the same as it tells me that I completed a challenge or that I picked up some cool pants.

Tom: I might have misled you. What I meant was that you always wanted to equip a rune for a skill. Once you have a rune unlocked, there’s never any reason to use the skill “naked”. You’ll be unlocking new skills for a while, so there are only small windows when you have a skill without runes yet. Those skills are still viable. But the runes are a crucial part of the character builds, and they give Diablo III a lot of its flexibility. You’ll pick this up pretty quickly as you play.

Brandon: Wait, there’s one more. Weapons! How in the hell am I supposed to know that as a wizard, I can carry an axe and still cast spells. In what universe does it make sense that I put down this wand, pick up that halbred and now cast spells that are more powerful because the halbred has a higher base damage than the wand?

Tom: The world of Tristram. But, yeah, I remember that throwing me for a loop when Diablo III came out. In most action RPGs, your weapon is your weapon and your spells are your spells, and never the twain shall meet. In Diablo III, your weapon is strictly the base damage for your spell.

Brandon: I mean, seriously, that is not something was ever going to understand without an explanation. I’d been holding on to my wand, selling every weapon I found because I figured that if I go into battle with a sword equipped, those eel zombie things would make short work of me. I think it’s a great system because it doesn’t gate awesome loot behind some class restrictions. Most games have some sort of class restrictions on weapons, or at the very least they make your character use the weapon he has equipped. If you’re not going with the flow, at least explain yourself.

Tom: There are some weapons that have class restrictions, and you’ll eventually get to a point where you probably want class specific kinds of weapons. Right now, I’m pretty attached to twin hand crossbows for my demon hunter, and she’s the only class that can use them that way. Your wizard has an offhand charm slot for spellbooks or talismans or whatever. That will probably be an eventual part of your gear loadout.

Brandon: I learned more from playing with you than from the game itself. That doesn’t seem right to me. Nothing against you, I always learn things when we play stuff, I just expect the game to tell me stuff from time to time. Given how many hours you’ve put into the PC version, I’m assuming this is all old hat for you. Well, that and the game is two years old at this point. That’s like four hundred years old in video game years.

Tom: And that’s where some of my problems come up. I have so much baggage and so many expectations for how Diablo III should play, and a lot of it comes down to the difference between using a mouse and a controller. The mouse and keyboard interface is such an integral part of the Diablo experience, and it has been for over a decade. Something important is lost in the translation to the gamepad. For instance, picking out targets is all but impossible with the gamepad. There are early encounters with ghostly skeletons that summon more skeletons, and you quickly learn to take them out first. This can be difficult because they’re behind their summoned skeletons. If you’re using a ranged character, you have to maneuver yourself around them and target your attacks. I’m dealing with that even more with plague nests in act II. This will become increasingly inconvenient as I work my way up the difficulty levels, and especially as I encounter elite monsters on those difficulty levels. I’m anticipating an Xbox 360 controller flung across my living room in the near future. Diablo III on the console makes precise targeting impossible, and in the process compromises part of the gameplay. It reminds me a bit of Valve porting Team Fortress 2 and Left 4 Dead to the Xbox without making any concession for gamepad controls.

Next: Is it over when it’s over, or after it’s over?