Sunday, April 22, 2012

Diablo 3 Dumbed Down Compared To Diablo 2? ... Not So Fast

With the open beta going on, everyone is getting a chance to try their hand at D3. Of course, an insurgence of varying opinions regarding the game should be expected. But just how valid are some of these claims? While everyone is entitled to their own opinion, I feel more and more like a minority reading through the Diablo subreddits.To put my opinion into perspective I have played through Diablo and, much more thoroughly, Diablo 2: Lord of Destruction (which will simply be referred to as "D2"). The following arguments depends on at least a passing knowledge of D2, but I will try to be as clear as possible.
There seems to be a number of D2 redditors that feel D3 has been dumbed down significantly compared to D2. The argument is more or less centered around the lack of stat point allocation and no skill trees/skill builds. While these things may be lacking in D3, the impact of these changes is actually a lot better than you think.
The Stat System
Stat points. 5 points every level up. Strength, Dexterity, Vitality and Energy to choose from. Simple. Of course, things aren't always as easy as they seem, but to say this system was complex seems like a bit of an overstatement to me.
Strength was used purely for equipping gear. It (barely) improved your damage, so dumping points into it for this purpose would be wasteful. If there wasn't some sort of item you needed to equip, skipping this stat entirely on a level up was quite common.
Dexterity was required for some weapons. It improved your attack rating (chance to hit) and defense rating (chance to be hit). These benefits were negligible. The most important use of dexterity was to increase your chance to block. Determining whether or not you needed dexterity was as simple as asking yourself if you were going for max block (with very few exceptions).
Vitality was more or less the only stat that mattered in D2 (with the exception of Energy Shield Sorceresses). Once you had the strength and dexterity to use your gear, this was the stat of stats so to speak. Nothing else mattered.
Energy was really only useful for (energy shield) sorceresses. It really served no other purpose than to fuck up your stat build or let you carry around less mana potions. A point in energy was a point not in vitality.
So why does any of this even matter? Consider this:
You're level 92. You want to make the most effective character possible. To do this, there must be some sort of complex way of figuring out a perfect stat build. Well...the idea isn't too far from the truth. However, the method is anything but complex. So what exactly do you do with your almost 500 stat points? You shift-click vitality. Every single point goes into vitality. All of them.
Now you're thinking, "hah, nice try asshole but I want to actually be able to use my gear!" Well, you can have both. With the right items, you can use all of your gear and still have every point in vitality. This is, more or less, the ideal stat build. Let that soak in for a moment: being able to use your gear with every point in vitality is the best stat build. Seriously. The greater your deviation from this build, the weaker you are. This isn't the complexity most of you talk about. This is simple. And yet, deviating from this build will yield a system most would describe as complex. This is because you can beat D2 with far from perfect stats. You can go ahead and wander around on your level 33 barbarian with almost 200 strength and feel like King Shit of Turd Island swinging around your cracked greatsword, but eventually, you will die. Not only this, but you will reach a point in the game where your character will be unable to triumph. So you load up a new barbarian. This one has 100 less strength and 100 more vitality. You can still use your favorite greatsword. What changed? You can take much more of a beating. You carefully navigate the dungeon and emerge victorious. Well, what really changed? Your new build was tailored to more closely resemble a perfect stat build. There's still room for improvement, but you beat the game with your "close enough" stat build.
In the end, it's this "close enough" build that so many people thought was deep and complex. You hit level 23 on your barbarian and wonder what to do with the stat points. You stare blankly at your character screen considering the possibilities of this momentous decision. Eventually, you decide to put all 5 points into strength. Content with your choice, you let out a sigh of relief. But did it really matter what stat(s) you bumped up? In the grand scheme of things...not really. Let's rewind a bit: same barbarian, 5 stat points...but you choose to dump them all into energy for whatever reason. And so you fight on. You can still kill everything, you can still beat the game, you still have fun. In the end, it doesn't matter too much what you decide to do with your stat points; a few points in strength, some dexterity, a bit of vitality and even some into energy, yet you can still beat the game. Your choice will slightly change your character, but it won't make the game unbearably easy nor will it render the rest of the game an impossibility. The stat system in D2 doesn't offer unique gameplay experiences as much as people would like to think.
The Skill System
To compare D2 and D3 and say D2 has more depth because of its skill system is a really difficult argument for me to swallow. The D2 skill system is far more linear than people make it out to be. If you wanted to make a fireball sorceress, what skills do you max? Well you max fireball. Then you mouse over fireball and see it has synergies: it receives a damage bonus for points spent in fire bolt and meteor. Great. You max those as well in hopes of getting the strongest possible fireball. You max fire mastery...because it boosts the damage of fireball. As your character levels up you gain skill points one by one until you've finally used over 80 points leveling these skills up. What do you get for it? Well you have a strong fire bolt. But who cares, you have fireball. You have meteor as well, but it's only twice as strong as fireball and not nearly as spammable, so who cares. At the end of the day, over 80 character levels were used just to get one powerful ability. Sure, you can opt for a wider variety of skills, but they will be far too weak as you progress through the game. You are more or less forced to use fewer but stronger spells. And yet this is more complex than D3? You can level 5 times in D2, put every point in zeal and feel stronger each time. Great, but how did the gameplay change? It really didn't. In D3 over the course of 5 levels a player will witness huge changes. Not only are you unlocking skills that areimmediately useful to you, you are unlocking runes for skills you already have that can significantly change the way you play the game. The abilities all scale with your gear so you can use whatever skill you want whenever you want and still be effective.
To conclude I would like to say that I think the changes implemented in D3 are good design choices by Blizzard. The game is not only more approachable, but the gameplay is also far more varied. The real complexity of D2 was the gear system, but the two games can't be compared in this regard until the full game releases.

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