Diablo III in the Living Room: is it over when it’s over, or after it’s over?

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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 fourth entry.

Brandon: I had my first setback today as I was repeatedly killed by a trio of giant, spiked beasts while exploring some haunted cathedral. Luckily there’s no penalty for dying other than the metaphysical torment so I just respawned at my corpse and kept hitting them.

Tom: Ah, the halcyon days before level ten! There will be a penalty to your equipment durability shortly. It’s one of Blizzard’s favorite ways to punish you for dying. Basically, a half-hearted lash with a wet noodle. Since the console version of Diablo III doesn’t have an auction house, I can’t imagine there’s much of a money sink in store for us.

After the jump, diamonds on the soles of my shoes…and everywhere else!

Brandon: After the spiked beasts went down, I looked through my skills and found some area-of-effect stuff that would have been perfect had I looked for it. I also found a skill that turns my skin to diamond. That would have been nice, too.

Tom: The conventional wisdom used to be that a wizard couldn’t leave home without his diamond skin. I haven’t kept up with the balance wrangling, so I’m not sure what the conventional wisdom is these days. But whatever the case, you’ll want to make use of diamond skin until something better rolls out of your wizard’s skill toybox.

Brandon: When I play this game, I get so wrapped up in the adventuring and the killing that I forget to look at how I’ve leveled up. This is the only game in which this happens. In other RPGs, as soon as I level up, I’m looking at how I can spend my skill points. Here, I don’t. I think part of it is that I don’t have a choice of what skills are unlocked, only in which ones I use. Based on how much of a draw the skill system is for you, I assume you don’t have the same problem?

Tom: I think the issue is that there’s no urgency. Leveling up doesn’t necessarily mean there’s something better you should be using, which is how it most often works. It just means there’s something different you could be using. It’s a unique part of the draw of Diablo III. The game gives me a toybox of stuff and I decide what to use and when to use it. The more I play, the more bountiful the toybox!

Brandon: On a similar note, do you play the same class roulette in other RPGs?

Tom: I do! I sort of feel that any good combat system — whether it’s an RPG or other genre — will give you a variety of approaches. In a game like Diablo III or Guild Wars 2, it can be uniquely gratifying to try different classes. I started a co-op game with my friend yesterday and fell in love with the witch doctor all over again. That’s the sign of a good action RPG. When the class you’re playing at any given time is your favorite…until you start playing another class, at which point that one is your favorite.

Brandon: I can understand that. I do like this skill system. I can imagine from playing my wizard lady that those other classes must have lots of interesting options, but I all but guarantee I will never see them. I can’t imagine getting other classes leveled up to the point where I can try the good stuff. Part of it is a time issue, but part of it is that I tend to get attached to my character to the point where I’d feel like I was cheating.

Tom: I can understand that as well, although you might be overestimating how long it takes to get to the “good stuff”. Start flinging spider jars with a witch doctor and then see how quickly you go back to your wizard’s beloved freeze ray. Or trying the monk’s crazy punch/kick shenanigans, which you’ll confuse for networking lag at first (it’s like you’re breaking the game!). It’s a deep rabbit hole of a time sink that wouldn’t work if the different classes weren’t so compelling. Diablo III simply isn’t a game you play for ten or twenty hours and then finish. That’s not what Blizzard created. I’m always amused at people who say they “finished” once they beat Diablo (spoiler: he’s the boss at the end of the storyline). Beating Diablo with a new character means getting to about level 30. In a game where the content consists of five classes, each with 60 levels, that’s just 10% of the content.

Brandon: Also, once I learn how to play a specific skill, the notion of having to learn additional builds seems like an uphill climb.

Tom: Oh, absolutely. And as you come to rely on your favorite skills, swapping them out is a definite struggle. When I want to experiment with new skills and character builds, I drop back a few levels where the pushback from the monsters is lessened. Diablo III takes a fair amount of muscle memory — some people use the phrase “clickfest” and they’re not entirely wrong — and rejiggering that muscle memory is no mean feat.

Brandon: Finally, I’ve talked about this before, but I play games for the story, even stories as weak as those found in a Diablo game. Once I’ve experienced it, I have no interest in seeing it again. Unfortunately, in this case this means I’ll either have to start adjusting my difficulty levels to get more experience so that I can level up beyond where I can go at Normal, or I’ll have to restart on a higher difficulty to get to those lofty points. Neither appeal to me. What happened to the good old days of doing everything and getting to the level cap that way?

Tom: I can tell you exactly what happened! MMOs, and the notion that games are endlessly open systems of advancement, unbounded by a pursuit so petty as killing an ultimate foozle, because then you’re just going to go buy another company’s game. For some games, I’m actually okay with that. Because for me, the story of Diablo III isn’t beating Diablo. I couldn’t care less what happens to Cain, Leah, whoever that Tyrial dude is, the scoundrel, or even Covetous Shen. For me, the story of Diablo III is leveling up my character. And the interesting opponents aren’t the storyline bosses, but the wandering blue and yellow elites, which get more interesting in successive playthroughs by having additional affixes, and thereby creating new tactical situations. I guess you and I are like the different types of guys who play D&D. You’re here for the role-playing and the dungeonmaster’s voicework when you’re talking to the tavernkeeper’s daughter and the fact that your elf has grey eyes; I’m here for the tactical combat and the D20 rolls and the lead figures. Man, did I nerd up the joint or what?

Next: A funny thing happened on the way to level 20

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